I planned this race as the A race of my Hong Kong season. I had the same plans last year. However the unfortunate tumble a week ahead of the race altered my race goals a year ago. This time I was determined to finally get that golden dude reserved for those who finish under 16 hours. That was the target.
I never thought the weather would be playing any role. This time of the year it is always nice in Hong Kong, usually almost the perfect running conditions. This year it was a bit different. It was raining more less the whole week leading up to the race. And for the race weekend we had the promise of polar vortex (whatever it means) affecting Hong Kong bringing close to freezing temperatures and even with chances of some snow. The observatory was quick to dismiss the snow fall but the freezing temperatures and strong winds were definitely on the cards.
I was not really worried about the cold itself. I have done some runs and even races in much colder conditions in Europe before. I was however concerned about cramping as a result of both the cold and the faster pace. At the same time I had to re-think my gear for the race.
I originally planned to use my UD SJ backpack with 2 front bottles (filled) and the empty bladder at the backpack to meet the minimum mandatory drinking capacity. But the cold weather called for more layers for the race. I managed to squeeze almost everything in but there was no room left for my waterproof gloves. Also the packing was too tight and getting things in and out with potentially cold hands could be a major trouble during the race. So I decided to switch to my slightly oversized 12l Raidlight Olmo that served me well twice in the Alps. It is a bit too big for race like this but easy to get stuff in and out. And it covered quite large area of my back providing additional layer of weather protection .
I planned to run with compression tee under my jersey and keep my light Salomon windbreaker in the jersey pocket for an easy access. I also had armsleeves covering my arms. But it was too cold so I ended up wearing that windbreaker right from the start of the race. I had short tights with shorts over them, calf guards and socks. One bandana as a headband to cover my forehead and ears, the other bandana protecting my neck. Two more buffs went into the back pockets of my jersey, just in case, for example to cover my knees if necessary. And I topped it all with regular sun cap.
Into my backpack went one more windbreaker – the light waterproof smock from Montane – specifically for the Needle Hill to finish section. I also packed in the Montane waterproof pants. They are lighter to carry than tights and relatively easy to put on at CP. I also packed the reminder of my UTMB mandatory kit – waterproof gloves (as I don’t have any other) and warm hat.
For nutrition I planned to go with check point food and the magical VFUEL ginger twist that I recently discovered thanks to Shane and Martijn. As a reserve I also had with me few gels, one cube of Lucho Dillito and one energy bar for a bit of variety if needed. (At the end I haven’t touched anything except that VFUEL and checkpoint food, no gels the whole race…).
I did not plan on any support team for myself. I also decided not to use the mid way drop bag – I considered the benefit to be minimal compared to the time spent getting to it. And if I could handle TNF without drop bag surely I could handle HK100 even if it meant carrying a bit more for the first half of the race.
The start of HK100 is a tricky one. You don’t want to blow up going out too fast. But taking it too easy means getting stuck at the bottleneck about a kilometer from the start. So I decided just to go with the flow. I confidently positioned myself in the sub 16 starting group and went off. I still got caught in that bottle neck but it was not that bad. Within another kilometer it was pretty much back to normal running except for some minor congestion here and there at some tricky places. Overall I must say that at least at that part of the field where I was people behaved very well.
The initial trail bit passed quite quickly and we returned back to the road. Very quickly I got the first taste of what the day will be about. The first exposed area on one of the dams – maybe it was more the element of surprise rather than the actual strength of that wind – but that gust almost swept me off my feet. We continued running towards the East Dam encountering few more strong gusts along the way. I felt my pace was just about right although thanks to fighting those winds I had to work a bit harder to keep it. I reached the East Dam after 1h19min – a bit behind my ideal time but nothing to worry about. I haven’t stopped there at all. My water bottles were still almost full so I only grabbed one half banana and a piece of some chocolate and I went on.
