Štefánik Trail solo challenge

I never had chance to run this officially 140km long race in the past. May date was simply not working for me while I was still in Hong Kong. I signed up for the 2021 edition though. However as the 2020 one was cancelled due to Covid situation a virtual challenge was announced. Without thinking too much I signed up. All I needed to do was to run the whole route in one go anytime between June 15 and Oct 15. What could go wrong, right ?

Well quite a lot actually 🙂 . My intention was to go totally solo, on my own, without any pacers or support. Having been back for only couple of months I would not even be able to organize the support. It was much simpler to just rely on myself. This however meant to carry all I would need with me, including most of the food, quite a lot of water as well as some basic change of clothes for the train ride back home. Once I started to research the route it became clear that the logistics of food and beverages will be the main challenge. There were few places early on where getting some drinks and snacks was possible. Very few… And whether I would be able to buy something depended on what time of the day I would get there. I found online where in theory I should be able to get some water from springs along the route. I could only hope that the info was accurate and up to date.

My trusted UD backpack never carried as much stuff as this time. I could not believe how much I could actually fit in 🙂 . I had with me about 10 energy bars, pack of figs and dates and some home made rice balls mixed with salted dry seaweed. Three soft flask (2 filled from the start, one extra for later when more reserves may be needed) and one more flask with filter in case I get desperate. Then the usual primary headlamp with spare power and a back up headlamp, power bank, first aid kit, stronger waterproof jacket (I deliberately picked hot and sunny days with no rain forecasts but one never knows in the summer…), change of clothes, sports towel, sunblock, headband for the night, money, phone, route plan with potential F&B points. On the train they gave me a bottle of water. I decided to take it with me too just in case (what a wise idea it proved to be…). Poles I left home. Haven’t used them since Andorra last summer and I realized that life is easier without them – one less thing to worry about 🙂 .

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2020 – Malofatranska Stovka (MF100)

This is a weird year. When it started I was still in Hong Kong, preparing for HK4TUC and contemplating whether I should or should not cancel my registration for the 3rd Ronda dels Cims attempt (due to condition of my post-Ronda shoulder still not ideal). Six months later the world is (still) a mess, Ronda is no more, I am no longer in Hong Kong, international travel is pretty much non existent and I joined for the first time ever an ultra right in the backyard of my youth.

Remembering some hikes many years back and after few memory refreshing training runs in the hills around I had no doubts that this one will be a tough one.

I picked up my bib as instructed the day before but selected the sleep home/early morning taxi option rather than sleeping bag in the gym at the start.

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2020 HK4TUC attempt

298km and over 14,500m of elevation gain and loss covering all four major Hong Kong trails – MacLehose, Wilson, Hong Kong and Lantau in reverse direction.

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I did not make the decision to attempt the Hong Kong Four Trails Challenge lightly. It took me several years to finally get enough courage to even consider it. Few test runs on MacLehose early last year generated enough confidence in being able to complete the first trail without having to push too much and within the cut off. I took the plunge and in July I applied. Andre responded fast – I was fully committed.

I had a good base from my training for Ronda Dels Cims. After brief recovery period I started my final preparations for HK4TUC in September. The training went generally according to plan except for the cancellation of my only planned ‘training’ race – The Raleigh Challenge – Tornado. The only other setback was my shoulder – the injury from the fall at Ronda did not allow me to do proper strength and core training – but I had to work with was available to me.

About 2-3 weeks before the challenge I felt to be in the best shape I was in a very long time. I was ready to go. I could only hope that I do not mess up anything in the final 2 weeks.
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2020 HK4TUC – notes (to be updated as preparations continue)

Few notes on what I learned from my training so far:

Pace:

Mac

– 7 hours for the first half seems just about right (as long as it is not too warm and humid).

– that leaves about 11 hours for the second half – around 9 hours sounds like reasonable pace leaving some buffer for F&B breaks if necessary

– the concrete of Mac 1 is pretty punishing – if I am lucky and arrive at East Dam with enough time buffer then smart choice would be to take Mac 1 very easy to save the legs for the next 200km…

REMEMBER – YOU WILL NOT BEAT 4 TRAILS ON MAC BUT MAC CAN BEAT YOU!

Wilson

The start is hilly – not too difficult but the distance progress is quite slow early on on Wilson. Much slower than on Mac – patience necessary.

The “downhill” from Cloudy Hill to Tai Po involves 11 uphill sections. Just suck it up!

When exiting Tai Wo area the Wilson Trail arrows are confusing – pointing right towards small village – just ignore and go straight up towards and under the Tolo Highway.

Climb up towards Leadmine Pass seems to go on forever but is not difficult – just keep on going.

