Shot of me coming up Violet Hill on last nights LBC/2XU Stairmaster series over The Twins and back, with downtown Hong Kong sparking in the distance.

Reached the checkpoint in 8th, but finished 22nd after a bit of a blow up. Disappointing result, but fantastic race.

Shot of me coming up Violet Hill on last nights LBC/2XU Stairmaster series over The Twins and back, with downtown Hong Kong sparking in the distance.

Reached the checkpoint in 8th, but finished 22nd after a bit of a blow up. Disappointing result, but fantastic race.

Action Asia Lantau MSIG50 Race Report

Alternative title: "A Lesson In Good Pacing and Race Strategy."

Perhaps it was the cathartic process of finally finishing my long overdue Moontrekker race report and all the great feedback I got from people about it that allowed me to process and learn from what was arguably one of the ‘good to worst to best’ races I’ve ever had to endure.

So it was that I found myself at the start of the Action Asia Lantau MSIG50 on a drizzly Saturday morning at 8am completely at peace with the 27km course I was about to destroy. 3h 56m later I would be lying completely spent on the floor of the finish line having just grabbed 1st place in the Mixed Pairs Team category and hit my target of a sub-4hr time, and three days later I am still riding something of a high from it. What went so right with this one, where other races have gone so disastrously wrong for me?

Winning Mixed Pairs Team - 26/27 overall. 

There is no ‘WE MUST RUN FASTER!’ in ‘TEAM’. Certainly, running as a pair with my friend Rachel had a lot to do with it, and the fact that we were using a tow rope also contributed. It held me back in the beginning, where I usually go out far too quickly, and saved me for the latter, tougher vertical. It also taught me a lot about pacing oneself correctly, especially so that you have more to give in the second half of the race, instead of burning yourself out in the first.

Fail to plan and you plan to fail. Recceing the course the previous weekend with Lloyd in extremely wet, cold and dark conditions gave me the confidence on race day I needed - where to push and where to hold back - especially with Rae not really knowing the route very well. Knowing what was coming up and what to expect gave me a distinct psychological advantage but I had to be disciplined, strict and stick to our plan for it to matter. That is ultimately what I did and it really made all the difference.  As runners passed us along the first 6km, Rachel did a great job keeping me in check - reminding me to stick to the plan, and as frustrating as it was sometimes not to be going as fast as I thought we could go, I knew she was making the right calls. Sure enough, almost every runner that passed us in the beginning, we overtook coming back in over the last 8km. Total vindication.

Confidence is a wonderful thing. Above all that, I just felt plan *good*. I was running strong, drinking and eating when I should have been, and really, really enjoying the running, scenery and banter with my running buddy. At no point along the 27km did I hit a wall - and only in the last few km did I feel the twinges of any cramping. Lesson learned - pace well, manage your eating and drinking properly, and the race is yours.

Conditions matter. It also helped, that the weather was playing extremely nice indeed. Cool, spots of light rain, and low humidity all played there part in making the race what it was. If it had been a clearer, sunnier and warmer day, perhaps the results would have been different.

The Course and Run

The race started in Discovery Bay North Plaza and was a relatively easy gentle uphill run on the road and through a tunnel to the back of an apartment block, where it picked up the trail and climbed up single track trail to Yi Pak Au (1.4 km - 160m), then steadily climbs up to Lau Fa Tung (378m). The main trail then converses around the North side of 465m Lo Fu Tau (2.8 km - 441m) with some of the most spectacular open trail that Hong Kong has to offer. We were worried in the beginning about bottlenecking with so much upfront vertical, but the runners really spread out, especially when we reached Lo Fu Tau and could open our legs up a little more.

Halfway through the first 500m of vertical, coming up to Lo Fu Tau.

We were good about conserving energy and effort on the hard slog up, and it felt good to be able to open up and settle in to a solid pace. It was also really great to see the smiling faces of friends and runners who had made the climb themselves earlier to cheer competitors on - Nora and Hannes particularly. Eventually we hit the Olympic trail heading to Pak Mong and Ngau Kwu Long village (7.8 km - 12m) which is almost at sea level and was the first water check point. I chose not to run with any Perpetuem or Sustained Energy and instead was using a half Pocari half water mix in my 24oz hand held, with one Endurolyte tablet an hour. This really seemed to work for me. I was also taking a salt tab every 45 mins and dropping a gel every hour. Again, Rachel was great here constantly reminding me to eat to our schedule and checking up on me regularly on hydration. I was carrying .75 litres of water in my backpack as a reserve but didn’t dip too much into it as it was a cool and dry day.

