I haven’t really posted anything for a while. I have had work, training and just life in general taking over. With Andy from Mile 27 organizing the training plan, all I had to do was get my head down and train. As the weekend got closer, I became more and more excited. I was ready. I wanted this. And to be brutally honest, I wanted this more than any other race. I had trained, not as much as I needed to, but enough in the three months leading up to be prepared and ready. This was going to be seriously hard work. BUT mentally I was strong and prepared. Physically? We would find out later.
Naturally, I am a nervous person. I get nervous. I worry. I find reasons not to do things because I am ultimately scared of failure. So even signing up for this race was a big deal, turning around and telling people that I was doing it for charity was an even bigger deal. Around two weeks before the race, I went to a seminar by Vlad Ixel, an Australian runner living in Hong Kong. It was a great evening and was surrounded by some awesome runners who are also awesome people. Everyone from the super elites and legends of the scene in Hong Kong was supportive. I felt like I belonged. Something, that for many people who know me, is something that I haven’t come across to often. I then spent some time talking to Andre Blumberg. Andre is a legend in ultra running and someone who has been nothing but supportive from the moment I spoke to him about Tailwind. He has been nothing but kind and helpful towards my newbie questions. His comment to me was:
“Before you think about quitting, before you call your wife, before you decide, you call me. I will tell you to shut up and keep going.”
There were other words but these stuck in my mind. Andre is someone who I have a great deal of respect for, and someone who I like. I felt like he was the UltraRunning Father figure and letting him down, would be letting myself down. Then the realization that the race isn’t actually a 100% physical battle, but a mental war. As the race got closer, these words stuck in my mind and were replayed over and over.
The night leading up was going well. I was trying to keep myself relaxed as much as possible, whether at work or at home. We had a few light runs left in the week leading up and then spent time emailing Andy and talking about the plan of attack. I was fixated with 20 hours. It sounded doable. Andy mentioned nothing. He didn’t talk about time. He didn’t mention it once. I understand entirely now as I write this why.
Sleeping wise I was fine. I was warned by so many different people that the night before the race – forget about sleeping. You need to get a good night’s rest on the Thursday. Did that happen? No. Thursday night was terrible. Just awful. The doubts crept in and the realization that three months of quality running was not going to be enough. I was worried. And this fueled masses of doubt. Doubt that I could do it. Doubt that I would even make cut offs. Doubt that I could get over Needle Hill.
The Friday night arrived and Etienne, who was going to run with me till Needle Hill, arrived for the night. We spoke about the race, ate some food and relaxed. My bag was ready and had been for days. I had measured out the Tailwind, worked out number of gels and worked out how many calories per hour I burned based on my training. I was meticulous. But I still hadn’t decided on the shoes I would wear. I ended up messaging Nic and he pretty much confirmed what I had thought, and what Michceala (the Wife) had said: Hokas first and change at CP5 into something lighter and nimble. So the Leadvilles were placed into the drop bag.
We arrived at the race early. Both Etienne and I were ready to get started. Bumped into some friends: Retha, Ramoncito, Dominic, Simon and Jeri. All who I have been lucky to meet over the last few months. I also saw Andre and Paper. They both said hello and wished us luck. I met Steve Brammer – one of the race directors who also wished me luck. And then it was the wait. This was it. This was where it all started. 100 km. What on earth had I got myself into.
Start to CP1
This was quite a nice run where we tried to maintain a decent pace. The race started down a concrete section before heading up onto a single lane trail. This obviously had a bottle neck effect which slowed us down.
Once out of his section we ended up back on some road and was able to jog/run on. Ran along the dam and reached the first water spot. We grabbed some food and got moving quickly. It felt very good. It was so beautiful that any complaint was pointless. Just stunning. Got to the first CP feeling good and feeling very positive. Stayed at the CP for five minutes maximum before making a move onwards.
CP1 to CP2
From Ham Tim to Wong Shek was 21km. This was relatively flat but lots of technical stuff with rocks thrown in for good measure. After about 5km of this section my back pain started. This is something I have never experienced in any of the runs with the Salomon SLAB 12. The pain was where the bag stopped so it was obvious that this was the weight of the bladder bouncing against it. I just soldiered on for this section and was going to sort it when I got to Wong Shek. Felt good on this section and didn’t have any complaints. Again the view of the sea was just amazing. Stayed in Wong Shek for around 5 minutes. Possibly less to be honest.
