The Salomon trail running team of Julien Chorier, Francois D’haene, Michel Lanne and Andy Symonds in Hong Kong for the Oxfam Trailwalker 2012, which they won in 11h 12m, smashing the previous course record. Immense effort.

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.

Race Report: HK100 Ultra marathon

Strange things happen to your mind and body when you run long distances, pushing your physical and mental wellbeing to their limits. Barriers and thresholds are reached, and at that crucial point you can give up, or you can find the resolve to overcome them and carry on. You dig deep, and then dig even deeper when you think you have nothing left to give. Doing this unlocks pools of endurance and strength that you didn’t realize you had, and you push yourself further, run faster and harder than you ever thought you could. You reflect on times when you might have considered stopping, and you smile.

When you set out to do something that is bigger than you are - something that is *really* worth doing - a goal and accomplishment that you must sacrifice for and work hard towards, you may fail often on the journey. Those failures make you stronger and teach you the lessons that you’ll need to improve and to grow. You will become faster, stronger and more confident in your abilities. You will realize that if you want to do worthwhile and inspiring things, you have to stop making excuses, and start believing in yourself. You have to commit. More importantly, you have to want to.

There will be moments during these runs when the fear awakens something inside you, and you will question if you can really do it. The hurt you’ll endure unleashes growth, barriers will be overcome, and as you crush presupposed limit after limit, you will become transformed. You will become an ultra runner. 

Last year on my first Vibram HK100 Ultramarathon, I reached those near intolerable mental and physical limits. My lasting memory from the race is sitting defeated, 58km in at the top of Ma On Shan, unsure if I could run anymore, and ready to quit. My spirit was broken and everything hurt, I had nothing left to give. It was dusk, and looking out over the mountain silouhettes in front of me I decided that no matter what, I would finish the race. In fact, it was the words of my then girlfriend who was running with me that initiated my attitude change. She said “I’m worried about you.”, but what I heard was “I pity you." I had to believe that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way, that there were people running who felt worse than I did, who had already stopped, convinced they could no longer continue. I didn’t want to be one of them. Time became irrelevant, and simple forward progression became my focus. I stopped running with my legs, and started to run with my heart. I had won a mental race, if nothing else.

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The mountain ranges of Sai Kung

I eventually finished in 20 hours and 2 minutes, and promptly decided that my running season was over. I took a long break from any racing or longer distance running at all, to reconnect and fall in love with the simple joy of running again, and to make sure that this year, my mind and body would be ready to run a stronger race. I had demons to conquer.

If you’ve been following my posts this year, you’ll know what a difference that time out made. I dedicated myself over the summer and fall to becoming a better runner, by learning about optimum race nutrition, training hard, and being 100% focused and disciplined on what I wanted to achieve. It took me a couple of races at the beginning of the season to finally nail my pacing and hydration problems, but so far this has been a phenomenal few months of running and racing, where I have met and often exceeded the goals I had set.

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Pretty solid increase in training distance from July/August of last summer until now.

All the training, all the failing, everything I learned at the beginning of the season has really been part of the build up to this race. This was the main event, where the sacrifices I have made over the past 6 months would be validated. I went from wanting to finish sub-17, to sub-16, to around 15 hours. A heady goal to knock 5 hours off my time from last year, but one I felt achievable given my levels of fitness and how I was feeling on my training runs. When I had amazing runners (and seriously awesome people) like Jeremy Ritcey and Denvy Lo telling me I could do it in sub-14, it just split me further. I settled on a 15hr target with timings that Andre Blumberg, another local ultra legend, was kind enough to share.image

The second half elevation is pretty hilarious when you compare it to the first 50km.

Start (Pak Tam Chung) - CP1 (Ham Tin)

21km / 2h 25m

The race started out in near perfect running weather - clear, sunny, windy, relatively low humidity. The views in this section are some of my favorite of the course. A long way to the first CP but there was a water stop 12km in, at the end of the dam. Started with Higgy, Hunter, and Rae and we all stuck together for most of this section that starts with some nice single track dirt trail which then spits you out onto a 10km undulating sojourn around a reservoir road. Stuck well to pace and made a point of drinking small sips of electrolytes every few minutes. Always fun running past people you know and having a bit of chat!