Long runable bit after Leadmine Pass to Shing Mun – need to make the most of it without blowing up!

Shing Mun to Tai Po road – monkey kingdom – focus on the route ignore the monkeys, avoid making wrong turns just because monkeys sit on the signs!

Long catch water after Tai Po road – hope the legs are still fine to run it all and make up some time.

Climb to Shatin Pass – take it steady.

Road climb after Shatin Pass – just keep moving. Before hitting trail again watch out for the resident boars – there are some huge specimens around there.

Once on the trail time to run all the way to start of section 4!

Right at the start of section 4 – a noisy dog somewhere there. Just ignore and go. Some climbing here but nothing serious – keep on going.

Section 3 – dogs and boars – need to watch if here after dark but should not have any issues.

Road to Lam Tin goes on forever.

HK side – lots of steps and further than 9km that the W18 marker at Tai Koo may suggest…

Watch out those stupid steps from last Twin to Stanley – don’t roll the ankle like during the training recce…

HK Trail

This in all the likeness will involve some night running. Hard to tell how I will feel when/if I make it here. By the time HK Trail starts I would be in unknown territory- beyond any distance I ever did. Rule of the thumb – run/walk to feel, keep moving, don’t fight sleep – take short naps once the eyes start closing.

Lantau

Pay attention to the trail especially as by Lantau the tiredness will be out of scale. On the recce I veered of the course just 2km from Mui Wo on the part of the trail I know very well …

Get over the section to Pui O, the small hill may hurt as the legs will be stiff after a long post HK trail break.

Once on the catchwater it is FLAT more less all the way to Tai O – “enjoy” and get some miles on board!

The climb out of Tai O is properly steep but not too long. Use the steps on the side – will hurt the legs less. Ignore the next 3 hills – just get over them.

The road climb to Ngong Ping is long but NOT difficult – some bits are ruinable – jog them!

Make use of the loop around Ngong Ping to digest all the food taken at the Village.

After this only Lantau Peak and Sunset await – these are MUCH EASIER from this side. Last two hills, nothing to save the legs for any more – PUSH!

Nutrition and F&B supplies

Mac

Few energy bars for emergencies – no need too many. Start with a bottle of sports drink, bottle of plain water. Reserve one soft flask of plain water in the backpack. Carry filter. Extra pack of sports drink powder – to avoid stop at TMS kiosk that is off the course and means a detour that should be avoided if possible.

Leadmine Pass – only tap water at the moment but Bonaqua dispenser installed already and works.

Shing Mun – refill with sweet stuff (coke or Pocari – whatever available). Free drinking water available here.

Tai Po Rd – if not hot no need to waste time here – grab a drink and go – watch for monkey thieves

Shatin Pass – proper refill here. Cup noodles may be good idea to have some change after all the sweet stuff. Long section ahead so do not underestimate the supplies here.

Kei Ling Ha – Vending machines hopefully will have sweet stuff. Free drinking water here as well as Bonaqua dispenser.

Pak Tam Au – May need to stock up for all the way to the end. Free drinking water here.

Sai Wan may be good place to restock but most likely all closed when I get there.

Wilson

Not ideal for on the route replenishments – need to carry food on me and plan the drinks. Some detours may be necessary.

7Eleven and/or other shops available at Tai Wo MTR seems to be the first one – requires short detour

Yuen Tun Ha area – there may be options but again would require detour – nothing on the way up.

Leadmine Pass – Bonaqua water refill by the toilets – works now. Few hundred meters down the road is water tap – needs filter.

Shing Mun – Vending machines at BBQ area but require about 500m detour to Mac and back. Not much afterwards until Shatin Pass shop (if open…) so this may be a necessary evil…

2 water pipes on the catch water near the end.

Shatin Pass shop – not reliable – was closed few times when I made it there on my runs.

Clear Water Bay Rd – small shop.

Yau Tong, Lam Tin, Tai Koo – posbilites to eat, drink and refill for the rest of Wilson.

Parkview – may not be open when I am there.

HK Trail

Shek O F&B establishments – but hopefully will have supplies from my crew here.

Parkview supermarket – good place for some proper food if it is open when I am there. Otherwise only the gas station at Wong Nai Chung gap.

Lots water available along the way – filter important.

Food supplies important for this trail!!!

Lantau

By 8-8:30am there was nothing open in Pui O on my recce – better stock up all the way up to Shui Hau.

Shui Hau – small shop only open – only drinks available.

Shek Pik – tap water available.

Fan Lau – small shop, drinks available.

Tai O – restaurant – may be good to eat properly here.