Pak Mong to Sunset Peak was the next bit of serious vertical, taking us all the way up and around the 482m Por Kai Shan (9.1 km), eventually passing 706m Lin Fa Shan and reaching a max elevation of 682m before descending to the Lantau trail junction of the Sheung Tung Au (14.6 km - 613m), where we then dropped down to Nam Shan. It was seriously windy and cold up on the ridges, and the new stairs a serious pain, but our pace really was excellent and again I felt incredibly strong both mentally and physically. I really wanted to run some of the uphill but Rachel, ever the voice of reason and calm, was there to remind me that there was still some way to go, and I resisted temptation. This discipline would serve me well in the latter part of the race.

Heading up to Sheung Tung Au - the only time Rae was towing me, and I have to say I preferred being the tower! This gave me an opportunity to recharge and ‘relax’ for a bit.

We unhooked from the rope to give us a break as we started down into Nam Shan and CP2 (14.6 km - 132m descent). This was a nice bit of downhill trail/stair mix and when we got arrived it was a surprise to see Meg, Andre and Jeremy were all there. It was a real boost to see them and have a quick chat as we grabbed a banana and filled up on water/Pocari. They made a few quips about the rope ('Who's pulling who?!') and then we were off with a ‘WHOOP!’ - flying down the old village trail to Mui Wo. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Fuck, I love the Hong Kong running community!’ only to have Rae verbally say it as we took off. I’ve met very few runners here with ego, attitude or agenda - most just seem to enjoy running and want to share that passion with anyone else who feels the same.

From here to Luk Tei Tong in Mui Wo (18.4 km) and along the Olympic trail that took us thru Mui Wo past Nim Po Tsuen and the Silvermine Cave and Waterfall we were running alone, at a really enjoyable pace, side by side and really just incredibly focused on what we had left to do. We both smashed our last gels and when we reached the flat at the top we picked off a couple of those who had steamed past us early on in the race - obviously struggling at this point. Tearing past them gave us a great boost and we really blitzed along the path, running the uphill sections until the turn off for Lo Fu Tau (21.6 km - 178m) where we were back on the singletrack, following the same trail back around Lo Fu Tau (25 km - 441m), Lau Fa Tung (25.4 km - 378m) and Yi Pak Au (26.6 km - 160m) and back down to Discovery Bay and the finish.

We picked off every single on of these runners on our way to the finish. Just saying.

This for me, was my finest moment. Rachel was starting to tire having not done much training since her tremendous effort a few weeks earlier in the 100km Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker and was struggling on and off with the pace, but I had a lot left to give and didn’t need to dig too deep for it. I smashed a redbull just before the first vertical gain section and my god, it was like I had a nitrous button in me. I’ll definitely be trying that again. It was around the 20km mark where we realised we were still on for a sub-4hr time and if we could just keep this pace, we would get it.

And so it would go, from 1km to 27km. Thanks Hannes for the photo!

As we got to Lau Fa Tung we saw Nora and then Hannes again, the latter telling us that he reckoned we were the 1st Mixed Team he’d seen go past which was encouraging. The last few km back down into DB were a blur of trail - we were both really pushing and as soon as we hit concrete again and were headed back through the tunnel to the finish area I’m pretty sure we were going as fast as we could. I stole a quick look at my watch and could see we were definitely coming in under 4h but I didn’t want to back off the pace. Finish on empty!

Sure enough, we came in at 3hr 56m, not too far off the winning Men’s Pair Team (8 mins) and a full hour ahead of the #2 Mixed Pair’s Team. I was wasted, and my quads were thrashed, but I felt…fantastic. I mean really, really good. I was feeling a high I had not felt for quite some time and it was great hanging out at the end chatting with other racers and friends - thanks again to Meg for the banter and celery!

This was my first medal win since moving back to Hong Kong and it felt pretty damn good. Don’t think I would have done it without Rachel shouting at me to ‘slow the fuck down’ occasionally though.

