Hong Kong 100 (2015 edition) – The debrief
I’ve done it 3 times before (14.xx, 13.26, 12.51) and decided to do it a 4th time this year. It’s remarkable how this race has evolved! Back in 2010, the Race Directors (Janet and Steve), were handing out flyers for “the first ever solo 100km race in Hong Kong”. I don’t think very many joined! And, my 14.xx time put me in the top 20 of overall finishers. This year, my finishing time of 13 hours and 35 minutes made me 47th overall! The popularity of HK100 has soared and the number of fit people out there — simply incredible!
Ok, so, this is what happened yesterday. But, first, a line or two on how I prepared for it.
Every ultra-runner has rituals before a race. And, invariably, one of them will include what I call “a dump sequence routine”. Meaning getting up early enough to dump at least two times. I can go into details (upon special request and I am sure you’ll want to know) but I’ll refrain for the sake of suspense. Suffice to say, the public toilets near the Starting Point are probably the most sought after resource before a run.
The second routine is what I call “the pedicure routine”, i.e. taping the leg, applying Vaseline on the sole of the feet and so on. I had a grand total of 10 band-aids all over the sole of my feet to prevent blisters.
The last routine is what I call the “lubricating the body routine” to prevent chaffing. Every runner, I am sure, will have a tub of Vaseline somewhere in the apartment! I learnt my Vaseline lesson the hard way. Back in 2006 I think it was, when I did the Oxfam Trailwalker for the first time, I completed the 100km course in 27 hours wearing Bermuda shorts and ended up walking like Donald Duck for 3 days after the event. All this because, I didn’t know the value of Vaseline. Vaseline rocks. Again, more details upon special request. (I am sure you’re dying to know).
The atmosphere was electric as ever. I have to applaud Janet and Steve for their choice of music. Cold Play, Oasis and other cool bands. Very cool. Unfortunately, as I found myself a nice seat by the speaker, I missed my special spot in the “Elite” section and ended up behind the elites which meant I had some overtaking to do!
Pak Tam Chung (the start) to Hoi Ha
Soon after starting, the overtaking process began. I said ‘hi’ to many of my friends, Nick (from South Africa), Mark, Lloyd (who started despite a leg injury) and eventually bumped into Marie. She’s becoming a legendary ultra-runner. I told her that I was going to overtake her but that she’d be overtaking me in 4 hours or so. And, boy, was I right. She’s like the ultimate pacing machine, similar to my friend Tilly.
After the usual “dude, passing left, dude, passing right” routine, I found the right place for me. As I approached the dam, I saw Nic and M up ahead. I did the right thing for mankind and humanity and decided to stop them for a “random” gear check. They wouldn’t hear any of it.
Dom was waiting by Sai Wan beach, I said ‘hi’ to him and smiled for the numerous cameras that were there. Btw, I have to say this – there are so, so many cameras on the course that you feel like some sort of a celebrity when running!
On Mac Stage 2, I saw Chris behind me. He told me what a beautiful day it was and that his time target was the same as mine – 13 hours. He said he’d be following me. I heard him behind me for a while but I think he stopped at the next check point longer than I did.
On the way from Mac Stage 2 to Hoi Ha, I was with a girl called Wayan who I later learned was some sort of a legendary female runner! She jumped and screamed so much at the sight of photographers that I thought she’d run out of energy more from posing for the cameras than running! The motivation was great though! I tried following her as much as I could so I could share her enthusiasm and motivation but she gave me the slip soon after Hoi Ha. I just couldn’t keep up with her. (She finished around 12.40 I think). Retha was there at the Hoi Ha checkpoint and helped me with food.
Hoi Ha to Kei Ling Ha
Soon after I left Hoi Ha and headed up on the road, the boring part of the course began. There was this non-stop undulating technical section all the way to Yung Shue O. Here’s where I gave myself an instruction to “stay in gear”. I pretended I was a car (yes, I can be weird) and told myself to stay on Gear 1 and just keep jogging. I saw Wayan in the distance every now and then but she was more like a car on 3rd gear! Soon, she disappeared from my view. I kept a consistent pace all the way to Yung Shue O which is where I met the legendary female runner Claire. The fact that I saw her meant something was wrong with her.
