I have lived in Hong Kong for more than 20 years but somehow I have never done this one. I acted as an obedient mule on two occasions but I have never done the Trailwalker myself. Also – you can’t do HK 100K grand slam without doing OTW. So I made the decision to enter the lottery. Plan B was to find a team in case I fail in the lottery. I was lucky – first time trying and I got the place.
The team assembly was pretty quick – Sean was on board from the very beginning, Martijn and Stuart joined us soon after the lottery . Interesting mix – one OTW veteran, two OTW newbies and one 100K virgin. It took about 2 mins to come up with the team name. We managed several training runs together covering the complete OTW route although we were not always able to train all four of us together.
We ran into some trouble few weeks before the race. Martijn had an unfortunate mountain bike incident injuring his knee. It was a battle against the time to get that knee ready for the race but finally he got all clear from his physio. We also managed to assemble a solid support team. We were all set.
We had to improvise a bit at the start as Sean had the honour of starting our 11am bunch. But it all went smooth. After sprinting from the podium Sean joined us 100-150 meters after starting line. We took (or at least we tried to) the road section easy. Easy running on flats and downhills, strictly walking all the uphills. We even ad a bit of fun imitating the cycling peloton while dealing with some light headwind. All fun and games and good mood.
Just before East Dam our first mule of the day waited for us. Shane quickly scanned our needs and dashed ahead across the dam to our support point. There Tim was ready too as were our hiking poles and some water refill. No time wasting here, off we were to the hills towards beaches. For three of us this was the first experience running with mules. It took a while getting used to having someone out there helping you to run.
Soon we started to catch up with the teams from 9:30am start. The trail was getting a bit crowded but it was not too bad yet. We did get separated at times as some of us got stuck behind slower teams while others managed to pass. I was one of those stuck behind but I could always see the other guys ahead so all was good. As long as we kept within sight it was fine.
We reached the Sai Wan CP more less together so checking in was smooth. I only grabbed a can of Coke and went chasing Martijn who wasted no time at all at this CP. Stuart and Sean got delayed a bit but we regrouped somewhere on the beach. It was around here when I heard Martijn for the first time mentioning possible cramping.
We continued over the next hill towards Ham Tin. This bit was all about sand, lots of deep dusty sand. It was not easy to run through that stuff. Once we got through the worst we all sat down (along with everybody else) to clean up the sandy mess from our shoes. Once sort of sand free we resumed running. I went ahead to try to prevent crazy pace we set on this section on one of our training runs. But I paced it a bit too quick and had to be reminded by Martijn to ease the pace a bit.
The cramping begun to affect Martijn more. He called for rope help. I was feeling good so once I realized he is serious I offered to pull him. We had to wait a bit for Tim to catch up with us (he got a bit delayed by handling our water earlier near the junction with the trail leading up to Sharp Peak). This was the first time for me pulling somebody – it was actually easier than I thought it would be.
We reached the CP2 rather quickly. We spent a bit of time getting bottles refilled and eating some bananas but it was a relatively quick stop. We were 10-15 minutes ahead of our target schedule. Few weeks back we did the next section in 1h30mins and then we crashed scaling Ma On Shan so this time we planned to be more reasonable aiming more towards 1h50mins time. Martijn was clearly beginning to struggle with his cramping. We kept close together on the first part of this section. But we split up a bit once we started to climb Rooster Hill. Tim stayed back with Martijn so when I reached the top of Rooster Hill I told Shane (he was already up there) that I might just ran down quick and help setting up the CP support for the other guys.
At the CP3 I met with Dwyfor who would be taking over the mule duties for the next long section to Shatin Pass. We prepared some water then once the rest of the team arrived we checked in. Last time as a complete team (but that we did not know at that time).
We stayed much longer than we originally planned. But there was no other choice. Martijn needed some rest and some massage in order to continue. This “no rush” CP made it easier to rearrange our gear and to handle the switch from 2 mules (Shane and Tim) to one (Dwyfor). Here we also picked up our backpacks. We needed to carry some stuff ourselves from now on.
After some break we went on. Initially we were OK but once we started the Ma On Shan climb proper Martijn’s cramping got much worse. He suggested he would bail out in order not to slow us all down to 24 hour pace. We tried to work our magic convincing him to fight on. He gave it another try but after few hundred more meters he decided to quit. There was not much we or him could do. Martijn told us he would come to finish to meet us. From here we were down to three.
Rest of us felt OK so with the help of Dwyfor we picked up our pace a bit. But only after another stop – it was getting dark – time to pull the headlamps out of our bags.
I myself felt quite good so I tried to keep setting the pace. If I recall well we ran most of the runable bits. We kept passing the 9:30 and some 8:30 teams. I am not exactly sure what was happening behind me. It is easy to turn around and check on your team mates during the daylight hours. It is not that simple in the darkness with the headlamp on … I kept on going as long as I could hear the familiar voices behind me.
We reached the Gilwell Camp CP all looking quite OK. We got a bit delayed during the check in process as we had to clarify Martijn’s drop out status and collect a piece of paper we would need to show at the following CPs. Then somehow we could not get enough of those jam sandwiches and instant soups (that was pretty much all there was) and lost a bit more time there. Eventually we left that CP .
It was only a short dash to our support at Shatin Pass from here. We kept healthy pace running on the runable trails. We pushed reasonably hard up the Tate’s Cairn climb. Then only a quick run down the road.
That was where Dwyfor’s duty ended. Sunny was waiting there for us with our drinks. It was a very efficient switch. We were on our way in no time.