More important than the win for me however, was the racing partnership, and how much Rachel taught me about running a good race - your own race. It was really nice running with someone who had the patience to bear with me at times when I may have been unreasonable - pull me back when I needed it and let me go when it was appropriate. It was the discipline I have badly needed. It was the *fun* I have badly needed. Moreover, it was the race I have badly needed.

We were smiling when we started, we were smiling halfway through it, and we were smiling at the end. I’m looking forward to the next MSIG50 in Sai Kung on March 9th, a day after my birthday, where I hope we will take another medal placing in the mixed pairs. As long as we go out there and run the kind of race we ran here though, I don’t think I’ll mind where we finish.

To view the course route in more detail please click here to view the Runkeeper stats.

Moontrekker 2012 Race Report

It’s 12:42am, my head is in my hands and I’m hunched over, sitting in the quiet, dark of night at the top of a steep set of stairs, willing myself not to fall asleep, or worse, quit. At my feet lies a pool of partly digested bananas, trail mix, gels and Perpetuem that I have just thrown up, and my right calf just cramped again.

This is not how my race was supposed to go.

I look at my watch and I know that I am going to miss my 5h20m target, but by how long is wholly dependent on how much longer I plan on sitting here feeling sorry for myself, and how soon I can manage to get control of the cramping. Just as I get up to try and start moving again I throw up, but this time it’s just water. As I stand there trying to steady myself I remember this quote:

Run when you can, walk when you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up. - Dean Karnazes.

I say it over and over again in my head and then start saying it, louder and louder, and the more I say it the angrier I get, and the angrier I get the more I want to get moving, regardless of what my body is telling me.

Just. Never. Give. Up.

Race Background

The Barclays Moontrekker takes place on Lantau island - home to some of the regions best and most varied trail - and is run at night over two distances: the shorter Moonlit 26km course (11.20pm start) that misses the Chi Ma Wan (芝麻灣) loop, and the full Sunrise 40km (9pm kick off). Started a few years ago originally as a hiking event, participants were encouraged to ‘Beat The Sunrise’ by getting to the top of Lantau Peak before dawn break. While many individuals and teams still treat it as such an event, it has grown to be Hong Kong’s leading night time ultra, with the competition field growing in strength and winning times getting faster each year. Jeremy Ritcey broke the 42k course record this year with an incredible 4h:04m.

The Beginnng

I felt good as runners and hikers alike lined up for the start of the Sunrise 40 in the Mui Wo public sports playground - convinced that my intense training would pay off. I had run the complete course twice already and hit my splits repeatedly, so my confidence was high. Not a particularly cool evening, but not too humid and at least not raining - all I had to to was run my own race and stick to my plan. I have a tendency to go out too hard and too fast at the beginning of races and because the beginning of the course turns onto single track fairly early on, it’s an attractive proposition to get out quickly and avoid the bottleneck.

I got a fairly good start and as the pack started to spread coming out of Mui Wo on to the coastal path to Chi Ma Wan, I felt a liquid start to drip down my back. Initially thinking that my bladder might have sprung a leak, as soon as the smell of pickle hit me I knew that the tube of pickle juice I had packed must have exploded. Sure enough when I reached back and pulled it out, the top had unscrewed. The smell would haunt me for the entirety of my race, and I never did get to see if pickle juice really does get rid of cramping, as the Kami Semick video I posted a while back suggests.

From Mui Wo, along the coastal path to Chi Ma Wan (7km) I really enjoyed the running and terrain. I’d made a mix especially for the race and it was working well. I was focused on my breathing and pace and enjoying the running. As the route moved in to Chi Ma Wan the runners really started to spread out and I found myself running alone quite often. Although the isolation helped me focus, it unfortunately also gave me a false sense of security and for some reason I decided to up my pace which for the first few km was fine, but coming round a corner too fast I caught my foot on a root and fell. I fell twice again after that in fairly quick succession all within a couple of km, and the last one made me lose all my salt tabs. I picked up the few I could still see on the ground, dusted myself off and carried on. I wasn’t hurt by any of them save for a bit of grazing but my confidence had taken a bit of a knock, and the last 6km I could feel myself starting to struggle. I tried to refocus on my surroundings and not get too frustrated but I knew my mood had changed, and I’d been passed by several runners as I tried to compose myself.

