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…


No comments:

Post a Comment