It was not easy to get back to training after UTMB CCC . It took me a week to go for a first jog and then another lazy week or so before I was both mentally and physically ready to push again. This all left me more less 2 weeks to train and 1 week to taper as a preparation for Moontrekker. And all this in the seemingly neverending hot and humid Hong Kong summer. I was really glad that my first race of Hong Kong racing season will be a night one with moon rather than sun dominating the sky.
The new finish point in Pui O meant that the race would be about 3km longer than last year. I was not really sure what target time should I set for myself on this new course. But recalling my 2013 crampfest I was sort of hoping to improve and finish the longer course somewhere close to my last year time on the shorter course. As the next few hours would show I was way too optimistic. I also hoped to score some points for the Team UCAN in my first race as a team member in the HK Trail Racing League.
I had an early dinner of some pasta and potatoes about three hours before the race. My nutrition plan for the rest of the night was a scoop of UCAN before the start, another scoop after 2 hours of race, some gels in between if necessary (I packed 4 with me) and bananas bananas bananas at the checkpoints. I had about 1.5 l of water in my hydrapack and half a liter of Nuun in a bottle. I was all set.
The start was uneventful. I positioned myself near the front of the field and contrary to my usual strategy I decided to go for it right from the beginning to avoid getting stuck in traffic once we leave Mui Wo and enter the narrow trail. It worked quite OK for me. My legs felt quite heavy at first but the feeling got better after a while. It definitely helped that I had clear path ahead of me and I could settle into my own pace. I blasted through the coastal trail section faster than last year. I continued in healthy pace also on the Chi Ma Wan Road and started to catch and overtake few quick starters on those climbs.
I saw someone catching me at the beginning of the Chi Ma Wan trail section and at the same time I had a feeling that after the quick start I may be running out of steam a bit. I slowed down to a walking pace while eating a gel and then set of quickly to catch up with the guy who passed me. I was surprised to be back on his heels in no time. I thought for a bit to stay right behind him and follow his pace. But it soon become obvious that he would struggle on all uphill bits. I always overtook him when the trail went uphill but then he passed me on the downhill only to slow me down on the next uphill section. I lost my patience after a while and after one more final overtaking manoeuvre I speeded up in order to leave him behind for good.
I felt very good all the way around Chi Ma Wan. I totally enjoyed this part of the race but somewhere at the back of the head lingered the post CP1 cramp warning from last year. Not much I could do about that but at least I tried to ease my way to the checkpoint to avoid rapid stop and shock to the leg muscles. I had still enough drinks on me after 18km so I only filled the bottle for UCAN, tried with limited success to empty a scoop of the starchy dust from a ziplock into it and grabbed a banana. The next CP in Nam Shan was only about 2.5km away over a small hill. So I decided not to waste any time at CP1, eat my banana while climbing up and use these 2.5km to properly shake and mix the UCAN and water mixture in my bottle.
I felt the effect of quick first 18km in my legs but it was not too bad. There were no cramps and I climbed over that hill to Nam Shan without too much trouble. I was more less on my own. I think I passed lots of people thanks to my quick pit stop and only 2 passed me before Nam Shan.
Nam Shan was another quick stop for me. I grabbed another banana there, refilled my almost empty bottle and dropped a Nuun in. Off I was for the next section – the mean contour trail.
I started with quick walk on the road as I was munching on my banana. Once banana was safely eaten I switched to jog/quick walk mode and soon I reached end of the road and beginning of the trail. At this time I was already cramping a bit – nothing super serious but the calves were clearly not happy. This is a deceiving section. It may be a contour trail but the first 5km are more less all uphill. I really struggled around here. I could not find the right rhythm, I was running where I perhaps should have walked, I walked where I should have run… And the cramping in calves was getting worse. I tried a salt pill. I guess it worked a bit. And a bit later I went for gel too. But I kept hitting rocks and roots and that kept bringing the cramps back. I lost several positions here. I saw Valerie passing me, and later on I was swallowed and dropped behind by two teams, including the mighty Team Green. I had to take this section easy – I was about 10 minutes slower here than in 2014. As I was getting near the next CP at Pak Kung Au I noticed that my headlamp was beginning to lose power. I decided to change the battery at the checkpoint as a precaution. As a result this checkpoint stop was a bit longer, at least I kept Prashant busy there. Besides the battery change I only refilled my Nuun bottle and grabbed another banana.
