#HKTRP #29 (Early Release) – Talking Oxfam Trailwalker 2015 with Martijn and an interview with the super fast team from Nepal and their manager Ramesh Bhattachan


This episode starts off with Martijn and I talking about Hong Kong Trailwalker 2015. We talk about the course profile, then we discuss a few tips for runners and then we conclude by mentioning some of the favorite teams that are in a position to do very well.

We then talk to one of the fastest Trailwalker teams of all times — the team from Nepal that comprises of some very young (and fast!) runners. Their team manager Ramesh Bhattachan talks to us about their training programme among other things. You will get a window into the lives of these runners and what makes them fast. Favorite questions from Andre Blumberg, Steven Sparksman and others are also answered.

The runners:

  • Their OTW time from last year (11.56), target this year (10.45)
  • The names of the runners
    • Kiran Kulung, 31 (Leading of Team Columbia running team)
    • Suman Kulung, 24 (12.12 on HK100 2015)
    • Arjun Kulung, 24 (1st in Annapurna 100k, 10h 33m) in 2015
    • Ras Kulung, 19
  • Team manager: Ramesh Bhattachan
Questions (Humble Beginnings)
  • How did they discover their passion for running and how did their story land them in Hong Kong last year?
  • What has having a coach taught you?
Questions (Training)
  • How do they train? Walk us through the training routine
  • Does Ramesh still make them do the Pressure Steps repeats?
  • What does a typical training week look like in the key phase of OTW preparation?
  • Whilst coach Ramesh provides continuity at OTW over many years, the respective runners in the team change regularly. How do you transfer the knowledge and lessons learned from one year to the next and from the previous team to the next?
Questions (Mental)
  • What keeps you going after 50K and how to mentally fit not to quit?
  • What do you say to yourself when the going gets tough?
Questions (Nutrition and gear)
  • What about gears and nutrition? What do they go with when they train?
  • What do they eat during a 100km race like OTW.
Questions (Personality)
  • How important is it for them to defend their title this year? And, why?
  • What is the pressure on them like? Families and friends back in Nepal
  • What do they want to achieve in life? What’s their dream?
  • What do they think is their secret to success in trail running?
  • If there is anything you could have and ask for to perform even better (e.g. better gear, more time training on actual course, better support during race etc.) – what would be your #1 request?
  • What is the major disagreement amount their teams during races/training?
Questions (OTW Strategies)
  • What’s their target time?
  • What’s their strategy to win the OTW?
  • What has their training and nutrition regime been in the lead up to OTW?
  • How do they deal with stairs in HK?
  • Do they run up Needle Hill stairs or walk?
  • How do they avoid getting lost?

To subscribe to this podcast, please go to iTunes and search for The Hong Kong Trail Rockers Podcast (!/id994423166).

Music: A big “thank you” to


#25 – Talking Lantau 70 with Shane Early


In this podcast, we talk to Shane Early, Race Director of Lantau 70, to pick his brains on the race, how to prepare for it and so on.

Quick description of the race:

  • 70km run in Lantau – pretty much the Lantau trail 3300m elevation gain and loss. 65% trail, 35% road. 2nd half easier.
  • Two versions (70km and relay) Relay teams of 4

Quick Facts on this race:

  • This race is part of the Hong Kong Trail Racing League: (the solo 70km version) – Ultra League
  • This race used to exist back in the day as the Phoenix Challenge and Jojo Fan has the female record for it. I think it was 9 hours and 26 minutes. Jeremy Ritcey brought it back on in 2013 and Shane now runs the race
  • You get 2 points for the famous UTMB (Shane, out of curiosity, how do they judge how many points to award it?)
    (I apply with all relevant details, maps, GPS, previous results, elevation info, trail info. They have a formula. There are two parts. UTMB and UTMF. I apply for each. 2 points each event in 2016)
  • How many people are running it this year compared to the previous years?
    (420 in solo, around 33 relay teams. Not many all women’s teams.)
  • You are only allowed outside support at the checkpoints (True! I dislike races which allow that. Consider that cheating. It is unfair. )
  • Cutoff time 17.5 hours Yes, shortened so runners and volunteers can get last ferry out. Still a generous time.
  • Overall Male/Female top 3 receive prizes. Top 3 in each category receive prizes
    (Overall Male and Female winners get a Suunto Watch plus prizes from Salomon. Trophies are our traditional replica signs of the Lantau Trail. Medals for all finishers.)
  • How many overseas runners are running this time? Have not counted but similar to last year 50+

