The Lantau 50 “climbing to heaven and back” experience

So, who has the phone number of a paid assassin on speed dial?
Ok, I am pretty sure that the trail runners who ran today’s 51km “Lantau 50” course are all gunning for Race Director Clement Dumont’s blood. 51kms of pure torture. In fact, you got any enemies? Because, I am thinking that this would be the perfect “evil” present for any of your enemies. Don’t like someone? Convince them to do the Lantau 50 course! Hate someone? Get him/her to do this course under HOT weather! I say this course should be the main training program for the likes of Rambo and the US Navy SEALS.

By the end of the race, I felt like I had climbed enough stairs and hills to reach heaven and back! Totally insane. When a lady who was covering the event asked me for my “first thoughts” after I completed the race, I told her that I wanted to kill Clement Dumont. The most common word I heard from runners describing him today was “lunatic”. But, of course, one “lunatic” designed the course and well over 750 lunatics participated, including yours truly! And, being the hardcore lunatic that I am, I have to confess that in hindsight, I LOVED the torture! Jack Bauer of TV-hit series 24 likes torturing himself to “save the world” (how boring), but trail runners like torturing themselves for their love of nature! There ain’t no greater pleasure in life than to torture oneself on the hills.

Carb loading /unloading
As usual, all the pastas, pizzas, high-calorie cheese and other carb loading material I was consistently gorging upon for the past two days, resulted in massive “carb unloading” in the toilet today morning. (Get the drift?) Sometimes, I wonder why I bother with all this carb loading stuff. Reminds me of a saying, probably coined by a carb loading trail running enthusiast as well, “what goes in, must come out!” And, I might add, “it comes out faster than it goes in”.

The excitement at the gathering point

Fit bunch. Army recruiters should come down here to recruit – Courtesy Rowena Berroya

I reached the gathering point in Discovery Bay at 7.30am and looked around to see all the trail running celebrities who had gathered. Jeremy Ritcey was there and he looked like he could run all the way to America (AND BACK!) I asked him what his target finishing time was and he humbly replied that “people thought he could complete the course in 5.5 hours”. To put that into perspective, an average “running” Joe would take 9 hours to complete this course. Imagine completing a race 3.5 hours ahead of an average RUNNER, not hiker! This guy is the supersonic F18-jet (make that F32) version of an average human being! My teammate Vic So was at the start as well, not as a participant but as the lead cheerleader. (The usual mini-skirts donning, pompoms-wielding cheerleaders we hire didn’t show up). Hannes Niggli and my other teammate Jinhwa Kim showed up in good form. They were participating as a duo mixed team. I could hear Hannes psyching up Jinhwa at the start with two simple yet powerful words, “podium place”. And given their collective determination, effort and talent, I thought that was a given.

On your mark, get set and go!
At 8am, I was on my way with several hundred other racers. At about 8.10am, I was with those other racers, but stuck in a massive runner’s jam while trying to climb up Tiger’s Head hill or “the stairway to heaven” as I call it. It’s so steep you’d wish God had given you longer legs. But, I guess that’s why the trip to heaven! (return from heaven -with longer legs- safely assumed). The racing pattern was then unmistakable. It happens on every single race I participate in and this was no exception. First, my heavy breathing mode immediately caught Nora’s attention. She calls me “the breathing monster” for this effort. Then, Janet Ng, the HK100 organizer, recognized me (or more precisely, my loud breathing). Then, I went past Olya, another super fast female runner, but I knew she would probably re-overtake me at some point during the race anyway. Not sure how she pulls it off, but she always seems to have some spare fully charged batteries tucked away in her body somewhere. When you think you’ve lost her, she suddenly comes charging down the trail at some point, invariably overtaking several racers including yours truly.

After that, I ran past Chang, a truly incredible runner. His MO is identical to Olya’s. He is always ahead of me in the beginning, then I overtake him, then he overtakes me and the next I time I see him is typically at the end of the race!

After descending from Tiger’s Hill, we climbed yet another steep hill and eventually reached Pak Mong village (sea-level). Well, then, Clement being who he is, designed the course in such a way that we had to climb back upto 700m to Lin Fa Shan/Sunset Peak before descending back down to Pak Kung Au (around 400m). The run down from Sunset Peak to Pak Kung Au is one of my favorite downhill stretches in Hong Kong. I love to spread both arms out wide and “fly” down this stretch. I overtook quite a few racers during my “flight” this time around including someone who exclaimed “Great Blog!” as I flew past him. I was supposed to meet my teammate Steven in Pak Kung Au at 11am to exchange my support backpack with him but I surprised myself and reached Pak Kung Au by 10.23am. As I had expected, I was too early at our rendezvous point and Steven wasn’t there. I wasn’t sure if I’d see him at one of the other check points, so I filled up my Hydrapack to the brim with water and told the marshal at the check point to tell “a white guy called Steven”, who would be showing up shortly, that I had come and gone!

Flying into Pak Kung Au at 10.23am – Courtesy Mike Chui

Then, there was one heck of a long, flat section from Pak Kung Au to Nam Shan. At one point, I didn’t notice the trail meander to the left and was pretty close to falling off a steep edge! The racer right behind me was very, very close to making the same mistake! But, fortunately for both of us, our eyes and a last-minute expletive saved us from a fall.

Steven somehow made it to the Nam Shan check point and signaled to me to get my backpack off. Not sure how he made it to Nam Shan in such a short span of time but it was a relief to see him there. I exchanged backpacks like we had planned and had access to all my gels and electrolytes again. Then, again, Clement being who he is, designed the course in such a way that he had us climbing up again to the hills of Chi Ma Wan. That’s when I saw several runners dropping off like lemmings. The exhaustion from the several hills just climbed plus a strong sun took its toll on many racers. It also had a big effect on me but then I had my magic weapon. Mike Shinoda’s Linkin Park! I tuned into Linkin Park’s “what I’ve done” full blast, and the energy of the roaring guitars and screaming drums were enough to keep my energy flowing at a consistent pace!

Ace runner Thorsten Bruce’s innovative way to diffuse heat – Sink yourself in drainage – better cold than dirty. Courtesy – Sportsworld

The long, undulating and seemingly never-ending trail from Chi Ma Wan to Mui Wo caused me to slow down to an average of 8-10kmh but I ensured that I kept jogging/running almost all the way. The stretch from Mui Wo to Discovery Bay involved two more massive hills (thanks Clement) but upon seeing the Golf Course in Discovery Bay, I was reenergized.

After a grueling 51km, I made it to the finish point in 6 hours and 43 minutes. I have to say, this has been one of the toughest courses I have ever done. In fact, I think it was even tougher than HK100 because of the heat factor. I heard through the grapevine than more torture is on the cards from Clement. He is planning an 80km version for next year! A new masterpiece from the master designer of tortuous trail running courses.

Jeremy did exactly what other people had expected from him. He ran the course in a jaw dropping 5 hours 30 minutes. I’ll have to inspect his legs for wires and bionic material someday. Perhaps, there are some hidden hydraulics at the back of his legs somewhere.

On the motorbike ride on the way back from Tung Chung to home, a team of Hong Kong cops, i.e. “Hong Kong’s finest”, stopped me at a roadblock for a “random breath test”. I told the lead cop that I had just run 51km and that all he would find in my body are the remnants of gels and electrolytes. That didn’t convince him, so he had me exhaling into some weird device that his deputy was holding (not exactly a fine job for HK’s finest). I showed him what this breathing monster was capable of and was well on my way…