The bullet-proof plan
It was a foolproof plan. In fact, the strategy for it was carefully formed after years of devotion to the proven ancient wisdom of Sun Tzu – the scholarly Chinese military general who authored the book ‘The Art of War’ during the BC era. It ended up being THE book on planning for successful military strategies. Since he wrote the original version, there have been far too many interpretations of his teachings in various fields other than the military. Top CEOs swear by his principles, politicians base their moves only after studying the effect of his teachings, driven professionals adopt his rules in their careers, and as a budding athlete, I made it a point to apply his wisdom as a winning strategy for my first race in 2012 – The Northeast Mountain Marathon race (NEMM) which was to be held on Jan 1st, 2012.
The more I researched Sun Tzu and the principles attributed to him, the more it appeared to fall under the bracket of pure common sense. Each of his principles was no doubt coined in such a manner that it sounded highly philosophical and oozed of knowledge, but the application of each principle was largely subject to one’s own imagination. Here’s an example. One of his principles says: “If you do not know others and do not know yourself you are destined for failure in every battle”. After reading this, the string of thoughts that hit my brain ran in this order: (a) Wow! That’s deep man! (b) So, he’s pretty much saying that if you are ignorant and don’t know what you are doing, you will not succeed? (c) Actually, ain’t that obvious? (c) Hmm.. looks like he is simply stating the obvious with a philosophical touch to it.
Application of ancient wisdom in a mountain marathon
In fact, I thought I could have easily come up with my very own principle: “He who always remembers to wear his underwear before his trousers will rarely face embarrassments” (superman excluded). See, that sounds deep, doesn’t it? But, it’s just common sense! And if I end up being a successful person in the future, I’m sure entrepreneurs out there will have ten different versions of my “scholarly” saying. I can imagine some entrepreneur releasing a book called “The interpretations of Vice Natteri’s sayings in the travel industry”. Principle 1: “He who always remembers to wear his underwear before his trousers will rarely face embarrassments” . Interpretation: ” The highly successful individual will always get travel insurance BEFORE leaving on vacation”.
Anyway, I digress. So, the point I was originally trying to make is that I did apply several of Sun Tzu’s principles from ‘The Art of War’ in my race today. Let’s call my interpretations of these rules ‘The Art of Running Mountain Marathons’.
Principle 1: Know your enemy and know yourself and in 100 battles you will never be in peril.
Application: I knew my enemies (fellow racers). They were all probably partying hard on December 31st in Lan Kwai Fong and will likely suffer from a hangover on Jan 1st
Principle 2: Attack by surprise – all warfare is based on deception.
Application: I will pretend like I will be partying on December 31st but in reality, I will sleep at 10pm and get my beauty sleep in before the race
Principle 3: Avoid what is strong. Attack what is weak.
Application: I know I can’t match my enemies in terms of speed and general running ability. Instead, I will prey on their weakness – weakness for alcohol that is! I will race on a day when they will either likely not be there or will be severely hung over from the effect of New Year parties. Victory shall be mine! HA HA HA! (devilish laughter in the background).
And so, I entered this race armed with teachings from ‘The Art of Running Mountain Marathons’. My winning strategy was simply based on the top runners NOT participating.
Jan 1st 2011
I rode my motorbike straight to Wu Ka Tang at 7.20am and was there by 8am. Content with my careful application of Sun Tzu’s racing interpretations, I strutted to the registration desk. Familiar faces filled the registration area. A look in every direction revealed that I wasn’t the only one practicing Sun Tzu’s principles. So were all the other super fast racers! Damn. I didn’t see the point in preaching those principles to everyone under the sun so they could also practice! If everyone applies his principles and “attacks by surprise” then the attack ain’t gonna be no surprise! Anyway, my hopes of winning went down the drain (I “know my enemies” well enough to recognize that I ain’t no match for them) so I resorted to what I normally do – just relax, run as fast as possible comfortably and just chill.
2 minutes before the race commenced, the race organizer said something in Chinese to pump everyone up (next time, Engman also mgoi) and off we went at 8.30am. There was a huge “running” jam in the beginning. Racers were trying to overtake each other from every available direction on a narrow trail. I kept my cool and knew that “the path will get wider and the light will shine sooner or later” (notice that self-constructed philosophical sentence – I am getting better at this stuff). And yes, the path did get wider (I am a genius) and the light did shine brighter (actually, that was just my imagination). Anyway, the trail went from Wu Kau Tang to Bridespool and then it went up Pat Sin Leng. There were plenty of overtaking opportunities there and the natural pecking order of racers was being formed. The slow guys who went too fast in the beginning were burning out and returning to their natural speeds. The fast ones being held back by the “running” jam in the beginning were now taking the lead.
The course seemed like a runner’s course for the first 20km or so but after that it looked like the race directors were “attacking by surprise” as well (how come everyone is such a big fan on Sun Tzu?) There were two huge, steep hills to climb in the last 5km or so. The first was in my very own territory (Plover Cove) and that gave me some comfort. Nothing like being in your own backyard during a race. However, my backyard ain’t no walk in the park. There are plenty of ups and downs – enough to cause any racer to wear out. The second hill was a nasty one. Nasty not only because it was a 400m steep climb to the top but also because it came right near the end of the race. It gave me a feeling of “so near yet so far”. The way down from that steep hill involved plenty of bushwhacking (now I know why fellow racers were wearing long compression gears).
I had one minor ankle twist on the way down from that last hill but finished comfortably in 3 hours 28 minutes. I came #5 overall which was a bit of surprise. My natural spot in the pecking order of racers is more like #15 or #20. Looks like Sun Tzu’s principles worked after all!
Happy New Year to all readers and remember, “he who always remembers to wear his underwear before his trousers will rarely face embarrassments”.
And btw, I forgot to mention that the map for this race looks like a butterfly!
Garmin says 3.30 as I forgot to turn it off in all the excitement! Actual time was 3.28.