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2019 Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan

UTMT 162K

I had few reasons to sign up for this race:

a) I wanted something new, a race in HK I haven’t done before

b) I wanted to do a 100 miler before my second attempt at Ronda as a confidence builder

The month ahead of this race was a big mileage month for me. It started with 100+km race in Taiwan and by the end of Dec I had accumulated 400km of quality mileage. I tapered down few days before UTMT but it was much less aggressive tapering than what I used to do.

My goal was to finish, nothing else. I needed a successful 100 miler under the belt. I estimated 32hours time but that was just an estimate, not a plan.

Going to the race I felt pretty good except for some foot issues that were troubling me for a while.

At the start I quickly noticed the weather is going to be an issue. It was very humid and the pollution was quite extreme.

There were around 300 people at the start of the 162km race. I lined up deliberately at the back of the field to make sure I do not get sucked into to pace of those who take the first few km as a sprint race. As I realized few hours later it did not exactly work…

I was determined not to waste any energy running up the hill after the start. Very little to gain… I settled into comfortable hiking pace. I did not feel like I am pushing hard but I was passing quite a lot of people on the way up towards MacLehose. Needle Hill was no issue.

Disappearing into the pollution from the top of Needle Hill

The shiggy trail down at Shing Mun was easier than during my recce as this time it was clearly marked :-) Rest of the journey to CP1 was mostly concrete, flat or downhill – no problems. At CP1 I only grabbed some chocolate and some water and went on.

Soon I was on the Wilson catchwater. I was not too sure if I should run there and if yes how fast. But I did run (and probably a bit faster than I should). The climb up to Mac via Amah Rock felt quite good. I was quite surprised though to see some China runners running up the hill. Even though they looked quite fit I was pretty sure that such pacing is suicidal…

After the SCP the climb became steeper and more technical – I was quite looking forward towards this bit. I enjoyed climbing passing several people – for a moment I got carried away. Not smart early on into 100 miler…

Once on Mac it was easy sailing towards and over Beacon Hill. After short section of Eagle’s Nest we ran down the path towards So Uk area. Somewhere here I managed my first ankle roll. The right foot was still bothering me, my landing on the steps and rocks was not ideal because of that. And on perhaps the last step before the road I twisted the right ankle. For a while I saw stars but lucky the pain went away quickly. No damage done.

A bit of road and I was at CP2 at the temple. I was craving for some Coke but there was none at this CP. So I just refilled water, grabbed some chocolates and pretzels and went up the hill towards Tai Po Road and Kowloon Reservoir. Before hitting the trail again I made a pit stop at the vending machine and got myself that Coke :-)

The Golden Hill area trails are really nice. I can’t recall running on them in another trail race. Besides the right foot that was on fire by now the rest of the body was still feeling OK. Without any other issues I climbed over those few hills and once on the Golden Hill road I headed back towards Shing Mun in the opposite direction of 9Dragons 50K race.

I ran all the flats and downhills. But while trying to keep the pace in check it was clear to me now I started too fast. My plan for CP3 (36km) was about 5hours in good weather. I got there in 4:25 on a highly polluted day in 90%+ humidity… I was starting to feel some signs of cramping. And before I got there I rolled that ankle one more time. It was time to get that race strategy under control…

I took a bit more time at this CP. The steep way up Tai Mo Shan was awaiting, proper energy intake and a short rest were necessary. I was stuffing myself with rice balls and chocolate while the Shing Mun monkeys were stealing the pretzel packs from the CP :-)

I did this particular Tai Mo Shan climb only once – couple of weeks ago during my route recce. It is a great way up but I knew that almost 40km into the race it may hurt a bit. It did, a bit. But it was not that bad except for few big cramp inducing leaps up over bigger “steps”. The cramping got worse though on the downhill section – both the road and the trail. When I finally made it down to the catchwater just above Route Twisk I decided to walk that flat bit in order to give the muscles some opportunity to adjust to what I am expecting of them. I still managed to move quickly so overall things were under control (although those statues of dogs along the trail brought back the memories of UTMB hallucinations).

Descending from Tai Mo Shan

From now on I decided not to rush too quickly through the CPs. First priority were the calories in, second – rest for legs. The time spent there while still important was my last concern. CP4 had some siu mai. I took my time to eat a few, had some drinks, refilled my bottles and went on.

