This is a special race to me. Back in 2013 LT70 was my first venture into ultra distances. I struggled in the heat last year and I was as close to DNF is one possibly can get without actually pulling out. And this year I signed up again. For fun. This is a happy race. And testing myself over 70km three weeks ahead of OTW sounded like a good plan.
I approached this race as a training race. No special preparation, just a part of training for my upcoming four 100K races. I set myself no specific target. I definitely wanted to finish. Anything sub 13 hours would be fine, getting sub 12 hours would be excellent.
The week before the race was not ideal though. Not feeling particularly well, struggling to get proper sleep for several days and top of it unpleasant lower back pain just the night before the race. I did no running/jogging since the previous weekend.
The race day did not start too well. I killed the alarm twice and then when I eventually got out of the bed I had about 10 mins to get out of the house. Lucky I prepared and packed everything the night before. The weather forecast was for cloudy, cool day with some rain showers. And early morning look out of the window suggested that the day may turn out exactly like that. So I deliberately left the sunglasses at home. I did not feel like being that idiot who runs in the rain with sunglasses on the top of the head. Soon after arriving in Mui Wo it became clear I was the idiot who left the sunglasses home on a hot and sunny day… I have to express my massive thanks to Retha for offering me her bright green sunglasses. This saved my day. Mark Green came to rescue with some sun block. And finally I was ready to race.
I was in no rush after the start. Last year I set me PR on the first bit to Nam Shan during the race and then I was dead by Lantau Peak. I was not going to repeat the same mistake. I made sure I keep moving at the pace that allows me to talk to fellow competitors. Jogging on the flattish parts of the road, hiking on the steeper ones. I reached Nam Shan fresh. I started to overtake people on the Sunset Peak climb. I told myself to keep passing as long as I can do that without pushing too much. If my pace caused me to get ahead of someone, I passed. Otherwise I would just keep my place in the queue. I climbed for a while with Bogdan. But he obviously decided to take the start even easier than me so after a while I decided to go ahead at my pace. I was sure that sooner or later he would pass me again.
The higher we climbed the more pleasant it was getting thanks to a cloud covering Sunset Peak. Soon I passed under the summit and could run down to Pak Kung Au. Two guys passed me on this downhill, I passed 3-4 others while running safely and reasonably fast. Down at Pak Kung Au I quickly crossed the road and went on climbing Lantau Peak. This was where last year my troubles started. I was glad that this time I was still feeling very fresh. Quick glance on my watch and some ad-hoc math exercise revealed that my pace was actually not bad at all. If I remember well I was only passing people on the Lantau Peak climb. I really enjoyed this part. Feeling good, still a bit of cloud cover and wind. Happy times. At the top I wasted no time. I went down immediately without any pause. I saw Stuart right ahead of me. I dropped a bit back at the first technical bit of the descent and then followed him down the hill. Steps were dry so traction was good, no falls and slips. Later I found out this was my fastest descent from Lantau Peak to Ngong Ping. And I still felt good. The CP was this time a bit further than last 2 years. But it was good. Normally after CP I would be digesting and walking the flat section after the sticks, this time I was running as I was yet to fill up my stomach.
I made only very brief stop at the checkpoint. Some water melon, two half bananas to go and a bit water to refill. And off I was towards 7/11 where my main Ngong Ping refuelling point was. It was getting warmer and warmer and the clouds were gone. I also knew what lies ahead so I wanted to make sure I am well stocked even if it meant carrying extra weight. I had enough water so I bought 2 half a liter bottles of Cola.
I could not run too fast down the road towards the next trail stage – my stomach was quite full of Cola. So I kept decently quick pace while keeping the stomach contents safely in place.
By the time I started the climbs enroute to Tai O the clouds were gone the heat was on. I knew that I would have to go down a gear or two in order to avoid repeat of last year troubles in the heat. As a result people started to catch up with me and passing me. But I was firmly set on doing my own race. The pace of others was not my concern.
I was able to speed up on the final tree covered shaded section of this stage. With only a very briefs stops I made use of two streams that I passed to quickly cool down. Around here I realized (to my surprise) that was set to reach Tai O just about on 5 hours mark. I was moving faster than it felt.
I made the Tai O drop bag stop as brief as possible. Quick refill of bottles including a bit of cold water into my half empty Cola bottle. Few pieces of watermelon, quick pick up of headlamps from my drop bag. Then 2 bananas to go and off I was.
I was eating those bananas after I left the CP so I could not really run on that mildly uphill concrete path after Tai O. But I prefer to get moving quicker even if it means walking while eating rather than getting too comfortable on some chair at the checkpoint.