Relaxed and enjoyable running for the most part - I really threw myself downhill, especially coming down to the beaches on the technical dirt stuff. Short stop at the CP to grab oranges, bananas and refill my perpetuem mix. Lost Higgy and Hunter here as they didn’t stop, but would catch them up later. Good to see my buddy Leong whom I roomed with at the Nepal Ultra in November (report to come!).

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Ham Tin (CP1) and Sharp Peak in the background.

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Coming in to CP1 at Ham Tin with Higgy.

CP1 (Ham Tin) - CP2 (Wong Shek) - CP3 (Hoi Ha)

36km / 4h 32m

It really started to warm up along this section but I seemed to be doing a good job with my nutrition and hydration. A gel every 40 mins, sipping from my endurolyte bottle every few, and a slurp of perpetuem on the 20. I never felt over or under hydrated. The trail from Ham Tin to Wong Shek has a bit too much concrete for my liking but does go through some fantastic old villages, and the section just before Wong Shek is a great bit of trail. Wong Shek to Hoi Ha has some incredibly technical bits and if you’re not paying attention you can easily catch your foot. Short stop at CP2 to refill my water bladder, grab a peanut butter sandwich and some orange slices. Even shorter at CP3, but I was starting to hit a wall as I left and started the long slog up the main road. 28 minutes ahead of pace.

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Coming out of Yung Shue O

CP3 (Hoi Ha) - CP4 (Yung Shue O) - CP5 (Kei Ling Ha)

52km / 6h 00m

I hit the first of two walls (‘bonked’) between CP3 and CP4, and endured almost 15km of frustrating running. I had started well coming out of Hoi Ha but walking up the main road until the turn off to inland trail kind of killed the buzz for me. Once we got off concrete though, I found a good pace and tried to stick to it. Running again with Higgy and Hunter - it was good to have some banter to take my mind off tired legs. A few km out of CP4 I let them go ahead as I was having trouble keeping up. Still had a keen eye on water/calories, I was just tired, and I stopped in Yung Shue O for a few minutes to stretch out and compose myself.

The hike out of there was slow, and I decided to plug in for the first time during the race. Incredibly slow going up the first real vertical of the race, Kai Kung Shan (400m), but I stuffed my face with dates, almonds and raisins. Broke the wall when I reached the top - something sparked inside me and I was off - throwing myself downhill with reckless abandon. I caught up with and passed everyone who overtook me going up the hill, and then some. I felt good, strong, and was smiling the whole way down.

Drop bag at CP5 and Higgy, Hunter and Hopeless were all there - great to see some friendly faces and have help getting things together. Hunter was suffering some pretty bad blisters. Took 10 minutes here to change socks, put a long sleeve shirt on, stock up on gels, and have some of Higgy’s amazing pumpkin soup and Hanne’s famous potatoes. All I could think about coming out of CP5 was the climb up to Ma On Shan I was facing - the mountain that nearly broke me last year.

CP5 (Kei Ling Ha) - CP6 (Gilwell Camp)

65km / 9h 12m

Epic. That’s all I can say about this section. Some of the best running of the race - total zen-like focus and flow. Getting to the top of Ma On Shan (580m) in daylight, and feeling so good and so strong when I arrived was total vindication for me. The views were just stunning and all I could do was smile, and run. That’s all I did for about 10km, plugged in. Literally threw myself down the front side of Ma On Shan, enjoying being in total control, my confidence growing with every step. Great, runnable non-technical trail with a lot of forest track. Forgot about some cheeky vertical climbing a couple of km before CP6 which threw me but I just put my head down and powered up, passing several runners who were seemed to be making slow progress.

