The Hong Kong 100k
The running of the inaugural HK 100 2011 was a birthday present to myself . I just fell in love with the idea of crossing the finish line of a 100k run on my birthday ! Well the HK 100k was a wonderful race, a beautiful route, and blessed with excellent volunteers and support – but the snag was that I never did cross that finish line. Instead I arrived about 25 minutes after the cut off at the 65k checkpoint ( CP6) – and got offered a chair and a taxi back to the hotel.
Check point 6 was at the 65k mark( Gillwell Camp) with a cut off at 3.30am. At 3.30am I was still somewhere on the hillside trying to maneuver my way down a steep rocky descent. The descent was a little tricky because of a minor issue with a recalcitrant left ankle. I mean, I have treated it quite well over these years and I don’t really think that asking it to perform for a 100k distance over the hills of Hong Kong is such a big favour. I admit that just 3 weeks prior to the race , I had twisted it somewhat severely, but I did do the decent thing and rested the darn thing, gave it ice baths, pain killers, support bandages for three weeks. Treated it like royalty I did. Talk about gratitude. On race day, it gave way every time I landed on it and in the last few kilometers, I was stumbling and falling down all over the place. Today, three days after the race, it is all puffed up with self-importance and looking to be about twice the size of its companion!
The race started at Pak Tam Chung on the Sai Kung peninsula. We had stayed the night the Po Leung Kuk holiday camp which is less than 5 min away from the start line . A short briefing at 7.45am told us to look for the reflective arrows and pink reflective ribbons which mark the trail; and so at about 8am we duly trotted off and I rapidly became the last runner.
This was my third trail run. My first was the Marathon des Sables which I attempted without any exposure to trails ( err obviously not a very smart or logical thing to do) . However the event intrugued me and I then went on to try the TNF Singapore.
CP 1 – CP4
This was a pretty part of the run. We scrambled up and down and up and down, taking in the heights, sights and atmosphere. After the initial road bits and the dam, it was rolling hills and trails. I loved the stunning combination of mountains, blue sea and sky and stopped frequently to take pictures – much to the dismay of two suspicious characters behind me who had the race after alighting from a taxi somewhere before CP1. This shady pair just wouldn’t pass me – even though I gave them ample opportunity but felt obliged to sniff at plants or develop sudden interest in birds other fauna every time I stopped.
The ground changed frequently from gravel to rocks to sandy beaches. The fine white sand did cause some problems – creeping in stealthily between every toe, I loved the sound of the wind and water. The weather was cool and it was a real change from Singapore’s heat.
I relished the contradictory feel of the cold wind blowing around, yet still having my core wrapped warm and snug in windproof jackets.
There were picturesque bits when we traipsed along the shaded banks of gurgling streams and other bits when we clambered over fat lumpy coastal rocks.
The route continued through small villages – some populated with simple restaurants whilst others had been left empty, save for a few stray dogs. There was a strange quiet eeriness when we walked through the crumbling remains of some windswept fishing villages. The buildings looked derelict, but nearby there were also some fairly well-tended graves.
Somewhere along the way, the two shady fellows identified themselves as a sweeper group ( Blush! major embarassment) They couldn’t stand my pace any longer and tried to tell me in Cantonese, that when walking the trails, I should lighten the load in my backpack else I would never make the cut off point. Blithely I ignored the good advice and continued my merry way enjoying the sights and sounds and munching on the snacks that I had with me. I met some of the organisers and volunteers along the road and along the checkpoints, chatted with them and moved on. Admittedly as I was alone most of the time, there were occasional anxious moments when village dogs would bark and follow me for a short distance. The most heart stopping moment though was when I met a big black buffalo coming up a narrow trail. The trail could only take one. It was either him or me. No prizes for guessing who ungraciously stepped off the trail…
Somewhere towards the evening, as dusk fell and the temperatures started to drop, I took out my torch and heavier sweater and was happy and secure with the warmth and intense light.
At CP4, the 45k mark, I was still ahead of the cut off by about 1.5hours so I had a drink, topped up some fluids, and asked which way to go. Someone waved and off I went along the road in the direction that I thought I was supposed to go, hoping to make up for lost time on this stretch of road. Unfortunately some time later (about 2.5k) later a car came up from behind and said – ” Wrong Way!” Oops. Luckily the volunteers came to look for me. Otherwise I might still be on the road today wondering where the trails began! Apparently the trail started behind the check point.
The walk from CP4 to CP5 was challenging., but the views from the top of Kai Kung San at about 399m were reward enough. You could see the bright twinkling lights of Hong Kong in the clear night sky. The sweeper groups changed regularly, but all were good. Sometimes they would be with me, sometimes they would keep pace with other runners. They would talk to me in Cantonese, telling me how to walk the trails, ” Relax, be light-footed,” they said – “ breathe deeply and find a rhythm ”.
I found I liked walking in the dark cold of the night and enjoyed the silent communication with the woods and trees. Limited light and moonlight were enough in some parts, but when the rocks and uneven steps appeared I began to get into difficulty. As the night wore on, my lights dimmed further and the rocks and the deep steps took on a life of its own. Shadows danced around the flickering beam of the headlights and I found it difficult to judge the height of the steps. Earlier in the day, the dry rivulets that were filled with brown leaves were delightful to play in. At night their meandering paths became traps for the unwary.
At CP5, My margin was trimmed to half an hour. This was also the drop bag area, so I retrieved my drop bag, planning to put the old torch into the bag and continue with the new torch. Unfortunately in the rush to get going, I couldn’t put any food into my own furnace and I threw my new torch and probably my spare batteries ( or maybe I dropped them somewhere when I was fiddling with beanies and jackets) – into the drop bag and hared off with my old torch.
For the first kilometer I was happy, alone and making good headway. Then I realised – oops no pink ribbon and all that reflective material I saw in the woods was the white of the bamboo . So I hared back, to check if I was on the right path – I found one pink ribbon – and went back again. Then I reached a three-way junction and couldn’t decide where to go as I couldn’t find an arrow – only some reflective tape round a post. So I ventured a few meters down each one , then gave up and decided to wait for the sweeper group.
The route from Cp5 to Cp6 contained several climbs including one long walk across a ridge where I almost got blown off by some strong winds. Later, as my light dimmed, the lone sweeper tried to light the way from behind but that caused my own shadow to fall in front of me - creating a black void where I was supposed to tread. So while I loved walking in the monochromatic colours of the night, I guess if you aren’t used to the trail, its much safer to get some light. My poor long suffering sweeper loaned me his spare torch and we slowed to a crawl and chatted about life and the Hong Kong trails all the way to CP6. He told me that by himself, he would have finished the 100k trail in less than 12 hours.
So did I enjoy my birthday present- an emphatic yes! I really liked the blue sea and sky of the day scenery and the deep indigo of the night. But I think the most valuable present was the tutorial in trail walking. I also append a few tips that one feels compelled to pass on
1. Try not to sprain your ankle before or during the race. Reserve that for post race activity. The handicap will save you some shopping money.
3. Train – on trails or some similar terrain. Maybe a little bit of stair climbing up the tallest building would be good – but bring a handphone in case you get trapped by firedoors.
5. Torches are temperamental. When you have two, one will fail and one will malfunction or will go off and tour the country trails without you. Get at least 3 of similar quality – and if you are unfamiliar with the trail or have fading eyesight – get the type that will turn your night run into a run at high noon.
So what did I do when I left the race – I went to Nong Ping Village to climb the 400+ steps to see the Tian Tan Statue and wondered why my quads were a little stiff. O and another post race activity in Hong Kong involves use of credit cards…… bring lots of money for food and shopping