On 27 January, ultramarathon trail runner Hyun Chang Chung crossed the finish line at the Ceylon Tea Museum in Hanthana, cheered on by new fans from the surrounding local community and his elated family. He had just achieved the superhuman feat of becoming the first person to run the entire 300 km length of The Pekoe Trail non-stop in two and half days.
The Pekoe Trail is designed as a 22-day walk from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya via Ella, Haputale, and Horton Plains, but Chang completed it in 59 hours. While bystanders were stunned by his phenomenal run, an exhilarated Chang gushed about his Sri Lankan experience. “I just had to be the first person to complete this ultramarathon on The Pekoe Trail. The diversity in elevation, terrain, and environment as it winds around tea estates, nature reserves, and local communities puts The Pekoe Trail on par with some of the best trails in the world. This is my fourth visit to Sri Lanka, and I’ve found one more thing to love about it.” Chang, a Hong Kong-based banking application developer by profession with a passion for marathon trail running, has competed in over 50 trail marathons around the world. The Pekoe Trail is his first challenge in 2023.
Attracting new traveler segments such as adventure seekers to Sri Lanka is a prime role of The Pekoe Trail. Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau, Chalaka Gajabahu said, “We are delighted Chang chose to run The Pekoe Trail in Sri Lanka. His amazing feat will no doubt help highlight our latest outdoor experience to the world, which is already attracting a lot of interest from travelers and the travel trade. Now is the time to visit and rediscover Sri Lanka.”
The Pekoe Trail is part of the European Union’s 5.7 million Euro (LKR 2.2 billion) support for Sri Lanka’s national tourism strategy. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also provided approximately USD 787,000 (approximately LKR 283 million) to support the trail. The Ambassador of the EU Delegation in Sri Lanka, H.E. Denis Chaibi said, “We have come a long way since announcing the launch of The Pekoe Trail last year. As a trail biking enthusiast, myself, I am happy to see the interest it is creating among international trail running enthusiasts like Chang. We set out to support Sri Lanka Tourism to develop new, world-class tourism experiences in line with emerging travel trends, and I believe Chang’s ultramarathon run signifies that we are well on our way to achieving this objective.”
Director of the Tourism Resilience Project that is developing the trail, Shehan Ramanayake said, “The Pekoe Trail is a great example of sustainable tourism that uplifts local communities and raises awareness about the importance of protecting the pristine, natural environment. Chang’s run was carefully planned to avoid disruption to protected habitats and wildlife, especially at night”.
The Pekoe Trail is the first in a collection of destination-based walking trails to be developed under the Serendipity Trails banner, for Sri Lanka Tourism, with support from the EU and USAID. The interconnecting trail network will allow visitors to discover the varying terrain, history, culture, food, and local communities by foot, in short sections or as part of a multi-day experience. The Pekoe Trail will be open to travelers by summer 2023.
Image caption – Ultramarathon trail runner Hyun Chang Chung is greeted upon his arrival in Sri Lanka by the Ambassador of the EU Delegation in Sri Lanka – H.E. Denis Chaibi and Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau – Chalaka Gajabahu, ahead of his 300-kilometer run along The Pekoe Trail, non-stop in 59 hours. Others in the picture from the left are Trail advisor – Miguel Cunat, Programme Manager for the European Delegation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives – Harshini Halangode, and the Director of the Tourism Resilience Project that is developing the trail – Shehan Ramanayake.