I was waiting till after the Hong Kong Marathon with the decision whether to do this one or not. At the end I decided that it would be nice to end the season with a 50km ultra. And so I signed up for 50km version of MSIG Saikung 50.
I was vaguely familiar with most of the route. I did a recce of the final 12km loop on Mac3 and the first 4-5km a week ago. Sharp Peak I tried during summer. The majority of the rest of the course I have run before although usually in the opposite direction. The only bit unknown to me was the approximately 3.5km trail diversion from the road section of Mac Lehose Trail section 1. I was not really sure what time to expect but comparing the time sheets of Lantau50 and Saikung50 a year ago I guessed sub 8 hours would be satisfactory result for me, especially at this stage of the season.
I felt reasonably OK for this race. My plan was to start easy, survive the first 2 steep climbs and then the steep descent from Sharp Peak and and save the legs for the faster second half of the race.
The first part went according to the plan. I was in no hurry after the race start, let the others rush ahead only to slowly overtake quite a lot of people on the first road climb. I kept on passing people on the first climb, first the steps then the steep trail up. The field spread out quickly, there were no major traffic jams. I climbed the first hill without too much effort. I took it easy on the first descent – avoiding risk of an early injury plus I wanted to protect my legs for later in the day. I was however feeling a bit of pain around the left ankle and I guess I subconsciously shifted most of the weight on this downhill to my right leg – sowing the seeds of trouble to come. It was around here when the quick 26km runners begin to pass me (they started 10 minutes after us). Soon I reached the first checkpoint (approx 8km). I had enough to drink wit so I only took a banana and went on without wasting any time. I kept easy pace, sort of quick jog mixed with power hiking on all uphills.
After about 10km came the interesting climb up to the Sharp Peak. It is not that long but it is very steep, requiring crawling on all 4 at places. I made it up to the summit without totally exhausting myself in about 26 minutes. First 2 climbs done, feeling pretty OK. The crazy steep and slippery descent followed. I was behind a lady runner who suffered a cramp attack almost right at the beginning of the descent. I felt some signs of cramps in my feet but nothing serious. I am not the fastest and most confident person on steep downhills but to my surprise I handled this one pretty well. The ankle pain was gone and that definitely helped. Somewhere half the down the same lady suffered yet another cramp attack and subsequent fall that looked pretty nasty. I responded to her screams and helped her with some anti-cramp first aid and 2 of my 5 salt pills. And then I went on negotiating my way towards the Tai Long Wan beaches. I started to feel thirsty, so I drunk more.
I made it down in one without any falls and after crossing one beach and small hill I reached the second check point in Ham Tin. I ate some oranges and banana here, refilled my water bottles and dropped a Nuun tab into one of them.
All was OK on the next 2 beaches but first signs of trouble came on the climb up from Sai Wan – my right quad begun to feel uneasy. It was not too bad though so I pushed a bit on the way up. Somehow I managed to forget about the right leg and after reaching the top of Sai Wan Shan and picked up the pace. But soon came the steps and the right leg started to hurt more. I had to slow down. The people I was closing on on the way up disappeared into the distance while few people flew by me on the steps. The pain was getting worse. I was seriously considering giving up and getting on a taxi on the East Dam.
But when I got the East Dam there were no taxis around. I decided to jog for a bit and see what happens. I crossed the dam but then I had to switch from jog to fast walk. I hoped for a taxi to appear from somewhere… Instead there was a marshall pointing away from the road and towards the trail. I knew that taking on that trail would sentence me to few kilometers without a chance to bail out. I made the turn and kept on going, literally going. I haven’t ran at all on this 3.5km trail section. I was feeling more and more thirsty and running low on water – it was long time since the last check point in Ham Tin. I tried to keep thinking positively and convinced myself to enjoy this for me totally new trail. So I hiked fast, watched some cows on the field while few more people passed me. I did not care. I planned to abandon the race once I get back on the road. There was a minor positive twist though – the last person that overtook me dropped back behind me on the climb back up to the road – I could not be in that bad shape then…
I made it back up the road and with the road also the checkpoint number 3 appeared. I saw that most of the people who overtook me on that previous trail section were still munching on the oranges and bananas at this check point. I somehow forgot about my plan to abandon the race for a moment. I ate few bits of oranges, ate a banana, refilled my water bottles and threw another Nuun tab into one of them and went on walking up the uphill road part of the reverse Mac1. One older Japanese guy jogged past me on this climb. And then I saw a green taxi with “For Hire” sign on. My arm was ready to hail the taxi. I glanced on my Garmin and I saw 29.75km… I decided to do at least 30km – therefore keep going and take the next cab.
But there was no next cab, instead the uphill turned into mild downhill, my hike switched to a jog, and probably after those oranges and bananas I felt good again forgetting about the leg for a while. I was running sub 6mins/km now, passing few more people that passed me before. When the next trail detour from Mac1 came I was in pretty good shape. I decided to keep on going and at least make it back to Pak Tam Chung and see what happens.
I was running again, only switching to fast walk on uphills. I passed 3 more people and after about relatively trouble free 5km on the trail I rejoined the road. It was a decision time – either end it and make the short cut towards the finish line or turn right and go for that final 12km loop …
I decided that since I made it this far it would be shame to give up. I made that right turn. Guessing that there would be a checkpoint before the course turns from road back to the trail I decided to walk for a bit to give legs some rest. I reached the checkpoint 4 in rather OK spirits. There 2 guys there who must have been there for quite some time already plus another person who jogged pass me while I was walking towards the checkpoint. I refilled my bottles and my hydrapack knowing this is the final checkpoint. I dropped another Nuun into the bottle, ate some oranges and went on.
I was OK for the next 2km or so. But once we crossed the road and started the Mac3 climb my legs deserted me. I was really struggling on the way up, resting often and loosing several positions. My right leg was hurting again and I started to regret the decision to keep on going. I had about 8km to go, most of it downhill and was not really sure how the right leg would handle it…
I knew that walking all the way would take forever. I did not want to suffer forever. I tried to jog on flats and mild downhills and I walked semi-fast all uphills. Steeper downhills or downhill steps I had to walk, attempting to run was too painful. I still wanted to finish under 8 hours but the priority now was to get to the finish line without injury.
Two or three more people passed me on the final descent. Then I heard the violent dog barks from the that dog village I knew that I am almost there. Last kilometer or so on the trail, then the final bits on the road and then the finish line.
7h50mins at the end. Sub 8 hours, so not that bad at the end. But knowing that I lost at least half an hour on the last 12km and that I walked a lot on sections that I normally should be able to run time to closer to 7hours should be possible for me on this course. Maybe I try next year. For now I am happy that I pushed myself to finish this race after being so close to abandoning it twice.