Saturday, January 17, 2015

Vibram HK100 2015

This was the fifth edition of the race and my second time participating in it. The first time was in 2013 (Part 1, Part 2). It was a race worth going back again so I decided to do it again this year.

This year was the first time the orgainisers introduced the ballot system due to the overwhelming number of runners. The ballot was in Sep 2014 with the results released a week later. Luckily enough, I managed to secure a slot for the race. What followed was training my ass off so that I would not be killed by the many steps along the race route.

Fast forward to Jan 2015, after an adventurous trekking trip to Nepal and also sustaining a calf injury during training which very fortunately I could recover from quickly, I found myself in Hong Kong again. Some of my friends call it “The Kong”. Hahaha .. Whatever the name, I like the place because the food is good, there are a lot of trails and is a very good training ground.

On board the mini bus to Pak Tam Chung.
A group of friends and I shared a hostel at Pak Tam Chung Holiday Camp at Sai Kung which was right at the start line of the race. It is always fun to have a bunch of like – minded people travelling together, especially people who like to do such long distance races.

Some of us went to the Sai Kung town for dinner while the rest chose to eat inside the holiday camp. That night everybody tried to sleep early after getting all our stuff for the race ready.

During the Shinetsu Fine Mountains Trail in Sep 2014, I realised I am still very (VERY) weak at manoeuvring across upslopes and downslopes. The last 7km of the route was pure flat trail (it was not even technical) but my quads were already badly battered. I had also taken a hit to my right knee earlier in the race and it was still not good. I could only watch helplessly as other runners overtook me as I hobbled slowly back to the finish line.

I knew I need to do something to improve myself. I need more strength and endurance for the legs. Not to run faster but so that I will not die so much! I do not really like to do intervals at the track. I thought of another method which may help. Hill intervals. At Fort Canning.

The gears:

1) Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin hydration bag
2) Leki Carbonlite trekking pole
4) New Balance running top
5) 2XU long sleeve thermal compression top
6) 2XU compression bottom
7) The North Face running gloves
8) Ultimate Direction 26 ons bottles x 02
9) Arc'teryx Phase SL Crew Long Sleeve baselayer
10) The North Face Rocket beanie
11) The North Face Storm hoodie
12) Black Diamond Storm headlights x 02 and Silva Tyto red blinking light
13) Extra batteries
14) Bodyglide
15) Emergency blanket
16) Extra batteries for camera
17) First aid kit
18) Sea To Summit 480ml X-mug
19) RoadID
20) PowerMonkey for Fenix
21) Oakley running shades
22) Fenix GPS watch
23) Gorilla pod for camera (I took this out later)

The food.

Drop bag items.

On race day morning, everything happened in a blaze. We woke up, changed into our race attire and sat on the floor together eating our breakfast, while taking turns to use the one and only toilet. Very soon, it was time to check out of the hostel.

Outside the holiday camp, it was already crowded with people. Vehicles streamed in one after another on the road carrying eager participants. At the side, people were busy doing their last minute adjustments, taking photographs, chatting and wishing each other good luck. The bag deposit for the CP5 drop bag and the finish line back was a breeze. This was definitely an improvement as there used to be long queues in the past.

Photo credit: Hong Kong 100 Ultra Marathon

At around 0730Hr, Janet started giving the race briefing to every participant over the microphone. All of us were standing shoulder to shoulder in the starting penn. I was listening to what Janet was saying while at the same time my mind was playing out what would be coming out in the race, based on my memories of the 2013 race. Stairs! A lot, a lot of stairs!

As the time got closer to 0800Hr, we started moving closer to the start line. Ivy was beside me. I saw Alex Ang, Alex Koh and Jasmine were in front, trying to get closer to the start line. I saw Trish and Choon Poh too. Nora should be way in front nearer to the starting arch. I checked my fenix again to ensure the GPS has been locked on. I was trying to keep my composure and my mind at ease. Steve led the countdown (was that in Cantonese?!!) while everybody called out together in unison.

