Head in the clouds.

This weekend saw the last of my heavy training for the 100km UTMB CCC in a couple of weeks time. Overall I’m feeling good about what I managed to get done over the summer, focusing on quality, not quantity, and trying not to get sucked into running too many junk miles. I think I timed my peak just right and strangely enough, am looking forward to the taper for once!

Heading to Chamonix at the end of this week and looking forward to some recces and acclimatisation time in the mountains with friends before the race. It’s been a long, hot summer!

#roadtochanonix #dreamrace #ultrarunner #ultrarunning #utmb14 #ccc #training #trailrunner #trailrunning #trailporn #trailandultra #runner #running #hktrailrunner #hktrailrunning #mountainrunner #mountainrunning #hongkongtrailrunners #hongkong  (at 大帽山)

Head in the clouds.

This weekend saw the last of my heavy training for the 100km UTMB CCC in a couple of weeks time. Overall I’m feeling good about what I managed to get done over the summer, focusing on quality, not quantity, and trying not to get sucked into running too many junk miles. I think I timed my peak just right and strangely enough, am looking forward to the taper for once!

Heading to Chamonix at the end of this week and looking forward to some recces and acclimatisation time in the mountains with friends before the race. It’s been a long, hot summer!

#roadtochanonix #dreamrace #ultrarunner #ultrarunning #utmb14 #ccc #training #trailrunner #trailrunning #trailporn #trailandultra #runner #running #hktrailrunner #hktrailrunning #mountainrunner #mountainrunning #hongkongtrailrunners #hongkong (at 大帽山)

Above the clouds at 2,780m on #mtfuji in #japan. 

#hiking #training #trailrunning #asia #outdoors #adventure  (at Mount Fuji)

Above the clouds at 2,780m on #mtfuji in #japan.

#hiking #training #trailrunning #asia #outdoors #adventure (at Mount Fuji)

This is part of the #Nepalese training program for their long distance runners. 10x up and 10x down. Ram does it in 1:17 and the best I could manage was 1:54. Machines. #training #pressuresteps #running

This is part of the #Nepalese training program for their long distance runners. 10x up and 10x down. Ram does it in 1:17 and the best I could manage was 1:54. Machines. #training #pressuresteps #running

2012: A Racerspective.

It’s highly likely that I spent more time thinking about how witty a title I could come up with for this post, than the time I spent pulling the actual musings together, but this has been sitting in my draft folder since Boxing Day and one of my goals for this year is to get a handle on my procrastinating!

Indeed, this was to be a tough, introspective look back at the 2011/12 season and all it’s highs and lows, but the more I remembered the more I realised that there were really only a few key moments that bear recounting - the races, both good and bad, that I learned things from.

Moontrekker 2011

This 40km race around Lantau Island overnight in late October was the first pairs race I’ve ever done, with my then girlfriend. We came in 5th for our category in 6h 30m, which we were both pretty happy with, but if she had been running by herself she’d probably have smashed a far better time than that. This would ring true for most of the races we ran together last year. We started out at my pace, which back then, as it was in the first few races of this season, was too fast, and we had a bit of a blow out after about 20km. As a seasoned triathlete she knew about pacing and had a good strategic approach to running races, so it’s a pity I didn’t spend more time listening to her advice. I cramped up big time at the 30km mark and we blew a lot of time dealing with that - at least 20 minutes. This too would be a recurring theme of my races last year. 

What was learned?

Nothing, apparently, if the races that followed it are anything to go by. I should have spent more time looking into the cramping issues and experimenting with nutrition and hydration on training runs. More importantly, this should have been an indicator of how incompatible as running partners my ex and I were to be. 

GreenPower50

This 50km run along the Hong Kong Trail in mid-January 2012 was a run of two halves. I felt absolutely horrible for the first 25km - couldn’t find my flow, was tired and crotchety and running with my ex again, only we were entered as individuals rather than a pair. Things came to a head at the top of Mount Parker when we got into a pretty brutal argument and I seriously considered packing it in, but my ego got the better of me. It was pure anger and frustration that drove me the remaining 25km to Big Wave Bay and a strong finish - from memory I believe we came in at around the 5hr 15m mark, which was pretty good. I had a couple of minor cramping issues but on the whole seemed to manage my hydration and eating rather well, especially considering how broken I was feeling.

What was learned?

I tried salt tabs on this run, in unison with gels, every 40 minutes, and an electrolyte and water mix in my hydration bladder, and that seemed to help with energy levels and the cramping. I realised that no matter how low and how beaten down you feel, there is always more to give. You hit a wall, and you break through the damn thing. Persevere, believe in and push yourself, and you will reap the rewards. I had tremendous resilience on the last 8km of this run around the Tai Tam catchment and up and over Dragon’s Back, and it felt amazing to finish on empty and to have passed so many runners on the second half. Focus, focus, focus.

Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra

Ah yes, the race that almost broke me. This was the final nail in the coffin of my season. Previous to this my only other 100km race was the Oxfam Trailwalker that I had completed 2 years earlier in 22 hours, 3 hours over our goal. I had trained for months over the long hot summer to get in shape for that, never having run further than 20km before. Heading in to the Vibram, which last year was in February, I had managed about 1/3 of the training that I wanted to do and was out of shape in body, mind and spirit, dreading race day. A week before the race I managed to completely psyche myself out about the event, convinced I was not going to enjoy it and that I was underprepared. I had in fact, not really been enjoying running at all for a little while, though at the time I wasn’t sure why. My ex and I had discussed target times but in the end decided, due to our lack of training and planning, just to run it and see what happened, but in reality I think we were probably thinking, or hoping, that we would come in closer to the 17hr mark.

The first 20km I really enjoyed, the second 20km was tough, the next 10km was pure hell, but once I hit rock bottom at the top of Ma On Shan I slipped into auto-pilot, found my flow, and pushed my sorry self around the rest of the course to finish in 20h 02m. I think I felt every emotion under the sun on this one, but what stands out is running down Tai Mo Shan to Route Twisk in the thick fog, pushing so hard to get in under the 20 hour mark, but not having enough gas or will to achieve it.

What was learned?

You simply cannot run with no training and expect good results - fail to plan, and you plan to fail. With no defined goal other than ‘finishing’ and little preparation, we had nothing to aim for, nothing to strive to. I spent far too long at checkpoints and at my lowest point was again ready to pack it in. I pushed on though, I broke through that funk and found something inside me that I didn’t know I had - the will to carry on when things weren’t going the way I wanted them to. As with the GreenPower50, I found a source of strength that carried me through, but the source was anger, frustration, pain and disappointment again - I don’t really recall enjoying much of the race save for a few brief moments and memories. Too focused was I, on the destination, that I completely missed out on the journey. 

Summary

I didn’t race again after the HK100 last year, I actually stopped running completely for a while. I needed to reset, take a long break, and learn to run again for the pure pleasure of it, not because I was training for anything, and not because I felt pressure to do well. Last season taught me a lot about my running, and about myself, and really it’s what has led to me becoming a better runner this season already, certainly in terms of how my body works and being more in-tune with it.

After a good summer break I started training again, with focus, drive, determination and passion. I found my limits again and again, and I smashed through them. I switched my diet to cut down on meat and eat more fruit and vegetables, I experimented with different nutrition on the trails, and I got stronger. My confidence grew and I started to enjoy running again for the pure pleasure of it, but in conjunction with pushing myself to be a better runner through a strict training plan that taught me to be disciplined. I have learned to run my own race, finally, and to enjoy the journey again. I’m done with running other people’s races.

I failed a lot last year, in many spectacular ways, but I learned from it, finally, in ways that have contributed to several personal successes already this season: 

- Knocked 36 mins off my Moontrekker time from last year.

- Ran a 3-day Ultra Marathon (40km/40km/20km) in Nepal which taught me more invaluable lessons about pacing, race strategy, and post-race recovery.

- Won the Lantau MSIG50 (27km) Mixed Team Pairs.

- Came 7th in my category for the King Of The Hills Tai Po run, and 22nd overall.

I’ve also met a lot of fantastic new people through my running this past year, many of whom I now consider good friends both on and off the trail and who I look up to immensely as the dedicated, passionate and skilled runners they are - they’ve taught me many invaluable lessons and offered great tips and tricks. 

My goals for the rest of the 2012/2013 season are simple: Run for the journey and the enjoyment of it, and don’t get caught up in results.

I believe in myself, what I am capable of and what I can accomplish, and I’m excited for the next few races I have coming up. I’m excited, because I’ll be running, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone, and that is what I love to do - just run. 

Got cramps?

So I’ve been doing a bit of research since my 2 Peaks cramping disaster and discovered a secret weapon - pickle juice! Yep, apparently drinking the juice of pickles almost immediately will stop cramping. I’m kind of hoping that I don’t ever have to test this out on the field and that was a bizarre one off episode, but just in case I’m going to fill a small 300ml bottle with some for this Fridays Barclays Moontrekker. Here is the very lovely Kami Semick talking a little about the benefits, but for a more in-depth look at the science behind it you can read this New York Times article.

A tale of two runs.