Cp2 to CP3:
This was going to be around 8km. And again was quite a nice run. Some concrete paths and some boulders. Felt good and the Hokas were doing wonders with my knees. I knew that these were the right choice for this section with the combination of concrete and technical. However the Tailwind just wasn’t settling. Felt rough for long periods of time after drinking it. So had to counter balance by taking on more water than usual. Arrived in Cp3 feeling good apart from the back. This was beginning to really bug me. Realised that I already had surpassed my distance at the L70, getting to 36km felt good and it crushed any current doubts I had.
Cp3 to Cp4:
Left CP3 with lots of volunteers cheering and in good spirits. The next section was mainly a coastal path with very little trails. We jogged on and tried to get this section done as fast as possible. Wanted to get to CP4 quickly as we knew the first climb would slow us down massively. Felt really good overtaking people too! Ended up running and overtaking and then being overtaken by Angela, who then found me on Facebook a few days later. It was quite fun and full of camaraderie. Some lovely views across the bay to Ma On Shan and then we realised just how far we still had to go. Arrived at the checkpoint and had some crackers and took the bag off. At this point, I could feel the start of some blisters on my left foot. This again was something I wasn’t used to. But we got going again.
Cp4 – Cp5: Top Gun
The concrete road turned into a nice path which then progressively turned into a semi technical up. The trail continued before finally reaching the the Maclehose Trail. This was when it started to go up. It was the first major-ish climb of the race and by here I was tired. I knew that just over this hill was the half way point. In the back of my head I knew that I was already beating my longest ever distance. SO I was winning. Regardless of time or effort, I was winning and not hurting. It took some time but I finally got up to the top of the hill and a massive load was lifted from my shoulders. Etienne was waiting and clapped as I arrived at the top. He knew I struggled with the ups more than anything else.
I knew that once down, I could get something to eat and get ready for a long cold night. Coming down the hill, the brakes were unleashed a bit and we pelted down, maybe a little too fast but it was nice to be able to run for a bit. It was fun running down with Etienne and there was maybe a little male testosterone burning off when running down. We arrived at the bottom with smiles on our faces and ready for the next 48km. I couldn’t believe how far I had actually ran at this point. I SMS’d Michceala and told her where we were. She was pleased and sent some lovely messages back. I sat for a while and got changed. I decided to keep the Hokas on and stupidly the same socks. The Hoka’s were working well and the change may have cost me. The sock issue I ignored and little did I know what that would do later on in the race. Gave my back some respite from the bag and then packed up, switched the light on and off I went.
CP5 -CP6: The Darkness Creeps In
This is usually my favorite piece of trail ever. Some stunning views and a nice contour trail that I adore running . Then a lovely up and over Pyramid Hill before descending. It didn’t happen like this. A tough hike up just got slowly worse and I ended up stopping and being massively depressed. It was just awful. My ambition and will was slowly being whistled away by the endless steps up to Ma On Shan. Etienne powered to the top and waited as I trundled up. This wasn’t what I had planned for this section. This was by far the fastest section that we had trained on. We were good at this bit. I was good at this bit. Not super elite fast but enough to be happy. Here I couldn’t even get up and over without stopping. Tailwind wasn’t working, even the gels before the climb wouldn’t kick in. And there was nothing I could do about it but keep putting one foot in front of the other and get up.
I got to the top and I felt a huge relief. This was hard and now we were battling mental as well as physical fatigue. I was over 20k further than any race that I had entered. I was ten k further than any training run. This thought kept being repeated over and over. We started to follow the meandering trail over Pyramid Hill and I saw the lights of Sai Kung and the stars above. This gave me a kick and I felt good. It was stunning. This was where I wanted to be. This is what I wanted to be doing so we pushed on. Slowly picking up speed and jogging more and more. This was the longest stage and after here we would be near home. Near the trails I knew best. We got to Gilwell Camp and we relaxed. We both agreed this was tough. We got some food (cup noodles obviously!) and sat down for around 5 minutes. We both knew that our plan was to waste no time in CP’s at all. Get what you need and get out. I felt positive about progress and our moods picked up. We left the CP and started our way to Beacon Hill. Or as I called it Home.
