Surviving Wilson Ralleigh – 2014

Wilson Trail… What can I say? We don’t like each other. It’s only 80kms long but… it always and I mean always… questions my ability to run long distance races!

This post I put on Facebook addressed to Mr. Wilson himself sums it up.

“I saw you for the first time a couple of years back and fell sick within 3 hours. You and I have since shared a love/hate relationship. Ok, truthfully, mostly hate. But, hey, I tried to make amends. Not once, not twice but thrice. The first time since our tragic meet, I called it truce but you wouldn’t even let me into your world. You made the excuse of some impending typhoon which never came. The second time, you wouldn’t even let me go beyond No-Name Hill. I had to DNF at Tai Po with all sorts of stomach cramps. The third time I came back as part of a team called “Ninja Warriors”. I declared war on you and returned to your territory armed with 15 Japanese Gels! I got my revenge but not without incident. I returned home a badly wounded soldier. This time, the 4th time, I am willing to hoist the White Flag and call it “Peace”. I promise to not speak ill of your boring stretches of dull concrete “trails” if you let me visit your territory and complete it without incident. We want to finish strong. We want to finish fast. And I’ll hold my end of the bargain, for the next 3 months, I’ll say nothing about the boring reservoir stretch or the grueling sure-cure-for-insomnia Shing Mun section. Deal Mr. Wilson?”

And, this is how the day unfolded.

Home to the start of Wilson trail
Like a pilot that goes through his checklist before takeoff, I did my “runner” checklist too:

1. Dump in the morning after getting up — check
2. Vaseline at sensitive places (can’t elaborate) — check
3. Anti-blister protection. Usually Compede but I decided not to pay the horrendous 140 bucks for it and simply used Bandaids — check
4. Dump again after reaching the starting point: I checked into Pacific Coffee on Lydhurst terrace to do the honors. I only wanted to use the loo but decided that that might look too cheap so I said to the lady at the counter “Can I have some tea and is there a toilet around here?” Had she said no to the second part of the question, I would have not bothered with the tea!

Our pic at the start – probably the most natural smile of the day!

Start to Quarry Bay via Park View
Dom and I decided that I would lead and set a reasonable pace for a hot summer day. I started leading until and were in #2 position overall within the first 5 minutes. The team ahead was called UFO and Ying Ying and Thomas were its members. Hmm.. UFO — what can I say? UFO seemed to be the apt name for the team. Within the first 10 minutes, the UFOs were out of sight. They maintained a pace which seemed more like they were running 20km, not 80km! We later learnt that they were gunning for a 9 hour finish!

At Park View, we were already a good 15 minutes behind the UFOs. Chor Kin was there and gave us a high five. We then climbed up Mount Parker (I think that’s what it’s called) and eventually got down to Quarry Bay. I was initially on the footpath trying to “mgoi” our way to the MTR station but Dom told me to get on the road. I did that and kept looking back every 10 seconds to make sure we weren’t going to get run over by a bus!

My friend Danny was at the MTR station with two Pret Sandwiches and water for us. He ran with us to the platform and just as we reached the platform we saw a train got by. The next train was empty and didn’t even stop! We waited for the train after that one and got the attention of curious onlookers who seemed to be wondering what we were doing! I gobbled up my sandwich in the MTR (flouting an MTR rule with pride) and asked Danny to buy me a can of cold Coke in Yau Tong. He ran up ahead, bought the coke, handed it over to me and went back to the counter to pay for it! (Thank you Danny!!)

Yau Tong to Sha Tin Pass via No-Name Hill
First came Devil’s peak. I gave a big shout out to April! This is where I quit the first time I attempted the Wilson Trail. I couldn’t keep up with her and felt sick! Today though, the engines were still solid and well-oiled (or so I thought!) Devil’s Hill and Black’s Link, under the hot sun, wasn’t easy but wasn’t difficult either. We had the right pace to see it through.

After a checkpoint, came No-Name Hill. This is where my belching got particularly uncomfortable. One loud belch and I’d have energy, albeit temporarily. I didn’t think much of it but reduced my pace. It was also pretty darn hot but I thought I was solar-powered and the heat wouldn’t bother me.

When we reached Sha Tin Pass, Dom looked at me and said “Thanks for that slow pace on No-Name Hill”. Talk about false credit! I mumbled something like “I think I did it for myself more than you” but even before I could finish the sentence … it happened.

What happened? My stomach’s contents were spilled out rather evenly on a nice little grassy patch by the side of the concrete road on Sha Tin Pass. (Next time you fellows want a break after No-Name Hill, I wouldn’t recommend sitting there). A minute later, it happened again. The Pret Sandwich and all the Coke went straight out my mouth!

