Monday, 13 October 2014

Wilson Trail Raleigh Team Challenge - Oct 2014

The Wilson Trail in Hong Kong is 78km long, starting on the Island with a couple of short sharp hills before crossing the harbour and heading up to the North New Territories close to the border with China. Being held in October I had always been wary about this race as the days are still very hot and there are a lot of the big climbs exposed to the sun.
Wilson Trail route profile

The plan to enter the Wilson Trail Challenge first started in 2010 when we entered as a team of 2. However the day before with a typhoon just of the coast the race was cancelled. 4 years later here I was in Tai Tam at the start line with Vince to do the full course.

I had been pretty relaxed about it in the days running up. My only worry being the heat and the sun as was forecast to be 30c and as my training in the Hong Kong summer shows I suffer badly in the heat. I decided the best solution was to brush this aside with the gung ho attitude, this being a race one just has to fight through and get through it. After all we had a tow rope and if things got really bad it would get put to use to tow me on the exposed climbs.
I felt a bit rushed in the morning of the race and a bit tetchy on the way to the start, not sure why as I had prepared everything the night before. However 10 minutes before the off, all the boxes on the tick list checked, we made our to the start line and I relaxed and got into the atmosphere.

10 minutes before the start at Tai Tam BBQ site
Tai Tam to Yau Tong
It was already quite warn on the start line at 8am and the first 1km being downhill to the reservoir was fast. We soon found ourselves in second place. I let Vince do the pacing as pre-arranged and before we knew it we were headed up the first hill of the day, Violet hill (aka Violent Hill in the summer heat). A short downhill section and we found ourselves through the first CP at Parkview which we ran straight through without stopping. We were going strong and faster than originally planned, but it felt good and we continued at the same pace over Jardine’s Lookout and heading down to Quarry Bay and the MTR to cross the harbour. The heat of the sun was starting to come out and we were well ahead of our target time to get to the MTR.
Photo from Law Chor Kin. Passing through CP1 at Parkview.
We were greeted at the MTR entrance by one of Danny with water and Pret cheese & pickle sandwiches. (Lesson 1 in race nutrition – pickle in a sandwich on a 78km race in the heat, wtf! I had been a bit lazy the couple of days previously with race preparation and thought I’d have whatever Vince was getting, but pickle on the stomach with 68km still to go….)
We raced down to the platform using the short route I had found a couple of days previously down a set of step. Unfortunately I went over on the ankle on the steps, but not too bad. A bit of rest on the MTR and it would have to be fine. We just missed a train and the next one went past without stopping, but within 5 mins we were on our way to Yau Tong getting stares from the other passengers and the remaining 68km of our run.

Yau Tong to Shatin Pass
This was the bit I was most fearing as it has some exposed hills that we would be doing as the heat of the day established itself. Vince paced as well and before I knew it we were Clearwater Bay road with Black hill and Devil’s Peak behind us. I usually suffer badly on this stretch, but went through it ok. To my surprise we were still under 30 mins from the first team of elite runners, but did not focus on that. Our own race was more important. We felt good and I topped up my bottles with water at the checkpoint in preparation for the exposed hill I know was coming up.
A short forested trail and we were soon at the base on No-Name Hill. Not a big hill by any standards, but exposed and in the midday sun is always a joyful experience. Vince slowed our pace down at the base of the hill at my request, but we made steady progress passing a few hikers that looked like they were struggling in the heat. Towards the summit, both of us had run out of water and I was starting to feel the effects of the heat and the sun, but we had bigger problems.
Vince’s history with this race would not let go and stomach cramps hit with the first vomit of the day. In the back of my mind I knew this would give me a chance to recover from the heat as I was close to the verge of being toasted. However I had other tasks to deal with and put my mind to the diplomacy skills that I am renowned for. I really should become a politician. I think I did well managing not to come out with the “Man the fuck up and let’s get moving” that came into my mind, and I am sure that what I said would have helped, anyway it’s wasn’t as if he was in any state to talk back or thump me ;-).
We were out of water and the next CP was 3km away, so after a couple of minutes sat in the middle of road we got up and jogged down towards Shatin pass stopping at one of the water pipes that stick out of the rock face to fill up.
Lesson 2 in race nutrition – Eat breakfast even if it’s pizza flavoured crisps. As we filled up with water Vince announced he hadn’t had breakfast. I really shouldn’t have been surprised given the history on our training runs. I probably can’t talk as not much better with the view that a couple of beers the night before a training run is the carb equivalent of a bowl of pasta. But Nutella for breakfast before a training run is a prerequisite.

Shatin Pass to Shing Mun
The bit of the Wilson following Shatin Pass is the most boring bit of trail and it is a test of mental strength just to get through it. 7km of flat concrete catchwater. I put Vince upfront to set the pace hoping that he might get better if we went at his speed and tried to come out with words of encouragement. I’m sure he was probably seething at everything I said, but hey you don’t get to be as good at diplomacy without my skill set ;-) We jogged quite a bit of the catchwater with a couple of stops to let Vince empty his stomach, one occasion right infront of a couple out for their Saturday romatic afternoon walk. Clearly this must be a common occurrence on this bit of trail as they didn’t bat an eyelid of the site.
We soon made it to Tai Po road where Martijn was waiting prepared with refreshments for us. For once even Vince was put off by the cheese & pickle sandwiches and I gave him a cliff bar and sustained energy with electrolytes in it.
We were now off the catchwater and back on to trail up to Golden Hill. Having run out of words of encouragement it was time to get the tow rope out. The trick if we were to make it to the end was to just keep moving and use the tow as much as possible. It didn’t matter about the speed. At the summit we unclipped the rope and Vince seemed to have found energy to race down to Shing Mun. I struggled here on the concrete steps with both ankles not in the best of shape. On reaching Shing Mun we were greeted by Martijn, Pete and Monica. A great site and fantastic to have bags of ice and refreshments that they had brought along. 40km and we were at the halfway point.

Shing Mun to Marker 99
After some positive encouragement we were off up to Leadmine Pass with the tow rope back out. We jogged quite a bit of it and walked the last stretch of concrete road up to the pass. My legs were beginning to feel weary from the towing, and whilst Vince made use of facilities at Leadmine pass I took the advantage of being able to walk the first bit down to save my ankles on the downhill rocky steps, knowing that Vince was firing quickly on the downhill’s. He soon caught me up and I changed to a run as I followed him down the rocky technical trail to the CP just above Tai Po. Here we filled up with water and Vince tried some of the hot chocolate before we headed on to Stage 7.
Photo from Desmond Wong. At CP6 just above Tai Po.
The stage to the base of Cloudy Hill and marker 99 of the Wilson trail we were pretty slow. I didn’t tow on this section as my legs felt tired and wanted to save them for towing on the later sections of Cloudy Hill and Pat Sing Leng. I let Vince set the pace as we headed up the small hill over to Tai Wo, We walked the flattish road and then ran the downhill into Tai Wo where we met up with Vic who was waiting with water and food. 

