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.
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”.
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.