Ngong Ping – hopefully will be open when I am here.

Note: the beetroot bar did not go down well during Mac recce – better stay away from this.

2019 Ronda dels Cims – It did not get any easier the second time…

170km, 13,500m of elevation gain/loss in Pyrenees. Race that goes around the whole Andorra but extends to neighbouring France and Spain here and there – can say the route is bigger than the country.

I failed to finish this in 2018. Mentally exhausted with no desire to continue I stopped after the first drop bag station at Margineda… But a day later still in Andorra I decided to come back and try again in 2019. I signed up once the registrations opened in December. My preparations begun much earlier though with the whole season planned with the sole goal – Ronda dels Cims. Formosa Trail, UTMT were both races selected solely to bring my ultra confidence back. I made several changes in my training and added weekly gym sessions for strength and mobility. And although due to some niggles my training did not go 100% according to the plan I felt quite ready for the challenge. And mentally I was surely there this time.
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Big Boar’s Backyard Challenge

I did not plan any races between UTMT in January and Ronda dels Cims in July. But this Big Boar’s Backyard Challenge sounded like something that could spice up my Ronda training. Concept is simple – nutcases assemble and run 6.7km more less flat loops. New loop starts every hour and who is not ready to start the new loop is out.  The one who is the last one left out there is the winner (provided he/she completed at least 24 loops/100 miles). Everybody else DNFs 🙂 .

I did not specifically train for this. It was purely part of my training. I did not even taper. The event date felt on my hard training week and I followed my usual training routine up to Wednesday (20km run). Thursday was a rest day but also a day when I developed some cold – runny nose mainly. I did not have the best sleep as a result but I still felt to be in a reasonably OK shape for Friday. My plan was to do at least 50km as a minimal training distance and after that just keep on going as long as all is well without risking any injury. I promised myself to stop if I feel anything “weird”.
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2019 Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan

UTMT 162K

I had few reasons to sign up for this race:

a) I wanted something new, a race in HK I haven’t done before

b) I wanted to do a 100 miler before my second attempt at Ronda as a confidence builder

The month ahead of this race was a big mileage month for me. It started with 100+km race in Taiwan and by the end of Dec I had accumulated 400km of quality mileage. I tapered down few days before UTMT but it was much less aggressive tapering than what I used to do.

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2018 Formosa Trail Taiwan

After failing in my first attempt at the Ronda dels Cims I made the decision to give it a second go next July. With that in mind I planned my races for this winter season. Main goal is get back the confidence – first by finishing a 100km race (my last success at 100km distance was way back in March 2016). But as Ronda is a tough race I picked a tough 100km race too as a confidence booster – Formosa Trail in Taiwan organized by Taiwan Beast Runners.

I went into this race with only one goal – to finish. I heard some stories about the technical nature of this race and the look at the profile also promised some tasty climbs. The strategy was to follow the John Ellis School of Pacing from the start to keep the legs reasonably fresh for the monster climb after 50km. And then see what happens.

4am Start in Puli

4am Start in Puli

Race started very early in the morning, 4am. It was still dark so headlamp was obligatory. I set out in very comfortable pace. I knew that we started together with the 65km runners but seeing people flying by me making noises like a tired steam engine still surprised me. In any case I did not care, I kept on jogging in my relaxed pace. This had one advantage. I had so many people and so much light around me that for first 4-5km I could save my headlamp battery 🙂 .
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Stupa to Stupa 54km race + Kathmandu Valley Rim (170km)

While planning my OXFAM Trailwalker trophies delivery trip to Kathmandu I realized that some cool things are happening there at that time. First the 54km Stupa to Stupa trail race. Then after a day break one could join the Kathmandu Valley Rim training tour organized by the legend Lizzy Hawker. This would nicely fit to my training for Ronda del Cims in Andorra – so I decided to join both.

Not having chance to recce the race route I actually uploaded the GPX to my watch and finally learned how to use the navigation function 🙂 . It was about the time. But frankly – it was not really necessary. The route was very well marked, one would have to try very very hard to get lost. My flight schedule made things a bit complicated. I only landed in Kathmandu around 10pm the evening before the race. After the obligatory wait for the luggage to emerge on the belt and the taxi ride it was just about midnight when I made it to the hotel. And 4am I had to wake to be able to eat something and get to the 6am morning start. Not ideal but sleep deprivation is part of ultra races so practising it can’t hurt 🙂 .

Having Purna picking me up in the morning was a great help. And the more of the AWOO Team Nepal in the team colours showed up at the start – what a great moral boost ahead of my first ever race in Nepal.

Swayambhu Stupa - race start

Swayambhu Stupa – race start


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