Marker 99, Cloudy Hill, Pat Sing Leng and to the Finish
We gave Vince a bottle of water and another bottle with sustained energy and electrolytes in it and I got the tow rope out for the stair climb to the summit of Cloudy Hill ahead. It was about 4:45pm. The heat of the sun was beginning to diminish and it would soon be evening which is when I usually get a bit of a revival of energy. We had 18km to 20km left and we were still 15minutes ahead of the next men’s team. We were going to get to the finish line, maybe not in our original target time, but that didn’t matter. We would finish and more importantly we would finish as a team.
Photos from Vic. Heading up Cloudy Hill.
We had a quick sit down half way up Cloudy hill where I forced Vince to eat some dried fruit that Vic had to try and give him some energy. This seemed to do the trick and we made our way up to the summit. The dried fruit did its job to the summit where we unclipped the tow rope and headed off the downhill to Hok Tau Reservoir and the next CP. On the downhill, Vince was back up front setting a good pace through the woods. One quick stop to clear the stomach of the dried fruit and we were quickly at the CP and filling up with water.
All we had now was the climb up to Pat Sing Leng and the eight summits which I am reliably informed are flat between the first and the last. After leaving Hok Tau we got the tow rope out for the climb up to ridge to Pat Sing Leng. Dusk was approaching and I was feeling strong as I usually do at this time of day. Pat Sing Leng is definitely easier by night that by day, no sun and not being able to see the 8 immortal hills before oneself is always a bonus. Every now and then I looked back for the signs of head torches to see if we could see the team behind, but was difficult at night to gauge how far behind they were.
Towing up each of the hills and jogging down the other side, before we knew it we had only 2 more summits on the ridge to go. I took a couple of glances back on the last of the immortals and could see the headlights of a couple of teams behind, maybe 10 minutes away. We had been strong on the ridge not stopping and maintaining the pace. On the final summit and checkpoint we unclipped the tow and had our tags scanned. It was 6 or 7 km mostly downhill and flat from here.
Vince must have smelled the finish line from up here as he took the lead and set the pace on the descent. I was getting tired and was great to just follow and not have to think too much. We made good speed on the rocky trail through the woods. If I had been by myself I am pretty certain I would have been slower. After around 6km we reached the tarmac road, there could only be about 1km left. We had made it and with the speed we had gone in the last 6km I was confident that the 2 teams I had seen behind us on Pat Sing Leng would not catch up. We crossed the finish line to the cheers of the volunteers in 12hours 44 minutes, 3rd team overall, as one team in a later start time were 15 minutes faster and 1st in our category.

Over the finish line. 3rd Team overall.
A big thanks to Vince my team mate without who this adventure would not have happened. To Danny, Martijn, Peter, Monica and Vic who came out to support us with refreshments and cheer us on.

Looking back a couple of days later through the highs and the lows it was a great race and experience. How Vince managed to carry on with his troubles for the best part of 50km I have no idea, but it showed a great deal of perseverance and tenacity.

Had the cards been turned the other way I am not sure I would have held out as well. By midday at the top of No-Name hill the heat of the sun had started to take it effect on me and had we carried on at the same pace I most likely would have been completely toasted by the sun on the water catchment. The walk up the road where we would usually jog and the 5 to 10 minutes stopped on the side of the road no doubt saved me and allowed me to cool down. This was a useful lesson for myself in the next run when the sun is out and taking its toll.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

UTMB CCC 2014 Race Report

The plans to do CCC in Chamonix started in October 2013. A few month earlier I had just come back for over 2 years of injury but was enjoying being back on the trails and anxious to get the 2 points to be able to enter the lottery for CCC. The thought of running in Chamonix with a group of friends at the time was too good to miss and with the lottery results announced in early January 2014, 7 of us started our plans for the coming August. But first I had to focus on was HK100 in mid-January, then I could take some time out before thinking about CCC which would be my second solo 100km trail race. 6100m of elevation in what is some of the best terrain and scenery available.
CCC Elevation Profile
Unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan. After 6 to 7 weeks rest I got tempted with the Plover Cove Challenge. Trying my hardest and to keep up with a couple of top runners in HK who set a fast pace from the start on the 17km route, I was being dropped and went over on the ankle I had broken years previously whilst in the chase. A 5km hobble out saw my leg in plaster the following day.
I’d like to say I listened to the physio once the plaster was off, but I would be lying and suffered the consequences of trying to get out on the trail too soon, but sitting on the sofa all weekend long is just too difficult. The training in the months up to race day was a bit hit a miss what with the ankle issues along with the Hong Kong heat and humidity, but one has to take what one can get. We had some fun runs as well some that wiped me out early on in the 35c heat and 90% humidity.
Training with crutches

Roll forward to August

I was lucky enough to head to Chamonix 12 days beforehand and a couple of us hiked/jogged the route over a few days. Splitting it up into 30km sections made me a bit over optimistic, although I did wander how far we had gone wrong when I clocked up 114km. Had we climbed one col too many or was this just an added lucky bonus of the course route? I’d like to blame Vince who I did the recce with, known well in Hong Kong for his expertise at navigation, the only person I know who can stand outside his apartment block stone cold sober and be unsure whether it is the right place. However this time, it was my fault, and I was going to find out where I went wrong on race day and it wasn’t good. On my legs at the time, I would have preferred my additional 14km any day as they were somewhat flatter.

Overlooking Mont Blanc Range from Lac Blanc
Race day
Friday 29th August came all too quick and we were all up early in the chalet and on way to the buses to take us to Courmayeur. There was a sense of both excitement that the day had come, mixed with nervousness of what we were about to undertake. The weather looked perfect, not too cold, but a layer of cloud to keep the sun out and avoid the sun exposure which had been my biggest worry. I had had the best night sleep in the past week, not think about the race at all and felt good in the morning. We were at the start line with an hour to spare, Nic, Milos and I found our space in the first pen and soaked in the atmosphere, there was a sense of fun as we joked with runners around us and the elites in front danced to the music blasting on the load speakers. Romain, Claus & Vince were at the start to cheer the runners from Asia and taking photos for Asia Trail magazine.

Arriving at the start line in Courmayeur

Soon enough 9am came and after the 3 national anthems of the countries that the race goes through we got under way. The start was fast, the first 1km did a loop through the town, the streets were full of supporters cheering, the atmosphere was fantastic. But then a sharp right hand turn and we were up off the 3km of road to the trail head. When I recce’d the course a week previously my plan was to walk the road hill, but I was carried away in the moment and ran the hill slowly along with all other runners hoping I wasn’t going to regret this later on the course.
To Tete de La Tronche and Arnuva
Once on the trail the pace slowed down, but was still high compared to the pace I was used to climbing hills in Hong Kong. The first hill is a tough 1350m over 10km, double the bigger climbs I was too. I had set myself an ambitious target to get to the top and hoped I wasn’t going to burn myself out in the process. I felt good going up the first 500m and put myself  behind a runner that was setting a good pace. I felt comfortable until the second steeper part of the climb where I found myself being dropped. I had thought I was a relatively good climber, but boy I was wrong and being outclassed on the first hill.

The last 500m ascent of the first hill the path steepens and climbs a lateral moraine to Col de Sapin before the short last climb to the summit. My legs were dead towards the end of the climb and I was worried I had over done it. I was just in my target, but I felt dead. 10km and I scrapped all future time targets from this point on. There were a lot of runners in front and I was surprised at how fast the pace had been up this gruelling climb and needed to focus on not burning myself out on the next sections of the course. I would relax on the downhill stretch to the next checkpoint 5km away.
I reached Bertone Hut in 2hrs and 20 minutes to the shouts of encouragement from Vince and Sam who were waiting there to cheer us all on. It’s always great to see familiar faces on the course whilst running and encouraged me on and to stop thinking about my aching legs for a while. I took a decision to go straight past the checkpoint without stopping, I had 1/2L of water and if things got back I knew there were several streams to fill up in. I almost regretted my decisions when I caught a glance of cake on the table, but forced myself not to take a second look.

