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.

Double Au, November 2012, Discovering the merits of a rope

Double Au, November 2012, Discovering the merits of a rope

In preparation for the Trail Walker in 2 weeks’ time, we decided to hit the trails for our last, long training before the event. (I say that but I think we would have hit the trails for a 54km run regardless!)

We had two things to accomplish today. (1) To do a Double Au (Mac 3,4,5,6,7,8 – 54kms) without stopping anywhere for too long and (2) -This was more of a secret mission- We wanted to catch Martijn and Olivia who were attempting the Double Au as well but they started about an hour ahead of us. We wanted to run past them at top speed and make demeaning gestures.

It was going to be my 7th Double Au since 2010! My best time was 7 hours 40 minutes (not quite sure how I did that -must have been on steroids-)

The lazy 8.40am team at the start – Gilles, Rupert, me and Vic

Continue reading about the “rope” experience

The Great Double Au

The great Double Au(ch)

Back in 2009, when Steven first coined the name “Double Au” (Maclehose Stages 3-8), only 4 people joined our public training! And that was pretty much our Trailwalker team back then (Steve, Vic, Yuki and I). Yesterday, we had around 30 people join us! Is Hong Kong becoming more geared towards fitness or what?

In fact, we even had a few overzealous ones, who started from Pak Tam Au at 5.30am in the morning! Pak Tam Au is at least 1 hour away from most parts of Hong Kong, so they probably got up at 4am to make it on time! We asked them the reason for such intense trail running passion. Their answer had the beauty of simplicity and logic to it. They (read: Olivia) simply wanted more time in the day to go partying after completing the 54km Double Au! The way she defines Double Au is probably this: “The optimal speed at which 54kms of the Mac trail can be completed while keeping fresh enough to go partying at the end of it”. And, her enthusiasm and ability to influence her teammates meant that they had no choice but to join her on the 5.30am start!

Here they are in front of Pak Tam Au at 5.30am!

The insane 5.30am start group! – Photo courtesy – some insane 5.30am starter!

Continue reading about the Double Au(ch) experience

Double Au Training

Our Trailwalker captain and friend Steven is leaving Hong Kong for good. So, we wanted to give him the most perfect farewell gift – a 54km team run! All the way from Maclehose Stage 3 to Maclehose Stage 8, i.e. the Double Au. And, at the end of the 54km run, we wanted to give him a photo album of our training memories together. But, as we discovered the night before the run, there was a catch – he was injured and couldn’t come!

We wanted to finish the run regardless and a group of 9 assembled in Pak tam Au at 7.30am in the morning. We had Nora with us, who despite having run a whopping 156km race the previous week (UTMF) couldn’t resist the temptation of a further 56km training run this week!

Group at the beginning

We started the run at about 7.45am and soon found ourselves divided into smaller groups of similar speed. I was initially with Jinhwa and Romain while my other teammate Vic was taking care of the group at the back. On the final leg on Stage 3, Romain came galloping like a horse from behind me and overtook me on the downhill run from Rooster Hill to Kei Ling Ha. We finished Stage 3 in about 1 hour and 27 minutes.

By the time we started climbing Stage 4, the three of us (Romain, Jinhwa and I) were fairly ahead of the group. Then came a big surprise from God up above. The skies burst open and it started pouring down. Running on its own releases enormous endorphins and puts you on a natural high. When combined with heavy rain, the feeling is simply incredible. Trails turn into mini-streams, water splashes each time the legs land in a puddle of water, the rain lashes against the ears, the plants look extra green under a blanket of dark clouds – the feeling is simply incredible.

BUT, there’s a catch. Nature and rain don’t quite mix well with Steve Jobs’ most famous invention. And, yes, I mean the iPhone. At Sha Tin pass, when we were having our noodle break, I noticed that my iPhone was extremely hot. I lifted the phone, pushed the center button and a screen of nothingness soaked in moisture was all I saw! I tried shaking the phone around, I blew hard into every opening I could see, but alas! I had to pronounce the death of my iPhone at 11.50am. Steven Jobs’ must be smiling from Heaven, as he knows that I will have no choice but to go buy another one of his inventions.

