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.
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
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 .
After finishing CCC, TDS, UTMB and DDF in last four years I looked for a new challenge. When I picked Ronda dels Cims – a brutal 170km long race with 13,500m of cumulative elevation gain/loss I knew I would be seriously testing my limits.
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
Last year I failed at this one. I managed to complete the first day 50 miler but a shin injury meant DNS the next day. So there was some unfinished business… This year I was determined to finish. I was very well aware that I am nowhere near this sort of race ready. Completing this event and doing so without any injury was the only goal. Plan was to take it rather easy on the first day to keep the legs as fresh as possible for the second. I guess I was not the only one coming up with this strategy.
Day 2 on Tai To Yan – Photo by @the.drone.runner
The weather at the start (midnight between Fri and Sat) was rather fine although it was drizzling a bit. I started in relaxed comfortable pace. It did not take too long before the field spread out and found myself running on my own. This remained the case for most of the 50 mile race. Here and there I caught someone ahead or someone passed me but I had a pretty lonely day overall .
I haven’t finished an ultra in Hong Kong since 2016 Translantau100. Seems that since I completed my HK Grand Slam in 2015/2016 season the luck was not my side, at least not in Hong Kong. Yes, I have completed UTMB and La Diagonale des Fous since then. But I DNFed 2016 LT70 (not yet recovered fully from UTMB), 2017 HK100 (because of silly injury a week before the race) and thanks to shin splints my 50/50 9Dragons attempt last year only lasted the first 50 miles.
My summer calf injury did not allow me to do almost any running the whole summer. My Diagonale des Fous training consisted mostly of hiking up the hills and jogging them down – no speedwork at all. This somehow worked fine for a slow long hilly endurance event but I knew the fast HK100 would be totally different story. Especially as due to post Diagonale recovery I only had about 6-7 weeks of proper training time for this race.
Unlike last year I did not set myself any specific time target. My primary goal was to finish the 100k race after almost 2 years of this not happening to me. Secondary target was to do it under 16 hours to get that golden buddy trophy.
My strategy was to pace myself and make sure I survive well the first fast 52k before we hit the hills. My watch was on but I was not really checking it. It was run to feel race for me. Enjoying the surroundings and not pushing too much. As I found out afterwards I was not exactly relaxing though – I was running at my HK100 PR pace although it definitely did not feel like that.
After doing the Chamonix races CCC, TDS and UTMB three years in a row it was time to try something different. After surviving UTMB I wanted to try another 100 miler. As a result of approximately 5 minutes long selection process I picked the La Diagonale. This was back in September 2016.
Since then things went a bit downhill – couple of injuries early in the year affected my HK100 and 9Dragons races. I took few months off training – just jogging and hiking for fun. Then one day in June on a easy morning run my left calf gave up. Sudden sharp pain right across the leg and I knew I have a problem. Just as I was about getting ready to start the proper training for La Diagonale…
There was no running, no hiking for me for the rest of June and the whole of July. Not ideal with tough 100 miler on horizon. Physio treatments were working but the stubborn calf took its time. All I could do for almost a month was the stationary bike. Then at the very end of July I felt reasonably fine to give the calf a test. Very slow and careful walk up and down the road with total elevation gain of about 10 meters over 400 meters of distance – yep, can call that hill repeats. I had about 10 weeks to get from that sorry state of mine to 100 miles ready.
This was to be my A race of the Hong Kong season. After finally getting my golden dude last year I set myself sub 15hours target for this year.
My training went well and I felt I am up to the challenge. I felt I am capable of sub 15 performance. The question was if will be able to do it on the day…
Couple of weeks before the race a mailing arrived notifying us that the race will keep that alternative finish route applied in those freezing conditions last year. As this not exactly common route down from Tai Mo Shan I decided to an easy recce of that bit a week before the race – as a final pre-race outing. It was a very easy jog hike on the last 15-16km of the race route. I noticed during that run some soreness in my right foot but I paid no attention to it. It was nothing different for an ache here and there that we experience on our runs – the kind of stuff that comes and then few minutes later it goes away we forget about it. I finished that jog-hike with no issues, happy knowing that the new ending is not that difficult and ready for the race.
Then when I woke up the next day my foot was really hurting, was swollen and featuring a colourful bruise. During the week the swelling and bruising went away the pain was still there. By Wednesday – Thursday it was getting better so I was cautiously optimistic about making the race. Then on Friday morning it started to hurt more, afternoon it felt better…
I haven’t tried to run for the whole week so I had no idea at all what running will feel like. I went to the start still undecided if I would actually go for it or not. After trying to jog for 15-20 meters I almost made up my mind to opt for DNS… But after some negotiation with myself and out of respect for all those people who could not get a place in this race I decided to at least give it a try. I could always turn back after few hundred meters … So I started.
I had this plan not to sign up for any race until after I am done with UTMB. That would in effect mean there would be no races after UTMB for me till end of 2016. And that was not a bad idea. It was actually a good plan. So I skipped Moontrekker, OTW, TNF. But when the registrations opened for LT70 back in April I could not resist. I signed up leaving the decision “to run or not to run” till later.
My post UTMB recovery was going slow. I took quite solid break in September and come October I was back in training.
The training was strange. I felt great one day and totally empty another. I enjoyed being on the hills but I could feel that I am definitely far from being ready for another race. Still I decided to give it a try and see how I feel on the day. If nothing else it would be a good assessment of my current condition.
The day was hot as it always is on LT70 day. If I was going to get anywhere I knew I must take it easy at the beginning.
I did not expect anything other than a beast of a race this UTMB to be. After all 170km (or 100 miles) with 10,000m of elevation gain and loss is something I have never done before. I was confident though I am fit enough to complete it under normal circumstances – that is if nothing went wrong. My main worries ahead of UTMB were injury before or during the race and bad weather (especially thunderstorms). The biggest unknown that I could not really prepare for was the second consecutive night on the trails.
My training went mostly according to the plan and without any issues. But then just 2 weeks before the race when I was already in taper mode my achilles started to hurt. I suspect it was result of using my day shoes for way too long. I should probably start tracking my walking shoes mileage too. The pain was quite bad and I was a bit concerned. My taper turned into total rest. This helped a bit. Then while on holiday in Slovakia I spent few hours in thermal spa soaking myself in hot mineral waters and the pain was gone. It came back here and there afterwards in some mild form but there was nothing I could do about it – just hope that it would be alright.
I arrived with my support crew (AKA the family ) in Chamonix the Saturday before the race. In the week leading up to the race me and my older son did one about 10km long easy run on the flat bit out of Chamonix (the opposite direction of the last bit of TDS course), one easy hike towards Plan de Praz and we also hiked up to Plan de l’Aiguille (followed by cable car ride up to L’Aiguille du Midi). That was all.
I will not deny I was very nervous ahead of UTMB. I survived CCC and TDS in previous two years but 100 miles in these mountains deserved some respect. I hoped for a good long sleep the night before but that did not happen. I slept very little and not very well. I planned to stay in the chalet and go nowhere on Friday but my final gear check in the afternoon revealed that my poles will not work – the locking mechanism was rusted. I tried to fix it but to no avail. No way I could do the race without poles so off to the town I was for new ones …
It was a bright and hot afternoon. I did not want to get to the start too early and spend too much time under the hot sun. I got there just after 5pm, about an hour before start. The area was already packed but I thought I managed to squeeze into a decent starting location. I took few photos from where I was standing and packed my phone into my backpack. I planned to fully focus on getting to the finish – there would be no more photos taken by me for the rest of the race.
UTMB 2016 – Start – My view