And, that’s when I thought of Steven. It reminded me of our adventure a couple of years back when my then teammate Steven and I had a very similar experience. I felt the same stomach issues and cramped up in both my legs and stomach and couldn’t go beyond Shing Mun.

I also thought of my Trailwalker teammate Rupert. He is Mr. Mentally Strong. There was this one time during our OTW race where he started puking from Stage 2 of the Mac all the way to Stage 10. We still managed to complete running the entire trail in 15 hours or so with him on the tow and puking every 15 minutes or so. He’d have a gel, run some more and puke again. It would be a vicious circle. What I learnt from him on that occasion was that it is indeed possible for someone to puke and run if he/she is mentally strong!

I also read in some book recently about how during such tough situations one should always ask oneself “What is great about this situation? What can you do to enjoy it and turn it around to get to where you want to go?”

What’s great about this situation? My first answer was “what the heck can be great about this situation! I am dying man!” But, eventually I coerced a “this gives me a fresh start!” out of my mouth and asked Dom for water to wash off the remnants of vomit around my mouth. He was dry and so was I! Great. Well, nature came to the rescue later as I sat down by one of the natural water pipes on Sha Tin Pass. I drank water and cleaned my mouth as best I could. I hogged that “tap” for a good five minutes creating a mini-queue behind me from passersby. They were kind about it though. This lady wanted to know how someone can even run 80kms! I wanted to reply to the lady saying “Lady, that’s the question I am asking myself now” but I didn’t have the energy for that retort!

I’d be lying if I said that thoughts of DNF-ing didn’t come to my mind then. They certainly did and I tested Dom with a “If history is any guide, I’d probably start cramping soon and will be down by the time we hit Shing Mun”. I was expecting a “Don’t worry Vince, let’s leave here”. But, Dom’s answer was quite the opposite. He said “Here, take Sustained Energy and some Electrolytes and let’s keep moving” and handed me his water bottle! I took it, had a swish and tried to jog at a slow pace. I knew this was going to be a tough race from thereon. I did want to curse Mr. Wilson but refrained from doing so. I read a quote by Nelson Mandela which came to my mind “Holding resentment in oneself is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die”.

Mr. Wilson was no longer alive but his soul… that’s questionable. And, what he has against me? No idea.

Sha Tin Pass to Shing Mun via Tai Po Road
Oh man. There’s no greater misery than to run a mindlessly boring concrete stretch when you are puking every 20 minutes or so. (Sorry, Mr. Wilson). I was in the front and jogged 10 minutes, puked a little and walked 2 minutes. Then I went back to jogging, boy was it never ending. I told Dom that I was sorry for having slowed us down but he replied with a “Don’t worry mate – it’s all part of the experience”. In such a situation having a teammate like that is gold! I told him to tell our support crew (Martijn, Pete and Vic) to not show up as I wasn’t sure of our ETAs but I don’t think that message ever went across as all the three of them were there to show us their support!

I then went on the tow. Dom-inator was strong! Every time I felt a little tired, I’d take advantage of his strength and be moving at the same time!

After somehow having survived that concrete stretch I saw M in the distance. It was a relief to see him. He had this awesome collection of eatables which, on any other day, I would have devoured. But, today, I took some crisps, took some coke and carried on. In our group, M is always considered to be the selfless lifesaver. Whenever you’re in trouble, you know you can count on him. He’s also Mr. M-Cyclopedia and has probably read more on the subject of nutrition than even a nutritionist. So, given my ailing stomach, I asked him if I could go for a Coke and he said, “Yes, but no guarantees”. (That’s what happens when you read too much. There is always one camp that agrees and another one that disagrees on any given subject resulting in the reader never being sure of the outcome!) I grabbed a Coke, thanked M-Cyclopedia and left.

Tai Po Road to Shing Mun Reservoir
Despite me slowing us down quite a bit, I was surprised to learn that we were still in the 2nd place overall. For a fleeting moment, I actually thought I could complete the entire 80kms. I went back on the tow and mighty Dom towed me all the way up Golden Hill. One good sign was that my legs were still intact. I could still maintain a reasonable good downhill pace and for some strange reason, I wasn’t cramping in my legs. Maybe Dom forcing me to have Sustained Energy with Electrolytes was working. I’d get off the tow, set the pace downhill and get back on the tow during the uphill sections. I was wondering how Dom managed to stay that strong throughout. His towing strength never wavered.