Visualize the course and the checkpoints:

  • Start Line: Please allow relay teams and fast runners to be up front. Tight squeeze first 400 meters to round about. Police will be there for traffic. Volunteers will line the walkway. Kids in Halloween Costumes
  • Sidewalk up to Nam Shan. Stay off the road!
  • Nam Shan to Sunset Peak – trails begin. lovely section. Tough climb – some runable
  • Pak Kung Au – cross road properly with my volunteer
  • Lantau Peak to Ngong Ping- tough work again. a little bit runable
  • LP – CP1 – Go down and turn right at giant rooster. 400 meters to CP1
  • Leaving CP1 – pay attention to left turn 200 meters in. Pop out at Cable Car building in Ngong Ping, cross public area to parking lot. then stay to the right. turn right on road and downhill for a few k. Cross road to start trails again. 3-4 short climbs – 2 are steep. Pay attention to trail signs. L041 will have a volunteer. No short cuts. L045 pay attention and follow signs into Tai O. Pass Man Cheung Po. Crappy downhill road before left turn into CP2. Drop Bags at CP2
  • Laving Tai O jog what you can, first climb is tough then out in beautiful plateau area. Pay attention to signs and go correct direction. Otherwise end up at CP2 again. Rolling hills, lovely trails. Downhill to the catch water is a bit rough so be careful. short catch water jog into CP3
  • CP3 – Shui Hau is ok. Can jog a lot. Careful crossing road and follow signs around Shek Pik peninsula. Careful with signs between L089- L092. Especially just past L089, road splits, Go uphill!
  • Later turns to trail near a fence, watch out later near Lo Kei Wan beach for the cows. He can be grumpy sometimes. and block s the trail.
  • Come out of Peninsula cross road and turn right past village about 300 meters and CP4.
  • Leaving CP4 is short trail climb to catchwater and turn right – follow follow follow until dead end and turns to trail, come out at road and turn left into pui O. At stoplight cross road and follow road around into Ham Tim where you may see people at a pagoda with water – it is ok to have water there. Follow road around past beach and left up Chi Ma Wan rd to steps on left for last big climb. After climb, go down and when trail splits go right and follow signs into mui wo. Careful in Mui Wo on road into finish.

Checkpoint food:

  • There are 4 checkpoints [Ngong Ping; Tai O; Catch water; Ham Tin village -pseudo checkpoint- ; Shui Hau]
  • CP FOOD: Water, bananas, oranges, Tailwind at 2 CP’s(Tai O and Shui Hau), Lucho Dillito bars at Ngong Ping, watermelon, pretzels.
  • CP3 will be simple, water, oranges and bananas.
  • Drop Bags at Tai O
  • Relay Team members can eat after their leg or before at the restaurant in village in Tai O. Many people did last year
  • Some runners do buy drinks at Ngong Ping and Tai O Shops. That is allowed.
  • There is a new checkpoint this year at marker L076, along the catch water after Tai O. Lots of people ran out of water there last year – New CP – I gave in to runner requests for a CP.