Cp6 – Cp7
This was home turf. I knew this section like the back of my hand so started to speed up as much as I could. I was cold. Seriously cold so wanted to get through to Beacon Hill as fast as physically possible. Ran down the concrete sections and slow ascended any ups. They were becoming tiring and the blisters that I could feel appearing were getting worse and worse. It was becoming difficult to land on the feet so was trying to push on. Back was still sore but developed a way of carrying the bag so it didn’t touch the area that was hurting. Ran down Shatin Pass road and just felt wonderful. I couldn’t complain as seeing Hong Kong in the night was just beautiful. This distracted me from everything. Views over Kowloon at the city that was slowly going to sleep as I was slowly pushing on just cheered me up. I realised how lucky I am to live somewhere which looks stunning as I run over hills.
We arrived at Beacon Hill (73km) realizing I had just completed the Lantau 70 distance. Smiled when I arrived and there was a party atmosphere going on. Scouts were running around helping the runners. Sat down had some hot chocolate and some peanut butter sandwiches which I generally detest but they tasted so so good. Stayed for little over 10 minutes and then pushed on.
CP7 – CP8
The next section was going to be a quick blast. A run down Beacon Hill and then a road section up Monkey Hill. Then a short trail to Shing Mun Reservoir. We both knew this next section really well so just got the head down and pushed as much as we could. The run down Beacon Hill was slow as there was a few runners a head of us who just wouldn’t move out of the way regardless of if you asked. They just slowed everyone down. There were a few who were obviously having issues with their knees at this point. I felt sorry for them. My knees were feeling great and this justified the Hoka choice. Got to Kowloon Reservoir and Monkey Hill. Here for the first time I put my headphones on and tried to just power up.
There was small drop before reaching the Maclehose trail. The trail was slightly up and down with not much technical. Just loads of trees and steps. At one point you could see Tai Mo Shan and people descending to the finish line. This was both inspiring and depressing all at the same time. But I kept repeating to myself that I would get there at some point in the next few hours. Reached the CP very very cold. Then I saw the sign that said 83km. This was just amazing. It felt great and I knew that I didn’t have too far left.
Spoke to one of the volunteers who instantly recognized the Manx flag on my number bib. Felt good to talk to someone as Etienne and I were having a quiet moment. Etienne had been just amazing at persuading and pushing me to get to this point. I needed this. My mental doubts were gone and now it was just a matter of getting done. We chatted for a bit and he said, “I just need to get done.” I knew that he was having a tough time with his knees as well, so knew he would push hard over Needle Hill and to the end now. How would I do without my wing man? I pushed on.
CP8 – CP9
I knew that this was going to be hard. Needle Hill kills me even when I haven’t done 83k before hand. So I started slowly and conservatively. I didn’t want to blow up with so little to go. I was taking 30 steps and then having 30 seconds rest. This worked. Kind of. I suddenly stopped. I sat down and switched my headlight off for a few minutes and had a cry. Not sure why. I looked across and saw the lights of runners; How had Nic done? How had John done? What about Etienne, was that him already? I needed to get there and for the first time I began doubting my ability to do so.I looked up at the stars and thought about my Dad. I had to continue. So I got up and started walking.
Eventually I made it up in one piece. Stood at the top, waved at my house which I could see from the top. And ran down. Yes RAN down. The knees and legs were feeling good. Got to the bottom and then realized I had grassy hill to conquer which is a long steep road. Headphones went back in and powered up. When you reach the top, you immediately go straight back down to Leadmine Pass. I called this Leadville Pass from the start as this was a major turning point; I knew once here I would never give up.
CP9 to finish
Sat in the check point for around 20 minutes. A guy asked if I wanted to stop and give up. I said obviously not then he showed me a tent where the people who had stopped at this point were. There was maybe around 20 people. I drank a hot chocolate. I put my head over the steam coming off the drink and ended up dozing for 15 minutes. I couldn’t help it. I was physically and mentally exhausted and knew that the last section up, was going to be a battle of strength and mind. I got up, filled my water bottles for the last time and started. There was no one on this section. It was hard.