Once we reached Shing Mun, I was suddenly in high spirits when I heard a “COME ON BOYS!” in a part Australian/part American accent. It was Pete cheering us up at the checkpoint. Him and Mr. M “Lifesaver” Doekes were there with bags of ice, salted potatoes, cold drinks and food! I have to say — I’d attribute me doing the next stretch of Shing Mun solely to their support (and Dom’s towing!) The ice was godsend. The water in my bladder felt cold, soothing and somehow calmed the stomach down.

Dom told Pete about my puking experience and unknowingly, he cleverly answered my “What is great about this situation?” question with a lot of creativity. “Hope you enjoyed the view”, he told Dom. “It’s better than carrying it — less weight” came one of his later quips. I thought to myself that those were the answers I needed back at Sha Tin Pass!

Putting on an artificial smile at Shing Mun. Pete and M gave me a second life here

Shing Mun Reservoir to Marker 99
The concrete stretch all the way upto Lead Mine Pass was again made easy thanks to Dom towing me along. I was worried about his hips and his legs and felt a little uncomfortable putting him at risk. But, heck, it’s like someone giving you cold water when you are thirsty. Pretty hard to refuse! We reached the checkpoint in Tai Po and were told that we were still in #2 position. I was quite surprised. I thought we had killed quite some time. I had hot chocolate at the checkpoint and remembered the time I had totally seized up and quit at that very junction a couple of years back. I remembered J and Vic meeting us here, all ready to run to the finish with Steven and I, but I could barely move my legs at the point! I was disappointed to let everyone down then. At least today, I was still mobile!

We saw the Tornado guys on their return trip during the stretch from Tai Po to Tai Wo. I saw some girls looking all happy and excited to make the return trip. I was telling myself that I had no excuse to look all sullen if those guys and girls could do the Wilson trail not just once but two times, and that too with such a grin on their faces. I told myself to man-up and keep the legs moving, even if that meant moving a very slow jogging pace.

Once we reached Tai Wo, we walked a little bit to Marker 99 and rendezvoused with our enthusiastic teammate Vic who saw us there with Green Tea, food and what not! Again, I felt I owed it to Vic, Dom and our Support Crew just to finish strong and remain in #2 position. I knew that the 3rd team was around 15-20 minutes behind. I was expecting them to catch up anytime as I was slowing us down considerably.

Marker 99 to the end of Pat Sin Leng via Cloudy Hill
Vic was upping our morale and took pictures of a suffering-me being towed by Dom up Cloudy Hill! I had another one of my big down moments on Cloudy Hill. I was losing power and felt like the body would crash anytime like a Windows Vista machine! Dom and Vic forced me to eat some apricots and raisins. I did that and drank some water. A big belch two minutes later ensured enough energy supply for 10 more minutes. Then came another puking episode but I think nothing much came out at that point. A the top of Cloudy Hill, I told Dom that I had no idea how I was going to do Pat Sin Leng. “We’ll bring you across no matter what. No DNF-ing”, was his response. Luckily, we had one of my favorite stretches after that, the run from Cloudy Hill down to the start of Pat Sin Leng. The trail goes through this wooded section which always refreshes me. And, I still had good power in my legs. I was like a motorcycle with solid wheels but a sputtering engine. Luckily, the downhill technical bits didn’t really need the engine so I navigated them using gravity power at quite a good pace. Had I had leg cramps too, I think we’d have been even slower. I still don’t know how but despite all the puking, I avoided having leg cramps.

The Pat Sin Leng climb was probably the 2nd toughest climb I did for the day after Cloudy Hill. Again, how Dom maintained that pace while having me on the tow, I don’t know. The guy seemed invincible. Maybe it was all the training in The Alps.

This was also the first time I had leg cramps. I had to sit (and puke) by another nice grassy bit by the side of the trail. Messages came in from Rom who reminded me of the time him and I did the Wilson Trail around 2 years back. I was a nonstop puking machine on Pat Sin Leng then. It seemed like history had repeated itself. But, I still had use of my legs and I could still maintain a reasonable downhill pace. Vic was cheering us on and I somehow managed to keep the legs moving for the most part. After what seemed like an endless 6km stretch, we were at the beginning of the Pat Sin Leng range and I was on the tow again.

Vic fell back, I think he was trying to see where the 3rd team was. I turned around as we climbed the last hill and saw headlights around 10 minutes behind us. I knew we had to up the pace. It would suck being overtaken during the last bit and I wouldn’t get a return on my puking if we lost our position during the last homerun stretch!

I came off the tow and checked my legs. I still had gravity power and the legs were, for the most part, still strong. Realizing again that I didn’t need the engine during the downhill stretches, I took the lead again and tried to maintain an average of 10-12kmh on the last downhill stretch of Pat Sin Leng.

