Clinching a Greenpower victory by 12 seconds

Clinching a Greenpower victory by 12 seconds

It was Hong Kong Trail Runners’ first ever sponsored event. Lafuma was the sponsor and some simply awesome French-designed backpacks were at stake. (Well, the other “usual” things were at stake too, like sense of glory and achievement, etc, etc but the backpacks, I tell ya, were alone worth that 50km run!) But, in order to truly earn them, the objectives were twofold:

1) To break the current prevailing record of 4 hours and 45 minutes on the 50km Hong Kong trail
2) To win the Corporate Category under the Lafuma HKTR name

Vic, Vivien and I were going to represent HKTR as runners and we had at least a total of 15 people supporting the 3 of us! That’s 5 supporters per runner. We even had a motorbike crew which was available “on demand”. That’s not 1, not 2 but 3 BMW motorbikes supporting us — Hannes, Olivier and Romain. We neither depended on the organizer’s food stops not did we stop anywhere during the race. It was like a military operation planned by Generals Romain and Martijn. The army of 15 included Martijn, Michael, Jonathan, Gilles who were our pacers/mules (more about that later), then we had Hannes, Phoebe, Olivier who were our “mobile” support team and finally, we had Alice, Sunny, Janice, Maria, Philip, Billy and Nick who formed our “fixed” support team. Now, if this isn’t being pampered, I don’t know what is! The effort that went into coordinating the fixed/mobile and pacer teams was just mindboggling. Excel spreadsheets, whatsapp chat-rooms, briefing meetings, etc, etc. All done by Romain and Martijn to whom we owe a lot of gratitude. The three of us, Vic, Vivien and I, had the easiest job — to just run!

Speeches and races
We got to the start by 7.40am and found Romain and Phoebe already waiting for us! Romain began helping us from the get-go. Phoebe was testing her photography skills by using her new Canon camera on me. (She should have picked a better looking target). About 20 minutes before the start of the race, the three of us, Vic, Vivien and I, hit the toilets for that mandatory pre-race pee and gathered at the starting point by 8.20am. Then we had to bear listening to a long and boring speech by some special guest. I thought to myself that they should have been playing some live rock music instead. I told Vic to take it easy in the beginning and he repeated the same advice to me. Then I relayed that onto Vivien. We are all in agreement. Finally and thankfully, that boring speech was done and we were awoken by the countdown, 10, 9 .. 3, 2, 1 and off we went at 8.30am. Within a blink of an eye, Vic zoomed off and put us in the #1 position in our category by 8.31am. I reminded him of our “take it easy policy” and reigned him in.

The Peak to Peak Rise (CP1)
We soon had our first mule/pacer for the day — Michael. We took turns in shouting out our orders to him “Water, Pokari”, etc, etc and the poor guy had to respond to our demands in addition to managing his own running. I was beginning to enjoy bossing him around. Power corrupts I tell ya.

Michael — our first mule/pacer of the day – Courtesy Wiwin Leung

On the way, we came across Alice from our fixed support team, who had to earn her backpack by smiling for us and taking a few pictures. She did that to perfection.

Peel Rise to Parkview (CP3)
The effort that Romain and Martijn put into coordinating our support plan started to become evident. We had Romain, Martijn and Michael as pacers/mules and they were supplemented by Hannes/Phoebe who were part of the mobile support team. The coordination and smoothness of the operation was second to none. On this segment, I noticed Vic slowing down slightly on the flat and uphill sections. Vivien was kicking ass on the flat and uphill bits but slightly slower than Vic and I on the downhill bits. So, we decided to send Vivien up in the front with Michael and I ran behind Vic.

The 3 of us early on in the run – Courtesy Wiwin Leung

The magic 4-letter word that solves speed problems
No, it’s not a swearword. (You have a dirty mind). I meant rope! Seeing Vic slowing down a notch, we decided to ask Michael to get our tow rope out at the next check point. I told Martijn about our plan and added that I had some bad news for him.

“Dude, you’re going bald”, I said, looking into the reflection of the strong sunlight from his balding head.
“I know!” he responded and threatened to splash cold water from his water bottle on my face.

Fearing being pushed off the trail, I cleverly began changing the topic, as Michael somehow fished out a tow rope from his backpack. Then I began to pull Vic on the uphill sections.

Taking on the KMB bus team
The second team consisted of 4 strong runners from KMB (Kowloon Motor Bus). At least one of them was much older than us. This team was going solid at a very steady pace. They were pacing off us and sustaining their pace very carefully. I was impressed. They didn’t seem to be influenced by anyone around them and were playing their own game. There was a big traffic jam on the trail and Michael and I took turns in yelling out “passing right” and “passing left” to clear the way for the team. The KMB team beautifully trailed us as we found ourselves clearing the way for both our team and theirs!