Quick word on the relay:

  • 4 stages (Mui Wo to Ngong Ping 13km; Ngong Ping to Tai O 14km; Tai O to Shui Hau 23km; Shui Hau to Mui Wo 20km)

Special Warnings:

  • Last year, there were DNFs (including yours truly) because of the very hot weather. This year, we might be looking at some hot weather too
  • Yes, Freeze your water bladder! We will have ice buckets at Ngong Ping and Tai O if hot. Just like Stairmaster.
  • Pace yourself. first 27k is hard work.
  • Don’t walk the catchwaters – you may not make CP cutoffs.
  • If you are doing the relay, “Don’t be late for your leg – this can cause tension and ruined friendships”

What should the strategy be for a person running:

  • Don’t run to Nam Shan first 2.2k unless you want to be in top 5. You have plenty of time to run later. Run what you can and fast hike the hills. Don’t waste time at CP’s.
  • Start easy, fast hike the first section in under 4 hours. Then move steady into Tai O. Leaving Tai O, jog what you can and then fast hike hills. Jog catch water around CP3 and into Shui Hau. After CP4 jog/run catch water and last downhill trail into Mui Wo. Don’t waste time at CP’s. Keep your drop bag simple.

Names to watch out for:

  • Male (not in any particular order)
    • Scottie Callaghan
    • Brendan Lee
    • John Ellis
    • Slavo Lindvai
    • Jeremy Ritcey
    • Jackie Leung
  • Female (not in any particular order)
    • Nia Cooper
    • Valerie Lagarde
    • Marie McNaughton
    • Irene Montemayor

Good luck to everyone participating and thank you to Shane for organizing the race and doing the podcast with me


To subscribe to this podcast, please go to iTunes and search for The Hong Kong Trail Rockers Podcast (!/id994423166).


How to get to 12 hours 30 minutes on Vibram Hong Kong 100?

So, how does one get to 12 hours and 30 minutes on Vibram HK 100?

I am about to answer that. Well, not exactly but you will see.

First of all, the books say that one needs to have a rock-solid purpose in order to achieve anything. In fact, there are many quotes on this:

“Have a definite purpose: a definite purpose is more than a strong wish. It is a clear, definite goal fueled by great passion. Definite purpose focuses all you energy on making your goal a reality. It makes you believe. When you believe, you forget your doubts and fears. Pessimistic thoughts vanish and optimistic thoughts become a habit. When you’re truly committed, you will make decisions and take actions that lead you to the fulfillment of those dreams” – Napolean Hill in Think and Grow Rich

“Purpose is stronger than outcome, reasons come first and answers come second” – Tony Robbins

“Purpose is the most important motivator in the world” – The monk who sold his Ferrari

You get the picture. So, Step 1: Know why you want to get to 12 hours and 30 minutes on HK100. I wanted to do it to challenge myself to get to the next level in trail running but I was unsure of the work this would involve. I am definitely not a 12h30m guy at the moment!

Anyway, assuming one has a solid reason to get to that level, then what? PLAN!

Here’s Andy McNab’s quote from Bravo Two Zero. (Btw, Andy is his fake name, not sure what his real name is).

“You should remember the 7Ps of life. Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”

Tony Robbins has a quote too. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

So, Step 2: Come up with a plan!

But, what plan? And, how? Before answering that, I first wanted to test myself to gauge my current level of fitness. Is 12 hours 30 a realistic goal? Am I way off that target at the moment? Of course, the test had to be conducted fairly. I mean, not before a curry night or without sufficient sleep. And, it had to be the Double Au. A solo Double Au (Mac 3-8). That’s when you take the body and mind beyond 40kms and stress test both of them.

The rough plan was this:
1) Get enough sleep
[check – I got 7.5+ hours]

2) Have a decent breakfast. The body is like a motorbike. You put crap fuel in and the engine won’t work.
[After a kick ass speech to myself about how “the body was my church”, etc, I went to McDonalds for breakfast. I know, it’s like the US President preaching fiscal prudence. Talk about hypocrisy. Anyway, in my defense, I offer that “No. 4 no meat” tastes quite good]

3) Let the subconscious right mind take over from the egotistical left mind. What do I mean by that? Here’s something I read in a book called Inner Game of Work. The book is written by a Tennis Coach who teaches you how to best learn something. Here’s what he says:

You’ve got to read this. I apply this to pretty much any learning activity now.