Vic sums up our Cloudy Hill/Pat Sin Leng experience

Pat Sin Leng to Nam Cheung — the finish
I wanted to take advantage of gravity and the downhill bits and trying upping our pace wherever possible. I ran straight down the technical bits with Dom following me closely from behind. By this time, we lost Vic! The stretch to Nam Cheung was long but I enjoyed parts of it. There was this grassy section which felt like we were breathing in pure air. After what seemed like 6-7kms, we were at the road. Dom looked at me and said “Well done Vince, this is a very strong finish”. I thought to myself that it was probably because he towed me three quarters of the way! I pretty much saved all my energy for the grand finale and even then, he was following me with such ease and comfort!

The winding road section seemed to go on for a little bit and finally we heard the cheers at the finish point. We ran across the banner and finished in 12 hours and 44 minutes. We won our category (thanks to Dom cleverly registering us in Male Open and not Elite) and thought we came 2nd overall.

Later we realized that a mixed team beat us by 15 minutes (they started 2 hours after us) but, heck, I have to say that finishing for me was a much bigger accomplishment! This clearly would not have been the case but for my teammate Dom, our HKTR support crew, M “Lifesaver” D, Pete, super Vic and my friend Danny who helped us out in Quarry Bay MTR station!

The finish after The Finish
Both Dom and I were battered but me more so than Dom despite him doing a lot more work than I did! Vic was like our mother helping us wounded soldiers with pretty much everything — bringing us soups, getting our luggage, helping us get on the bus and ordering us cabs to get back home!

Oh, the puking journey had one last chapter left at Tsing Yi MTR station. Armed with a plastic bag, just outside Tsing Yi MTR station, I am proud to declare that the final remnants of Sustained Energy, Coke, Electrolytes made its way out successfully through my mouth and into a plastic bag which I carried around in anticipation of this special occasion.

Then came R&R (Rest and Recovery) and I am glad to report that now my food waste is successfully processed in the orthodox fashion (through my rear) rather than via my mouth. I know what you are thinking — “thanks for sharing”. You’re most welcome.

In order to show my appreciation for our Support Crew, I plan to give them a Treasure Map with a little twist. A map that will contain geographical “treasures” on the Wilson Trail that they are better off avoiding. And, here’s a tip: there are a few nice grassy patches and rocks which look like they’d make a comfortable seat when you are tired — avoid them.

And, oh yes, Mr. Wilson — I think we need to talk.

Putting an end to the infamous Curse of Wilson Ralleigh!

Putting an end to the infamous Curse of Wilson Ralleigh

The history
One totally hardcore 78km trail. 3 failed attempts. The first time I hardly managed 25kms of it before crashing and burning on Devil’s Peak (what a fitting name!) At that point, I could barely keep up with teammate April, who was running without any respect for the devils! They got me though.

The second time, a typhoon canceled our rendezvous and never showed up for the meeting either! We ended up having a clear day outside while being stuck at home.

The third time, a 400m hill we didn’t know the name of, i.e. “No-Name” hill (Tung Yung Shaan), took me out. An ankle twist shattered my confidence while climbing up that hill and severe stomach problems followed. I ended up with severe cramps on my legs and could barely walk down from Lead Mine Pass to Tai Po. It was Game Over for me at that point. Wilson won.

And so, I concluded that as far as trails and races go, I was cursed on the Wilson Trail. It simply wasn’t for me. Nature had decided that I was jinxed. I must have severely pissed off Mr. Ralleigh at some point in history. Read more

Goin’ nuts on Wilson Ralleigh 2011

First of all, I think the organizers should call this event “Wilson Rally” instead this awkward spelling “Ralleigh”. What’s with that anyway?

Wilson and I are enemies till death do us apart. The first time, I had to abort because I had a flu and I was feeling dizzy on Devil’s peak. The second time, Typhoon Megi canceled our get together. The third time (i.e. yesterday), I ended up having food poisoning and despite all determination to persevere, I crashed and burned at CP7.

Ok, it all started with Carb Loading the day before which seemed to go great until a massive dump took it all away! Kind of like filling water in a big bucket before the base collapses releasing a deluge of water. Anyway, I won’t get into too much detail (you are welcome) but here are comments from Facebook.

Before the race started, I had to pump my body with massive energy. So, my bag of mixed nuts came to the rescue. I gobbled on them while teammate Steven went with his religious racing protocol (coffee 30 minutes before, gel 5 minutes before, etc, etc). (His hardcore preparation for a racing event puts everyone else to shame!)