“Shouldn’t you be way up ahead?” I asked her.
“I am not sure. Should I?” she replied.
She told me that her TNF victory had taken a lot out of her. I overtook her (will probably never happen again), and eventually, I was back on my favorite Mac trail climbing up Rooster Hill. There was this guy coming from the opposite side who said “Hi Vince, I’ll read about this tonight [on your blog]”. I wished I was him instead of the guy who had 60 more kms to run! Eventually at the top of Rooster Hill, I saw two or three guys who were cheering me on and said “Vince – hikeinhongkong”. I was surprised they knew who I was and even more surprised that they’d heard actually heard of my blog!
The run down from Rooster Hill to Kei Ling Ha was great. I saw Dom taking photos on the last downhill stretch. When I reached the checkpoint, I saw Tilly and Retha there who were helping me fill my Hydrapack and getting me stuff to eat. It felt great to see them.
Kei Ling Ha to Beacon Hill
Mac Stage 4 started off well but I found myself losing it on the climb up Ma On Shan. I slowed down and tried to recover but something didn’t seem right. It was getting more and more tired. Stage 4 was a pretty low point for me. I had to tell myself that my time did not matter (I was trying to get rid of the 12.51 target in my mind that I wanted to beat). I kept telling myself that all that mattered was that I completed the run. And, I knew I could do Sub 14 even if I slowed down quite a bit. Plus, I wanted the HK100 jumper they give out at the finish! Despite all this, I found it hard to concentrate.
I saw Cynthia by the flat stretch on Stage 4 where all the paragliders land. She asked me how I was feeling and I said “very tired”. She told me that I was NOT feeling tired and asked me to keep going.
Eventually, I reached Gilwell Camp, said ‘hi’ to Tim and saw Denise who told me that Vic was also waiting for me near the support point. It was great to see my 5-time OTW teammate Vic who gave me some much needed words of encouragement. Marie then went by (just as anticipated). She looked strong and focused. I told her that she was an awesome runner and added that I’d see her at the finish line.
Vic left me at Sha Tin pass and I started plodding up Stage 5. Beacon Hill was a struggle. I felt incredibly sleepy as I was going up Beacon Hill. In fact, I got so sleepy that for the first time during the race, negative thoughts of aborting entered my mind! I told myself the usual – “Be a man! Rise to the occasion! Time doesn’t matter, kill speed, finish the run and enjoy the race”. As I was having this pep talk with myself, I saw Brendan come by. He looked strong and focused. We reached the checkpoint on Beacon Hill and saw the kids there who were great! One of them got me tomato soup and told me that I looked strong and was doing a great job! Haha! I certainly didn’t look that way. The kids certainly got me into a positive frame of mind. After seeing them, I hit the gas again and went downhill as fast as I could to Tai Po Road.
Tai Po Road to Tai Mo Shan
By the time I got to Tai Po Road, I succeeded in pretty much squashing all negative thoughts of aborting and was less worried about my time. I just plodding away all the way until Shing Mun. I traded places with Brendan but I was quite sure he’d overtake me for good on Needle Hill!
Upon reaching Shing Mun, I yelled out “Vivien” in the dark! Vivien came by, offered me some encouragement, and gave me some hot chocolate (powder sourced from Australia!) I sipped on that and started going up Needle Hill. As expected, Brendan overtook me, and I told him I’d see him at the finish line. Normally, I run nonstop all the way from Needle Hill to Grassy Hill but not today. I was too tired. The leg wasn’t too comfortable either. I just fast walked most of it which I am sure cost me some time.
Grassy Hill somehow reenergized me and the trail down to Lead Mine Pass, though not-so-enjoyable today, ended quickly. I reached Tai Mo Shan at about 8.05pm and decided to just continue without stopping to try and complete the course in Sub 13.5 hours.
Tai Mo Shan to the finish
I was only wearing my sweaty and cold tee shirt. I thought the cold weather would make me run faster. It did but the body was tired and wobbling. At one point, during one such wobbly experience, I banged my knee against a rock! That woke me up. Then I told myself to “stay in gear” and jogged as much of TMS as I could.