The Discovery of Self 1 and Self 2

My first insight into another way came the day I stopped trying to change the student’s swing. Instead I asked myself, “How is learning really taking place?” and “What’s going on inside the head of the player when he hits the ball?” It occurred to me that there was a dialogue going on in the player’s head, an internal conversation not unlike his external conversation with me. In a commanding tone, the voice in his head would issue teacher-like commands to his body: “Get your racket back early. Step into the ball. Follow through at the shoulders.” After the shot, the same voice would deliver its evaluation of the performance and the performer: “That was a terrible shot! You have the worst backhand I’ve ever seen!”

Is all this inner dialogue really necessary? I wondered. Is it helping the learning process or is it getting in the way? I knew that when great athletes were asked what they were thinking during their best performance, they universally declared that they weren’t thinking very much at all. They reported that their minds were quiet and focused. If they thought about their performance at all, it was before or after the activity itself. This was also true in my own experience as a tennis player. When I was playing at my best, I wasn’t trying to control my shots with self-instruction and evaluation. It was a much simpler process than that. I saw the ball clearly, chose where I wanted to hit it, and I let it happen. Surprisingly, the shots were more controlled when I didn’t try to control them.

I gradually realized that my well-intentioned instructions were being internalized by my students as methods of control that were compromising their natural abilities. This critical inner dialogue certainly produced a state of mind very different from the quiet focus reported by the best athletes.

My next question was, “In this inner dialogue, who is talking to whom?” I called the voice giving the commands and making the judgments “Self 1.” The one it was talking to, I called “Self 2.” What was their relationship? Self 1 was the know-it-all who basically didn’t trust Self 2, the one who had to hit the ball. Out of mistrust, Self 1 was trying to control Self 2’s behavior using the tactics it had learned from its teachers in the outside world. In other words, the mistrust implied by the judgmental context was being internalized by the student’s Self 1. The resulting self-doubt and over control interfered with the natural learning process.

But who is Self 2? Is it that unworthy of trust? In my definition, Self 2 is the human being itself. It embodies all the inherent potential we were born with, including all capacities actualized and not yet actualized. It also embodies our innate ability to learn and to grow any of those inherent capacities. It is the self we all enjoyed as young children.

All the evidence pointed to the fact that our best performance happened when Self 1’s voice was quiet and Self 2 was allowed to hit the ball undisturbed. While Self 1 might be commanding the body with the vague instruction “Get the racket back early,” Self 2 was doing something far more precise. Calculating the eventual position of the parabolic arc of the ball, it was issuing hundreds of exact nonverbal instructions to scores of muscle groups that allowed the body to hit the ball and send it to the desired location on the other side of the net, all the while taking into account the speed of the ball, the wind, and the last-second movement of the opponent. Which self was more trustworthy?

It was like a dime-store computer giving orders to a billion-dollar mainframe, then wanting to take the credit for the best outcomes while blaming the mainframe for the worst. It is humbling to realize that the voice giving the controlling demands and criticisms was not really as intelligent as the one receiving them! The invented Self 1 was not as smart as the natural self. In short, the cartoon character Pogo was right when he proclaimed, “I have met the enemy, and it is us.”

Self 1 is the left brain (the rational mind) and Self 2 is the right brain (the subconscious mind). My plan was that I will not issue instructions tn the body but simply ask myself questions at the end of the Double Au run in an effort to determine what I could have done better.