My body seemed fine for the first hour or so but I could feel a little bit of discomfort as the hours passed. When we reached Quarry Bay MTR station, the discomfort increased but was tolerable. I didn’t read too much into it. We met Dom there who guided us all the way to Yau Tong and gave us supplies to refill during the train journey. We broke most of HK’s rules yesterday for “civilized” people – (a) No eating/drinking on the MTR (EAT THAT!) (b) No jaywalking on busy roads (WATCH ME!) (c) No running in the MTR platform (OH YEAH! TRY AND STOP ME!)

Steven was like a kid in a playground! Devil’s peak, Black Hill did nothing to slow him down. He was fast and talking at the same time while I was trying to fix this little discomfort I was having and kept my mouth shut most of the way in order to concentrate. Then came a scary fall. I fell down sideways but had my arm out just in time to prevent injuries. Took a bit of confidence out but did no lasting damage.

After that, we had the infamous no-name hill to climb. To make things worse, the sun was also out! This is where I lost concentration again and ended up twisting my right ankle. The discomfort was with my stomach and it also dramatically increased at this point. I could not increase pace because of two reasons now (a) Stomach issues (b) Right ankle issues. Steven was way up ahead. With the stomach + leg issues as well as seeing all and sundry pass me by, I was overwhelmed with negativity and lack of confidence. I was pretty sure that Sha Tin Pass was the end of the race for me.

Then I met Steven who was patiently waiting for me at the bottom of the no-name hill. He comforted me and volunteered to retire at Sha Tin Pass! He didn’t want me to go through any lasting injury. Support is a beautiful thing. It suddenly fills you up with positive energy and determination. Knowing I had Steven’s support, I suddenly reversed my decision to retire at Sha Tin Pass and no longer wanted to give in to the stomach discomfort or the ankle pain. I sat down in Sha Tin Pass, got what I thought was a muscle pain relieving cream from the checkpoint (it ended up being Dettol!!) and we continued.

I tried to stabilize the body as much as I could and I got the ankle to behave again. We called our support team and told them to cancel all support as we would likely bail out sooner or later. But, at least for the time being, we persevered. Steven, who showed absolutely no signs of fatigue, was patiently running at my reduced pace. We kept losing time and my mind would keep imagining my bed at home which is exactly where I wanted to be!

We kept at it and reached Shing Mung. Our support team then called us to tell us that they were not going to cancel support! They told us that irrespective of our time, they would be there and support us! That gave me an extra boost but by the time we reached Lead Mine Pass, my stomach problem got much, much worse. Each step was painful. I grabbed a handful of mixed nuts from my bag and immediately detected a stale taste to it and had to spit it all out. It then struck me that maybe that was the culprit.

Once we reached Lead Mine Pass, we met Alex, Ringo, Vivian and KW from the Hong Kong Trampers. It was great to meet my old friends there; although I badly wanted to sit down and break there for 5 mins, I didn’t want to let my macho image down in front of them. So, we went down a trail and stopped there instead for my break! By this time, my calf muscles were cramping up and I knew I had reached my limit for a safe race. Plodding on further would have been counterproductive. So, we asked our support team to meet us at the end of CP7 and we retired there!

Vic, Jinhwa, Annie, Newman from our support team took such good care of me there that I didn’t feel like leaving at all! Ice on the ankles, food, lots of moral support, encouragement, hiking stick, relief for my ailing calf muscles – I had it all! Vic and Jinhwa were ready to run with us all the way to the finish point but in the state I was at, that was ruled out!

After I returned home, sure enough, all the mixed nuts were out through the mouth instead of the preferred method! Massive puking and instant relief! Then I wished I were back on CP7 and we could have finished. At one point, we were #4 in the race!

Anyway, two lessons learnt:
a) Don’t carry stale mixed nuts that are a couple of weeks old
b) Wilson and I are enemies for life but I will be back to defeat my old foe

Special thanks to our fabulous support team and teammate Steven for all his support!



Tragedy on Wilson

Exactly one day before Wilson (80Km hike on 9th October 2009), I felt I had a flu coming on. Had problems with my throat, had a headache and fever. Went to bed at 8.30PM that night to revive myself before the event because I did not want to cancel under any circumstance.

Got up at 6AM on 9th October 2009 and tested myself. Felt about 60% fit. Still had mild fever and a headache. Went anyway. About 5 hours from start, fever went up and I was gradually getting very cold despite the hot temperature. I actually wanted to stand in the sun to feel warmer. Headache got worse and I had problems with my throat as well. Couldn’t quite drink water or eat easily.

Had no choice but to call it a day very soon. Took forever to get home and I was freezing all the way. Not sure when I slept but I think over the past 3 days I have put in more than 2X hours of sleep!