The section from East Dam to Ham Tin was relatively easy as it usually is. I felt great on the Sai Wan climb and even better on the run down to the village. All was fine. Except for crossing those beaches. The winds there were insane. At times I felt like I am trying to get head on through the wall. I pushed through and made it to the Ham Tin refreshment point. Again no time wasting. I had a sip of Coke, then just a grab of banana and small piece of chocolate and off I was. Water bottles were still half full so I did not bother with refilling them, Wong Shek was only 6km or so away. I was a bit concerned that I may not be drinking enough but I felt fine so there was no point forcing the fluids in.
The rest of the way to Wong Shek was fine. It was cold but as long as kept moving I was OK. I realized quickly during that very brief pause at Ham Tin that any prolonged pause is a big no no on a day like this. Somewhere where the route passes under Sharp Peak I noticed Nic sitting on a bench cleaning his shoes. I tried to say something to him but my voice probably disappeared in that ever present noise of the wind. Somewhere here I managed to dip my right foot into some seriously cold puddle of water. Great stuff on 30C+ summer day, not funny on freezing day like Jan 23, 2016 . But I found a good way to deal with it, I told myself right away “it will dry fast, it will dry fast” and after that totally ignored the cold wet right foot. It worked. When I could already hear the noise of the CP2 I managed to catch some root – no drama – I only remember it because luckily that was my only stumble of the day.
At the CP2 I was surprised to see some familiar faces – Helen, KK and I am sure there was one more person that I knew but can’t recall who was that now… They were kind enough to help me quickly refill my bottles. In the meantime I grabbed few rice balls or sushi rolls (not sure how to call that amazing stuff) and I was on my way. My time was 3h34mins – although I did not know that at that time.
The next section to Hoi Ha is my least favourite part of the race. Yes, the views are stunning but the kind of technical terrain that this section offers is exactly the kind I do not really like. I tried to keep positive though telling myself that Hoi Ha is not that far. So as usual there were people passing me but I was mentally prepared for that. What started to worry me a bit were signs of cramping in my calves. It was not anything serious at this time but I started to wonder if running in shorts only was a good idea…
Eventually I made it to Hoi Ha. I stopped very briefly only for some Coke and rice rolls. I also re-call just slightly topping up my still almost full bottle of VFUEL with a bit of water. I think at most I spent a minute at this CP.
The next stage to Yung Shue was a bit more enjoyable. It was a bit more sheltered section and finally that annoying wind noise was over. The trail was well runable and I kept pushing on all flats, downhills and even some minor short uphill bits. Short stride kept the cramps away. All was good. I made it to Yung Shue O pretty quickly, at least it felt like it. And I was still fresh. I realized that I actually do not need anything so I decided not to stop at this CP. Vic and Mark spotted me arriving and offered some assistance. But all I did was to grab half a banana and go, no time wasted here at all.
Soon after the CP there were some minor climbs. I was overall fine but the cramping signals were getting stronger. I was not overly concerned as I knew that I can deal with this sort of cramps. But I also knew that this is going to slow me down once it hits harder.
I was really surprised how quickly I reached the junction with MacLehose Trail. The first bigger climb was totally fine but on the downhill that followed the cramps hit hard. All it took was a minor slip and twist on a step or a rock. I tried to continue slowly down the hill but I had to take a break and stretch to get rid of those cramps. Here Dwyfor caught up with me and paused to check if I am OK. I more less was, there was no need for me to brag and spoil other peoples’ race. After that stretching I started the descent slowly, gradually increasing the downhill pace to give the muscles enough time to adjust from working uphill to working downhill. This worked quite well.
I had no issues going uphill though and I caught up with Dwyfor again on the Rooster Hill climb. I passed him knowing that he would return me the favour on the way down to Kei Ling Ha. I was rather easily quickly up on the top of the Rooster Hill and started slowly at first the descent to the midway CP. I could not avoid the cramps entirely and had to pause once for a quick stretch. But slowly I managed to increase my pace and towards the end of this section I was running normally down that hill.