I was still hitting my splits as I came into CP1 at the 16km mark and stopped briefly to refill my water and grab a banana. Straight after was the first real taste of any vertical with a 3km climb up and descent into CP2 at Nam Shan. I started well, climbing at a consistent pace, but the steps down into the next checkpoint seemed to go on forever and as I arrived I felt the first murmurings of cramps. I took a few minutes to stretch myself out before I carried on. The next 8km along the Sunset contour path to Pak Kung Au were going to be tough and it’s the section where I’d had a big cramping session in the race last year that cost me 20 minutes. I made a decision to take it easy and walk for the first 15 minutes, then switched to a 5-3-5 pattern - run for 5 mins, walk for 3, run for 3, repeat.

The Middle

That damn contour path broke me again. I battled on and off with multiple cramping episodes for most of the 9km from CP2 at Nam Shan. Thus, progress had been slow and at certain points, painfully so. I ran (almost literally) into Lloyd when I finally reached CP3 in Pak Kung Au (伯公坳) and he stretched me out as my hamstrings went again. I was feeling quite lightheaded and having trouble getting deep breaths, so I lay down on the grass, closed my eyes, and tried to figure out what I needed to do to get through the next 13k, including the nearly 500m final push up Lantau Peak (鳳凰山).

(A photograph says 1,000 words. This is not me, but I most certainly shared the sentiment expressed on this chaps face. Photo by Lloyd Belcher Visuals.)

It was starting to get colder and was fairly windy in the exposed checkpoint. As I left to make my way down the old Tung Chung Road and the path to Po Lam Monastery I saw a lot of people quitting - sitting waiting at the bus stop or walking down to the finish at Palm Beach. I remember thinking ‘what a waste!’ - if they could still walk why weren’t they pushing themselves to finish! The leg downhill to the nature trail was painful - the cramping had subsided by my quads were thrashed and I could only manage a slow pace. I realised at this point that I hadn’t been eating much for the past 10km at all. I was sick of gels at this point but smashed one down with a banana and some trail mix.

Coming in to Po Lam is where the serious uphill begins. Snaking around the Northern slope of Lantau Peak you see the impeccable vegetable gardens tended to by the monks of Po Lam Zen Monastery. For centuries, this ancient trail formed the only link between Tung Chung old village and Ngong Ping Monastery. By day it’s a wonderful sojourn, but this evening was cold, damp and eerie as I found myself running alone again with only my headlamp for company. I managed to run most of the vertical up into Ngong Ping last year, but could only manage a quick walking pace up and around the village this time. I could hear people behind me talking and laughing and that put pressure on me to pull my shit together and try to focus on getting a good rhythm going.

As I reached the top of a large flight of steep stairs that I had really pushed myself up, I felt terribly out of breath and extremely nauseous. I knew my heart rate was dancing well above where it should be and I was starting to feel quite light headed. I sat down on a low wall to catch my breath and the minute I sat down, my stomach emptied itself of its contents. Soon after that I cramped again. The voices I had heard earlier caught up and stopped to check on me but I waved them by with a grunt and a ‘thanks - good luck’. Doubt started to creep its way into my head again and I started to get angry.

It was at this point I realised that I hadn’t been running my race, or at least, hadn’t been running the race for myself - for my own enjoyment. I’d been running it for somebody else, to prove a point, to exorcise demons, and it had backfired. My time became irrelevant now - I just wanted to finish. I got up, took a deep breath, and started walking.

Just. Never. Give. Up.

The End

I walked for most of the way up to Ngong Ping and CP4 - the last checkpoint. I ran the flats, but the uphill was brutal. That said, I caught up with a few people and at the top in the checkpoint tent I grabbed a ginger tea, stretched myself out, dropped another gel and grabbed some white bread. It was a decent, flat run in to the base of Lantau Peak, then a final 500m push to the summit before the downhill to Cheung Sha beach - 6km in total. I started off with a slow jog and was started to feel ok again. No cramps, no more nausea, and Led Zeppelin were singing me into the last ascent. I don’t really know what came over me but I didn’t want to stop running even when I reached the base, so I didn’t. I passed several people who were walking at this point, and several others passed me running, but neither made me care much. All I wanted to do was get up this bastard mountain and get down to the finish as quickly as I could.