Views from the trail between Bertone Hut and Bonatti Hut

My legs were dead, the first climb had taken it out on them as I had gone up to quick and made a decision to take it easy for the 12km to the start of the second large climb as I knew the second half of the course was going to be tough. I’d like to say that I enjoyed the views of the Mont Blanc massive on this stretch that we had seen the week before when hiking it, but 15km in and I was knackered and don’t think I had the energy to look up until I reach the Bonatti Hut. I dug out a cliff bar to get some energy in for this stretch and only a quick stop at Bonatti to fill the water bottles. I took a cup of the nutrition energy drink they had the checkpoint and almost threw up. It’s amazing how disgusting someone can make a ‘nutrition’ drink taste. I tried it again in Arnuva mixing it with other things, but this didn’t help. Other than that the checkpoints were fantastic and the helpers at them were so friendly. I am always amazed and very grateful at the generosity of people that devote their time to support at aid stations for a crazed bunch of individuals who spend their free time running up mountains in all sorts of weather. Also, the number of people on the route at this point cheering and offering words of encouragement was fantastic and help me forget my aching legs.

Grand Col Ferret & down to the Foully
I now know why this is called the Grand Col, and it’s not just because the views are grand. It was a big climb and I can’t say that I felt too grand about 2/3rds of the way up it. I tried my hardest to keep up with one of the many strong ladies on the course for the first half, but resorted to plodding the second half knowing there were still 3 killer hills in the second half of the course. The strength of all the Europeans runners on the uphill’s amazed me. I was struggling to keep up with them, but possibly they were going out too fast.

View across the valley on the climb up Grand Col Ferret
Coming up to the Col and the border with Switzerland I knew there was a long descent that I could just let gravity take me down keeping my legs for the flatter parts lower down in the valley to Praz de Fort. An 18km descent from 2537m. The first 5 km were a non-technical descent and I was surprised to be passing all the people that overtook me on the climb up. Reaching La Peula I hit the part of the course where we had gone very wrong on the recce the previous week. I was almost out of water, and what I thought would be an easy 2 or 3 km stretch by a river before a road turned into a much longer stretch of technical undulating trail. I had a bit of a sense of humour failure when we rejoined the path I recognised only to be taken off it on another undulation, but I was slowly gaining places on people that had taken me on the hill. At a small chalet I contemplated filling my empty bottles with water in the water fountain, however many others must have run out of water and I didn’t want to queue, it was only 2km to La Foully into which I ran with another runner who was starting to suffer an energy low as had not eaten anything. This reminded me to pick up food in the checkpoint. Coming into the village and the checkpoint the atmosphere was fantastic with the street lined full of people cheering. The checkpoint appeared pretty empty, I took on board lots of orange pieces and took a few square oat cakes covered in chocolate. Water bottles filled and I headed out for the next stretch to Champex feeling happy to be 42km in. I noticed that I was in over 200th position but did not focus on that.

To Champex
My original plans when doing a recce where to push the next 8km downhill before the climb to Champex, but I was nervous of my legs not being able to take me over the 3 climbs in the last part of the course so opted for letting gravity do its work. I don’t recall much of this section. The trail was a mixture of dirt track and forest trail with the odd undulation that followed the river to the start of the climb to Champex. I made good progress and passed quite a few people on this section. I stopped worrying about my legs and focussed on Champex. At 54km, this was a psychological barrier of being over half way on distance and climbing. The 4km climb through the woods up to Champex seemed longer than I remembered, but this was the first hill that no one passed me. I crossed the road at the entrance into the village and headed up the last bit of trail to the checkpoint when I heard familiar voices of Tim and Jane who had been on holiday in the region and come by Champex to see me come through. It was great to be cheered on by friends and I did a quick checkpoint turn around before heading out past the lake where Tim and Jane were waiting again. I was about an hour down on my ambitious target and my legs were starting to feel a bit better. With a bit over a marathon to go and 3 killer hills I was gaining my confidence that I could bring this home.

Looking up to Champex up the hill on the far side of the valley
To Trient

The section to Trient in my mind I had split into 3, the first bit a 4km flattish section on dirt track to the start of the climb to Bovine, the 700m climb up Bovine and then the downhill thought the woods to Col de Forclaz and Trient. I made good progress on the dirt track with 2 Spanish runners and we passed several other small groups. At the start of the climb I was caught up with a runner I had met on the start line. This was his first 100km race and he lived in a part of France that is relatively flat. I went up 1km of the climb with him, but he looked strong and I let him push on ahead not wanting to blow my legs up too early in this climb. The climb up to Bovine is deceptive, it start off nice and gently on a dirt track, but then after 200m of ascent steepens into something whose description is best I don’t put in words. I can’t say I enjoyed this climb and maintained my focus on my altimeter knowing that at 1850m the trail broke out of the trees to the sound of cow bells on a high alpine meadow.
The climb up to Bovine

Coming up to Bovine
It had started to drizzle a bit as I went over the top, but the path down had not turned too muddy and I made good progress with a couple of French runners on the trail through the woods to Col de Forclaz. A further short and steep descent to the road on the edge of Trient where my father and  a cheerful crowd of supporters were based in the drizzle as I ran past the church to the checkpoint. As with every checkpoint the smiles and encouragements from the supporters put a smile on my face. I headed straight to the water to fill up my bottles and then took several pieces of orange. I quickly caught up with my mother who helped to sort out my sustained energy. It was at this point I noticed just how many people there were in the checkpoint on the benches looking absolutely shattered and changing clothes after the rain. Given it was likely to rain for a while, and to be honest I couldn’t be bothered to take my pack off to change tee shirt, I decided to move on quickly taking a handful of the square chocolate oatcakes and thanking the helpers on the checkpoint as I left. My strategy to not push after the first climb of the day was paying off as I was managing to pass through the checkpoints quickly where I lot of other runners looked as though they were starting to suffer.

To Vallorrcine
A quick wave to my parents as I went past the church and I was in the last 30km. 100m up the road I got the biggest smile on my face, it was 8pm, an hour later than I originally planned to be at Trient, but I didn’t care about my target. I had 2 killer climbs left, and I knew in my mind that I was going to complete and cross the finish line no matter what. I pulled out some music for the first time and thought of the finish line whilst powering up the first 400m of the climb. This climb I remember from the recce and new it would be steep which meant that height would be gained quickly and it would be over sooner. Well that is what I told myself.
I passed a couple of people stopped to take out head torches, but decided that I was going to get to the top before I got mine out. The last 300m of ascent were a set of steep switch backs and I was happy to near the top of the climb where it started to level out. The route stayed high going through alpine pastures used for sheep grazing during the day and I ran this couple of kms with a couple of other runners. The evening rain had turned the path into a mud bath ankle deep in places where the cattle congregate during the day. Passing the checkpoint near the top it was very tempting to stay and warm up by the bonfire that had been set, however I carried on down what has to be the muddiest and slipperiest descent I have ever done, the final bit down a steep field of grass and mud that I was amazed to stay on my feet. I was passed by a couple of runners as I slowed down through the mud, but was happy to get to the checkpoint in Vallorcine on my two feet rather than sliding down the hill on my backside. 
Catogne on a clear day. A mud bath in the rain
The lack of chocolate oat cakes was a concern, my mind not being able to work out what would be the next best fuel source. But soon enough it focussed in on a vast bowl of dark chocolate chunks and I could move on. I filled up with water, allowed myself to sit down for 30 seconds with my parents and contemplated changing into dry warm clothes. But with 1 climb to go I concluded If I was cold I might go faster. I took a quick look at the computer screen at the checkpoint entrance and saw I was in 115th position. There were a few people in the checkpoint and a quick calculation and I was on my feet. If I could get a head start in front of these other guys, many of whom were better climbers than myself then maybe I could get into the top 100. With that thought I was off out.
To Chamonix
Ashamed to say I walked most of the gentle incline to Col du Montets following another runner. The thought of the final 700m climb that is steep and rocky in my mind, I wanted to save energy for it. A few days before we had been high up on the other side of the valley and Romain had counted 44 switchbacks and that was just the ones he could see.
It was only when I crossed the road to the start of the climb to Tete Aux Vents that I realised how hard it was raining watching it hit the road surface. This was always going to be a tough climb, but I hadn’t imagined it was going to be as bad as I found it. 2 people in front sped off, but I didn’t have the energy in my legs to keep up. 3 minutes into the climb I stopped to ditch the 1L of water I was carrying, my mind telling me that any weight saving had to be a plus and the chances of me drinking anything in the rain were slim. I could always fill up in a stream which is what the path had become in the rain.

