My original goals for the 2013-14 racing season was to finally do a full road marathon race and to complete my first 50km+ ultra on trails. But during the summer I signed up for the HK100 – the original solo Hong Kong 100km and when the LT70 race (70km and about 4000m of accumulated elevation gain) was announced it sounded like a good training and endurance test for my main event of the season. After considering all pros and cons I decided to go for it. I signed up. This was to be 30km longer than my previous longest race and about 26km more than the longest trail run I ever did.
I worked on my pace during 40km test runs on Hong Kong Island and being familiar with the first 25km of Lantau Trail I felt pretty confident that I should be OK for at least the first 2 stages. Beyond that I had no prior knowledge of the route and no idea how my body is going to handle the distance.
I had no special strategy for the race other than to start easy and not caring about pace of anybody around me.
Race start was OK. There were still as usual lots of people shooting off way too fast (some justifiably so as they were running shorter relay stints) but there was enough space on the initial road section to keep comfortable pace and move ahead according to plan. Soon we reached the country park entry and the long climb up to Sunset Peak begun. I felt pretty well and without pushing too much I relatively quickly made it to the top. The long descent on steps followed. As always on this downhill section I took it easy trying not fall on and to protect my legs for later. Few people passed me but that I expected. I crossed the road and started the next big climb up the Lantau Peak. Feeling great and relaxed I kept on going and passing many people on my way up. It was for me the easiest climb up to Lantau Peak, it felt like I reached the summit in no time.
I wasted no time at the top and begun my descent right away. Almost immediately I received the first warning of the day from my body – minor cramps in the legs. Obviously even while feeling great my pace up the Lantau Peak was not so relaxed… I slowed down and did some stretching before continuing my way down towards Ngong Ping. Luckily the cramping receded and I reached the Ngong Ping checkpoint still relatively fresh. I refilled my water pack, ate one banana and went on towards the next stage to Tai O. It was getting hot, hotter than expected, and I made an additional stop in the Nging Ping Village, went to 7/11 and purchased bottle of cold water and cold Pocari, just in case. Very wise decision this was… 15km done, about 55km to go.
I ran the next 3km down hill section in decent pace, stopped for a quick toilet break and started the next 3 hill climb section. I struggled a bit over these climbs but as I found out later when checking my Garmin record, the reason was I was climbing rather fast. Once the 3 hills were behind I wrongly believed I have all the major climbing of the day behind me and pushed forward downhill to second check point in Tai O. It was good to see some familiar faces offering support at this check point, Vic stuffed the pockets of my backpack with gels, I dug out some chocolate from my drop bag, eat 2 bananas, drunk 2 cups of Coke, refilled my water pack with water, my bottle with electrolyte (I think it was blueberry GU), picked another banana and went on. Approximately 28km done, next check point more than 23 km away and route ahead totally unknown to me…
It did not take too long for nasty surprise – road leading uphill. OK, at least I could finish my banana in peace. But then turn left into the trail (detour from the original Lantau Trail) and another uphill. This was mentally the hardest part of the race for me. I had no idea what exactly awaits, I was hot, the quick relay runners were passing me and Garmin was showing 45km still to go… I started to feel a bit better once the temperature went down a bit. Entering the shadows under the trees also helped. However I was now running on the concrete and I felt it was time to begin preserving energy. There were no more major climbs left but I knew the long concrete section will be no less punishing. I started to switch between running and fast walking. I made a brief stop at a water point and kept on my run – fast hike – run routine. The Shek Pik Reservoir dam seemed very very long, but once I passed it I knew from the route map there is only a 5-6km trail section between me and the final checkpoint in Shui Hau. Shortly before the checkpoint the 50km beep came from my watch – first time ever I made it past 50km mark!
It was again great feeling to see more familiar faces at the check point. I ate some banana, I believe I had also some biscuits, refilled my water bag and bottle with water and electrolytes and quickly moved on. Only about 20km to go and somewhere around 14km till a water point at Pui O.
It was dark by now, headlamp went on. Quickly I entered the never ending catchwater section and was bored to hell. The concrete path just went on and on, it watch pitch dark, I was totally alone. I kept my mind busy looking out for and counting the Lantau Trail markers. To make life more fun (and easier for now very tired and cramping legs) and walked the distance from marker to marker (500m), then jogged between 2 markers (1km) and repeat till what felt like forever, in fact about 7km.
Then there were lights. The catchwater path was about to cross the Tung Chung Road. In front there was some road works barrier and no reflective route markers in sight. On the ground 2 reflective arrows pointing to the right and down the road. Up there in my head very tired brain that only managed to process “arrows, downhill, go”. So I went and happily ran down the hill. The happiness was short lived. I should have seen a Lantau Trail marker but there was none, I should have seen some route markers but there were none. I turned around and hiked back up the hill back to the intersection. Brain still not functioning only able to process “catchwater ahead – road works – barrier” and sent me up the Tung Chung Road instead. Not seeing any route markers I started to swear a lot blaming organizers for not putting up enough markers. Then a sudden thought came to me that the problem may be me… I turned around, ran downhill back to the intersection (reaching it for the 3rd time) and decided to explore the catchwater direction. And surely, only few meters behind the barrier was the next route marker. So instead of going straight I spent almost half an hour running up and downhill, wasting a lot of energy I did not really have and adding more than a kilometer to my race distance…
Once I was back on track I went back to my run-walk-run routine and soon I made it to the South Lantau Road. Pui O and water point that by now I really needed was close. Problem was I had no idea where in Pui O the water point will be. I ran by few shops and restaurants, then some cheering kids pointed me to cross the road and turn right. I was now running in dark part of the village with no more shops in sight and the water point nowhere to be seen. I started to swear again, blaming myself for not stopping and buying some drinks while I still had the chance. And there it was – a pavilion, few ladies and water and oranges. One of the ladies asked me from where I am running and called me “poor you” upon learning I am doing the full 70km. She offered me small cup of Coke, I asked her for full can, thanked the entire crew of this water point for saving my day and went on to conquer the final 6km or so.
The next kilometer or so was till on the road. Then arrows made of the glow sticks pointed to left and to the sign “The Last Climb”. I remember telling myself “whatever” and there I was climbing the steps. It was only about 200m of elevation but I felt like climbing the Everest. After few steps into the darkness I made a quick toilet break to rest a bit and then continued climbing. The energy boost from that can of Coke was gone and I needed a gel. I had some of my gels inside my backpack but felt too lazy to go and get them. So I reached instead for one of those in my outer pockets that I had there since Tai O. It was a V Fuel or whatever it is called. It was horrible, horrible taste, very unpleasant texture and disgusting dill aftertaste in my mouth. I can eat almost everything but I hate dill … And here I was, after 65km, tired like hell, and with nasty dill aftertaste in my mouth …
I somehow made it to the top of this final hill and started running on the undulating path down to Mui Wo. To my surprise just before reaching the village I passed 2 people. Then few steps down to the road and “sprint” towards the finish line outside the China Bear bar.
I made it! 12hrs49mins and 71.43km on my watch. My longest adventure ever. I finished in 12th place overall in 5th in my category but more importantly I found out that I can handle this sort of distances. Now I am optimistic that HK100 in 2 months is something that I should be able to do. Bring it on!