I started slowly allowing the food to settle a bit in the stomach. Soon I was climbing up on a concrete path. Few km up I noticed some Mainland runners enjoying support from their crew. I did not find that cool at all. I complained first to their crew and to one of the runners too. Carrying all my stuff with me and relying mostly on CP food I was really upset at that moment. And a bit later I noticed someone else setting a proper ‘aid station’ under a pavilion next to the trail.

One of the culprits caught up with me and to my surprise apologized for the incident explaining the situation and reasons. He also promised not to do it again. While I still did not think it was cool I appreciated that attitude and let the whole thing go.

At the end of the path we took a sharp right turn towards a short but pretty technical and steep uphill. One of those gems on this race route. But this gem was still causing me some cramps here and there. I was still paying for that fast start.

Just before reaching CP5 first few of the TTF runners passed me. While except for that cramping I felt pretty OK the difference in freshness between me and the people with less than 15K in the legs was huge.

At the CP5 I met KK who was supporting the MOM team from Thailand. It was nice after so many hours to meet a familiar face and have a chat. I did not rush out of the CP. I took some rest, ate some chocolates, drank water, Coke and enjoyed some watermelons the Thai crew offered me.

Few moments after I left the CP I realized it will soon be dark. So before I settled into any pace I stopped again to install the headlamp on my head.

Managing the light over the whole night was one of my concerns. There is more than 12 hours of darkness to deal with. With one battery in my AyUp lasting 5-6 hours I was confident that having 3 fully charged ones should be fine. Two were with me, one in the drop bag waiting at CP7. Plus I had a back up light with a spare set of AAA batteries just in case.

The first battery died after 1.5hour… Then just before I reached CP6 I wanted to switch of the light to save some power. Instead of turning off the battery switched to highest power mode and got stuck there. All I could do was to unplug the cable. Once I plugged it back in I was stuck in that high power mode… I knew that this second battery won’t last much longer after this. My new battery was 18km away in the drop bag. I knew that to get there I would have to eventually switch to my not so bright back up light…

But for the moment I tried not to think about that. The roast goose was there to enjoy at CP6 in Sham Tseng. I had to really control myself to only take 2 pieces. The thing was sooo good :-) I had 2 bowls of soup noodles with it. While munching I charged up my watch a bit. I refilled my bottles, drank some water and went on.

About 20 minutes later the second battery died too… I put on the back up light hoping the not exactly brand new AAA batteries in it would last a while.

Besides these battery issues that were really bothering me now I was feeling pretty good. The cramping stopped, the right foot pain disappeared, calves and quads were working well. I was able to run again happily. It was a happy jog to CP7 passing quite a few ‘walkers’.

The CP crew handed me my drop bag. I fixed the new battery to my AyUp so my back up light could go back to a pocket. I had a small blister developing just under my right ankle. Inhandled that with a bit of wipe and a plaster- sorted that out for the rest of the race. Food, drinks, refills and I was on the way.

My previously running legs stiffened a bit at the CP. It took a while before I could run again. In the meantime I was moving forward by walking fast.

Once I left the lit up streets I turned the light on. All was fine. For an hour. Then my last AyUp battery went dark too…. The back up light went back on…

I had to save the power as much as I could. Like the catchwater at the end of MacLehose – I kept the light off for as long as I could manage. I could see some headlamps far ahead – they were moving steadily and in a direct line so apparently there were no surprises on the way. Moreover my eyes got used to darkness and I could actually see well enough to keep moving safely without light while on the catchwater.

Eventually I made it to CP8 at Tai Tong. I was feeling OK but I was very hungry. I remember eating two bowls of something warm – can’t recall if it was noodles or something else. I refilled what I needed to refill. I also decided to change those used AAA batteries for new ones. I turned the light on to check if all is ok. I saw some light, not too obvious but I assumed that is because of all the light at the CP. Pretty stupid assumption. Lucky in the last minute I decided to keep the used batteries with me. First – there was nowhere to dispose them, second – there still was some life in them and one never knows… This decision saved my race…

I left the CP and went up the road. There was enough light along the road. I did not have to turn the light on until I reached the trail few km up the road. And there was no light… The brand new set of AAA batteries was totally dead. I felt like in a bad dream. The only sources of light I had left were my iPhone and the 3 used AAA batteries. I still had more than 3 hours of darkness to survive…

I used my phone as a torch while putting the old AAA batteries back into the back up headlamp. I used the minimal light setting to extend the battery life as much as possible. After that I could only hope.

