|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.