A third of the way up I smashed my last gel and plugged in Propagandhi’s new album ‘Failed States’ and at times was literally crawling my way up and over the over-sized stairs. I surprised myself by getting to the ridge-line in pretty good time, but it was foggy, windy and damn cold up there and it was still a good climb to the true summit. I was shouting out along with the music at this point and anybody within earshot, not that they could have seen me through the pea soup we were in, would probably have thought I’d gone a bit mental. I think I probably had too. Sanity aside, I made it to the top, but rather than stop to compose myself before the descent, I just waved at a huddled collective of people and hurtled my way down the stairs. I don’t know if I got a second wind or whatever, but I threw my way down that descent, in the knowledge that if I stopped, my legs would cramp up again.

The thing is, the more I pushed, the better I felt, and the more people I passed, the faster I wanted to go, and the faster I went, the more fun I was having. By the time I reached the flat of the ridge I had passed over 16 people going down the stairs and a few who of them had cheered me on which really gave me a great confidence boost. The final couple of km back down to Pak Kung Au is probably some of the most enjoyable, fun, solid running I think I have ever done. I remember ‘whooping’ a few times and laughing manically as I fist pumped and did air drums to ‘The Who’. Laughter - that’s what had been missing from so much of this race for me.

You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have - Scott Jurek

Coming in to Pak Kung Au all I could think about was that I was only 1.5km away from the finish. All downhill, on concrete, but so close. People were still streaming in to CP3 and there were also a lot of people lying around the road obviously having given up. I was glad I hadn’t been one of them. I passed yet more people on my way down and stole a quick look at my watch - a sub-6hr was still possible - I just had to dig deep again and push for 10 more minutes. I gave it everything I had, but I came in just over that at 6:02, arriving at the garden in Palm Beach in a crumpled mess but still laughing and just glad to be there at the finish with friends. I stayed there chatting with people until well after dawn, eating several hotdogs, watching other friends finish, swapping war stories and catching a nap here and there.

When the results came out a few days later I was surprised to see that I had come a respectable 29th out of 180 for the Sunrise 40 Solo category. Not all of course were running, but I also managed to shave 34mins off my time from last year.

(Sunrise from Palm Beach on Lantau.)

(This is me and my amazing runner/friend Denvy. She picked me up in the final km of her Moonlit 26km, which she went on to totally OWN by being 1st Overall & Female SOLO in 03:39:48. I look like death.)

The Takeaways

I have *got* to stop going out too quickly at the start of races. I need to really focus on running my own race but ultimately, I have to start enjoying it, because if I’m not going to have fun doing it then what’s the point? I run because I love it - what it teaches me and how I grow from it - but I don’t ever want to get to the point that I don’t look forward to races or running because I feel like I *have* to be doing it again. I just want to go out there and have fun and learn more and grow more and if I become a better runner because of that then cool. I guess I’m just getting a bit tired of trying to be competitive in something that I’m really just average at. I need to stop competing with others and start competing with myself.

I’m still getting used to running solo. There were a few points along the way where it would have been pretty awesome to have someone to tell me to harden up, stop complaining and just get on with it, and also to have had a tow line! I toyed with finding a runner partner to do the pairs category as I did last year, but ultimately decided I wanted to give it a go on my own. I did, and I learned a lot.

Fear and doubt will ruin you. I conquered a few demons out there. I found my limits and smashed through them. You always have more to give, even when you think you don’t. Just dig deep enough and you’ll find that reserve, and when you do you’ll be glad you did.

(Final stats.)

Lantau 2 Peaks 2012 Race Report

Not quite sure where to start with this one, what with it being such a literal and figurative race of so many ups and downs. The first race of the season, with 15km and 22km distances, it has the ominous distinction of being one of the most brutal mountain races in Hong Kong, with the ability to make or break you. Many fall into the latter category, myself included on this occasion.

The Course

Starting in Tung Chung town center on North Lantau, after a flat couple of km to the base of the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car Rescue trail it’s then about a 4.5km climb of 500m elevation gain from sea level before topping out at the Nei Lek Shan contour trail that leads to the base of Lantau Peak. A 1.5km vertical climb of 400m gets you to the peak, and then it’s straight down to Pak Kung Au - an elevation loss of 400m over 2km. Then the climb to Sunset Peak begins, and though not as brutal as the approach to Lantau Peak, it’s still an elevation gain of another 400m over a couple of km. That’s the end of the climbing though, as 15km-20km takes the Sunset Peak descent to Wong Lung Hang trail and road, and back to the start at Tung Chung Citygate - a loss of about 700m over 6km.