The short pause definitely helped. I had no issues en route to the next checkpoint to Ngong Ping. I climbed steady catching up and overtaking several people along way. And all of sudden I felt strong enough to run all those not so steep sections of the road towards Ngong Ping. It was a very quick stop for me at this checkpoint – two cups of coke, one banana to go, water bottle refill, hello to all the cows around and quickly towards the Wisdom Sticks where the Lantau Peak climb begins.
I still felt pretty good, there was no cramping and so I decided to run and run until the steep rocky steps get in the way. The going got tougher once the climbing proper started. But unlike last year at least I wasn’t cramping here. I started to count my steps. Always 20 in one go, then either few seconds break, or straight on to next 20. It worked pretty well, I think I only paused 3-4 time for few seconds. One really fast climber passed me not that far from the ridge but otherwise the only people I met were casual overnight hikers walking in the opposite direction down from the peak.
When I reached the ridge I was ready for the final push up to the top. But here I had an unexpected interruption. The trail is really narrow here and about 2-3 meters ahead of me approximately half of it was blocked by properly sized green bamboo viper. The serpent was probably planning to cross the path. It was just hanging there over the metal chain with its nasty triangular head ankle high above the ground right in the middle of the path.
I know these buggers can be nasty and aggressive so I did not dare to brush my legs over its teeth. So while the lights ahead of me were disappearing into the distance and the lights behind me were getting closer I was up there on the ridge working out how to chase that viper away. All I could find around were some pebbles. I tried to throw some somewhere near the snake hoping it would realize it is time to move on. But the first 2-3 pebbles only irritated that green thing and it coiled up ready to charge. I had no more pebbles so I had to walk down the ridge a bit to look for some more. After few more pebbles and about 5 minutes long stand off the viper finally turned around. I did not really go away, it was still there on the grass on the edge of the trail when I finally passed by. But at least the head was now pointing away from the path.
Once I left the snake behind I could finally make that final push to the top of Lantau Peak. I saw someone taking pictures at the top but I did not pause for any views. I went down right away. The descent was a bit painful. My pace was not super fast. I was vary of the cramps and I did not want to fall with the finish already in sight (although still almost 10km away). Not long after the beginning of the descent I saw 5h15mins on my watch. Here I knew I am much slower than last year as 5h16mins was my finish time in 2013.
I kept on descending in a decent but careful pace, from time to time interrupted by large groups of young people climbing up to witness the sunrise I guess. I survived the entire descent and reached the Tung Chung Road without anybody passing me. At some mini CP I was handed a card with number 50 on it (only at the finish I realized that it was kind of an ID of a top 50 finisher). I grabbed it, folded it and stuffed it in one of the pouches on my backpack and continued without a pause towards the finish line.
Once on the road I could see one or two headlamps not that far behind but my rather fresh pace on this downhill section made it difficult for those behind to close the gap. After about 2km of pounding the concrete came the turn and few steps down to Lantau trail – aka the catchwater. I slowed down and switched to fast walk for a while allowing two guys to overtake me. One was running like a madman, the other seemed even madder with backpack leisurely hanging over one of his shoulder only. It definitely did not seem right to be overtaken in this fashion. Still I gave myself another 100-200 metres of rest (in form of fast walking) before speeding up again.
Those two disappeared quickly once they overtook me but I caught them back surprisingly quickly once I picked up my pace again. And not long after we left the catchwater and turned to the tree covered trail I jumped (literally) ahead of both them again. From here it was only few hundred meters to the road and Pui O. I was suprised to be directed by Lawrence to some small back alley that led to a concrete path through what looked in the darkness like some marshy fields between the road and the sea. Few turns, then sandy path, then turn left, then another and finish with my official time 6h11mins13sec.
It is impossible to compare the time with 2013 race as this year the route was longer. But I guess that with my last year pace I would have finished about half an hour earlier. I am not sure why I lost so much time. I was quick at the start, I did not cramp anywhere near as much as last year, I was fast and comfortable for more less the first 21km. I struggled and lost some time on the contour trail but I felt stronger on the climbs to Ngong Ping and Lantau Peak. The damn snake cost me maybe 5 minutes and also disturbed my rhythm a bit but that was only a minor delay. My checkpoint stops were also as efficient as I could hope.
I blame the slower pace partly on the weather being warmer than last year (the race was held 2 weeks earlier this year). But more important factor may have been the lack of proper training in September following my August adventure in Italian, Swiss and French Alps. Still, it was fun race, legs got first taste of racing on Hong Kong hills since March and I got to meet and hang out with lots of familiar faces. I also had an opportunity to taste night version of bits and pieces of the LT70 – the next race on my 2014/15 calendar.
Cherry on the pie – Our UCAN team scored some serious points in this race and climbed to second place in the league after 2 events!