The first half of the climb went well, but as my legs tired and as the fog came down I was having to stop to look for the path and was stumbling over the rocks. I focused on my feet trying not to look at the headlights high above indicating the height gain still to go. The path became less steep the last 200m of ascent, there was a bit of wind and it was cold at 2100m. I was slipping over the rocks trying to avoid the mud unsuccessfully and slipped into a river at one point. After that I didn’t care if I walked through the rivers or mud, the path to the checkpoint seemed to last forever and I was so happy to reach the top. A contour trail and a descent was all I had to the finish line now.
We hadn’t recce’d the contour trail the week before opting to visit a high alpine lake instead. I had assumed being a contour trail it would be a nice run around the mountain. How wrong could I be. This was the worst stretch of the race for me. I was stumbling and slipping over rocks left right and centre resorting to walking most of it loosing quite a bit of time. Given that only 1 person overtook me here I guess everyone was in the same boat on this section at night. My mind was more on my ankles rather than speed and this section seemed to go on forever. I finally reached Flegere where there was the last short incline to the checkpoint before the final 8km descent to town. I stopped just to say thank you to the people supporting the checkpoint and pushed on.

I knew the first 400m descent were technical in the dark as was a steep forest trail full of rocks and tree roots, but I recalled that the last 5km were very runnable on a much less technical trail. On this I got my downhill confidence back and knew it would not be long before I reach Chamonix. Every now and again I could see the lights in the valley below through the gaps in the trees. I was almost there.
I had run this last section not seeing anyone else and when I came off the trail and hit the road at the edge of town all I had in my mind was I hoped my legs would allow me to run the last 1km on the road on the flat. The race marshals were fantastic and really cheerful stopping the cars to let me cross a couple junctions. As I rounded a corner to head towards the river I could hear the shouts of encouragement from Vince and Romain who had come out to the edge of town to cheer me on. I felt strong on the last bit along the river and to the centre of town, as I reached the shopping street I was amazed by the number of people on the street at 1am in the morning still watching runners come in.

I crossed the line in 16hrs and 20 minutes. The torrid memories of my aching legs in the first half gone, I was very happy. It was only 5 minutes or so after finishing when I was about to leave the finish area that I turned round to see the screen and realised I had made it into 100th position.

Happy to have crossed the finish line

This was my first experience of a long race away from the Maclehose Trail in Hong Kong and I had completely under estimated how tough it was going to be. My training in the months up to the race hadn’t been what I wanted due to my ankle and inability to cope with the summer heat, but this course was a tough one. The climbs were much longer than I was used too and the rain had turned the second half into a mud bath and I hadn’t had my confidence on the technical downhills. But sitting on the plane back to Hong Kong 40 hours later reflecting on the day I really enjoyed it and feel a sense of fulfilment to have taken part.

A massive thank you to my parents who travelled out to Chamonix for the week and came out to the supporters checkpoints in Trient, Vallorcine and the end. To Tim & Jane, friends from the UK, who waited in Champex to cheer me on and to Vince, Romain and Claus for their encouragement and being at the finish line with everyone else in the early hours of the morning. It was an amazing week enjoying the Chamonix region with so many runners from Hong Kong. The atmosphere and spirit was fantastic and it was great to see so many participate in the different races.

So what’s next? During the first half I did wander what the hell I was doing racing 100km over several hills, but as I went past Trient the realisation and fulfilment sank in and even in the cold and pouring rain I was happy. I’ve been asked if I would try a 100 miler, but I think I’ll need some more time before contemplating that distance. Will I be back in Chamonix? For sure if I get the place next year. It was an awesome race through some great scenery. I’d like to give CCC another blast or possibly try TDS. The 100 miler will have to wait a little longer, my mind tells me that someone has more chance in persuading me to do PTL than a 100 miler at this stage. Maybe that will change in the coming weeks. However time to focus on the HK race season first.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge 2014 - A Lesson In Perseverance or Insanity

The idea came up on 28th November 2013 when Vic sent a message asking if I would do the 4 trails or part of it. Frighteningly I had already thought about it. But having spoken to a couple of people I was recommended to get a couple more year’s endurance under my belt. My response back to Vic, was that I was on the Cathay website looking for flights out of Hong Kong to stop me starting anything insane.
Vic persisted, messaging me that HK100 two weeks before was perfect training. My response was that he would need a lot of coffee and I continued searching destination out of Hong Kong on the CX website over Chinese New Year.
A week before, Vic was back on the messaging. ‘Will you do the 4 Trails?’ and I was promptly back on the CX website. I had a small niggle in my right leg after HK100 and didn’t want it to get worse by over doing it but finding cheap flights over Chinese New Year was a non-starter. The day before, after a lot of persistence from Vic on the messaging, following a beer or 2 after work with a friend I relented to doing the first 50km of the Mac at a 16 to 17 hour pace.
When you’re only planning to do 50km preparations are not as important, so I threw a few energy bars, some cash and headlight with spare battery into the bag. I’m still not sure why the headlight came with me as I shouldn’t have needed it to get to Shatin Pass, clearly there was something in the back of my mind saying I was likely to be going a bit further.
Maclehose Trail.
Friday morning 7:50am six of us congregated in Tuen Mun at the start of the Mac Trail with Andre and Paper. I felt out of place for the first photo given the end for me was Shatin Pass, only 1/6th of the way.
6 intrepid challenger at the start. Photo from Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge

