My half-marathon debut plus Sunset Peak, Lantau Peak, Ngong Ping and Tung Chung
Sold on a road run
No denying that I am an addict. A trail running addict that is. So, when my friend Martijn sent me a message that read “want to do a race for free?”, I pounced at the opportunity! It’s like asking a marijuana addict if he wants free marijuana!
But, two details came slightly later. First was that he was referring to a “road run” and not a trail run. And the second “minor” detail came just 2 days before the event. The race was to begin at 6.15am on a Sunday in Disneyland Resort!! 6.15am on a Sunday? Hello?
As a trail running evangelist, I look upon road running disdainfully. How can a boring tar surface even compare to the beauty of a soft, muddy trail? Since when does traffic become a substitute for the gorgeous greenery you find on a trail?
Nonetheless, you can’t diss something without having tried it. And so, I went on the Unicef half-marathon, proudly wearing Martijn’s race bib. (Great to wear someone else’s bib! It gives you the opportunity to screw up big time!)
Rise and shine! It’s 4.30am on a Sunday morning
After a mere couple of hours of sleep, my alarm rang nice and early at 4.30am. I woke up and told myself that I’d have my revenge on Martijn by walking the race at a snail’s pace! I got on my motorbike at 4.45am and rode straight to Tung Chung. I then took the MTR to Disneyland and I was surprised at what I saw. Instead of Mickey, Minnie and Goofy, there were scores of runners wearing the ubiquitous “UNICEF” tee shirt. I was asking myself how SO MANY Hong Kongers were interested in waking up at 4.30am on a Sunday morning for a road race!
Sharon’s half-marathon 101 lesson
As I was looking all around at the growing crowd of runners in utter disbelief, a fresh-looking Sharon nudged me and said “I thought you wouldn’t come!” I told her that I wouldn’t have dared to miss out on this unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of getting up at 4.30am on a Sunday morning for anything in the world! She then gave me a Road Run 101 lesson. Basically this:
(1) There’s no need to carry a hydration pack for a road race. (Heeding her advice, I left mine at the luggage drop off point)
(2) You’ve got to wear some kind of timing chip by tying it to the shoelace. Pretty cool stuff. I initially thought it was some cheap useless souvenir
(3) You have to run like there’s no tomorrow!
Sounded simple enough. So, at precisely 6.15am, the race started but we were stuck way behind; we were boxed in somewhere in the middle of a LARGE pack of runners. It took us about 2 minutes just to get to the starting point!
On your mark, get-set and RUN!
I have to say — there were certain wild aspects of road running that I did enjoy today. Overtaking, for one! On my motorbike, being the punk that I am, I flash my headlight at a slow moving vehicle in front of me, then I hit the right indicator and go full throttle to overtake the vehicle in a gung-ho “I-am-a-pro” manner. Soon as I am in front of the vehicle, I hit the left indicator and get in the path of the vehicle! Big adrenalin rush I tell ya!
Today, I donned the same motorbiking attitude but instead of flashing the headlight, I used my trademark steam engine noise right from the beginning to overtake the slow moving runners. It was great fun! So much so, that I *want* to start at the back of races in the future!
The kilometers kept ticking as I kept overtaking and overtaking. The first 12km passed by in no time! I didn’t stop anywhere. I didn’t even drink water or Pokari. I just kept running. Oh yes, I certainly didn’t want to be “chicked” (being overtaken by a girl). So, each time I saw a girl ahead of me, the steam engine found more coal to burn.
Towards the end it started to rain. At around the 16th kilometer, the runners doing the 10km version of the race merged with the half-marathoners. Because of the influx of new runners, I suddenly lost track of whom I had to overtake so I kept my pace pretty consistent.
At the 20th kilometer, I saw a girl who I thought I had overtaken a while back. She clearly wanted to give me a run for my money (or rather, for Martijn’s money), so she turned on her turbo mode! My answer to that was some heavy metal music and a full blast of reserve energy (I call this my nitro boost). It lasted about 15 seconds and I was ahead again! But, unfortunately, I had mistimed my nitro boost as there was still 200-300m to go! This girl then came back at me in full force during the last 100m! Then Rule 1 of my Rules of Engagement kicked in. Rule 1 clearly states that “You shall NEVER go faster than the pre-set limits of the leg”. I didn’t want to redline my engines, so I backed off. Besides, being the chivalrous gentleman that I am, I can’t overtake a girl during the last 50m. (Read: I lost to a girl).
And, the result..
1 hour 27 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised and thought Martijn would be too! (He wanted me to go sub 90 minutes). I then saw the girl who overtook me. She was stretching her legs while still huffing and puffing. I said “well done” but she still hadn’t caught her breath to give me a response! (I felt glad that I gave her a run for her money).
And so.. the verdict
What’s cool about road runs?
2) Sounding like a steam engine and overtaking
3) Listening to heavy metal music and overtaking
What’s not cool about road runs?
1) Waking up at 4.30am on a Sunday morning
2) No greenery! Cars and buses are not a substitute for greenery
3) No real challenge! Where are the technical turns? The downhill stretches? The undulating terrain?
4) Missing the love of nature! Where’s the wind on the summit that caresses your face as you run by? Where’s the fragrance of fresh grass that stimulates the senses? Where’s the mist at the top of a hill that kisses you as you pass by?
Next on the menu … is a trail run!
And so, after my half-marathon I aptly concluded that I was in dire need of a trail run! I needed my identity back!
Wong Lung Hang Trail, Sunset Peak, Lantau Peak, Ngong Ping and Tung Chung
I warmed myself up at McDonalds in Tung Chung after the pouring rain. Then I went back to my first love — trail running! Near the top of Sunset Peak, I felt the mist of the mountain kissing me and the heavy wind made me feel truly alive! I then “flew” down to Pak Kung Au smelling the fragrance of the trail every step of the way. Then I went back upto 950m in elevation by climbing Lantau Peak before descending to Ngong Ping village. The stunning views of a mist-shrouded Shek Pik Reservoir and the statue of the Big Buddha kept appearing intermittently as the trail meandered towards Ngong Ping village.
From Ngong Ping I ran straight down to Tung Chung via a Buddhist farmhouse where they were planting vegetables in their organic garden. The freshness of the soil and purity of the air cleansed me as I gently ran past.
I concluded the 20km trail run in 3 hours 29 minutes. I acknowledged to myself that running has many beautiful forms — the most beautiful one being Trail Running!
Tags: Hiking in Hong Kong, Lantau, Lantau Peak, Lantau Trail, Ngong Ping, Sunset Peak, THE BOILERPLATE TRAILS, THE RACES, Unicef, UNICEF - Half Marathon