Two years the 26km version of this Lantau race was my first proper trail race. This time last year I shocked myself and while doing my first 50km race I won my first trail running trophy. So me and this race we do have some history. And the history was to continue in 2014.
The 2014 edition however came with a tiny change – a brand new course. I was a bit disappointed as I liked the old route – the combo of three hills and the long speedy Chi Ma Wan loop. But old route or new route I was determined to go for it. Not without some recce runs though.
From the race map I guessed that part of the race would follow LT70 route. I only had 2 Saturdays to spare so I decided to recce the beginning and the end hoping that the middle part will not throw in any nasty surprise. After my 2 recce runs I knew that this would be one of the toughest races Hong Kong has to offer… My plan was simple – start easy to save the legs and the energy for the last 20km.
From the conversation at the start it was quickly clear to me that most of the people have no idea what lies ahead of them. I knew what I knew and so I ignored the quick pace of the pack in the initial stage through the streets of Tung Chung. I paid price for this once we reached the steep shiggy climb up the hill towards Ngong Ping. It was single track most of the time and I was a bit stuck. But forcing passes made no sense. Even if I overtook 5 people I would only be 5 meters further ahead. So I kept my place in the queue and enjoyed rather easy pace up the hill. Once the got out of the bushes it was time for some serious overtaking. I jumped ahead of few people, few others overtook me and by the time I reached the Donkey Trail the field was nicely spread out.
We crossed the trail under the cable car and turned left towards a contour trail to Ngong Ping. This was nice runable section and in pretty much no time I was at the Ngong Ping checkpoint. I still had enough water in my bladder. I only quickly refilled a bottle with new serving of UCAN, grabbed one banana and went on (while munching on that banana). This was 1 minute pit stop at most.
Once the banana was safely down there in the stomach I switched from hike to run mode. Ahead was the familiar Lantau Trail section that this race has in common with LT70. I pushed a bit towards Ngong Ping Village but then I took it a bit easy on the long downhill road section. I saw several people ahead of me and recognized Dwyfor and Jeri among them. I caught up with all of them few hundred meters before the end of the road section. Jeri had some nasty fall that resulted in big gash on her knee. And all the others stopped and gathered around to help. By the time I reached them her knee was already bandaged and she was sending us all away to go on with our race. I joined Dwyfor here and we chatted a bit while climbing the hills that followed. I was still going easy but to my surprise after a while I realized that Dwyfor dropped behind.
We followed the LT70 route all the way till the South Lantau catchwater although we skipped the Tai O bit. I was feeling good, confident that I have enough to spare for the tough end of the race. We only ran a short section of the catchwater towards the second checkpoint. As we were only 6-7km from Shek Pik I haven’t stopped for water here. Although I did not know the section ahead I hoped I still have enough to carry me to next CP. So I only grabbed the obligatory banana and went on.
The route to the next CP was nice one. Slightly technical, half the way uphill, the other half downhill. I made up some places on the climb but I was a bit cautious later on the rocky flattish and downhill parts. Few people overtook me, including Bogdan. I passed Lawrence somewhere here. Despite my cautious running I managed to slip once and hit and an ankle against a rock. Not pleasant but that is part of the game. Two weeks on that ankle still hurts.
A bit later I managed to catch up again with Bogdan. We made it together to the Shek Pik dam. There was some serious police presence in the area. Soon we found out why. A big charity parade of motorbikes and few old timer cars was on. It was great sight. But the fumes from decades old engines did not leave much oxygen to breath in the air. I picked up my pace a bit on the dam as I planned a first proper longer pitstop stop at the CP at the other end of the dam. 30km done, the hard 20 to go.
I saw Shane there as well as the ever smiling Retha. They scanned my bracelet, we exchanged few words, I drank some water, refilled my bottles for Nuun and UCAN, grabbed another banana and went on.
Knowing what lies ahead from my recce I was in no hurry to resume running. I fast walked for a while allowing the banana to settle. After climbing up the steps I started to jog on the trail enjoying the last few hundred flattish metres. I was feeling good, ready for the big climb. And then it came. Sharp turn to the right and the rock climb up the Dog Teeth was on. Almost immediately after I made the first step up the rock a massive cramp seized my right quad. I tried to ignore it but it was not easy balancing myself on this cliff with crampy legs. After a while I managed to shake it off. But I was aware that any too big or too long step on this brutal climb could bring the cramping back. And so despite preserving my energy for this rock climb I could not go up as quickly as I hoped. I was quite surprised to see a group of almost senior citizens having a day out climbing the Dog Teeth and seriously enjoying that. But I must say that they were very courteous and helpful.
The higher I climbed the cooler it was getting, logically. I had a windbreaker in my backpack but I was hoping I can survive the Lantau Peak without it. But with the altitude the cold wind started to pick up and it was becoming way too cold for my comfort. I made it beyond the Dog Teeth Ridge but before the final push up to the summit I had to surrender to the chill. I found myself a shelter under a large rock and put the windbreaker on. I did not know it then but I stopped too late. I was sick with heavy cold for almost 10 days after this race.
The windbreaker helped a bit and I finally made it up to the top of Lantau Peak. I did not waste any time at the windy top. I wanted to be down at warmer Pak Kung Au as quickly as possible. The descent was uneventful for me but I could feel I was not too fast. One or two people passed me but I think I passed some people too on this descent. By the time I got down to the Pak Kung Au CP I was feeling fine again.
I spent 2-3 minutes at the checkpoint refilling my bottles for the final stage of the race. I took another banana and started the ascent to Sunset Peak. It took me a while to find my rhythm but soon I settled in comfy pace. Unfortunately I managed to hit the weekend peak hour on Sunset Peak and had to battle the crowds all the way up. I am not sure if this was the reason but the way up seemed much longer than usual. Besides the zillions of hikers I managed to pass quite a few runners on this climb. Finally I reached the huts on the top but the traffic jam frustration did not end there. The young people generally tried to give way but the older hikers especially if in larger group were doing their best to “not to see”. One old bloke actually managed to trip me with his wooden stick. I remember yelling something not too nice at this guy while trying not to fall on my face.
Finally I reached the point where we said bye bye to Lantau Trail and turned left towards Lin Fa Shan. This was a nice 4-5 km long mostly runable section towards Tung Chung. For the whole day the trail was more less dry. But there was this one place under Lin Fa Shan with a puddle of muddy water and a rock. In dry conditions I would not even think about this kind of rock, I would just jump and run over it. But with the mud and water around and over it I could not figure out how to cross it. After some deliberation I decided to go off the path, got some grip on the grass and pulled myself on all four over this rock. Unbelievable … And then I thought about the Dog Teeth and how on Earth would I have managed that if it was a wet and rainy day …
Anyway, I kept on going passed few people, one or 2 passed me and soon I reached the final technical downhill towards Tung Chung. I made it down this slope twice recently so I knew what to do. I overtook few more people on the way down, probably the 25km racers, and after only one fall I was soon down on the road. Few turns here and there, some steps that I did not really need, final stretch towards the park and there I was in the finish after 8hours and 40 minutes.
I was not over the moon with the time but I was damn happy I made it. It may not be too obvious from this article but it was the most brutal race I did in Hong Kong. Climbing up from Shek Pik to Lantau Peak is hard by itself. Doing it after 30km into the 50km was a killer.
I met few friend as well as my team mates from Team UCAN (Martijn and Steph) in the finish area. I sat down on the grass hoping for some rest. Instead I enjoyed a painful cramp fest that got gradually worse as I intensified my efforts to put on long pants. A fitting end to the hardest 50km of my trail running career.
But hey, I want to do this one again!