3 .. (Deep breathe in)

2 .. (Exhale)

1 .. (The mind draws into a blank)

Off we go!!!

4500m D+

We waved to the many cameras as we ran through the starting arch. The tarmac road slowly rose into an incline but everybody ran like they were on flat ground! 1km into the route, there would be a sharp right turn cutting into the trailhead and there would always be a bottleneck. Everybody around me seems to be rushing to reach the trailhead early. I tried to cut through the people in front of me as I ran. True enough, there was already a crowd at the trailhead as we arrived. It took a while to move up the trail and at least another 1 km before we could run again.

The small trail ended at around the 5km mark and we emerged into the service road of the High Island Reservoir. This was a relief for the runners as they open up and you could see people speeding up ahead. This was a very beautiful section with the big reservoir on the left and the South China Sea on our right. I maintained a slow pace for this stretch leading to the Support Point (11km) at the East Dam, even though it was road. I was trying to find my own pace and not get dragged into other runner’s race. Strong wind was blowing across the East Dam as we ran towards the Support Point (11km). Many supporters were standing at the side cheering for the runners we ran past. I reached the Support Point (11km) slight ahead of Ivy. As I poured coke into my cup and had some bananas, the volunteers were all cheering for us. I did not want to stop for too long. In lesser than 2 minutes, I was on the way again.

Going up Sai Wan Shan.
After East Dam, the route started to get hilly. CP1 Ham Tim (21km) was 10km away and there would also be the first ascend of the race going up Sai Wan Shan. The “golden advice” for any runners doing the HK100 was not to burn out during the first half, which was relatively flat compared to the second half. A big portion of the elevation gain of the race would come from the second half. Yet, we would not want to go too slow in the first half. My strategy was to try to cover more ground when there is daylight, as nighttime would generally slow down the runners. So I ran whenever it was flat or downslope. When it was upslope, I would maintain a slow run up if it was manageable or I would break into a walk. It was a fine juggle of remaining in the zone where you are exerting yet not crossing the thin red line when you start to fatigue.

Yes, I did have some aim coming into the race. Primary aim was to aim for a sub20 finish to get a silver trophy. I was even trying to go for a sub18. :p Secondary aim, I wished to go up Ma On Shan before sunset so that I can admire the egg yolk going down the horizon on top of the mountains. :p

Weather wise, it was not as cooling as I thought it would be. The sun was glaring. I wished it were cooler.

In the first half of the race, the route brought us through several clean and beautiful beaches. CP1 Ham Tim (21km) was right beside one of such beaches. I quickly fill up my water and ate a few pieces of oranges and banana and left. The next checkpoint CP2 Wong Shek (28km) was 7km away. I was already “doing my stuff” and was not affected by the pace of other runners. CP2 Wong Shek (28km) has a lot of supporters cheering for the runners and waiting for their friends. As I came down the steps, I saw Junie who was waiting for her group of friends. I checked my watch and found that I was doing alright. When I left CP2, saw Bernie who was there to take photographs of the runners.

Reaching CP1 Ham Tin (21km).
Photo credit: Kit Ng

Going up Kai Gung Shan.
I crossed from CP2 Wong Shek (28km) to CP3 Hoi Ha (36km) rather smoothly. I met Randall and Trish as I was about to leave CP3. Randall slowly caught up with me and we stayed together. By now, the field has already been well scattered. We quietly kept alongside each other, some times exchanging a few words. Most of the time, we just ran. CP4 Yung Shue O (45km) was in a small village. We took a quick bite and refilled our bottles and set off again. We saw Alex Koh and Jasmine shortly after leaving CP4. We were very glad to see familiar faces. From CP4 onwards, the route began to become more and more hilly. There were no flat sections until the finish line. The first mountain standing in front of us was Kai Gung Shan. We needed to cross it in order to reach CP5 Kei Ling Ha (52km), which was also the drop bag station. It was a steep ascend followed by a steep descend to CP5. During the downslope, I just relaxed, leaned forward and let gravity guided me downhill. This was what we had been training for during the past few weeks.