I went ahead as soon as I was ready hoping the guys would quickly follow. Once I climbed the first few steps after the Shatin Pass Road I turned around to see if my team mates did follow. I was glad to see they were on the way. I was trying to set the pace. Not sure if lucky or unlucky for us but this (as far as my brain remembers) was the most crowded section. It was hard to run even on the runable parts. Most of the time I was just hiking fast passing people mixing it here and there with jogging. I checked every here and there where is the rest of the team. All was good, we were all within sight. Based on the words from behind that I could overhear I could tell that Sean is struggling a bit. The Beacon Hill CP was not too far so I was hoping we can make it there without stopping. I kept going on.
Soon we were at that CP. Good news was the gaps between us were minor, we arrived more less all together. Bad news was Sean did not look too well. He started contemplating dropping out of the race. But there was more good news to come – specifically the sweet potato soup served by the ICAC counter at this CP. It worked some serious magic. We did spend a bit too long at this CP but it was time well invested. We left strong.
I reminded Sean to take the first downhill bit easy and let all the food to settle in the stomach. I still had in my head the memories from HK100 – lots food consumed by runners at the CP vomited soon after they resumed running. But once we were down on that nice trail towards Tai Po Road Sean took over the pacing. He was a person reborn. I could not believe that recovery. We made a good time and soon we were across the bridge and climbing up the monkey territory. No monkeys though this time. Probably past their bed time.
The road climb was good. Healthy pace all of us chatting, Sunny helping to keep our spirits high. Good times.
Tony was waiting for us at the next CP. He had all our stuff ready and his knowledge of the hard to see food available at this CP was priceless. I stuffed myself a bit with the really nice rice balls and I think I was not the only one. After few mins we were on our way with both Sunny and Tony keeping us company from now.
I was still feeling surprisingly good. “Thanks” to some traffic jam where the road turns to steps we created a small gap behind me and Stuart but we knew that Sunny and Tony both are with Sean so we kept going believing they would catch up. Other than that I can’t really recall much from this section to Shing Mun. It passed really quickly.
We ran down to the Shing Mun BBQ site more less all together. And we had a nice surprise – our support team for the last 2 section Helen and Ashley were there to greet us few hills ahead of their duty. Quick chat, some regrouping and off we were towards Needle Hill.
Some funny conversations were going on. Sean asking how long till the climb, Tony telling him few km, me telling not to believe all that he is hearing. Sean clearly did not take my advice as he was genuinely surprised (or at least he sounded surprised) when the climb began only few hundred meters later .
I took the pacing duty for this climb. It was not a blast but it was a good pace that we all could handle. I was a bit ahead when I reached the water point after Needle Hill but by the time I filled my water bottle we were all together again.
We started the climb up to Grassy Hill. We did spread out on this climb a bit thanks to headlamp battery changes (Sean) and later my quick stop at the food tent (warm drinks + sweet potato). But if I recall well by the time we got to the end of the climb we were more less together.
I was feeling OK for the downhill to Leadmine Pass. I decided to go in my pace no matter what – the pace that is best for my legs – not a crazy fast (I am not good on downhills) but not too slow either (as that hurts). Stuart followed me, Sean was only a bit behind. We reached the CP within max a minute of each other – that was good. Quick check-in and then a brief sit down for food before Tai Mo Shan. After some initial hesitation I went for cup of cup noodles. I think we all went for them.
It was good to rest and eat. But it was also time to start climbing again. I went ahead hoping that I can set the right pace. I was not looking back too much. But I could hear voices not far behind me so I kept pushing. I had no prior experience from a 100K team race. I was not really sure how to approach this final major climb. So I was super happy when at the end of the trail part of the climb I saw all the rest of our group only 10-20m behind.
We kept on pushing, there was still that last km or so of the road clim left. The closer to the top we were to cooler and windier it was getting. I could see that on this bit we dropped Sean a bit. But I told Stuart that I will not stop and wait up there on that exposed cold and windy part. Tony and Sunny were with Sean and they were not too far back. Surely we would regroup on the way down soon after the top of the climb.
And we did. Sean quickly caught up with us on the way down and we ran more less together all the way to the CP.
The CP was the end of duty for Sunny and Tony. Helen and Ashley were taking over from them. We repacked our gear, dropped what we thought we would not need any more and went on.
We had the last 2 sections in fresh memory – we did our last training run here only a week earlier. So we knew that especially at the beginning there is some road climbing. We survived that. And once the concrete path became flat and/or downhill our support crew clearly decided they would give us run for our money… That was some pacing! Before the race I thought that this last bit will be hike jog hike survival grind. No, we were running and running hard. No slacking. The only walking happened every time I yelled “hill!”.
I was duly expecting a crisis to hit me. I was not sure that I could keep up this pace all the way to finish. Then the music came – disco blasting from the speakers in the backpack of either Helen or Ashley (I really can’t recall which one of the ladies brought the music). It was one fast moving party.
We paused a bit to refuel at CP9 but that was probably the shortest CP pause of the race. The mad (it felt mad) running continued also on the trail along Tai Lam reservoir. I think we were faster on these last 20+km of the race than we were on our training run the week before. Seriously good times and quite unbelievable frankly .
We passed the final control point and all that lied ahead were those final 4-5km to the finish line.
Once we finished with the trail and reached the road there was no more walking. We gradually picked up the pace. The last few km were just brainless pursuit of the the race end .
Unfortunately we could not finish as a complete team and we also missed out on our time sub 18hrs time target. But that amazing post Beacon Hill recovery resulted in sub18:30 finish time – not bad for three OTW newbies .
It was great to see Martijn who after all his issues during the race came to meet us at the finish. We started as a team and we met at the finish as a team!
This was really great experience. From forming the team, training together, pre-race planning and all culminating on the race day. Would I do it again ? Definitely yes. But will I do it ? That I don’t know, so many races to pick from now, so will see.
Link to Strava here.