8am came, the ring of the cow bell and we were off. However 300m up the trail, things ground to a halt as we negotiated the first pack of village dogs that came charging towards us. We ran as a group along the water catchment towards Tai Lam Chung reservoir, before Anders and Phyllis went off ahead. The sun was out and it was starting to get unseasonably warm as we hit stage 9 of the Mac, joking a bit and looking forward to getting off the concrete and on to trail. It was on Mac stage 9 that Vic came out with his first secret to long run preparation, “I’m really hungry as I didn’t have breakfast” hoping the little shop at Route Twisk would be open over Chinese New Year. I shouldn’t have been surprised having run with him a lot in the past, but this time I was given that he planed to do 298km.
As we rounded the last corner to Route Twisk the sound of the cow bell could be heard as Andre, Paper and Anders cheered us on. A quick water refill at the little shop, and some biscuits for Vic’s breakfast and we were off up Tai Mo Shan, the first of the hills. By the time we dropped down to Leadmine pass it was just Vic and I together on the Mac at about a 16hr pace. Needle Hill from Grassy Hill is the easier way up, but the lunchtime heat of the day made it its usual killer slog up the steps and it was a relief to get down to Shing Mun and be greeted by the sound of the cow bell and the vending machine to stock up on water.
Crossing Shing Mun Dam. Photo by Patchanida Pongsubkarun
As we headed down through the monkeys on Stage 6, the thought of food and the noodle shop at Shatin Pass were at the forefront of the mind. We slowed down a bit going up Beacon Hill to conserve energy, but it was good to be in the shade and 1km from Shatin Pass, Vic suddenly hit top speed as the realisation that food was closing in. For those that don’t run with Vic, 2 of his running gears revolve around food, Slow gear when hungry and the next food stop is a long way off and a turbo gear when the noodle shop is within 1km.
The noodle shop luckily was open and we stayed about 30 minutes eating and rehydrating, knowing that it would not be until we finished the Mac that the next food would be available. We had made it in 7 1/2hrs so we had plenty of time to do the Mac in the 17hr target at the 50km mark.
This was suppose to be my drop out point, but having discussed quite a bit in the past 20km, Vic had asked if I would go further as he was worried he would find it easier to drop out if alone, so I had agreed to push on to the end of the Mac if my legs would take me.
We walked up the road towards Tate’s Cairn to help the food digest a bit, but once on Mac 4 we speeded up running up to Buffalo’s Pass and over the ridge line to Ma On Shan. The views both sides were great and the sun was just starting to set. A fast decent down saw us reaching Sai Sha Rd just as it got dark.
Mac Stage 3 could easily have been the turning point. The ascent to Kai Kung Shan was a nice steady climb, but the downhills in the dark were very technical with rocks all over the place. We were moving surprising slowly on this stage as energy reserves were vanishing and knowing that food was still around 30k away. We joked on the final descent as Vic told me his leg muscles couldn’t take his weight anymore using his poles with each step on the downhill. But we kept the motivation up by thinking how much easier Stage 2 and 1 would be and maybe the restaurant might be open in Sai Wan at 11pm.
Meeting Andre and Paper near the summit of Kai Kung Shan.
Photo from Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge
It was almost a relief to get down to Pak Tam Au and hit the village path towards the beaches as the going got easier. The restaurants at Sai Wan were all shut and we snacked on energy bars to get us up Sai Wan Shan, the final climb of the Maclehose. Our view had been that the final 10k of road along the reservoir would be relatively easy, but this proved not to be the case as we jogged and walked bit of it towards the end of the Mac. This was the stage where moral reached the lowest point. Vic was talking of calling it a day when we got to Pak Tam Chung and I had done 50km more than I wanted to and was definitely stopping here as was not overly keen on starting up Pat Sing Leng.
As we approach Pak Tam Chung, Andre, Paper and Martijn were there cheering us the last 100m. The Maclehose completed in 17hrs and 5 minutes. They sat us down, gave us recovery drinks and food and were full of words of encouragement. Vic and I looked at each other and we both knew we would not be able to stop here as the generosity and kindness had been too great and we felt guilty and knew we had to start the Wilson. If there was going to be any stopping it would have to be surreptitiously when no one could see. We all jumped into a taxi driven by some former racing car driver and before we knew it we were in Nan Chung.
Wilson Trail
When the taxi stopped at around 2:30am, we looked out of the window and commented that we didn’t recognise this as the end of the Wilson Trail. Andre then informed us, that as the Hong Kong Trail was not actually the advertised 50km we would have to make up with a couple of additional km’s here and there, and a 2 or 3km extra to the start of Wilson would help fill the gap. What was this maniac trying to do, torture us……
Start of the Wilson at Nm Chung with Martijn who joined us to Tai Wo
Photo from Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge

The first 1km up the road, I struggled. My legs felt better, but certain muscles needed warming up again before I could run. I eventually found my form as we made out way up the path to the bottom of Pat Sing Leng. Vic commented to me, that he was not happy that I had come along on the Wilson as it meant he couldn’t sneak off. I just grinned back and told him ‘I know, it’s a fun game isn’t it’. A few km up the track I got my biggest scare and jumped back as I heard hissing sound near my left ear as I brushed up against the trees thinking a snake was about to jump on me. A quick check and I realised that it was the pressure from the Nuun tablet in my water bottle trying to escape. A few jokes from Martijn about screaming like a girl and we were back running. He was lucky that I was tired and had forgotten as we ran the ridge of Pat Sing Leng ;-)
On Pat Sing Leng we were in and out the mist at the start, but the going was good over the 8 immortals and the stars were shining bright. It wasn’t long before we went over the last hill and then had the long traverse before the descent to Hok Tau reservoir. By that stage the thoughts had turned back to food and Vic was telling me about the restaurant in Tai Wo which was famous for its Dong Lai Cha. As we neared the top of Cloudy Hill the sky was starting to brighten as the sun rose. Vic was on his ‘lets get food’ pace as it was only the decent down to Tai Wo. I was feeling sleepy.
After 120km, 70k more then I intended, Vic was looking strong and I felt that I could call it a day when we got to Tai Wo, but I needed to make sure that was the case and so it was time for Plan B to be enacted. I was sleepy and asked Martijn to phone Vince up and tell him it was a life or death situation. He was needed in Tai Po at the start of the climb to Leadmine Pass. The response was, he’s not picking up, he must still be in bed as it’s not 7am yet. ‘Well keep phoning until he wakes up’ was all I could muster up.
As we entered Tai Wo we hunted down the famous Dong Lai Cha restaurant to find it closed. Luckily about 50m behind there was a 7 – 11 open where we could stock up on food and water and glorious 7 - 11 sandwiches.
By this stage the sun had come up and I started to wake up. Out of Vic’s earshot, Martijn convinced me to carry on to where we would meet Vince 4km further and we said our goodbyes to him and pushed up the hill past the dog rescue centre munching away on sandwiches. As we approached Wilson Stage 7, Vince wasn’t in sight so I pushed on to Leadmine Pass to keep Vic company. We refilled with water at the camping site and headed down the Hill to Shing Mun Reservoir. Vic was going strong up to Leadmine Pass and so it wasn’t until we neared the track along the reservoir that Vince and his non-stop talking came hurtling down the hill to catch up with us. It was great to have him on board with his grin and constant banter. We ran at a good pace around the reservoir chatting away and I negotiated my exit strategy out of earshot of Vic.
As we approached Shing Mun Reservoir Dam, Andre and Paper were there and we were greeted by the sound of the cow bell. I held back as Vince and Vic ran across the dam. This is where I was going to call it a day. I had done 140km, 90k more than I intended. It had been a great run and I didn’t want to risk injury. We watched Vic and Vince take the left hand turn towards Tai Po Road. The plan had worked. Vic told me later that day that he smelled something was wrong. He thought I had hung back to chat to Andre and would catch up. When he asked Vince 30 minutes later the ruse was up but it was too late for him to do anything about it. Stealth tactics, for which I am renowned for when wanting to avoid that ‘last drink on a night out’ had been deployed and succeeded.
140km in, 90km more than I intended, it was time for me to wrap it up so I thought.
Photo from Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge
I made my way home, showered and had some food but before I knew it, it was time to head to Tai Koo to see the guys reach the Island and cheer them on. After doing a few chores I finally made it back home and thought I’d be able to have dinner and rest before heading to the Peak. But then the messages came in. ‘Hey! Help! Andre doesn’t allow me to quit and has put me in a taxi to Sheko. I said no, but he insists I try’. A few messages with Andre and bang had gone the sleeping idea. I was putting my running shoes back on, grabbing another 7 – 11 meal and heading out to meet Vic and 2 runners from China on Dragon’s Back with the intension of doing another +40k to the Peak.
Hong Kong Trail
I went up to the highest point on Dragon’s Back where I met Vic coming up from the other direction. He had a grin on his face and happy I had come back to share in the suffering. I copped a bit of abuse over my stealth tactics at Shing Mun Reservoir and how I had left him with someone that gets lost on the trails all the time giving him an added detour. I then heard the story about how Andre had deliberately sent 2 spies (Power and Mike) out on to Hong Kong Trail to report back to him. It didn’t take long before he realised I would do the whole of Hong Kong Trail that I was suddenly one of Andre’s spies to ensure he completed. After a few choice words and that Andre needed a lesson on the fact that even Hong Kong has human rights laws against torture and we heading down the step on stage 7 to the water catchment, the dullest 7km section of any trail in Hong Kong.
 Vic’s approach to these dull stretches is to get them over quickly and we started at a high pace along the catchment for the first half before slowing down.  It wasn’t long before we were into the woods of Stage 6 and heading up the road to reach Quarry Bay Gap at 11:30pm. We maintained a good speed up Mount Butler and Jardine’s Lookout. It was another clear night with lots of stars in the sky and the lights of the city down to the right. Halfway down we met up with Nic who had come to join us for the last 25km of the Hong Kong Trail to the Peak providing banter to keep us awake.

