2015 TNF100 Hong Kong – The end of the year race

Seeing everybody making some New Year resolutions around January 1 I decided to set myself a bit of a challenge too – to do all four 100K races in Hong Kong in 2015. Well with new races popping up here and there they may now be more than four but I went for the original four – HK100, Translantau100, OTW and TNF100. It was not all smooth ride thanks to a silly injury but far from race fit I survived and completed both the early year races – HK100 and Translantau. A month long almost complete rest followed before I went full on into training for TDS. TDS was an amazing experience. But resuming training after that demanding race was not easy. The recovery took some time. But by the time of Trailwalker (after “practice” Moontrekker and LT70 races) I was feeling pretty good to go. Trailwalker went very well for me. Three out four were in the bag. The TNF however was always going to be the trickiest one.

I have never tried to attempt two 100km races within 3 weeks only. Also unlike the other three races I was not completely familiar with the TNF route. I knew most of it but not all. I never trained specially for this race. And of course – this race is a tough one…

I set myself no goals other than to finish. To finish in order to achieve my 2015 goal. But also to finish to keep my new goal – the 2015/16 season grandslam attempt on track. I had offers of race support from friends but I decided to go for it without support crew. I had no idea how my body would handle the second 100K race in so short time. I was not able to estimate when I would be where – hard to plan for support especially at those not easy to get to areas of Hong Kong. I also decided to have no drop bag. CP4 was too early for drop bag. Also the fact that the drop bags would not be returned to us (strange policy I must say) made the whole thing pointless. Why bother with drop bag when all I could actually put in would be few gels… Better carry them from start and safe the hassle at CP4…

I managed to pack most of my compulsory equipment into my UD SJ bag. Cup went into back pocket of my jersey along with few bandanas, phone, money and octopus into my waist belt. More less the set up I am used from my training. I carried the bladder just in case I need more water capacity during the race. But I only filled up my front bottles – one with Nuun and one with plain water – again, my usual set up. I already had the light waterproof jacket deep down in my backpack but not being too keen on actually using it I shoved the regular windbreaker into the back pocket of my jersey too.

At the start I was in no rush to get to the front. The race was a mix of 50K and 100K runners. Being right at the front seemed pointless – I thought it would only increase the danger of going out too fast. So I started somewhere about a third of the field down. The early part was on the road, first flat but soon up the hill. I was surprised how many people actually pushed and ran up that hill that early on. Waste of energy… Soon though I could see the reason – a huge bottleneck at the entry to the trail. After that a trail that is OK for passing people but when the whole crowd is together right after the start. With a benefit of hindsight it would probably be wiser to start a bit more up front and perhaps push a bit on those first few hundred meters. But at least I got plenty of opportunities to practice the “on your right” slogan. Luckily most people were pretty courteous and gave way and with only few exceptions almost all knew what side is their right :-) .

The whole part of the race from start to CP1 and CP2 went without any issues. Once I cleared the traffic I settled into a comfortable pace. The only worrying moment came when I ran into wasps. As I found out later many people got stung. I somehow managed to avoid that fate. Other than that I just kept going. At CP1 I haven’t even stopped as I did not need anything. At CP2 I only refilled my bottles and grabbed a banana.

The first slightly longer CP break came at CP3. I met Vic there – he helped me to refill my bottles, I needed some time to down enough Coke to carry me to CP4. I grabbed a banana and few pretzels to go and off I was. Until now the race was rather flat so I was actually quite glad to see we have some hills ahead. I walked at first while I was eating that banana, then jogged a bit before the hill came. Even now, only few days after the race I can’t really recall much from this section. All I know that soon I found myself at CP4 with some guys asking me if I have a drop bag. I had none, I went straight to food and drinks. I bumped into Roger who complained about his knee. I had a cup of soup (that was not too good), some banana to go, Coke to drink, pretzels to go, water refill and I went on.

I knew parts of the next section but some parts would be totally new to me. After CP I passed few people on the road section and then continued my own pace on the trail. I felt good so I sped up a bit on the downhill concrete path towards the Fanling Highway. Somewhere here I passed Roger who was really suffering with his knee on this downhill. Then came the turn towards the shiggy steep climb over Lung Shan. I loved this bit. I felt great going up. I was trying not to push too hard as we were not yet half way through the race but I passed few people. Way down was fun too. I quickly caught up with few other guys but I decided to follow them without passing. Not much to be gained and I did not want to take anyone down on the narrow technical trail.

Soon we were down on the road. The only naughty dogs of the day appeared somewhere here. But a pole threat by one of the runners ahead of me turned the brave dogs to cowards and the road was clear.

The long concrete stretch through the town to CP5 by Fanling MTR was boring and long. Eventually I made it there. Tim was working at the CP so it was nice to exchange few words while refilling my bottles, drinking Coke and eating bananas. By now I only consumed one gel – other than that all energy came from CP food.

After this brief stop I started the climb up towards Tai To Yan. The uphill road and steps seemed neverending but they weren’t that bad. After a while a proper trail begun. It was late afternoon by now and the weather was slowly turning from hot to the long sleeve kind. I quite enjoyed the climb up to Tai To Yan. At some part it was really windy and foggy and cold but I still thought I can manage without putting the windbreaker on. I passed several people sitting down and pulling jackets out of their backpacks. I decided to keep moving and leave that exposed area behind as fast as possible. It was also getting darker – I wanted to get to CP6 without headlamp.

It worked out fine although at the end of the descent towards the Lam Kam Road it was already quite dark under the trees. Once on the road the street lamps helped. By the time I reached the CP it was proper dark.