Was alone coming in to Gilwell and smashed my first cup of coke of the race. Tasted like unicorn tears. More oranges, bananas and a jelly sandwich to nibble on until the next CP. Decided not to continue with perpetuem anymore as I was getting pissed off trying to get the mix into my soft flask.

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As fast as I was running and as in the moment as I was, I had to stop and capture it. Ma On Shan.

CP6 (Gilwell Camp) - CP7 (Beacon Hill) - CP8 (Shing Mun Dam)

83km / 12h 02m

I think the run from CP 6-7 (8km) was my favorite of the race. I smashed the climb up Tait’s Cairn and was alone the whole way down Sha Tin pass. Not a particularly enjoyable run as it’s downhill on tarmac but the views were incredible and I was still so amazed to be in daylight. It was beyond dark when I was at this point last year. Every time I reminded myself of that I had a little smile. Slight cramping in the hamstrings on the climb up to Beacon Hill but I dropped an extra gel and pushed through it.

Favourite running of the entire race was the last few km along the relatively flat trail into Beacon Hill. I was alone, running in the dusk along amazing, soft trail, completely lost in the moment. Nothing else mattered, but putting one foot in front of the other in quick succession. When it finally got too dark to run without a light I popped my headlamp on and the mood changed immediately to one of a quiet, peaceful solitude the likes of which I have rarely known.

Was great to see Elina at CP7 and hear that Diarmuid was making excellent progress too, having blown through about 10 mins earlier. The volunteer scouts at every CP along the way had been amazing, but particularly so here, with several of them asking what they could get for me. Before I knew it I had soup, coke, a cookie, orange slices and a banana and I was off. Ran into Anthony for the third race this season, who I didn’t even know was running. I set off for CP8 before him but he caught me up halfway into Golden (Monkey) Hill, where I had hit another wall and was walking for a bit. A quick tap on the shoulder, a ‘Come on mate…’, and we were off running. We’d be running together for the rest of the race.

I was still struggling coming in to CP8 but I looked at my watch and knew I was still on target for 15h and that was all the incentive I needed to perk up. Another great scout CP - downed two cups of pocari, two cokes, smashed a raisin bun and grabbed some more oranges for the schlep up Needle Hill, where dreams are made, or broken. I was hoping for the former.

CP8 (Shing Mun Dam) - CP9 (Lead Mine Pass) - Finish (Rotary Club Park)

100km / 14h 49m

We conquered Needle Hill (532m) in good time and made solid progress heading up Cloudy Hill to Grassy Hill (647m). This is a long, meandering, seriously boring bit of concrete access road that we probably could have run on more than we did. We passed a few people along the way but for the majority of the route down to CP9 we were running alone, and at a fairly consistent pace. The 120m descent down to Lead Mine Pass was pretty brutal on my glutes but knowing that all the stood between me and the finish was Tai Mo Shan (957m) was a good motivator.

I tweeted a couple of times on the uphills when we were slower and it was really inspiring and motivating to have friends tweet back messages of support. 

We were the only competitors at the CP so we took a couple of minutes to mentally prep for the grind up. More soup, oranges, bananas, coke, and I dropped a hammer espresso gel. We made good pace going up, but the ridge along the top seemed to go on forever. It was windy, cloudy, cold and a little wet and I was glad I packed my windbreaker. When we finally got off trail to the road it was almost a relief. We could see several headlamps in front of us, and a few behind us along the ridge, only about 5 minutes away. It was too foggy to see the beacon tower at the summit however, so mentally I wasn’t quite sure how much further we had left to go.