About 10km of several short but steep and technical hills awaited. Great section as long as you can see it. The only plus of these light issues was that it kept my brain too busy to worry about my body. The light held on. Soon I was down in Yuen Long strolling toward the CP9 at the foot of Kai Kung Leng.

Here I met KK again as 3/4 of the Thai team he was supporting were enjoying some beauty sleep there. I ate some cup noodles, chocolates, had some drinks. For the first time in the race I felt a bit cold so on went the windbreaker. It was 6 something in the morning. I decided to wait a bit until the sky was light enough so I could finally forget about the headlamp. Once there was enough natural light I went on with all the lights and batteries packed up in my backpack.

It was quite cold and windy climb. Quite a change after feeling generally warm since the start. But the windbreaker and my pace warmed me up. Legs held both going up and down. KKL came and went without any major issues. 2.5 hours later I was down on the road refilling water at SCP10 before climbing Tai To Yan.

I was feeling reasonably fine but one tends to move slower than usual with almost 140km in the legs. Tai To Yan never felt so long as on this day…. When I made it on the ridge near the Pak Tai To Yan I could not believe how far the Tai To Yan seemed to be… I decided better not to look ahead any more and just keep going. I think it helped a bit.

I made it down to the Kadoorie Farm CP. Short sit down, some food, drinks refill, hand wash (they actually had bottles of hand wash at that CP – clean hands felt sooo good 😄) and up towards Tai Mo Shan I went.

I jogged a bit down the road. Once I hit the climb I settled into comfortable pace. I passed few people but I was not sure if they were in UTMT or TTF. I quite enjoyed this climb – it felt good feeling good this late in the race.

From the hut we did not go towards Tai Mo Shan. Instead we turned left on the Mac in Sze Fong Shan direction where the timing point was. After that we took another left turn into the bushes – the best and most technical descent I have ever done in the race in Hong Kong has begun.

The first part was slippery – on tired legs I did not have that much confidence on wet moss covered boulders. But on the smoother surface I tried to move quickly on this steep descent. Mossy wet boulders, bushes, bamboo, some fallen trees – this had everything. I would have probably enjoyed it more had this be earlier in the race but it was still fun.

I had a pace reality check when the leaders of the 50km race – Yan Long Fei, Guomin Deng and Gediminas Grinius literally flew past me but I was still happy with my progress.

I had no idea where I was when I emerged from the bushes. I saw another UTMT runner sitting down cleaning his shoes. Once I passed him he hurried to re-pass me on the downhill and to my surprise he kept pushing and running also on the final short uphill before arriving at the final CP.

I could not be bothered. I had no intention to waste my energy meaninglessly. I now recognized that I am where the TNF100 CP8 usually is and I could clearly visualize the entire remaining part of the race.

I decided to sit down for a while and eat properly. I ate 2 bowls of fried noodles, refilled my bottles. I noticed that the guy who arrived just before is long gone. I also noticed that another UTMT runner arrived and left this CP while I was eating. But I needed that food.

Before I left I checked messages in my phone. I could see I was just outside top 20. Although I had no targets for this race it is always nice to finish in top something. I had 10km to go, half of it uphill so anything could happen…

I did not push to catch those 2 guys ahead that were in same race as me. I decided to do my pace and see what happens.

What happened was that by the time I reached Leadmine Pass I had one of them in the sight. I paused a bit there to rinse my face. Always good to feel fresh.

I caught this runner perhaps 20-30 meters before cresting Grassy Hill. Once there I told myself I have to disappear from his view before he reaches the top too. So I gunned down the road disappearing around the corner quickly.

I kept pushing now. This was the last downhill of my racing season, there was nothing left to save the legs for. Just before the short uphill before the turn towards Shatin I was on the heels of the other runner who passed me at the last CP.

I ran past him on the trail to Shatin. By now I was in top 20.

I kept pushing all the way to the finish. I crossed the line after 31h33mins – more less within my pre-race estimate. I finished in 18th place. And as I soon found out passing those 2 runners between the final CP and the finish elevated me to top 3 in my category – totally unexpected :-)

Finished

This ended my short racing season. Two races I planned as confidence builders worked out well. Now is time for short break from hard training before I start preparing for that big target – 2019 Ronda.

Trophy

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