Just before we were going to leave Sha Tin Pass, we were briefly reunited with Nora, Vic, Lawrence and Martin, who had just arrived. My faith in humanity was restored when Nora told me that she was going to quit at Stage 5. That’s 156+26=182kms for her in one week!! Romain, Jinhwa and I plodded on while Vic indicated that he might stop at Sha Tin Pass as well.

During Stage 6, Romain had cravings for some potatoes that he had cooked in the morning. Unfortunately though, although French, his cooking skills were rather questionable as he ended up puking on the trail soon after he had his home-cooked potatoes. At that point, he thought of aborting the run and even SMSed Jinhwa to say that he was going to quit! But, his determination and resolve were much better than his culinary skills! The three of us kept going at a fairly steady pace. On top of Needle Hill, I looked down to find four people instead of the usual two (Jihwa and Romain). Careful examination revealed the two UROs (Unidentified Running Objects) to be Vic and Lawrence! They caught up to us on Needle Hill. It was Lawrence’s longest run till date and his running form looked flawless!

We took a tiny break on Needle Hill and went onto complete Grassy Hill in about 40 minutes. The final leg was Tai Mo Shan (Stage 8). Lawrence was with me on Tai Mo Shan and he looked like he was in tremendous shape for someone who was attempting a first successful Double Au!

Five of us completed the 54km run in around 9 hours and 30 minutes. We took our mandatory group photo at the finish and Vic wasted no time in showing off our accomplishment by instantaneously posting the victory on Facebook!

Relaxing after finishing

Celebrating the finish



Aborted Double Au and lessons from an ankle twist!

Aborted Double Au and lessons from an ankle twist

It was supposed to be a 54km trail run under a temperature of 28 degrees centigrade and 95% humidity. To give you a taste of what that feels like, imagine doing a nice long run IN A SAUNA! Ok, I exaggerate slightly but, trust me, I think it’s safe to say that, before you know it, you’ll be sweating buckets!

Martijn Doekes, popular representative of the Hong Kong Trail Runners’ group, organized a BYOG Double Au championships today. Before you ask, no, BYOG does NOT stand for Bring Your Own Girl! This is not a motorbiking race where every Harley Davidson biker has to bring that mandatory accessory – a teenage girl at the back! BYOG stands for Bring Your Own Garmin! Mind you, not Polar or other crazy GPS devices, only Garmin!

What exactly is Double Au? Well, it’s a tough course on the Maclehose trail covering 5 stages – it starts at stage 3 and extends all the way upto Stage 8. It features a family of hills – Rooster Hill, Ma On Shan, Beacon Hill, Needle Hill, Grassy Hill and Tai Mo Shan! Plenty of accumulated elevation and plenty of pain! Actually, to be more precise, as I understand it, it features two significant bursts of pain. I’d say Ma On Shan and Tai Mo Shan. Hence, the name Double AU-ch! Or maybe, Steven, who coined the name can explain the reason behind it better.

We had several hardcore runners with us. For instance, we had Andre Blumberg, who has nine 100km/100mile events planned for this year alone! I asked him why he has this crazy desire to torture himself. “To challenge myself”, he replied. Keith Mearns, who promises to be faster than me during the Vibram 100km race next year, noted that “there were other ways to accomplish that!”

We also had Steven Sparky, who is among the best when it comes to running in hot + humid weather; Olivia Luk, who doesn’t seem to run out of juice during long, hard runs; Pig Chan, a fast, long-distance runner who has proved several times that pigs do fly, and many more.

Martijn and I seemed to have caught some sort of bug from our epic bum slidin’ trip in Xian last week. Both of us had some sort of throat trouble and were exhibiting symptoms of a flu. Of course, nothing was going to stop us trail runners from taking to the trails, especially a lousy flu! So, we joined the run regardless. In fact, I had a personal theory to test. I wanted to get rid of the flu in one day by simply sweating it all out! I even coined a meaningful phrase “Sitting on butt keeps flu in the house, whereas running a Double Au, leaves flu on the MacleHOUSE!”