Stages 4 and 3 went by relatively quickly, the first having a lot of concrete and the next following the contour of the hill on a windy track. At some points on Stage 3 I was wandering if I would keep up with Vic as he hurtled along. As we hit Stage 2 a different story started to unfold. The tiredness of the second night out began to take its toll. I recall trying to talk to Vic to keep him awake as I saw him walking along with his eyes shut. But I was in not much better state desperately trying to keep my own eyes open. I was starting to hallucinate which has never happened before. At points on stage 1 of the trail I was seeing houses 10m up in front that would suddenly vanish when I got there, 100s of people queuing on the side of the trail and more bizarrely baskets full of cats sleeping. I hope there is no inner meaning as what one hallucinates about, but I guess it could have been worse. 
Hong Kong Trail Stage 1. Second night out & sleep deprived. I'm ready for a sleep and Vic tells us "When I sit down, my legs don't belong to me". Photo from Nic Tinworth
As we came of the trail and started round the rim of the Peak, Vic’s food senses turned back on. He was obviously hungry and the walking turned into a run to the Peak Tower where Andre and Paper were there to greet him, get him fed and put him in a taxi to Lantau for the final leg, 228km down in under 46 hours. One of the funniest moments was watching Andre tell a very sleepy Vic what he needed and didn’t need for the last 70km. Vic throws in his spare Garmin with no battery into the backpack. Andre, asks why do you need that and takes it out. Vic then proceeds to put 2 MP3 players in his bag, one with no battery and tells Andre they are not heavy. Andre shakes his head and takes one out. Vic then starts to put a heavy battery power pack in his bag. Before it can be sneaked in Andre is pulling it out of Vic’s hand telling him it stays here.
Vic being advised by Andre at the Peak on what is important to carry and what is not.
Photo by Patchanida Pongsubkarun
For me this was the end. I would head out to Lantau later the next day, but not before some needed sleep. I had now done ~180km and the bottom of my feet were sore when ever I tried to put weight on them. I was looking forward to bed.
Lantau Trail
I woke up after 5 hours sleep at lunchtime on the Sunday. My feet were still feeling sore, but my legs not as bad as I thought they should be. It had been suggested earlier that morning that I should try and head up Lantau or Sunset Peak and as my legs felt better than I thought they would feel that morning, I made my way to Lantau and up Kwun Yam Shan on stage 5 to meet Vic and his entourage that he had picked up by that stage. Unbelievably at the 275km point he was still smiling as he made his way to the finish. It was a pleasure to come back to support for what are the 2 highest peaks on Lantau Island, but not before yet another 7 -11 meal of sandwiches, chocolate milk and chicken legs.
Lantau Peak from Ngong Ping on fresh legs is a beast of a climb, but I can only imagine what it is like with 284km in the legs and no sleep for almost 60 hours. Vic made steady progress to the top and as we descended we were joined by more fellow HKTR runners who had come to do the last stretch over Sunset Peak and down to the post box at Mui Wo.
Still smiling on top of Lantau Peak. Only Sunset Peak to go.
Once we reached Nam Shan with 2km down the road to go Vic prioritised his looks and hair in preparation for the finish line. Perhaps for next years challenge a shower and make-up bag is needed to be stashed at this point. The final 2km down the road and we were off following Vic at 4minute kms. Quite how he had the energy to do this I am not sure but perhaps it was the smell of food coming from Mui Wo.
Vic reaching the finish post. 298km down over Hong Kong Four Trails.
Photo by Patchanida Pongsubkarun
Vic’s HK4TUC is a great achievement or persistence he proved he had the ability and the right mind to succeed and I feel privileged to have been a part of it. Having run with Vic quite a bit over the past 7 months there was no doubt in my mind when he first mentioned giving a go 2 months ago that he would succeed. Whilst we may not have been best prepared for taking this on with regards to nutrition and what we were carrying Vic has the miles of training in his legs and is the one person I know who would have the tenacity to pull it off.
Vic, Congratulation, a heroic achievement!
I would also like to add a massive thank you to Andre and Paper, firstly for coming up with this insanity, but also for devoting their entire long weekend at various points on the trails giving words of encouragement looking after us at the end of each trail ensuring we were watered and fed and ready to start the next leg. They both played a large part to the weekend’s success.
I keep on getting asked why I dropped out at 140km when I looked so good. For me it was never my intention to do this challenge. I was originally only going to do 50km to keep Vic company and drop out at Shatin Pass. I’ve only been back into running 7 months after a 2 year gap and was never really a runner before 4 years ago. If I was going to do 298km I would have wanted another year or two of endurance. I was worried that once I got tired I would forget about my posture whilst running and I would risk my injury coming back. The thought of having a long stretch away from the hills did not appeal.

Will I give the whole 4 trails a go in the future? Well as some have heard the best decisions are made on the spot…


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Race Report: 2014 Vibran HK 100 & Why I Run

December 2012 having been injured for the best part of 20 months my only venture out in the hills were Sunday morning strolls up the morning trail to the peak for breakfast. Having seen a few people who couldn’t identify my issues, I was having a coffee at the peak one Sunday that December with someone I had met a few time previously. I was told ‘I know exactly what is wrong with you, can you come and visit me in the office next week?’

Two days later there I was on the physio bed, the only questions I had were, ‘will I hike again?’, ‘will I run again?’ and the last one ‘will I be able to run a 100km race in a year’s time?’. The answer that came back was ‘if you do what I tell you, yes’.  At that moment the seed of the dream to enter and finish the HK 100, my first solo 100km race, was planted. I was going to do all my exercises religiously and not just from the fear of being told off each week for not doing them.

It took six months to May 2013 of religiously going 4 times a week to the gym doing certain exercises and stretches. Most of it spent getting bemused stares as I either stood in various contorted positions whilst raising a leg trying not to fall over or with my hands on backside desperately seeing if I could activate the glutes. I’m still convinced the latter would have been easier and faster just wiring them up to the mains.

At the end of May I hit the trails with fellow trail runner Vic So for what was supposed to be a 17km hike in Tai Lam Country Park, but the inevitable jogging started. Apart from the 2 days of recovery from not doing anything in a long time, no major recurring issues popped up. This was the start of a gradual build up over the summer to getting back on the trails.

In August the entry for HK 100 opened, I had just flown abroad with work and almost missed it getting confused with the time differences. Realising my mistake just in time I ran back to the hotel like a madman, took the lift up to my room using the Hong Kong elevator button pressing technique as the lift always come quicker when one does that. Before I had known it I was logged on and the enter button was pressed. Entry secured, I was in. I then sat back, what had I done? I wasn’t 100% sure but it was 5 months away and it was going to be a fun journey.

