I haven’t finished an ultra in Hong Kong since 2016 Translantau100. Seems that since I completed my HK Grand Slam in 2015/2016 season the luck was not my side, at least not in Hong Kong. Yes, I have completed UTMB and La Diagonale des Fous since then. But I DNFed 2016 LT70 (not yet recovered fully from UTMB), 2017 HK100 (because of silly injury a week before the race) and thanks to shin splints my 50/50 9Dragons attempt last year only lasted the first 50 miles.
My summer calf injury did not allow me to do almost any running the whole summer. My Diagonale des Fous training consisted mostly of hiking up the hills and jogging them down – no speedwork at all. This somehow worked fine for a slow long hilly endurance event but I knew the fast HK100 would be totally different story. Especially as due to post Diagonale recovery I only had about 6-7 weeks of proper training time for this race.
Unlike last year I did not set myself any specific time target. My primary goal was to finish the 100k race after almost 2 years of this not happening to me. Secondary target was to do it under 16 hours to get that golden buddy trophy.
My strategy was to pace myself and make sure I survive well the first fast 52k before we hit the hills. My watch was on but I was not really checking it. It was run to feel race for me. Enjoying the surroundings and not pushing too much. As I found out afterwards I was not exactly relaxing though – I was running at my HK100 PR pace although it definitely did not feel like that.
This was to be my A race of the Hong Kong season. After finally getting my golden dude last year I set myself sub 15hours target for this year.
My training went well and I felt I am up to the challenge. I felt I am capable of sub 15 performance. The question was if will be able to do it on the day…
Couple of weeks before the race a mailing arrived notifying us that the race will keep that alternative finish route applied in those freezing conditions last year. As this not exactly common route down from Tai Mo Shan I decided to an easy recce of that bit a week before the race – as a final pre-race outing. It was a very easy jog hike on the last 15-16km of the race route. I noticed during that run some soreness in my right foot but I paid no attention to it. It was nothing different for an ache here and there that we experience on our runs – the kind of stuff that comes and then few minutes later it goes away we forget about it. I finished that jog-hike with no issues, happy knowing that the new ending is not that difficult and ready for the race.
Then when I woke up the next day my foot was really hurting, was swollen and featuring a colourful bruise. During the week the swelling and bruising went away the pain was still there. By Wednesday – Thursday it was getting better so I was cautiously optimistic about making the race. Then on Friday morning it started to hurt more, afternoon it felt better…
I haven’t tried to run for the whole week so I had no idea at all what running will feel like. I went to the start still undecided if I would actually go for it or not. After trying to jog for 15-20 meters I almost made up my mind to opt for DNS… But after some negotiation with myself and out of respect for all those people who could not get a place in this race I decided to at least give it a try. I could always turn back after few hundred meters … So I started.
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 was really looking forward to this one. And I really wanted the golden dude I missed out on last year by about half an hour. The preparations were going well. I felt I am in good form. I believed I had a chance to get that golden dude. But then exactly a week before the race I went for a final training run, first in Hong Kong after almost 2 weeks of stubborn training in freezing snowy Europe. After about 10 great kilometers on the trail came brief lapse in concentration followed by stumble and tumble somewhere under Violet Hill. Nothing spectacular, nothing unusual on uneven trails. Knowing I will fall I tried subconsciously to pick the best landing spot. I managed that pretty well with only minor scratches on the palms of my hands. But unfortunately I had a plastic UD bottle in my front bottle carrier. And that bottle had pretty hard lid screwed on. And that lid ended up between the hard ground and my left ribcage. And that hurt like hell. The impact was pretty strong as it totally disconnected the lid from the bottle. I picked myself up and went on. I had to as no matter which way I turned I had at least 4-5 km till some point with public transport. I somehow managed to continue for further 10km over Violet, Jardines and Siu Ma Shan all the way home. I announced my arrival with words “I am in pain”. I thought that’s it for me and HK100…
The day finally arrived – January 18, 2014. After 7 months and over 2000km of training I hoped I was ready to embark on my first hard core ultra – the HK100 trail race. I had several 40+ km practice runs in my legs and as a part of the preparation for the HK100 I completed 40km, 50km and 70km races but 100km over the the hills of New Territories with accumulated elevation gain around 5500m that would be quite a different beast to conquer.