(1623m elevation gain, 1623m loss. Total elevation gain/loss 3246m. Highest point 934m.)

The Race

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to get some initial whining over and done with. 10 days previously I stacked it hard coming off the Twins and cut myself up pretty good. I thought I’d cleaned them up pretty well when I got home but a few days later there was some serious swelling, redness and oozing going on. Suffice it to say that when I went to get them looked at, the doctor made the kind of face a doctor makes before he’s about to deliver news you might not want to hear. Apparently I hadn’t done a good enough job with my cleaning efforts and he was worried about septicaemia. When I asked him about how this would affect my training and indeed the race I had soon, his answer was simply, “Cannot.”

Fast forward 5 days, 3 hospital visits and a course of antibiotics later and I was at the starting line, against his advice, with the wounds heavily bandaged and strapped. Probably not the smartest thing I have ever done, but I can be stubborn sometimes and I was damned if I was going to let something like that get in the way of a race. My target time of 3h30m or below was thus probably a little ambitious, given my physical, and suitably affected, mental state.

As usual, I went out far too fast in the beginning, but with 1,200 runners in the event I didn’t want to get stuck in a bottleneck going up the first climb. So, I put a bit of gas on the opening flats, and even going up the stairs to the first plateau I was probably going 20-30% faster than I should have been, passing way too many people. Although clear and sunny, it felt deceptively cooler that it was in reality, and although I was making sure to drink every few minutes, I feel like I should have been drinking more.

(Coming down from Sunset Peak. Image courtesy of Lloyd Belcher/Lloyd Belcher Visuals)

When I reached the top of the Rescue trail and hit the Nei Lek Shan contour trail, I felt really, really good. It was a nice bit of (relative) flat, and fantastic trail that hugs the northern side of Ngong Ping with fantastic open and expansive views into the valley below. Feeling inspired, and rocking a new playlist, I opened up and threw myself along the trail, passing several more runners and getting increasingly amped. Alas, this was not to last.

I ran into the first check point at the base of Lantau Peak still feeling good but spent a little too long fiddling around with refilling my perpetuem bottle and bladder, consequently losing about 5 minutes and having to watch several runners that I had already passed, steam through. The climb up Lantau Peak was a grind - it always is - but I was really starting to feel the heat by this point and progress was slow. I was getting passed fairly regularly by this point by those who had done a better job pacing themselves over the opening kilometres, and that got pretty demoralising and frustrating. To add to this torment - when I reached the last climb up the ridge to the summit, I felt the first twinges of cramp settling in - first in my left, then my right calf. I’d only brought 3 salt tabs with me and planned on one an hour but dropped one early at this point to stave off a full onslaught.

Unfortunately it was too little, too late, and almost immediately coming down off the summit, first my left calf went, then my inner right thigh, and then all hell broke loose. I can’t ever remember cramping up that badly in a race before and what made it even more frustrating is that in over 2 months of solid training, including numerous peaks in even hotter weather, I not ONCE even twinged a cramp. The run down to the last checkpoint at Pak Kung Au was more of an intermittent hobble/walk/run combination that must have been the most ridiculous thing to watch, but I do have to thank the numerous people breezing past me who did stop to ask if I was doing ok. 

(It was great to see so many volunteers and friends/runners dotted along the course - some of them clanging awesome cowbells! Image courtesy of Lloyd Belcher/Lloyd Belcher Visuals)

I stopped at Pak Kung Au pagoda to stretch out for a few minutes but every time I tried to get up I would just cramp again, so I lay down to stretch out and a kind soul came over to help. I don’t mind admitting that at this point, and at least one or two more points along the way, I thought about calling it quits and using my injury and the cramps as a suitable excuse for doing so. Thankfully, although my mind was thinking silly things, my spirit was much stronger and I managed to push through these low points by thinking about…ice cream. Specifically, a flake99. Weird.

Counting the people passing me on the slog up to Sunset proved a fruitless and disheartening endeavour so I tried to focus on putting one foot in front of the other together with whatever pace or rhythm I could muster. A friend and fellow runner, Anthony, picked me up about halfway and it was really nice to have the company and a chat. He was struggling too and a hole in his pack had deprived him of his salts and gels, so I gave him my last gel and somewhere near the summit caught a second wind and took off along the ridge approach. I managed to work up to a pretty good pace after a few minutes and started picking runners off again. I love the Sunset Peak descent - it’s one of my favourite trails in Hong Kong, and knowing that it was all downhill from here gave me the boost I needed.