And, here’s what happened

1Stage 3: Pak Tam Au to Kei Ling Ha1.21:38It was nice and cloudy. Slow and steady start until engines were all warmed up
2Break to refill water3.52:08 bucks for a small bottle of water is a ripoff I tell ya
3Stage 4: Kei Ling Ha to Gilwell Camp1:54:11It started to rain. I was enjoying it! Andy McNab says "Take what you can, when and while you can". I happily accepted the rain and increased my speed
4Stage 5 (Part 1): Kei Ling Ha to Sha Tin pass23:49I was still feeling great and full of power
5stage 5 (Part 2): Sha Tin pass to end of Stage 557:37Barring one fall, the speed was very steady and the pace was beautifully managed
6Stage 6: Tai Po Road to Shing Mun BBQ31:47Continuous running. Very well managed. I saw Ying Ying and Law Chor Kin at the BBQ site. They told me I could complete the Double Au run in less than 8 hours
7Break: Refill water6:02Why did I buy "COOL" water when the mineralized Bonaqua water was available?
8Stage 7: From Shing Mun to Needle Hill summit35:30The sun was back in full force. I was not doing that well. Stomach cramps began. However, they were minor and I slowed down/took deep breaths to counter it
9Stage 7: Needle Hill to Grassy Hill34:58I walked good chunk of it and I was beginning to feel quite tired. Again, took deep breaths to ease stomach cramps
10Stage 7: Grass Hill to Lead Mine Pass7:06The stomach recovered and I enjoyed showing off and overtaking a bunch of runners!
11Stage 8: Lead Mine Pass to the top of Tai Mo Shan59:57The stomach almost completely recovered. Breath management was good
12Stage 8: Top of TMS to Route Twisk19:45Great run downhill. Reminded me of HK100. I recovered fully and wanted to get the time below 8 hours. Manged doing so with 4 minutes to spare
Summary53km, 3374m elavationTotal time: 7.56:19.
Moving time: 7.45:44
Glad to have let the right mind handle the run! No interruptions and unnecessary mind-body instructions

Questions to myself about the run:
1) What did I do about nutrition?
[Soyjoy bars, Granolas bars and a coke in Shing Mun. I suspect the coke threw me off on Needle Hill. Probably dehydrated me]

2) What were the main hiccups during the run and after?
[Other than a bad stomach on Needle Hill, all good. The stomach recovered though. I think it’s just the way long distance runs go. Nothing can really be done about it except for fixing the symptoms as they appear]

3) What could I have done to make the run faster?
[Better training. Run more, more and more until the body’s standard pace goes up. This will need more commitment to training]

And, the main question. Can I do 12 hours and 30 minutes on Hk100 or is that a goal that’s unrealistic?
[This run was optimized. If it takes me 8 hours to do 52km, the first half of Hk100 (42 km) needs to be done in 4 hours and 30 minutes. That is unrealistic. Fatigue is not taken into account either. So, the answer: yes, anything is possible through practice but at the moment, 13 hours is more realistic. Knocking off 30 minutes more from a Double Au will need a phenomenal commitment to training. Is this goal important enough to warrant that?]

Hmmm. Perhaps, I will train a little more and revise my target for this year to 12 hours and 50 minutes!

Strava link.
Garmin link.


Hong Kong 100 (2015 edition) — The debrief

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.

The preparation
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 start
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.

On the way to Hoi Ha – Courtesy All Weather Kwok

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.

At the checkpoint – courtesy Yan

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.

The finish
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.

The takeaways
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!


The North Face (Hong Kong) – 100 solo

Wow! What a tough course! Keith warned me about it and he wasn’t kidding. The last 3-4 hours were especially brutal! I usually try and recce courses in advance, but, with this one, I decided to surprise myself (and I felt shocked at the end). Well, to be fair, I’ve done bits and pieces of the course before but one part I should have done before but didn’t was the bit from Tai Mo Shan to Lead Mine Pass. Long, technical and undulating. If you’re doing the race, recce this bit for sure!

The pre-race preparation
I read this in Bravo Two Zero (Andy McNab). The 7 Ps of success: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I’d give myself a 7/10 for my planning. I made a last minute change the day before the race. I swapped by light Redlaight bag for a much bulkier bag. The reason I gave myself was that I couldn’t fit the Goretex jacket in my Redlaight bag (which I guess is true but I could have squeezed it in), but what was also an important consideration was that my Redlaight bank smelled like a big pig had pooed in it (this is what happens if you forget to stuff your bag in the washing machine after training).