Until now my CPs were quick refill-grab food-go kind. Here I wanted to sit down for a bit, give my legs a bit of rest while fixing my headlamp, packing my sunglasses and cap and getting the windbreaker ready for Tai Mo Shan. I also went for noodles – and that is kind of food that is not easy to eat on the go like a banana. Again I drank some Coke, refilled my bottles, grabbed few pretzels and packed one banana for later.

I was familiar with the next section but this was the first time for me going up Tai Mo Shan from this side in the dark. I was beginning to feel tired a bit but overall the climb went fine. I passed few people. Only one person passed me – the same guy who kept passing me after every single CP since I have no idea when. Once he was ahead of me I settled into pace similar to his and followed him up. It was cool so the windbreaker was on now. But otherwise the weather was still OK. The fog or clouds appeared somewhere around the end of the trail section. The last concrete part of the climb was foggy. The very last bit, 300m or so, was super windy and visibility was more less nothing. I had the hood over my head to keep warm. I was lazy to fix the bandana.

The downhill was intense. It was road but I could not see anything. The visibility was perhaps a meter or 2 at most. The wind was so strong that running against the wind felt like trying to get through a wall. Only the rain was missing (luckily). After about 2km of this awesome madness (passing few people in process) I reached the barrier. From here it was unknown territory for me. We turned left towards the CP7. There was not much marking but luckily there was nowhere else to turn. I ended up at CP7. I ate something I can’t remember what, I had cup of hot chocolate to warm up, refilled my bottles, grabbed a banana. Nobody was able to tell me where and how far is the next CP. But I heard from somewhere around that the distance is about 14km.

I had no idea where to go after this CP. I followed the markers but soon I could see none, just a trail. So I followed the trail. And then I saw a road and big arrows. So followed those arrows and here I was, back at CP7 … Clearly something was not right… Instead of going again through the CP and confusing everybody I decided to backtrack my steps. Few hundred meters back I spotted two large arrows that thanks to the fog I simply missed the first time. At least I was back on the right track.

The first bit of this section was OK, sort of. There was some path but I could not really see it in that darkness and fog. The markers were there but too far apart in that visibility. It felt like Alps, not like Hong Kong… After a while I found myself running down the steps at some graveyard. Spooky … Then there was a bit of a road. After that that never ending trail that would go on forever. Some bits were runable but most of it was rocky and slippery. Few stream crossings here and there and more rocks to run through. I thoroughly hated this part. I mentally gave up on any effort to try to do a good time. This was the worst part of the race for me. Here I told myself to never sign up for this race again… I was so relieved when I reached the MacLehose trail just above the Leadmine Pass.

From Leadmine Pass it was a short run down the hill to the CP8. I was mostly alone on the trail between CP7 and CP8 so I was quite surprised how busy the CP8 was. I did not waste too much time here, just enough to eat some noodles and refill my bottles. Banana went into my back pocket. Then I waited a bit till I see others leaving the CP. I was still freaked out from the dog encounter on the next section a week ago – I preferred to pass that area in the night in a bit bigger group than group of one…

Surprise surprise there were no dogs around this time. I pushed on quite keen to get to Cloudy Hill as quickly as possible. There were few people around on the concrete downhill path towards Tai Wo area but I seem to have dropped them behind. Down in the town I decided to save my legs for the Cloudy Hill climb. Also I did not want to make any wrong turn on the confusing town streets. So I mostly walked paying attention to race markings. Once I was under Cloudy Hill a pushed.

Somewhere at the beginning of the climb I almost stabbed a lazy bamboo viper with my poles. I did not realize that green branch was actually a snaky until it raise the head up when the tip of my pole landed just next to it. Someone please tell these snakes it is December already!

It is quite weird but I actually enjoyed this climb. I went on and on as usual but somehow in the middle of the night it did not feel that bad. If I remember well and climbed up without any pause. It was getting really cold by now. That by itself discouraged me from stopping. Moving ahead was the best option. Nature called at the top so there I had to make a brief stop. After that it was quick descent to CP9. Someone passed me at the beginning of the descent. But before reaching the CP9 I took my position back and then I passed few more people, including a lady runner emptying her stomach at the side of the trail.

I sat down for a while while eating a jam sandwich. CP crew helped me to refill my bottles. Then I quickly left for last 10-11km of the race. The initial part was easy – flat, runable. Soon after the climbing started. First the relatively mild one, then the proper steep one up towards Pat Sin Leng. I was up there only a week ago – it was easy but that was with fresh legs. Now I had over 90km in the legs already so the climb was proper suffer.

Still I felt reasonably OK climbing up. I also tried to run all the flattish bits in between the climbs. At the beginning the top of ridge was fine – clear skies, stars. But it did not take long for clouds or fog to cover the it. The winds picked up and it was cold. Visibility dropped to close to nothing again. Running any faster than walking meant quite a risk of tripping or falling. It was rather frustrating as I felt pretty good to run.

After few more km in this mess I finally reached the immortals. From that point it went fast, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and I was on my descent to Tai Mei Tuk. It went OK but it took forever. I have done this several times but this time it felt longer than ever.

When I finally reached the road I thought I have only few hundred meters on the road to the finish. How wrong I was. The final present from RD was waiting – detour through some shiggy, some extra climb and then steps down to the finish line. I was so fed up with that last bit that I could not even manage a smile when I crossed the line. Time 20:24 and few secs. At the top of Pat Sin Leng I thought that sub 20hrs might be possible. But that run down + the additional shiggy were longer than I thought. But I had no reason to be unhappy. My goal was to finish – and I managed that!

The end was very underwhelming – more less nobody at the finish line – just some anonymous person handing me the medal, someone taking photo. The promised food and beers at the finish were nowhere to be found. The only food related sign I found was an arrow pointing to 24h kiosk at the car park. Quite strange ending to a tough race I must say.

Link to Strava here.

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