The rest of 2013 saw me ramping up the training including a weeks running in Spain which got my fitness up and various friends doing a lot of persuasion to enter the Beijing Sowers Great Wall Marathon, HK MSIG 50km and Oxfam Trailwalker which all hurt in their special ways but in an enjoyable sadistic way. The biggest difference to my running prior to being injured is the sheer enjoyment and positivity that I get on being out on the trails. Even on the hottest summer days with a bad head from excess the night before the positivity I have found gets me through the low points and bring enjoyment to each moment whilst out. Previously it had always been easier to take the early exit.

Roll on Jan 2014 and a couple of weeks prior to race day a niggle with a pulled adductor popped up. I don’t think once I thought this might put me out. Ten days of doing nothing but massaging, prodding, stretching, taping and positively thinking it will be better in time proved good with a couple of test runs in the week before with little issue.

The week up to race day I was full of adrenaline busting to get out, flowing through the route and timings in my mind, what would happen if I went faster, what should I eat and drink, and where would I find that mandatory space blanket having toured several shops around Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

Race morning saw my arriving at Pak Tam Chung with OTW teammates Rachel & Tilly and Nic who was on reporting duty for the race. Usual pre-race drill took over on arrival which I’ll spare the details. I’ve always been amazed at how many toilet trips one can fit in before a race. A quick catchup with a few people and I made my way to the start for that obligatory time of not really knowing whether it’s nervousness or pure adrenalin that is trying to escape.  I don’t know where the time went, but before I knew it, it was the countdown and 1600 runners were on their way to Route Twisk and the finish line 100km away.

Vibram HK100 course profile
From Start to East Dam

It was good to finally get moving. I spent the first 400m run on the road catching up with a few other runners before the right hand turn onto the trail where I tried to calm down and get into my stride. Things felt good along the first 5km of trail, breaking all my no running uphill rules in the first 50km of the race. After all, rules are there to be broken. I arrived at the East Dam 10 minutes ahead of schedule feeling great. It was great to see Nic and Martijn there who cheered me on. The atmosphere on the first 12km had been fun, but now it was time to focus, find the rhythm and start refuelling. The voices from Trailwalker in my mind from November reminded me to eat on the first uphill from East Dam.

Looking fresh in the first 5km. Photo from Jun Sat

East Dam to Wong Shek Pier

I followed Claire Price up and over to the base of Sai Wan Shan. She glided effortlessly down the stairs to Long Ke beach. I tried my hardest to imitate her downhill running skills and was lucky not to be using my chin as a broom to sweep the steps. Going up Sai Wan Shan, I was in two minds on whether I should slow down as should not be in this position, but I felt comfortable so told myself not to worry about it. Before I knew it we were jogging past the pavilion at the top and heading down to Sai Wan beach.

3 years ago this used to be my most hated hill in Hong Kong and after one occasion being dehydrated in the summer heat I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get to the top.  During the last summer I knew I had to get rid of this lasting memory and had picked one of the hottest days of the year to blast up Sai Wan Shan to purge the memory of crawling up 3 year before. Now my only disappointment is not having the time or the camera to stop and take a photo of the view over to the beaches and Sharp Peak.

A cheer from Romain who was filming with Lloyd on Ham Tin beach spurred me on to what felt like the best egg sandwich I had had in a while at CP1 after running 19km.

From Ham Tin I found my place behind Peter Lee and was feeling really good with the pace. On the hill out of Chek Keng Rupert was there with his camera and cheered us along. The final run into CP2 at Wong Shek Pier appeared effortless. The small uphill bits that were there on my last training run didn’t seem to exist today and before I knew it I was running down the final steps over the timing map at CP2 to the water and food tent to refuel 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Things were going well, but I still had so much adrenalin and excitement in me I wasn’t really aware of who was there cheering us on. Leaving the checkpoint I knew I had to calm myself down somehow.

Running across Sai Wan Beach. Photo from Vibram HK100

Wong Shek to Hoi Ha

This has to be the most technical part of the race and one that I had always worried about going over and twisting an ankle. I had given myself enough timing to take it easy on the leg to Hoi Ha. However the thoughts of twists and slips never surfaced as I followed Peter Lee making his way through the rock obstacles in the path around the coastline even having the pleasure of looking out at the view on occasions. Turning left at the bend near Wan Tsai I was reminded to eat again on the short set of steps uphill. A short run with a couple of local Hong Kong runners who were chatting away took us into CP3 at Hoi Ha to be greeted by very friendly and happy supporters at the CP who helped to fill my bottles. Still obsessed with my timing sheet I was now 17 minutes ahead of my ambitious target schedule and still feeling good. However just as I was leaving the CP, I was stopped dead in my tracks. My eyes caught sight of the biggest box of toblerone chocolate I have ever seen. I couldn’t resist, 36km down and stuffing my face with oranges and chocolate felt great.

Hoi Ha to Yung Shue O

A short way up the road from Hoi Ha I was back on the Peter Lee express and bumped into Rupert with his camera who commented if I was ever going to be anywhere other than 10m behind Peter. Not if I can help it, but I’m not expecting it to last was my response. It was starting to get warm and so I put myself on the pavement in the shade of the trees. A drop down to the right took us on to a concrete trail through the small village of Pak Sha O where a group were cheering us along sitting at a table with a bottle of wine or two. The temptation for a stop was high. The sight of a picnic and glass of wine was pure cruelty to the mind.

During this stretch the concrete trail winds it’s way up through the woods, the gradient not too steep  so I slowly jogged to the top passing a couple of runners on the way. Taking the left hand turn on to trail the first glimpse of Ma On Shan comes into view and brings a smile to my face. Little did I know what state I’d be in 90 minutes later climbing up it. Running past Sham Chung and on the coastal trail was the first point where I could feel myself getting tired. I pushed those thoughts to the side as I ran past the Chinese pineapple trees just outside Yung Shue O and shortly after met Vince just outside the checkpoint at the 45km mark. A quick joke about wanting to steal his motorbike to get to Sai Sha Rd while Hannes, Vince and Alice helped to fill water bottles and stuff oranges down my throat and before I new I was off for the final half and all the hills. I was 20 minutes up on my ambitious target and couldn’t believe how strong I had been going.

Yung Shue O to Kei Ling Ha

On the left hand turn just after the village, the race marshal told me I was in 34th position. I thanked him for putting a smile on my face. I had lost the Peter express and decided that I should calm down and take stock of what was still left to do. This gave me the chance to eat a sandwich whilst walking a flat bit, a real luxury.

At the bottom of Rooster Hill, a fierce climb of around 250m I was feeling tired. It was at this point where I ditched my ever trusty timing schedule and didn’t look at it again for the remainder of the race. The sun was out and it was warm but I went up a steady pace. Near the top some shirtless guy came racing up over and was gone in a flash. The speed of him amazed me. Seeing Martijn filming on the downhill to the road gave me a boost and all the clapping and cheering coming into checkpoint 5 put the smile on my face, but the reality when I now look back at some of the photos taken was clearly a different story.

If I’m brutally honest, I am not that clear at what was going around me at checkpoint 5 or how long I was there for, but don’t think it was too long. I recall Vince and Hannes taking me to a bench and sitting me down and Vince trying to calm me down and telling me to rest for a couple of minutes. I’ve no idea what he said, I was in a trance in my own space. Alice helped with my water bottles, Hannes & Nic gave me food and Rupert took some photos so I could savour the moment at some later point. Having them there no doubt gave me the uplift I needed to push on into the hills of second half. Nic helped me through the traffic across the road, not sure if it was his gangster look with the yellow sunglasses or the look as though I was going to stumble in front of the next moving car, but one eventually stopped and the journey into the big hills was about to start.