At the very top of Tai Mo Shan, two runners overtook me – Nicole and some other guy. I didn’t quite have the motivation or the energy to get back at them. I told myself “may the best man win” and kept going at my usual pace — until I reached that turnoff which is essentially only 5kms from the finish. I started on Gear 1 and saw the flashlight from the two runners who’d just overtaken me around 1 minute ahead of me. Before I knew it, I was on Gear 4, accelerating and clocking in 14kmh. I overtook both of them. The guy said “well done” as I passed him.
In what seemed like a pretty short time, thanks to the 14kmh acceleration, I saw the finish lights. The announcement came from the speakers “Vince from India has just finished”. But, I knew to take that announcement with a pinch of salt! The first time I did the race, I was flattered that they somehow seemed to know who I was which kind of puzzled me. (Come on, I can’t be that famous!) Upon further investigation, It turned out that they have a computerized system, that reads the tag on the bib and displays the runner’s name and nationality on a computer screen in front of the announcers! Neat! In any case, it was great to hear my name and even greater to know that I had actually finished! I completed the course in 13 hours and 35 minutes.
Peter, Dom, Bei, Anne were all there at the finish and helping me! It was great to see all of them! Peter got me my bag, Bei got me hot soup and Anne told me when the next bus was going to leave! I was chatting to super runner John Ellis who completed the course in 12 hours!! Impressive! Brendan finished in 13.10 and Marie did 12.51. Amazing runners. What I loved about all of them was how they were so strong, enthusiastic and happy at the finish. I felt like I had just gone over burning hot coal and my body was so tired that I would have fallen asleep that very instant. Plus, I was walking like Donald Duck. Not, not a Vaseline issue (thank goodness) but more because I pulled a nerve on that last downhill stretch as I was going all out to overtake Nicole and the other guy!
The race was (as usual) superbly organized and the support from friends was supreme! It was a fabulous social get-together on the trails.
1. I read in the book “Failing forward” by John Maxwell that one needs to manage energy, not time. Capacity is a person’s ability to spend and recover energy. The “recovery” today wasn’t good. Also, one of the criteria by which I judge myself on how well a run went, is to ask myself whether I feel absolutely fantastic at the end of the run. Today, I didn’t. Why? I am not sure. Perhaps, I should have gone out with a 13.30 target instead of a sub 13 target and accelerated during the 2nd half of the run depending on the extent of recovery.
2. I am glad I persisted and completed. The ability to squash negative thoughts by turning them into productive thoughts was good. Mac Stage 5 was my lowest point but I was strong enough mentally to reframe those useless thoughts and detach myself from them. (The kids on Beacon Hill really helped!)
3. Double Au before the next HK100: I need to do a two solo Double Aus (Mac 3 to 8) to test the body and mind, as well as to determine realistic targets, before the next 100km race.
Oh, btw, this report won’t be complete if I don’t tell you what I learnt on the Science Podcast I was listening to. Unfortunately, my Mp3 player stopped working as my sweat entered the player during the run (doh) but here’s something cool I listened to just before the player went bust. Apparently, back in the day in the 1600s, they were trying to investigate the use of blood. One scientist did an experiment: They had a docile sheep and a madman in a stadium with many onlookers watching. They slit the sheep’s jugular and cut the man’s wrist to exchange their blood. The hypothesis was that the man would turn docile, and the sheep would become mad! Nothing happened!
In another experiment, they gave an old person a young man’s blood and vice versa. It turned out that the amount of neuronal activity went up in the old man as soon as he received the young man’s blood and the neurons in the young man were not firing as rapidly when he got the older man’s blood. In other words, if you want to stay mentally sharp at an old age, you need to transfuse yourself with some young blood!
And, here’s something that shocked me. You know how donating blood is considered to be such a noble act? Well, that isn’t exactly the case. Apparently, it’s a billion dollar industry and the blood that is donated is actually sold to other blood banks and hospitals. There is a market for blood and the ones who get jibbed are the donors who don’t get their fair share of money for their “noble” donation!