It’s also amazing what a bit more space in a bag does. I read this in the book 4-hour workweek by Tim Ferris: “Time is wasted in the proportion that it is available”. I discovered yesterday that this also holds good with space! With a bigger bag pack, I now had more space and so carried more junk. An aluminum flask was one of them! Well, at the time of packing it seemed like a good idea (I figured I’d carry hot chocolate and have it on top of Pat Sin Leng) but, on the actual race, I felt like a donkey carrying more than its share of load. Trust me, after 90km, you don’t want to carry an aluminum flask up a 600m hill.

From The Start (Tai Mei Tuk) to Luk Keng
Ok, as a word of caution, I am usually bad at describing courses so please don’t use this post as any definitive guide!

Anyway, after our photos at the start, we set off at around 8am. I was at the back and started overtaking many of the slower hikers/runners soon as the race started. I somehow lost Vic in the first 2-3 minutes.

Group photo at the beginning – Courtesy Vic

The part from Tai Mei Tuk to Wu Kau Tang was full of “Dude, passing left. Dude, overtaking from right” and so on. I finally found myself behind some runners who were running at my speed and I used them as pacers.

On the way from down to Wu Kau Tang for the second time (you do TMT – WKT – WKT – Luk Keng), I saw Tilly and Nic up ahead. “You look like my teammate from the Oxfam Trailwalker”, I told Tilly. We got talking briefly and then I took it upon myself to stop Nic for a “mandatory gear check”. After exchanging some banter, I heard a voice behind me “Vince, this is Mr. Guinness. Aren’t you happy Dawson isn’t here today?” It was Sam Guinness, the team behind us on the Oxfam Trailwalker who kept entertaining us on Stage 2. I chatted with Sam for a while before he turned on his boosters and disappeared into the horizon.

At Luk Keng, I saw Dom, Brendan and Hannes who were there supporting me. Brendan helped me with the water while Dom gave me coke. I also took some potatoes from Hannes. It was great to see them. Provided that energy boost I was looking for. I knew deep inside that the course was going to get much tougher from Luk Keng.

Luk Keng to Fan Ling and from Fan Ling to Kadoorie Farm
I remember having to take a little trail to the left of my favorite restaurant at Luk Keng. I also switched from rock music to some serious Science Podcasts to keep the mind active. I learnt so many things on this bit to Fan Ling thanks to the Podcasts. For example, did you know that the Mantle Shrimps can see more colors than a human being? Did you know that dogs can’t see the color red? Did you know that when newborn babies stare at you, they only see a white ray of light as they can’t see yet? The Podcasts made me forget about the running — that is, until we reached this super steep uphill, overgrown bit near the top of Cloudy Hill. I knew we were going to climb up Cloudy Hill later on in the day so I wondered why we couldn’t just do it now as we were so close to it! That steep bit and the technical downhill slope that followed was tough on my legs. Then came a long concrete stretch to Fan Ling. I saw Vivien there who high-fived me while Brendan/Milos and Dom were helping me with food and water. As always, it was great to see them.

Dom offering me hot chocolate (not Bloody Mary) in Fan Ling – Courtesy Philip

Dom showed me the way up Tai To Yan and off I went munching on Milos’ cookies and sipping on Dom’s hot chocolate. Some girl overtook me here but I just didn’t have it in me to get back at her. This is where I think I made my second mistake — I should have eaten more. I had stuff in my bag but was too lazy to turn the bag around, get something out and eat it. I felt more tired going up Tai To Yan and saw Chor Kin at a distance looking equally tired. He did well to make a relatively quick recovery. Then, on the way down to Kadoorie Farm, I saw Rupert taking photos using his big camera. He said something like “where are the pants?” He was reminding me of M’s “pant bet”. He challenged me to wear his Bangkok pants for the race (M’s a mysterious man — he’s got unique taste).