Surprisingly, we made good time and had a mini ‘bro-ment’ when we finally arrived at the top. The race was all but over, but we still had the 4km of downhill switchback roads on Route Twisk to conquer. I had so desperately wanted to finish under 20 hours last year, but had nothing left going down this road and came in 2 minutes over. About halfway down we passed a couple of volunteers who shouted out ‘ONLY 10 MINUTES TO THE FINISH!’. I looked at my watch and my heart skipped a beat because I knew I was going to come in under 15 hours, barring any catastrophic falls or cramping episodes. Hearing them, and knowing I only had to run for a few more minutes catapulted me into another zone. I turned off my headlamp and ran faster than I thought I could - I didn’t realize I had anything left but when I *really* wanted it, there it was. I felt like I did when I started the race - aches and pains melted away and once again I was focused on the moment. I passed four runners going down that hill and one poor chap about 400 yards from the finish, where I literally jumped into the air across the line to finish in 14:49:16 and 79th place out of 854 finishers. Elina and Diarmund were there and fortunate enough to capture me drop to my knees and have ‘a moment' of pure emotion and joy.

I really couldn’t stop smiling after that, and had a great catch up with Megan as I got changed into some warmer clothes and downed a couple of cups of hot tea. Watching people come in to the finish was brilliant - smiles, cheers, tears, family members waiting, hugging, laughing. Just thinking about it now I still get goosebumps. 

I knew that Rae was about an hour or so behind me so I hung out at the finish line to wait for her and sure enough she snuck in at 15:55. I was so happy for her - to come in sub-16 is a phenomenal achievement and she had endured a few weeks of self-doubt leading up to the race.

Now, two weeks later as I sit here and reflect on the experience, all I can do is smile. In stark contrast to last year, when all I wanted to do was forget, I now find myself trying to relive every moment of pure joy and running flow that the race afforded me. I look back at my finish time, and I smile. I’m proud of what I did, how I did it, and the journey I took to get me there. It’s a journey I’m still on, and I don’t know where it’s going or when it will end, but goddam I am enjoying the ride.

A few things I learned

  1. Coke is *amazing* to drink during the race. Will definitely be looking to keep that up.
  2. I need to figure out a better perpetuem mix system and find a way to top it up that won’t get it all over my hands. It worked well for the first 60km and I would like to run the full STY in Japan on it (85km).
  3. I know ibuprofen is bad in large doses when you are running endurance races, but I’m not sure I could have done without the 1600mg that I took over the race. Gaviscon helped with a few stomach issues too - cheers Anthony.
  4. Rae is always telling me to smile, even when it hurts. I put that into practice and you know what - it works! Smiling pulled me out of a few rough patches, and I caught myself smiling a lot more just naturally, which had a really positive effect on my attitude and mood overall.
  5. My pacing for the first half was damn near perfect. I never felt like I was pushing out of my threshold and my heart rate stayed down where it should be. I think this really helped me with the hideous vertical of the second half. Pacing is king. As is confidence in knowing what you are capable of.
  6. As much of an individual event as it is, and as much as I enjoyed running a lot of it alone, it was great to run the last few sections with Anthony. We were both at a similar pace, both had some good banter, and helped push each other at the right times. Doesn’t always work that way, but good race banter goes a long way to taking your mind off how your body is feeling.

A few HK100 Race stats

Signed up: 1227

Started: 1080

Finished: 854 (79%)

DNF: 226 (21%)

Gold Awards (sub-15hr) : 158 (14.6%)

Silver Awards (sub-20hr): 279 (25.8%)

Bronze Awards (sub-24hr): 255 (23.6%)

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(l-r) Sai Kung, Needle Hill, Buffalo Hill, Ham Tin.

King of The Hills Sham Tseng (24km) Race Report

Fail to plan, and you plan to fail.

Happily, I’m able to add another successful race to this seasons list after last weekend’s KOTH in Sham Tseng, due in no small part to a recce with a great group of running friends a few weeks earlier. Being almost 90% trail (and virgin at that) - a great mix of single track, soft dirt, bamboo groves, grass, shiggy and concrete -  very little hard vertical or steps and mostly entirely runnable, I was definitely in my comfort zone. 

Knowing where the check points and water stops will be, being able to time your splits properly and having the confidence to know where to push and where to pull back are all extremely helpful if you have a particular target time in mind. Looking over the results of runners from last year that I had often aspired to run against on a competitive level, I knew that I wanted to come in at or under 2h 45m on the day, and felt that was a realistic goal given my current level of fitness, knowledge of the course and previous KOTH race result. I also wanted to place in the top 20 overall, something I had missed out on by 3 positions in Tai Po.

