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.