Rupert turned me into a model – Courtesy Rupert

Dom, Milos and Brendan were waiting at Kadoorie Farm and Dom told me to focus on Tai Mo Shan and not worry about what followed. It was good advice and I did just that. I tuned onto the next Podcast. Did you know that when you sleep, the brain deletes all unwanted stuff, removes noise from the data that is stored during the day, and performs various permutations and combinations on the remaining data in the form of dreams? This is why you get those awesome ideas when you sleep and wake up the next day.

Dom, Milos, Brendan helping me at the checkpoint – Courtesy Milos

Kadoorie Farm to Lead Mine Pass via Tai Mo Shan
Believe it or not, Tai Mo Shan wasn’t all that hard. It was a steep climb for sure but it wasn’t as hard as I had expected it to be. Maybe because I was prepared for it. It was cold for sure though. My Goretex jacket came on and so did the balaclava. I caught up with Chor Kin again (who had since passed me) in the Tai Mo Shan checkpoint. I had some corn soup there, put on my torch and went running down that Shing Mun Section.

This is probably where I lost time on the race — Shing Mun. Combination of not eating enough (even though stomach was fine) and not knowing the route meant I was robbing myself of energy. The technical Shing Mun bit is usually what I excel at but I also had a slight problem with my knees on the downhill bits. I wanted to preserve them for Pat Sin Leng. I lost quite a lot of time on the way to Lead Mine Pass. Chor Kin and two others overtook me here.

Lead Mine Pass to The Finish
After Lead Mine Pass came that terrible Wilson Section to Tai Wo. I don’t know why but I have never been a fan of that. Again, I slowed down on this bit mainly because of a lack of energy than anything else. But, I ran all runnable bits and eventually reached the start of Cloudy Hill. Another girl, Nikki, I think her name is, overtook me at the top and she was moaning as she passed me. She was probably in pain. She did very well though. She was way up ahead of me as I was trying to catch up. The part down to Sha Lo Tung also cost me some time. I couldn’t run down as fast as I had hoped. I kept my pace steady as I approached the bottom of Pat Sin Leng and switched onto yet another Science Podcast to take my mind off the steep climb. Did you know that at the age of 4, something happens in the human brain that allows you to exercise self-control? Those who develop this at that age tend to do much better later on in their lives. Malcolm Gladwell ascribes this more to the year in which you were born in his book Outliers.

Pat Sin Leng killed me. I should have eaten more. I was wobbling around like a drunken sailor and lost momentum when climbing from one stair to another! Ricardo overtook me here and asked me if I was okay. I told him I was tired while somehow extracting a bit more energy from the body. I think I was thinking HK100 style energy (enough juice to last 13-15 hours) but I should have made sure I was prepared for (16-18 hours). Anyway, shoulda woulda coulda. After I reached the top, I used gravity to largely guide me on the downhill bits. The moon shone beautifully up above in a yellowish whitish color. Every now and then, I stole a glance at the moon which humbled me. The stars shone and the sky was clear.

I was elated when I ran down the last steep bit of Pat Sin Leng but it certainly wasn’t over then. That 3km stretch back to Tai Mei Tuk seemed to go on forever and, even after reaching Tai Mei Tuk, there was yet another steep bit left which I didn’t know about! Kind of like the icing on the cake!

Finally, 17 hours and 37 minutes later (27th overall), I reached the finish point. I spent less than 30 minutes at the finish in order to get back on my motorbike asap as I feared falling asleep. I increased speed on the motorbike to stay awake but instead landed myself a speeding ticket! DAMN.

Special thanks to Dom, Brendan, Milos, Hannes and Viv! Great to see all of you on the course!

As hard as this course was, it was beautiful! And the markings/organization was fantastic!

Executive Debrief:
1. In the future, know the course (I guess I know now)
2. Carry enough energy and consume it, especially during the 2nd half. Force it down, military style
3. Don’t carry the kitchen sink during a race. Oh, and btw, wash your hiking bag well in advance!