I switched to jogging for a bit just before the sharp left turn up to the trail. It was still hot so my climbing pace was exactly quick. One or two people passed me but I cold not care less. But despite my consciously easy pace I still managed to get myself in trouble. I had a dizzy spell and I had to pause for a bit. Still thinking clearly though I decided to make use of this quick break, sooner or later one has to pee anyway…
The dizzy spell was over quickly (luckily) and could keep on going up. I settled into comfortable not too shabby pace. I could see I am actually closing on some of the people ahead of me. After the end of the initial climb came the slow downhill to the bottom of the valley. I knew there is cold stream down there. That was to be my next refreshment point. Once there I climber over the chains and spent the next 10-15 minutes having nice cold cool down bath. Several people passed. To my surprise nobody else felt like chilling in the nice stream.
This rest in the stream restarted my race. I had to climb again but now the climbing felt easy. I thoroughly enjoyed rest of the climbing, then some jog through the overgrown trail and soon I was looking at the south side of Lantau. The downhill section is one of the most beautiful parts of Lantau. I felt confident, I had good grip, legs were fine, the downhill was fun. It was not long and we rejoined the original Lantau Trail. At the stream I splashed a bit more cold water on my face and head climbed those last few steps leading up to the catch water.
I started the catchwater with fast walk that gradually turned into a jog. I tried to run as long as possible but every 2-3 mins I took brief 20-30 secs walking break to keep the heart rate down. This worked wonders, I found myself and Shek Pik in no time. The taps at the bathrooms still do not work so I used the water from a bucket placed outside of the toilets to cool down.
While I was cooling down someone managed to pass. This someone was probably not local – judging from his time wasting while taking selfies with the Shek Pik Reservoir. I passed him again and quickly developed a gap almost as long as the dam. Year ago I could barely see when here – I had to turn the headlamp on. But this time the sunset was still a while away (although we did start half earlier than last year if I remember well).
At the end of the dam was the sharp 90degree turn towards the trail. I jogged all the downhill bits but took all the uphill sections easy. Group of rather loud cheerful guys that was about half the dam behind me at Shek Pik closed on me pretty quickly. They called me to run with them but I preferred to do my race, my pace. I let them get ahead.
I enjoyed this part of the race. It was no longer hot, I was feeling good. Towards the end, just before the road near Shui Hau I caught those loud guys. They were no longer loud and no longer running. Just walking as a group on lovely runable mildly downhill paved trail. My strategy for the Shek Pik – Shui Hau section was clearly better.
On the road already, just before the CP I paused in front of the small store and bought myself come Cola to make the upcoming catchwater more pleasant. The CP stop was brief – just a water refill, some takeaway bananas, munch on some watermelons (this was awesome idea to have them at CPs!) and went up the small hill towards the beginning of the catchwater.
It was still daylight but it was a bit dark under the trees so I decided to make a short stop at the rest area before the catchwater section. Sunglasses and hat went back to backpack, headlamp on. And I downed that can Coke or whatever was still left in it so I could dump the can into the recycle bin.
This all took about a minute and I was on my way again. Walking was on for the first few hundred meters just to let the stomach contents to settle and the legs to get used to flat surface. But soon I switched to run mode – 3-4 mins of fresh pace running followed by about a minute of fast walking and repeat until Pui O. I was feeling surprisingly good. It looked like even the sub 12hrs finish might be possible.
I had no issues at all. It was dark already and I was in my favourite world – cool evening, beam of the headlight and nobody around except a runner here and there. The big difference was that unlike in the past this time I was the one passing. Nobody passed me along the catchwater. Happy days!
I passed Pui O quickly too. I saw Ingo making a brief stop at a shop for some drinks. I decided to keep going. I somehow hoped the locals would have their usual drink stations set up at Ham Tin. But unfortunately as expected it was not to be this time with the Halloween thing going on…
I made sure I am mostly running all the way till the road climbs near Chi Ma Wan. I caught up with few more people on these uphills but they went ahead again as I had to make a brief pit stop before the final climb (nature calling).
The climb went well, I re-passed all those who passed me earlier and before the end I even caught Julien from Team AWOO. He was clearly struggling, as I understood his stomach did not share my view that the watermelons were great idea… We ran together for a while with him mostly ahead on the downhills. But I had a bit more left in the legs on the final flattish bit towards Mui Wo. Somewhere there 1-2 km from finish he dropped back a bit.
The sub 12hrs at the end did not happen, I missed out on it by few minutes. Clearly I my later pace was not enough to claw back all the time lost during the slower hot parts of the day. But I was very happy with the way the day went. This was to be a training race. I approached it that way, ran my own pace and still improved my best LT70 result by about 40 minutes. Usually during these long races I question my own sanity and curse myself for signing up. But this time as I was getting closer to the finish I was actually already thinking about the next long race, just can’t wait for it…
So few weeks of rest and recovery and then bring on my first OTW!
Link to Strava here.