 In a world of trouble at the 52km point being looked after by support crew. Photo from Rupert
Nic doing his best gangster look to stop the cars and help me across the road at CP5. Photo from HK Run

Kei Ling Ha to Gilwell Camp

The last I recall as I headed up the trail from CP5 was Vince’s shout, ‘slow down and take it easy’. There was no fear of that not happening in the state I was in. All plans to run up the road section were thrown away as I got my poles out and got into a good fast walking rhythm. I climbed up Ma On Shan at a slow steady pace, but soon realised how dehydrated I was. By the time I got to the top I had gone through half my water and wishing I had filled the spare bottle in my bag. My next thought was ‘oh well, nothing I can do about it now, it’s ration time to Gilwell Camp’. Over the top I ran past all the people with cameras on the ridge and then bumped into Tommy and Speeto who were hiking the other way. From there my troubles really kicked in as I jogged and walked bits to Mau Ping. I was feeling light headed and was struggling to stay awake.

The first steps up to Buffalo Pass and the sharp pain of cramps in both adductors came in. Not really knowing what to do I resorted to putting more electrolytes in my remaining water, stretching and deep breathing to take my mind off the pain. Another runner came past and offered me more electrolytes which was very kind, but I was nervous about going the other way and having to much salt in one go. I tried to stay pretty positive through this section focussing on just moving slowly and stretching and hopefully the cramps would vanish. The one thought I remember the best that came into my head was ‘I want that finisher’s hoodie and I’m going to get it!’. Why this came up into my mind on the steps up to Buffalo Pass I have no idea, but I’ve been jealous of everyone’s warm HK100 hoodies the previous couple years during the Hong Kong winter months and I wanted one, and at that point I was prepared to crawl to the end to get it. It’s always amazed me how the smallest of things can have the biggest of impacts.

Coming into Gilwell camp it was great to the see the supporters at the checkpoint. I hate to think how bad the photo is that was taken by the nice lady there of me cramming as many orange slices in my mouth at the same time as drinking a litre of Pocari Sweat. I was still in my trance and despite the excruciating pain of cramps on each set of steps the past hour I left the checkpoint 6 with a big grin on my face from the positivity and laughs from all the helpers.

Gilwell Camp to Shing Mun

It must have around 4.20pm and the heat of the day was dissipating. I knew in an hour’s time when evening came my low point would come to an end. I always gain strength on the trail once darkness falls.

I ran down the hill from the checkpoint with Chor Kin and he flew off in front when we turned left on the trail. My cramping issues had not gone away and I struggled up Tate’s Cairn, this was the point where I did start to doubt, but I stuck with the view of once night fell in an hour or two it would get better. Running down the road to Shatin Pass it was great to see Vince, Hannes and Alice there to cheer me on and give me some words on encouragement as I stumbled past. On the climb to Beacon Hill things did get better as I was having to stop less frequently to deal with the cramps and on reaching the checkpoint at the top I knew there and then I would make it to the finish line 20kms and 3 of the toughest hills away.

The kids at the checkpoint, like all the volunteers at each checkpoint, were awesome. Lots of fun, laughs and chocolate lycee packets. I left there feeling good with the thought of I can still get to Shing Mun in daylight if I push a bit. I ran pretty quick down the stairs and a good pace on the 2km flat section through the woods to Tai Po Rd, and for once the monkeys seemed more scared of me than the other way round. Ying Ying who I bumped into at checkpoint was right on my tail and we walked and jogged up the hill through the monkey zone together. Having seen his performance on races throughout the season it was a privilege to be able to run with one of the best in Hong Kong. Coming down into Shing Mun we flew along the trail and down the steps in the dark without bothering to get the head torches out, and I was greeted by Hannes and Vince at checkpoint 8. I had a smile and more importantly I had my form back. I was looking forward to Needle Hill and the climb to Hong Kong highest peak, Tai Mo Shan.

Shing Mun to the finish line

I’ve always had a view of Needle Hill. During the daytime it’s a killer, at night it’s absolutely fine as you can’t see where you have to go, and what you can’t see can’t harm you. I was by myself on the climb up but managed a fast and steady pace and was really enjoying it.  Just before the summit I caught up with the runner in front and we ran down the other side together and hiked/jogged up to Grassy Hill together. I had never met KK Chan before, but he is one of the legends on the trail scene and again it was a privilege to be on Needle Hill, Grassy Hill and Tai Mo Shan with another inspirational runner from Hong Kong. The strength was coming back and we ran down into the checkpoint at Leadmine Pass. It had been 1 hours and 10 minutes from Shing Mun, the cramps pretty much gone and I was back on all cylinders.

I took half a jam sandwich at the checkpoint for the start of the climb up Tai Mo Shan. I’ve always enjoyed this climb, probably in the knowledge that the end is in sight. I jogged bits on the plateaux at the top and was catching up other runners. The full moon and the stars were out and the views of the lit up city of Shenzhen, Hong Kong Island and the bridges to Lantau were stunning. One runner near the top going at quite a pace stunned me as he appeared to have no light, but all I could here was this whizzing sound every few seconds and as I got closer I think it was one of the wind up lights. Once on the final 150m of ascent road climb to the summit he was off like a bullet.

The start of the run down with KK Chan we took it easy admiring the views and the clear sky. About half way down I suddenly heard the shouts of Vince, Nic and Martijn who had come up to cheer and follow on the last section to the finish line and tell me to hurry up. I feel very honoured to have run the last stretch to the line with KK Chan and Ying Ying, two great runners in Hong Kong.

I crossed the line in 13 hours and 5 minutes, my 13 month dream had concluded. My first solo 100km ultra ticked.

My target time that I had set myself several months ago had been sub 15 hours and I had smashed it. Some know that I had more recently set myself a very ambitious 12 hour 30 minutes target time. Could I have achieved this? Possibly, had I been more disciplined about water and electrolyte intake. Am I disappointed, not one bit! I exceeded my expectations and even through the difficulties of the 3rd 25kms of the race I had fun. I met some great people on the trails, both runners and volunteer supporters at the checkpoints and it was fantastic to get cheered on by so many friendly faces along the race route.

Post Race Food with Vince, Linda & Vic. Photo from Martijn
I feel exceptionally lucky to have had the support of Vince, Hannes and Alice at various checkpoints along the way and am extremely grateful to them. I got a lot of encouragement from them and from a lot of other friends along the route and am grateful in belief that several people have had in me over the past few month of being able to get out and complete this race. I feel lucky to be in Hong Kong. It’s a great place for getting out on the trails and I feel honoured to be part of the trail running community here.

 My awesome supporters, Hannes, Vince & Alice enjoying time out between checkpoints.

So why do I run?

Before someone asks, wrapping up to my original question, why do I run? I’ve had a lot of time to think about this over the past 6 months on the trails whilst training for this event and my answer has been a return question, what do you miss?

I only really found this out this summer, when I returned to the trails after a long time away with injury.

3 years ago before I got injured when my running was in its early days. Training in the summer heat was a struggle, I wasn’t sure what I was doing and always looking for an excuse for an early exit. The past 6 months since I restarted, my attitude has changed, It doesn’t matter whether I’m in the hills with friends or on a 40km run by myself. I now savour the moments I have out on the trails with my mind in a world of its own. I enjoy the views, the wild sounds in the trees, and the sound of my feet hitting the trail km after km and the ice cold Lai Cha or cold beer at the end of a run tastes even more refreshing then it ever used to.

Even during the last summer on the occasions when the heat got the better of me or I tired myself out and had a way to go to the end of a run, I’d have a smile in the back of my mind as it was not that long ago that being out on the trail was not even a choice.