I had only very brief break planned at this CP. But I suspected the cold may play some role in my cramping so I decided to put those long Montane pants on here. Other than that all I wanted was something warm to drink or eat, quick refill of my bottles, new VFUEL mix and to grab some rice rolls to go.
I was surprised and happy to meet Erik and Shane at this CP. They helped me with all the supplies while I spent a bit longer than planned getting those pants on. Pants were not the issue but taking off the shoes and then putting them back on – that was a major “avoid cramping at all cost” exercise. Eventually I managed to complete this daunting task. I had a cup of Coke. In search of something warm I found cup noodles. Unfortunately the noodles I received were still very crunchy. Eating them took me again a bit longer than I would like. I was hoping to be in and out of this CP in about 5 mins but as I found out after the race I spent there about 12 mins. But with the benefit of hindsight it was worth the time getting those long pants on. Shane told me that I am on 15hrs pace or thereabouts – and that was motivating!
On the first road section of the Ma On Shan climb I caught up again with Dwyfor who left the CP a minute or two earlier. He said something about already recognizing well the sound of my poles hitting the road – I guess from our OTW training runs he joined and his OTW support duty with us . We chatted for a while while climbing but after a while I realized I left Dwyfor behind. Again I knew that most likely he would re-pass me somewhere on the ridge so I just kept on pushing.
I remember how I suffered on this climb during my first HK100 two years back. But I have climbed here many times since then and somehow successfully managed to engrave into my brain that this climb is not difficult. So I just went on without thinking about the climb too much. I knew that if trouble comes it would be at the end of the climb when the crampy legs would be expected to switch from climb mode to running. So same as on section 4 I decided to do that mode switch gradually. First walking for a while then slowly easy switching to slow jog. And then we hit that awesomely beautiful ridge… That, that was the most scary bit of the entire race. The cross wind was absolutely insane. I barely managed to stay on my feet. I guess the brain was doing all sorts of calculations how to balance the body on that ridge while the conscious part of it was telling my legs to keep as much to the right as possible to avoid being blown all the way down to Kowloon. This was also the only moment during the race that I felt cold. Body was OK but my bare hands holding the poles felt like they were instantly frozen by that icy wind. Those long pants came handy now… Luckily we only had to brave these conditions for few hundred meters. Soon we began sheltered descent.
The steps down were my nemesis again. I managed to avoid cramping this time but only by moving slowly. So several people flew by me, including Dwyfor. I wouldn’t see him again until Leadmine Pass. But once the steep downhill bit was over I could gradually start running. From here it was smooth sailing all the way to Gilwell Camp. At this point I had no idea at all about my pace and time as my watch was under my long sleeves. I felt good though so I guessed things should be all right.
I haven’t spent much time at Gilwell Camp CP. I refilled my bottles, made new VFUEL mix, grabbed rice rolls and went on. I spotted Nora arriving at the time I was leaving. I made one mistake here – it was close to sunset so I should have made use of this CP to take out my headlamp. It was my plan, I reminded myself about it before the CP and yet I still forgot to do it. I knew almost immediately after I left the CP when I saw others with lamps on their heads. But stopping again now or later somewhere at Shatin Pass would make no difference. So I kept going.
The next bit to Shatin Pass Road went quickly, even the Tate’s Cairn climb felt easy. I again took it slowly at the beginning of the downhill Shatin Pass Road section but gradually I picked up decent pace and reached Shatin Pass noodle shop area in no time.
Here I took that short break to pick the headlamp from my backpack. I think I also switched from the visor cap to proper winter hat – easier to wear the headlamp over it with no visor getting in the way. And who needs visor in the night. Just before rejoining the trail a volunteer said something about slight change of the route at the end – trail instead of road due to traffic on Tai Mo Shan Road. I was at first angry knowing that the descent will take longer. All I had on my mind was that golden dude. Any change of plan that makes the race longer was definitely not welcome. On the other hand I was glad I knew about this 30 or so km in advance so I still had a chance to build up some time buffer. I had no idea about the time but here I decided to force myself to run everything runable all the way to finish. I am quite sure that this information helped to speed up the last 30km of my race.