Boulders and no discernible path or one that I could see. It took along time. It felt even longer. When I reached the top it was stunning. I thought I saw people cheering me on but it was trees. That was fun and these waving people didn’t stop for quite some time. My brain was tired. The trail over this part was just beautiful. really stunning and I saw the sunrise. Ironically I had posted up a few days earlier that I wouldn’t mind if I saw this.
I smiled, shed a tear and kept moving forward. I knew there couldnt be much further left. I knew that once you had cleared this section, there was along road section and I was so pleased to see this. Then it started to climb. And boy was it steep. It felt like it took a very long time to get over Tai Mo Shan. Once at the top 4km downhill. It was painful. Blisters causing all sorts of pain. The toe nail trying to escape with every down step.
I started to jog as much as I could. There was a guy around 15 metres ahead of me. Part of me wanted to beat him and part wanted to leave him to it. We both had battled for so long with the course and being overtaken in the last 1km would have been shit. So I backed off. I let him have his time in the glory before coming in. Nick, the guy who it was messaged me about an hour before I started to write this. I was made up. We struggled together in silence for so long, not knowing who each other was and eventually we made it.
Suddenly I could hear the finish line. I was struggling to keep going. Then I could see the finish line. The legs kicked in. I started jogging. I then started sprinted. I ran as fast as I possibly could and I finished. I crossed the line in little over 24:44. The time didn’t matter. The fact that I did it was enough. And to do it with Etienne and Michceala at the end cheering me, was a sight I will never ever forget.
The last three days have been a whirlwind. From telling family and friends, to meeting seasoned runners who have told me how well I have done, all have contributed to the positive thoughts I have been having. Sleeping in my finishers hoodie was just amazing. Six months ago if you asked me if I would have signed up and then completed a 100km race, I would have laughed in your face. I owe so much to so many people. People who have listened to my random questions and queries about running. People who have tolerated my nonstop talking about Rob Krar, Hal Koerner and the like. People like Michceala who has done nothing but support and keep the fire of ultra running burning. People like Etienne who I know will be my permanent running partner. Anyone who can tolerate me for 19 odd hours deserves a medal. To be honest, anyone who can tolerate Etienne for 19 hours deserves a medal!
Last night, I went to a dinner organised by the Japanese trail running contingent and ended up meeting even more serious cool people. From the race directors, Steve and Janet, to Mr iRunFar, Bryon Powell, all had nothing to say but positive thoughts and well done’s. Sitting on the table was also Claire Price who is just a phenomenal runner. It was just simply amazing. Then talking to Shane, the race director of the Lantau 70, was just great. Shane was one of the original people who I sent a million and one questions to and has been nothing but positive since my DNF at the Lantau 70.
Thoughts and lessons learned
After talking to Andy and thinking through some of the mistakes I made, not only in the race but in the lead up, I know I have a long way to go. This season is almost finished for me as I will now concentrate on getting ready for being faster and stronger. Working on my own race, and the masters which I have done nothing for for so long, needs to be a new focus. Next season, Lantau 70 will be my first A race.
Things I learned:
1. Sand + Socks = blisters beyond your wildest dreams,
2. Don’t be scared of Hokas. They did well. I don’t think the Rapa Nui’s are the right one BUT they did well.
3. Tailwind works but in smaller doses than what I was using. Gels worked reasonable well too. But nothing beats cold water and a break from artificial flavours.
4. Hot chocolate tastes so good at 3am in the morning.
5. Needle Hill is not as hard as I thought. Leadville Pass is worse!!
So what’s next
This is merely the start of the journey and yet I still don’t know where the destination is. After speaking to Andy and Michceala, we all know the ultimate goal is Leadville. Bryon Powell asked me why and there is a very simple explanation; Leadville is at significant altitude. My ears and the issue that I have with them makes it difficult for me in altitude. Not only will Leadville be a massive physical challenge in terms of legs, mental challenge in terms of an in and out race, but in terms of my ears and the “disability” it will be the ultimate challenge. And one that I want to strive to beat.
The journey to Leadville will be a tough one. The plan for the next year is:
The North Face Hong Kong 100,
Vibram Hong Kong 100 – and faster than this year.
Then who knows.
One thing is for sure, as Walt Whitman said in Leaves of Grass
“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”