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A slightly technical bit of trail coming through the bamboo grove. (photo from recce)

Race strategy is only one part of success however, and while you can take all the right steps to prepare, one can never expect victory without being adaptable.  I have a pretty regular race morning ritual that I like to follow. It involves waking up well before I need to leave for the start, with enough time to shower, eat a good meal, take the dog for a short walk and attend to…morning constitutionals. It gives me peace of mind and less distractions during the race to wonder about. Somehow I managed to sleep through my alarms, and woke up to the horror that it was 7am already, 30 minutes before I was due to pick friends up from the ferry. Forgoing bathroom duties I slapped some nutella and peanut butter on a slice of bread, grabbed a can of pocari and ran downstairs to take the dog out. I left for the ferry feeling somewhat frazzled, but traffic was light, I wasn’t too late, and we arrived at Sham Tseng just after 8am, a full hour before the start, literally grabbing the last parking space. The pre-race banter is as much fun as hanging out and chilling after the race, and it was great catching up and talking to so many friends again as we huddled against the morning chill.

Selecting appropriate race gear is particularly hard in Hong Kong during this time of year, as it can swing between being ruthlessly cold, warm, hot and humid with freakish regularity. It’s best to layer, and I always err on the side of under, rather than over dressing. The weather for the race called for a cool morning with warmer temperatures and sun in the afternoon, and sure enough that’s exactly what happened. It was extremely cool in the shade and running through the bamboo groves and jungle canopy, but once out in the exposed trail I was glad to be wearing just a thin, long sleeved running top with a neck zipper that allowed a nice breeze to regulate my body temperature.

The Race

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I got off to a great start, which was important as it began on a fairly narrow bridge and after about a kilometre and a half of uphill/catchment running turned up a single file set of stairs for five minutes. I didn’t want to get stuck too far back in this bottleneck and I think I positioned perfectly - not too far in front that I felt pressured to run faster than I was comfortable with, and not too far back that I felt I was losing time and ground and hurrying to pass people. It opened up fairly quickly after this into some soft dirt and forest single track before a short section of rolling concrete roads and some douchegrade ‘hills’. I settled into a strong and steady pace quite here and held it nicely - never feeling like I was over exerting, in preparation for the more vertical parts of the second half. In fact the first half of the race was fairly uneventful in this respect. I was really enjoying the trail, and runners were spread out enough that it didn’t feel claustrophobic at all, as can happen on shorter races like this in Hong Kong. I seemed to be passing runners regularly without having to push too much at all, and the few runners who did jet past me I caught up with several kilometres later, after they had blown up and were clearly struggling. ‘That used to be me!’, I thought to myself as I would pass them.

There have been issues in previous races with the course markings - either because of human sabotage (wankers) or because runners, too focused on the trail, have missed them at junctions. I found the markings on this race to be excellent and almost impossible to miss direction changes.

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The course afforded some fantastic views. (photo from recce)

Once we had dropped down into Ho Pui reservoir, traversed a small bridge and began a short stepped ascent to another contour trail I was starting to struggle a little with keeping my heart rate down, but the ascent gave me ample opportunity to focus on this and by the time we hit another flat contour trail I had recovered enough that I was able to settle into a quicker pace on the relatively flat and open trail, where I picked up a group of strong runners that I recognized. We stuck together for the next several kilometres and it was this section that I enjoyed the most. It was flat, but technical with exposed roots, rocks and undulating sections and the chap in front of me wearing HOKAs was clearly struggling.

Scott Jurek touches on the ancient Japanese art of ‘Bushido' in his book 'Eat & Run'. He describes a state of mind while running longer distances where the past and future become irrelevant, and you are focused purely 'on the moment' - your breathing, your stride, your pace. Very rarely am I able to enjoy this state of concentration, where I am thinking about running particular sections harder and picking up speed downhill while resting my heart and lungs, and when I do it’s usually been on longer training runs, so it was nice to get in this ‘zone’ not just once, but a couple of times during the race. One of the most wonderful things about running to me is when you can zone out like this and just focus on your form and the beauty of how you kick off the ground.