I had to turn the light on almost immediately after getting under the trees on the Lion Rock trail section. I remember how crowded this bit was during OTW – running was almost impossible that time. Now the trail was clear and I decided to make the most of it run and all the runable parts. Some rocky rooty bits I walked for safety reasons – it was that time of the day when you can’t really tell if the headlamp helps or makes things worse. I could not see that clearly what lies ahead. But once it got properly dark the headlamp was doing its job well and it made running easier. The distance signs pointing to Beacon Hill are quite deceiving here, I learned from past experience to ignore them because they make no sense. So I just kept going reminding myself that every time I picked the OTW team as a supporter at Shatin Pass it was only a short run to Beacon Hill CP. One has to keep the mind in positive state.
At Beacon Hill I did not need any refills, I still had enough from Gilwell Camp. So I only drunk some usual Coke and grabbed rice rolls to go. I knew I would not run those steps down after the CP so I might as well use that walking time to eat the CP food. Nature called too, so after I munched down the rice rolls I made one more short break and I was ready to run again.
I remembered how re-born Sean paced us on the lovely runable trail towards Tai Po Road during OTW. I sure could do with someone making sure I am not lazy here and keep pushing. Then I caught up a Mainland lady runner that passed me short while ago on the steps down from Beacon Hill. Her pace seemed just fine so I decided to follow her for a while. She actually kept speeding up so it was not that easy to keep up. I managed to stay with her all the way to Tai Po Road, even ran up the the bridge and then followed her pace to the start of the monkey hill climb. There I switched to hiking mode. I saw this lady and few others pushing and running up that hill but I found that to be a waste of energy. Those running people never got further than 200m meters ahead and after a while I could see that my walking pace was almost as quick as their running effort up that hill.
After cresting the hill came that steep downhill road bit. Surprisingly the calves were fine by now, no signs of cramps. I realized that I was cramp free from somewhere after Gilwell. Very welcome news.
The last trail section to Shing Mun was OK, I ran most of it. Only slowing down on the more technical bits to avoid any stupid incidents this late into the so far great race.
My plan for Shing Mun was to add one more layer on top ahead of the last 3 exposed hills – the waterproof windproof Montane smock. But before that I had to go through gear check – space blanket and phone. It was a bit crowded at the gear check area but I still managed to get it done quickly.
Mark, Shane and Erik were here and helped me with water and VFUEL refills while I was putting on that smock. I also decided to use the gloves from here – that freezing sensation up on Ma On Shan was strong enough clue. I can’t even remember when was the last time I had gloves on… Before I left I asked how am I doing. Shane told me that I am still on 15hrs or so pace. This was awesome news. I was about to enter my most favourite section of Mac, my training ground and I knew I have a time to spare for that golden statue. I left this CP feeling great, warm and happy.
Going up Needle Hill was no trouble for me at all, for some reason it felt just like a regular training run even with more than 70km in the legs. I passed many people before I reached the top. I was expecting some freezing cold winds up there. Surprisingly it was quite calm. The winds picked up a bit on the descent from Needle Hill. Run down is short and quick so it was no issue. I was careful on the descent because I realized that I can’t see well. I did not want to take any risks on those freaky steps.