And so, the starting gun went off at 8.10am (more like Martijn shouting “start”) and all the Garmins made their little activation sound! There were about 18 runners. I was surprisingly in the lead about 10 minutes into the Stage 3 climb which created even more confidence in me. It looked like I was getting my rhythm back. Energy started flowing normally and I kept a steady, calculated and comfortable pace until Shui Lung Wo. I was already dreaming of the Mac 4 climb and felt like I could both complete the event and get rid of the flu without any issues!

I saw Keith right behind me after Shui Lung Wo and decided to increase pace a little when I saw some technical downhill stretches that I love running down on. I switched on my “airplane mode” (hands stretched out wide to glide downhill) and BANG! The plane’s landing gear hit a rock and was twisted! And, yes, by that I mean that I twisted my ankle! I had twisted it about 3 times during the bum slidin’ adventure in Xian last week and like “the last straw that broke the camel’s back”, this seemed to be “the last twist that displeased the ankle big time”. Luckily, it didn’t “break” the ankle but only displeased it big time!

And, I thought to myself, these are the times when distinctions are created. The distinctions between wannabe, die-hard heroes vs prudent, cautious masters. Allow me to explain. The first kind are driven to win both the battle and the war and they do so at an increased risk of blowing up in the middle of the battle. The pain and the thought of losing become an invigorating, motivating force for these guys. The idea of losing doesn’t resonate well with them at all. And so, they go all out. They are like the real-life equivalent of the Rambos and the John McClanes. Ironically, although this sounds reckless, the human body is capable of achieving mind blowing feats; feats that exceed our wildest imaginations. So, the really driven (and lucky) ones DO end up both winning the battle and the war! And they eventually go down the history books as “heroes”.

Contrast this to the prudent, cautious masters. These guys take calculated risks and believe in making steady progress over time. They eventually do end up succeeding in winning the war, even if it comes at the expense of losing a battle or two. They are more experienced and strategy driven. They are the voice of wisdom. And such a voice I did hear as I saw a stream of runners pass me when I stopped to inspect my ankle. Steven, my Trailwalker team leader, saw me resting + limping and advised me to stop. “Don’t hurt it further man”, he warned and spoke in the voice of wisdom!

Then I asked myself if I was going to attempt to become a Rambo or a Master. “Master” leapt to mind. A minute later, I saw a small kid running down the trail with full of confidence. Then I thought to myself: a kid running down the trail while a member of the Hong Kong Trail Runners’ group aborting? My mind switched back to “Rambo”. I restarted the engines. Unfortunately, the landing gear still wasn’t responding properly and, Steven’s words, i.e. the voice of wisdom, echoed in my mind. I saw a shortcut to Pak Tam road and half-reluctantly took it. To solidify the decision to abort, I promised myself that I’d be back on the trails next week. That did it and the attempted 52km run turned out to be a 9km aborted run! But, it came with an insightful education!

So, who finished? From what I can gather, here are the details:

RunnerWho's this person?Status
1Vince NatteriSome crazy runner plus Plover Cove ownerCrashed and burnt within 40 minutes due to a faulty landing gear
2Andre BlumbergA guy who eats 100kms/100milers for breakfastAborted at the end of Stage 4 because of humidity but Andre being Andre, resumed fun at the gym soon after
3Steven SparkyThe voice of wisdom. From Canada but performs like superman in hot + humid weatherHad no company by the time he ran to Tai Po so he decided to surprise his wife by going home early
4Olivia LukThe female version of the energizer battery. Can run for the longest time and feel goodStopped at Sha Tin Pass
5Pig Chan + friendsPigs do fly, this one flies supersonicMissing in Action at the time of writing, will perhaps finish!
6Lawrence ChowVoice of wisdom #2Fell victim to humidity at the end of Stage 4
7Bertrand PetitNature loving trail runnerAnother person who fell victim to humidity at the end of Stage 4
8Keith MearnsLonging to beat me at the next Vibram HK100 race! Winner of OTW SydneyStopped at Sha Tin pass!
9Xa ChangLooking in good shape when I last saw himStopped at Sha Tin Pass
10Martijn DoekesOur popular, fast organizerStopped at Sha Tin pass as he fell victim to cramps!