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I don’t remember seeing any photographers on the course so I was surprised to get this emailed to me by a friend.

The last few kilometres of the race involved some fairly technical ‘off trail’ running through brush and thicket, and I really thrive in this ‘shiggy’ - courtesy of years of Hashing probably! The scrambling aspects of this kind of running came as a welcome change in pace and technique and I was able to drop several of the runners I had been bunched with, eventually running tandem with friend and fellow hasher Higgy (who had caught up with me some way back), until he took a downhill corner too fast and knocked his knee into a tree. Yes, I made sure he was ok before I ran on.

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Nice clean section of forest track. (photo from recce)

From that point to the finish I neither heard nor saw anybody else and was once again able to focus on my running again with little pressure. It was a really nice end to the race - downhill on fast dirt with a few stairs - and just in time as the last few minutes I was feeling the twinges of cramp in my left calf.

I finished in 2:29:55, a full 15 mins under my target, and came 20th overall out of 269 competitors, and 8th in my category of Men’s Open.

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Last year I had to wait around for quite a while to collect these.

Another excellently organised race by Keith and his band of volunteers - without whom we wouldn’t be out there enjoying ourselves and testing our limits. Massive thanks to you all.

What did I do different this race?

Never Look Back - I always used to steal looks behind me to see what was going on. This is a distraction and can be as demotivating as it can be a motivating factor. For the past few races I have stopped doing it and instead concentrate on my own race and what’s happening in front of me. Always look forward.

Positive Reinforcement - I have a few mantras that I have started repeating to myself when I race, and as silly as they may sound, they definitely help me focus and push through harder moments.

You are strong!

This is nothing!

You’ve got this!

That pain is temporary!

Smile!

Try Something New -  This was the first race of the season I didn’t wear my Salomon hydration pack, opting instead for a hand-held 24oz bottle of water with Hammer Endurolytes with 3 gels in my pockets. I was extremely quick at water stops and actually felt less restricted when I was running. Going forward, for any races under 30k or so with good water stop positions I think I will stick with this set up. I don’t recommend you try something completely new on race day though that you haven’t trained with before.

Music - This is something comparatively new for me when I run. Last year, as I was often running as part of a pair, I didn’t listen to music much at all, but as soon as I started learning how to run by myself I have found it contributes directly to my performance and ability to ‘tune’ things out and focus on my running. I don’t listen to music the whole way, but I certainly find it a great motivator, especially on long, boring concrete sections. I bought the new Beach House album recently and listened to the whole thing around the course. Wonderful stuff.

Good Hydration & Nutrition - This makes the difference between running a good race, a great race, and having a terrible one. If you don’t get this balance right you are letting yourself down, and it is only recently that I have begun to get a handle on it. I drank about 1.5L of water mixed with Endurolytes over this race, and had a gel every 45 minutes. Not once did I feel any lack of energy or dehydration. Listen to your body when you are training and find out what it needs for optimum performance.

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The ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI is Asia’s first 100-mile ultra marathon. I’ll be running it’s shorter 85km course, the STY, this March, and this video is great insight into the terrain and what to expect. Very excited to be a part of only it’s second year!

The ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI is an unparalleled event that challenges the human spirit through the outdoor sport of trail running. By connecting mountain trails, local footpaths and forest roads around the foothills of Mt. Fuji, this 161km course allows participants to enjoy majestic 360 degree views of Mt. Fuji while experiencing the stunning natural beauty and culture of this region.

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. 

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.)

My friend Lloyd snapped this shot of me at the Lantau 2 Peaks race a couple of weekends ago. This was the first caption that popped into my head when I saw it.

My friend Lloyd snapped this shot of me at the Lantau 2 Peaks race a couple of weekends ago. This was the first caption that popped into my head when I saw it.