(Runners descend Sunset Peak on Lantau. Image courtesy of Lloyd Belcher/Lloyd Belcher Visuals)

The second spate of cramps didn’t hit until I was about 1/3 of the way down the Wong Lung Hang trail - I took a long leap over a rock in the trail and as soon as I landed my hamstrings went - both of them. Soon after that both my inner thighs went, along with my left calf again. I have never known such pain and I don’t mind telling you it brought me to tears. Such a sudden, intense, crippling pain and I was rock bottom again, not even able to hobble. I stood very still to the side of the path as runner after runner passed me by, careful not to make any sudden movements for fear of setting anything off. I stayed there for about 10 minutes, trying my best to stretch everything out, before the hero of the day stopped to check on me and kindly offered me his last salt tab. Karma baby. Give, and ye shall receive!

The rest of the descent was pure hell - reoccurring spasms, unrelenting stairs and heat, bouts of self doubt and having to watch yet more runners pass me. I had to stop about 1km from the finish to stretch out again and it was here that Anthony caught me up. He very kindly helped me stretch out and we both hobbled off to the finish, geeing each other up. When he wanted to stop literally around the corner from the finish line I had to shout him back into focus and pull him along with me. We ran in together to finish at 3h55m, 119th out of 1,200, and 55th in my category of Men’s aged 30-39.

(To view this map in detail please visit my Runkeeper page)

I lay, utterly spent, on the floor of the finish area for a little while, taking it all in and trying to process what had just happened and calm myself down. I tend to get extremely disappointed with myself when I don’t hit my targets and I was having a hard time with this one. Yes, I wasn’t physically 100% and yes, I got terrible cramps, but shouldn’t I really have been able to push through all that and hit my targets? Did I really give everything that I had to give - did I finish on empty?

It’s only today, as I write this, that I can say with some certainty that I did indeed finish on empty. I gave everything that I had to give to the race, and as disappointing the time and position are, I still finished under 4 hours. I gave it my all and I need to stop beating myself up about it - I couldn’t have done any better than I did. Race done, move on. That said, I’m determined to run the same course before the end of the year just to prove to myself that I can run a sub 3:30 on it. For the most part, I feel content that I ran my own race. I certainly conquered my fair share of demons along the way.

Insights

I’ve mentioned a few times already how many people stopped to check on me when I was clearly struggling. It really needs to be said that the trail running community in Hong Kong is amazing. From the volunteers, to the supporters cheering people on, to competitors racing against each other stopping to make sure injured rivals are okay and offering their last salt tabs - it’s heartening to know that it’s not just all about the race.

I very clearly underestimated the intensity of this race and the weather, and overestimated my abilities on the day. I need to pay more attention to my electrolyte intake, I need to pace myself, and I need to be okay starting slower and finding my rhythm before I try to up the ante, or I will continue to wreck things with illusions of grandeur.

I came incredibly close to throwing in the towel on more than a couple of occasions but always came back to the quote some ways down on this blog from Scott Jurek:

“Fear is what makes you come alive, the lure of the unknown — can I do this? — that’s where the growth comes from, the pain. I don’t remember the running effortlessly; I remember the hard times; adversity breathes transformation.” - Scott Jurek

Adversity breathes transformation. I can’t think of a better reason not to stop than that. Can you?

Finally

This report wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the amazing athletic accomplishments of the 21km Men’s and Women’s Top 5. Jeremy Ritcey set a new course record of 2:25:54 and the amazing Claire Price was only 30-odd minutes off that in the Women’s. Amazing stuff.

Upcoming 2012/2013 Race Season Report

A few nights ago I was toying with the idea of adding to my race schedule post by trying to describe some of the races. Well, Rachel at HK Adventure Baby beat me to the punch by posting a rather comprehensive guide to Hong Kong’s upcoming 2012/2013 race season:

TRAIL RUNNING…who needs toenails anyway?

Go give it a read and spend some time poking around the rest of the blog as there are some great posts and insights into outdoor life in Hong Kong.

Pick a trail, any trail. (Sai Kung)