Soon after I started the climb up to Grassy Hill I found out why I could not see that well on the way down from Needle Hill. My headlamp suddenly died. I could not believe it. It was fully charged battery only charged the night before. Used on the lowest power. It should have lasted comfortably all the way to the finish. I was not sure if the problem is the battery or worse – the headlamp itself. Lucky for me this happened on the section where there was enough light for me to change to back up battery. It was not easy though with the gloves on but I managed. It was the moment of truth when I pressed that ON switch. It was great relief when the light was on again… So obviously the battery was the issue. I guess in that cold the batteries don’t last as long as they should. My phone backed up this theory too – I haven’t touched my phone for the entire race (except for that gear check) and the battery was dead by the time I finished the race… So lesson for future – when it is cold expect and be prepared for batteries to go faster.
So few minutes wasted but light was back on and I could continue. Few people passed me while I was fixing my headlamp but I passed them all and some more before reaching the top of the Grassy Hill. I always try to approach this climb as a minor bump between Needle Hill and Leadmine Pass and it seems to be working.
I jogged carefully down from the top to the road and quickly ran the remaining distance to CP9. I saw Dwyfor enjoying the warm tent there. I stood right in front of 4 large Coke bottles when volunteer asked me what I wanted to drink. I asked her if she could help me to dig my cup from my back pocket and asked for Coke. I would fill it myself as the Coke was right there under my nose. But she had my cup. She disappeared and returned with hot water. I said sorry but I need Coke (still the bottles right there in front of me). She disappeared again and returned with hot chocolate. It was warm I guess it would be nice but I did not want to risk it – I never drunk that during a race. So I poured it away and now with my cup back in my hands I finally refilled it with that Coke. I still had enough supplies from Shing Mun. As there were no rice rolls at this CP I grabbed half a banana and went on.
We left the CP together with Dwyfor. We climbed together at first but later on I pulled away a bit. Knowing how fast he can be on that downhill to the finish I was pretty sure that no matter how much ahead I get on the climb he would still finish ahead of me. But frankly I did not care who I finish ahead or behind. All I wanted was that sub-16 finish and it was within my reach.
I was quite surprised how peaceful Tai Mo Shan was. I expected cold and strong winds. Cold it probably was but thanks to my clothes I did not feel it. But there was more less no wind. And the visibility was great – no fog, no low rolling clouds. That surely made the climb easier and also allowed me to safely run all the flattish bits up there.
Soon I was by the hut. All that was left was the final km up on the road and then dash to finish. The only unknown was the promised trail detour. The road climb was smooth, even the usually very windy ‘tunnel’ just before the top was calm this time.
Already at the top I saw some tourists and then more of them in big numbers down the road. Some already camping there with tents up right by the side of the road. I was wondering how well they are aware of the possible weather conditions… It was bizarre. It was not raining yet but there was a light drizzle, more like some moisture levitating in the air. I did not feel cold but soon I got the taste of trouble that was to come later that night (not for me). I was running all fine, road seemed just normal as always but few times I landed on invisible ice patches. I was sliding down for meters before I could find some grip again and resume running. I have never before encountered this in Hong Kong. At the time when I was running down these patches were only up there higher up on the hill. After maybe 5 mins it was normal downhill road except for all those people walking up in the opposite direction.
The comfort was over soon after the barrier – we were rerouted off the road and onto the trail. I could clearly see why – the traffic was insane. As much as I did not like that detour I am sure that running slalom down that road between all those cars would not be any faster. After a short trail on the left side of the road I crossed the road and after some confusion in all that traffic mess I spotted the marshals and followed their instructions towards the trail on the right side of the road.
I was surprised to see that while heading down towards the finish we actually still had to climb some steps on that trail. This ending easily added 10 minutes to my time and also a bruise on my backside as I could not leave the trail without slipping on those steps and landing on my butt. By that time however I could already hear the noises from the finish line. Soon I was on the road. After safely navigating through the traffic jam I finally saw the finish line. I thoroughly enjoyed those last 50 or so meters.
My time 15:32:46 – on the third attempt finally that golden dude is mine! This was also part 3 of 4 of my quest for 2015/16 grand slam of four Hong Kong 100km races – so now only Translantau100 is left.
Link to Strava here.