This being a rest day, and the fact that it hasn’t stopped pouring down rain for the past few hours, I figured now would be a pretty good time to pen some thoughts about my weekend mileage.

The Bad

In stark contrast to the cool and dry temperatures of last week that had me bombing trails and breaking PB’s left, right and center, I awoke on Saturday to the most humid, despicably hot day we’ve had for weeks. My masochistic training plan had me committed to 35km - even before the slow death march up to the Peak I knew that was going to be a big ask, and true enough, I simply couldn’t lock in to any kind of pace whatsoever. Maybe it was running with other people after so many solitary sojourns, or just the heat, or the fact I don’t ever run in the mornings, or not eating enough breakfast, or my wearing black compression tights in the sun and heat for the first time in weeks, or a combination of it all, but I never felt comfortable out there and I don’t remember enjoying much of it, if anything at all.

I had to pull up at Wan Chai Gap around the 15km mark - out of water, out of will and seemingly out of hope - to sit in the shade and refill my 2L water bladder from the shop. 2 bananas, 2 pocaris, an ice lolly and 15 minutes later I was good to go.

The next 15km were a blur of sweat, cursing, and pushing myself to the very limits of my endurance. I had to stop and walk for several minutes at a time, in fact I fell into a 10-3-8-2 cycle pattern - run for 10, walk for 3, run for 8, walk for 2 - and it really seemed to help - well that and the sandwich I stopped to eat at the Parkview Park n’Shop under the air-con. I arrived at Stubbs Rd roundabout via Sir Cecil’s having just hit 30km, with every intention of hitting Bowen for the final 5km. However, as I stood waiting to cross the road my will wavered, and instead I sat down on a bus stop bench, half of me committed to the task at hand, the other half trying to talk that half down. Well, the short of it is that the latter half won that battle, and I’m still smarting about it.

Honestly thinking about it now, I could have run that extra damn 5km along Bowen, so why didn’t I? Why did I give up? I haven’t been training 5 days a week for the past 7 weeks to just stop because I felt a little uncomfortable. I’m really still disappointed in myself, but have resigned myself to be OK with simply having a bad running day. We all have them, and I haven’t had one for quite a while, so I’m at peace with not feeling it on the day. What I’m not OK with is quitting the way I did.

Takeaways are thus: (1) Get more morning runs in - few, if any, of the upcoming races this season will be starting in the afternoon so I need to get used to getting up early, preparing and eating properly, and running before the afternoon. (2) Run your own race, face your own fears, beat your own demons. (3) DO NOT FUCKING QUIT WHEN IT GETS TOUGH. This is when you will learn the most about yourself.

(click map for route details)

The Good

I don’t normally gush about sporting products, but I’m convinced that wearing compression socks for a few hours (I even sleep in mine) after a long run really does aid recovery. I slapped on a thick layer of tiger balm after the horror run, had a good stretch, refuelled with a couple of beers and a ton of thai fried rice, and got some good sleep. I was supposed to meet some friends on the Sunday at 8am to do ‘Triple Twins’ over in Stanley (elevation gain/loss of 528m/-657m) - needless to say that didn’t happen. Instead, for the first time in a while, I slept in, and boy did it feel good. I took my dog out for an hours hike to stretch my legs out a bit and then made some chipotle refried bean burritos for lunch. I was feeling so good after eating those that I worked on some free weights at home for 30mins, and finally at around 4:30pm I started off for 16km and as much vertical as I could get in.

Right from the start I couldn’t believe how much better I felt in contrast to the previous days run. Smooth strikes, stronger legs, my mind was focused and I was sticking to a great pace. Even managed to catch a pretty sweet sunset along the way:

I was back to Hammer Perpetuem on this one (in place of Sustained Energy, which I was using yesterday for the first time and don’t rate. I know - there’s not much between them and it’s probably more psychosomatic than anything else, but there you go.) and instead of a half pack I bumped up to 3/4. Seemed to make a difference, but I also popped a couple of delicious Apple Cinnamon gels along the way and those definitely helped my climb up The Twins. I was tearing down the contour path from Wong Nei Chung Reservoir to the saddle above Repulse Bay, and even though half of it is catchment (concrete), when you get on to the trail it’s such a joy, and mostly downhill, that you can just cruise.

I was feeling pretty good when I arrived at the base of The Twins just as twilight was settling in, but even the gel I’d popped 15 minutes previously didn’t manage to take the edge off. The 1,000 steps up to the first peak is just a grind and I’m not sure we’ll ever be friends, but I think we have a truce going on at the moment and that’s just fine with me. I didn’t pass a solitary person coming up or going down and it was pretty great having it all to myself. As the evening drew in tighter it reminded me that I need to get more night running in before the Moontrekker.