Running down towards CP5 Kei Ling Ha (52km).
Photo credit: Fuse Choy
CP5 Kei Ling Ha (52km) was buzzing with activities as we arrived. Randall and I quickly took our drop bags and a bowl of instant noodles each and sat at the side next to Whitley. We gulped down the noodles and quickly replenished our stuff for the second half of the race. The time now was already over 1600Hr. Knowing that we would be going up Ma On Shan next and sunset would be coming soon, I immediately put on my waterproof jacket and headlight. As we were preparing ourselves, other friends like Sam, Alex Koh, Jasmine and Ivy also arrived at CP5. Vins was also at CP5. He volunteered to help out at the race this year instead of running.

The climb up Ma On Shan was very steep, reminding us of the toughness of the remaining distance. The beautiful sunset greeted us as we came to the top of Ma On Shan. In front of us, the route follows the ridgeline and we could see the town on our side as we ran through. The stretch from CP5 to CP6 Gilwell Camp (65km) was 13km. The longest stretch of the whole race. Very soon, we were covered by darkness. It was good that I had done this race once so I was mentally prepared of what was to come. While it was the longest stretch of the race, I was prepared for it. CP6 was a welcoming sight for many of us as we top up our water and had some food. I tried to eat a sandwich but my mouth was too dry so I just stick to the oranges and bananas.

Shatin Pass at night.
Photo credit: Lao Yao
Next, we came to Shatin Pass. It was a long stretch of road with a slight decline that saw us opening up our strides and steadily ran down. What made it better was the magnificent nightscape of the city on our left as we cruised down the road. We cut back into the trails again and turned towards Lion Rock. I started to feel a little tired as I made my way up the many steps. The beautiful night scenery helped to lift up my mood a little. CP7 Beacon Hill (73km) was manned by a big group of cheerful scouts. One of them was dancing for us as we entered the aid station. I stayed a little longer and had another bowl of instant noodles. There was a big campfire at the side with many chairs surrounding it. Many runners were resting around the fire and soaking in the warm. I told myself not to get near the fire if not I might not want to leave!

Having eaten some solid food, we found ourselves having the energy to run down Beacon Hill towards Tai Po. The overhead bridge at Tai Po Road was too familiar. I remembered by the time I was here during the 2013 race, I was reduced to dragging myself along the service roads of the reservoirs in that area. I remembered there was this guy who was sleep – running, walking zig-zag along the road from side to side instead of going straight. I remembered they always warned that this was the area infested with monkeys. Unlike those at Rifle Range Road, the monkeys here were more aggressive. Sometimes they appear in hordes. Do not let them see any food if not they will swarm towards you. I also remembered what lies ahead between where we were now and the finish line. The real show of the race was coming soon.

CP8 (83km) was at Shing Mun Reservoir. Coming out of the trail, we ran out into groups of people crowded at several BBQ pits. There was a radio at the side playing local Cantonese hits. A small group of teenagers sat in a circle at another corner singing along to the tune of the guitar played by one of them. For a moment I was wondering if they have changed the location of the CP this year and fashioned it into a BBQ party. Another local runner ran past me and called out that the CP was further down the road. Alright, there goes my BBQ chicken wing. ☹

Looking at the time, it was 15:30 into the race. I knew the difficulty of crossing Needle Hill, Grassy Hill and Tai Mo Shan ( 针草帽 ) so doing a sub18 was not a realistic aim now. A sub20 remains to be seen. From past experience, the last 10km going through Tai Mo Shan optimistically would required 2 hours for mere mortals like us. It depends on how long we take to reach CP9 Lead Mine Pass (90km). We need to keep moving.

