I don’t handle the heat well but with a big race coming at the end of August I have no option – I have to at least attempt some long runs during the summer… So when Vince came up with the full HK Trail run I was all up to it. I have done that trail 5 or 6 times without any major issues. All those runs were in the winter time. I never completed this trail in the middle of Hong Kong summer. It was time to do it…
The books claim the trail is 50km long but in fact it is only about 44.5km. It is not particularly challenging one, most of it is runable. The only but major expected challenge for me was the heat.
Twelve of us started at The Peak. Not everybody planned to go all the way but few of us clearly had the intention.
My goal was to complete the full distance no matter what, time was not that important. My best time to date was just below 5 hours, in this weather I expected somewhere just below 7 hours to be a realistic goal.
I started easy, sort of no effort and easy to talk pace. The first 2km are flat on the path around The Peak followed by about 7km mostly downhill with only few uphill bits thrown in. Last of the first 10km is a flat stretch with a nice water pipe awaiting at the end. I finished these first 10km in about 1h11mins, that is about 15 mins slower than on a fast paced winter runs. But I was feeling totally fine, thanks to easy pace, thanks to mostly running under the canopy of trees. And head under the cold water pipe gave me the perfect kick for the next bit.
After about 500m up the hill we reached that beautiful undulating section that everybody loves to run. I did not even try to go fast but I did my best to keep on running. I was running with Vince but after e dropped back to wait for the people behind us I found myself running alone until the 15km point near the Wanchai Gap. I paused at few streams to cool down. This and the slow pace was working. I remember some summer runs where I had to abandon a half HK Trail runs at the this point due to total heat exhaustion. On this day I was still perfectly fine to continue.
The next beacon was the supermarket at Parkview about 8km away – half point with planned re-stocking break. We split into few smaller groups on this part of the run but the gaps between us were not too big. We were still under the tree cover so running was still fine. The first tougher point of the run came after we started the road climb up to the Black’s Link. No trees to shelter us, sun pretty high up already, so it was not exactly walk in the park. But it was not too bad. Certainly being in the group and always talking to somebody was helping.
We regrouped again at the end of the climb and jogged on the road until we turned onto the last trail bit before the final Black’s Link dash to half point. I made use of the water pipes along the way to keep myself cool.
The last regroup point of our big group was at Wong Nai Chung Gap bus stop. About half of the people called it a day here, six of us continued up towards Parkview. I planned to do my cold drinks shopping in the supermarket making use of the airconditioned environment to cool down as well. But I did stop briefly at the kiosk half the way up the hill to pour some tap water over my head.
Then came the brief shopping break – banana, about 2 litres of water, unfortunately also a bottle of Gatorade as I forgot to pack extra Nuun tabs with me and a can of Coke to kick my but up the Jardine’s Lookout.
After all this was done we started the climb up Jardine’s Lookout. This section 5 HK Trail is pretty much my home turf, I have done it countless times from all possible directions. Not a big deal, just few hills. But I also had to abandon few of my longer summer runs here due to unbearable heat. This part is mostly exposed with no cover. I was hoping for the best today knowing that if I survive this bit I will make it all the way.
We were quite lucky. It was very hot but the clouds were blocking the sun a bit. The conditions were just about manageable. I made it through this Jardine’s Butler section without any major problems. After the downhill from Butler I went for quick cool down splash of water over my head to the toilets at Tai Fung Au, I also filled one my empty mineral water bottles with this tap water – to be used as cool down water later on. I knew there are no easy to access streams until after Dragon’s Back – so for next 15km …
On the downhill towards Tai Tam reservoirs we lost Prashant. He was done, he needed to abandon. He told us he would sit down for a bit under one of the pavilions to rest before heading towards the road and public transport. We gave him directions to the nearest way out and said our byes. Five of us left.
Few hundred meters later sharp left turn from road back to the trail and 1km jungle run towards the Tai Tai Tam Road. End of section 6. Bogdan for some reason expected a water refill option here but there was none (and never was to be). What awaited was the dreaded 7 or so km long catchwater. I knew this will be brutal. Mostly exposed, hot, going on forever. And the worst part is the water all around but on the other side of catchwater – not accessible unless someone is ready to climb over some concrete walls and metal railings and ladders…
I decided right at the start to take it easy. Immediately after we crossed the road I deliberately felt back and let the others disappear from my sight. I wanted to manage my own pace, I did not want to blow it by trying to follow the pace of others. I also needed to eat so the first few hundred meters I just fast walked while eating an awesome dates-hazelnuts-chocolate bar. Once that was down in my stomach I started to run-walk-run-walk.
For a while however I had to abandon that run bit. My head started to spin and I was feeling a bit dizzy. The bottle of tap water came handy. That plus a bit of walking helped me to get back in shape. I would from here try to run all the shaded parts and mostly fast walk all those hot exposed sections.
Overall I was OK, tired but OK. I was not sure how far ahead are the others. I knew I can make it to the end but I did not want to hold the rest back waiting for me. So I texted Vince telling him not to wait for me, that I am doing my hot weather pace, and see you in Shek O.
But I saw everybody only few minutes later at To Tei Wan, just before the 700 or steps leading up to Shek O Road. Vince saved us all by going down to To Tei Wan for water and Coke. The cold Coke was the perfect kick before the steps up, the cold bottle of water went straight into the back pocket of my jersey cooling my back in the process.
The steps that follow are never ending but surprisingly I was pretty OK climbing them up. We were not going crazy fast but steady. I asked Vince to sing for us but he opted for some recorded music instead. So our climb up continued to tune of Amazing from Aerosmith. We reached the road all together. We took very short break after crossing the road and went on towards the Dragon’s Back.
I was still hot from that damn catchwater. I desperately needed to cool down in some cold spring. But I knew that for that I have to wait until after the Dragon’s Back and then some more.
Three guys were a bit ahead, Vince stayed with me at the back following my pace. Once we reached the ridge I tried to run all the downhill bits but most the ridge I could just fast hike. I was spent but at the same time motivated seeing that even after almost 40km in the legs and all the heat we were still so much faster than the casual hiker doing only that 7km long Dragon’s Back bit…
We finished the ridge and we relatively quickly ran down to the contour trail. I had to switch to walk once down hoping some useful spring will present itself. But most were dry, the first useful one was about 2km further down. I did some proper cooling down there. Before resuming the run I even decided to cool down my feet and gave my Cascadias their last bath (this was also the farewell run for my by now well worn shoes).
With water dripping all around me I tried to run. The cooling down worked. I managed to run most of the trail and then most of the 1.5km road bit until the final trail descent to Tai Long Wan.
On the final bit I was a bit cautious – I did not want to stumble and tumble right at the end – but it was still a decently paced descent.
Then the paved steps and the marker no 100 marking the end of Hong Kong Trail. It took us just below 7 hours.
I was really happy for having done this on a hot sunny day with temperatures between 30-35C – depending on who and when checked what weather info. Looks like the summer training is starting to deliver. But it is time to start climbing some more … Those TDS climbs are no joke…
Link to Strava here.