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.