As we were relentlessly climbing up the steps, we heard one of the Chinese participants said: “小金人要关门咯!” (The golden trophy is closing soon.) I looked at my watch and it was 15:54. I turned to him and replied with a smile: “如果你赶得及的话,你还有六分钟。” (You still have 6 minutes if you can make it.)

The climb up to Needle Hill was plain arduous. If you were to look from the sky, we were like small little marching ants painstakingly making our way up the many, many stairs. From Needle Hill, the view of numerous headlights trailing along the route, stretching far ahead of us and disappearing into the fog, was a beautiful sight. It was also a painful reminder that it was not over yet.

Yes, it had started to get foggy. I would try to run whenever it was flat or a downslope. The fog hindered our vision. I could not see clearly whether if it was a flat or an upslope. I had to rely on my feelings to make a guess and I tried to run as much as I could. Leading down to CP9 Lead Mine Pass (90km) was a long flight of stairs. I remembered during the 2013 race, by that time I was reduced to struggling step by step down the stairs. Luckily, I was still able to run down this time.

I checked the time as we reached CP9. It was 17:30. Hey, maybe we still had a chance for silver! We quickly refilled up our bottle and grabbed a few pieces of oranges and chips from the aid station. Our morale was certainly up. As long as we keep moving, there is a chance! We quickly left CP9 and started the final major climb of the race up to Tai Mo Shan, the highest mountain of Hong Kong.

We saw a guy sitting at the side, apparently too tired from all the climbing. I tried to encourage him and get him moving.

Me: Hey! Come on, let’s go. We still have a chance for silver.
The guy: You think so?
Me: Yes!!! But we must keep moving. Cannot stop.

He stood up and started to follow us. I did not know what time did he finish in the end or did he stop at the side again. Honestly, I was totally uncertain if we could get a silver. I only knew we did have a chance. A small chance that was diminishing by the second. But no matter how small it was, I would grab it.

We were totally fatigued by this time but we keep moving as fast as we could. We could not run confidently as the fog reduced our vision. Everywhere was rocks, rocks and more rocks. We kept looking for the course marker to ensure we were on the right route. Occasionally, we would see the headlight from the runners in front and that gave us some comfort.

That climb took us forever. Finally, we reached the tarmac road that led us up to the top of Tai Mo Shan. Once we passed the weather station, we started running. It was 4km more downslope to the finish line. Everything hurts but we just ran. (I am surprised I was still able to run.) We overtook other runners as we tried to absorb in the sights of the final stretch of the route. Randall was able to go faster than me and he disappeared ahead.

Very soon, the lights and sound from the finish line could be heard. I took a deep breath and made a dash for it.

Photo Credit: Vins Fong
I crossed the line at 19:30. I got myself a silver trophy!

It was a wonderful race organsied by Steve and Janet. There were beautiful beaches and mountains. Big stations with lots of different kinds of food. A very big thank you to the many volunteers who help to make the race experience even more memorable.

Looking back at the race, there were a few points to note for myself.

- Although I did not manage to do a sub18, I think I managed my pace for the first half of the race well. As for the sub18 .. errm .. that would need pretty much more hard work! A lot, a lot of hard work.

- I need to refine my race nutrition strategy and see if I can make it simpler.

- I lack the drive when doing ascends up technical climbs. Maybe somebody needs to entice me with some egg tarts in front of me.

- We stayed too long at CP5. Much longer than what was necessary.

Overall, it was a very good race experience. Will I return again? Certainly. HK100 is a good race for people who wish to try running overseas. Good scenery, well orgainsed, plenty of food and the cut off times are not throat cutting. Having said that, it is still a very tough race. After the race, I know of a few friends who had culture shocks at HK100. I guess all of us are just too used to MacRitchie Reservoir.

To Randall, thank you for being around. I pulled you and you pushed me and it somehow worked out for 64km from CP3 to the finish line. Hahaha .. ☺

Till we meet again, Hong Kong. I will be back.

Crossing Sai Wan Shan.

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