My knees took a real pounding coming down the steps to Stanley Rd and the bus stop home and continue to be a source of some concern for me at the moment, but that really was the only gripe of the evening’s run - a run that put a serious smile back on my face after the previous days disappointments and made me remember why I’m sacrificing so much of my time and life for this.

(click map for route details)

Fantastic weather in Hong Kong today gave us the opportunity for some great photo taking as we took on Sunset Peak from Mui Wo.

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)

Relentless Forward Progress

I used to hate running alone - preferred the company of others so that I could have a natter as I ran, something to distract from the monotomy and/or pain. Neither could I listen to music, choosing the rhythmic pounding of my feet on the trail and nature’s soundtrack over anything I could put together on a play list.

These days all I seem to do is run alone, and most of the time it’s to music.

Why the change? Mainly out of circumstance, but the more I run alone the more I enjoy it. I don’t need to speed up or slow down for anyone, and that really lets me focus on my pace, my breathing, and where I am putting my feet. I am reliant on nobody and nothing except myself, which I find quite motivating. It requires a different kind of focus, commitment and resilience that humbles me on occasion. I decided one day on a longer run to stick some tunes on and never looked back. It was a mix I made specifically for the route I was doing, starting off pretty chill, settling into a good pace and finishing with some of my favourite inspirational songs. I found that running to good music really enabled me to relax and ‘let go’ - almost lose myself in the moment.

That being said, it can often be a lonely affair with nobody there to share the highs or help push me through the lows. Lonely and dangerous.

Point in case this past weekends sojourn along the second half of the Barclays Moontrekker. Not the most amicable of weather, with rain and wind making conditions tough and somewhat hard to enjoy. Good training though, I thought, as you can’t pick and chose the weather you will be racing in on the day. I set off from Nam Shan at about 4.30pm, estimating my return to Pui O for about three hours later. I made fairly good progress and kept a decent pace (just a little under race) until Po Lam where I let myself fast walk the steeper inclines. I felt good the whole way, never out of breath, and my stomach seems to have adjusted to the Hammer Perpetuem completely now. (FYI - I drink 2/3 of a pack in a 20oz hand-held per hour of running and sip water every 5 minutes from my Salomon S-Lab 5 bladder. I’ve stopped eating solids completely, apart from a Hammer gel or two when I need an extra boost for Lantau Peak, and the occasional refried bean burrito that I like to make and bring along with me.)

I got to the top of Lantau Peak just as twilight was fading, but super happy that I got up in under 40 minutes - my best summit to date. I was greeted by almost gale force winds and mist so thick I could hardly see my feet. I stopped at the top for 5 mins to eat a burrito as the evening drew in quickly. When I was ready to leave I popped on my headlamp and to my horror it started to flicker as soon as I switched it on. That’s when I remembered it had almost died on my last night run and being the procrastinating fool that I am, I hadn’t changed the batteries yet. Which reminds me of one of the golden rules of trail running - CHECK YOUR EQUIPMENT the night before a race, the morning of, and before the start! (It’s worth mentioning here that in my haste to leave HK island to get to Lantau I had actually forgotten to pack my trail shoes. Luckily Jeremy and Valerie at the newly opened and awesome Lantau Base Camp in Mui Wo hooked me up with a pair of the inov-8 295’s, which were fantastic straight out of the box.)

But I digress…

There was still enough (just) ‘light’ that I wasn’t in complete darkness (yet), so I literally hurled myself down towards Pak Kung Au as quickly as I could, which in fairness (a) wasn’t that quickly at all (it was dark) and (b) was a bloody daft thing to do considering I was running alone. Luckily, I decided to try my headlamp again, and after giving it a good shake or two it gave me just enough soft light to illuminate my feet and something of the path ahead of me. I broke through the mist about halfway down to an amazingly clear evening with a glowing full moon that made it easier running still, and also extremely peaceful. I wanted to follow the contour path around Sunset Peak back to Pui O but with my headlamp out of juice the only option was taking the well lit Tung Chung Road back down.

I hadn’t seen a soul since the monks at Po Lam Monastery, not surprising given the weather conditions, but it was a reminder that whenever I do go out alone I need to tell people the route I am going and approximate times, just to be safe.

All in all a really great run, good experience, lessons learnt and thoroughly looking forward to next weekends 32km.

The title of the post, by the way, is taken from an excellent book of the same name by Bryon Powell of iRunFar.com - highly recommended.

Click here for a larger Runkeeper map of the route.