As we ran down from Black’s link to Parkview, we had a motorbike escort (Olivier). We also had Hannes, Phoebe, Janice and Nick waiting for us at Parkview. One word describes how I felt — like a celebrity! It felt like a Tour De France event. Again, I was in awe of Romain’s coordination and was touched by all the support we were getting. It was invigorating. Failing to achieve our objectives would have left all of us feeling guilty.

Parkview to Tai Tam Road (CP5)
We had a new pacer/mule — Jonathan. He kept encouraging us from the get-go. Btw, this guy came in the top 10 in the Vibram HK100 and his effortless pacing was indicative of that. He was cheering us on and fetching Pokari, water and gels on demand. We were again being pampered.

The sun started shining quite strongly and I could notice Vivien trailing at the back. I decided to pull Vivien instead of Vic on the uphill bits. It provided him with some sort of relief but he didn’t seem to be getting that much better.

Jonathan cooling Vivien down! – Courtesy Philip

At Quarry Bay, we had Maria and Philip from our Fixed Support team cheering us on and offering supplies and at Tai Tam Road, we had Billy, Hannes and Phoebe again. Every time I passed someone from our support team, the motivation to finish strong went up and I knew we’d feel guilty if we didn’t do them proud.

Vivien and Vic were doing their best to recover. Vic looked like he was getting better but Vivien was getting worse. The heat was getting to him. I was afraid of the catchment stretch that lay ahead. It was going to be exposed and I feared that Viv may get worse there.

Tai Tam Road to Collinson Road
Viv had some trouble on the catch water stretch but was handling it quite well. Our pace went down a couple of notches on this stretch but the KMB team who were still trailing us did not overtake us. I was amazed at how well they were pacing themselves under the hot sunshine.

We had the pleasure of bossing around Gilles, who was our pacer on this section. I even asked him to sing a song.

Gilles mule-ing to perfection! – Courtesy KK Choi

“I can sing a French song”, he said, and I gave him the go-ahead. He sang the main verse while I sang the chorus. I could then hear Vivien say something to him in French, soon after which he stopped singing (and so did I). Perhaps Viv found our singing more painful than running 50kms on a hot day!

Finally, we hit the stairs leading upto Dragon’s Back. I was towing Vivien up those flight of stairs. He was clearly beginning to suffer. Vic looked relatively okay and was on his way to a recovery — that’s his MO. He comes back strong when no one really expects it. Eventually, we heard the Swiss cowbell ringing. (It was Hannes ringing his special cowbell imported from Davos). In fact, his cowbell even has a Swiss flag on it. Some spectator asked him if he was Swiss. I overheard the question and replied “German”. As I continued to climb with Viv on the toe, I also added that Hannes rides around a Kawasaki motorbike. (Hannes is a big fan of all things Swiss but rides a German made BMW — I guess Swiss guys don’t make bikes).

Learning French on Dragon’s Back
Dragon’s Back was hard on Vivien. He was suffering big time. His screamed in pain almost every step of the way up to the top. Each time he shrilled in pain, he said something in French that didn’t sound like he was liking the experience very much. Soon, the same sharp words began to repeat. That was my French 101 class, i.e. swearwords in French. At one point, he just stopped and held onto my shoulders. He was suffering big time. I didn’t know whether to encourage him to continue slowly or to ask the team to abort in concern for his long-term safety. I didn’t want him to do any permanent damage. But, he bounced back. He took deep breaths, drank water and insisted on keeping his legs moving. It was heroic of him. Not sure what I would have done in his shoes. It’s hard to continue when you are experiencing pain in the 7/10 level. The KMB team overtook us during one of these stretches and I bid them goodbye. I wished them luck and told them that we’d see them at the finish. I saw no chance of beating them. And, objective 1, (shattering the 4.45 record) was out of the question. It was too hot for that.

The crew couldn’t have been more supportive. We all told Vivien that it wasn’t about the destination, it was about the journey and that we’d stand by him all the way to the finish. He somehow got slightly better — I am not sure what it was (I suspect it must have been the pretty ladies on Dragon’s Back) but he somehow managed to not stop and keep his legs moving at a consistent pace. However, it wasn’t enough for us to beat the KMB team — or so I thought.

The dramatic finish
Trail running is unpredictable. You never know what can happen in the end. As we completed Dragon’s Back, we had Martijn with us again and we were all energized as the finish was nearing. Martijn told us that the KMB team was a whole 2 minutes ahead of us. He also added that they weren’t fast on the downhill stretches and that we had a chance. I wasn’t so sure about that. But, during the last downhill stretch, Vic and Vic lead the way and in the horizon, we saw red tee shirts flashing. It was the KMB team! I could hear Martijn yell out “go get them” from behind. Not sure what happened to Vic but he dashed off like a raging bull. All the swearing in French must have obviously worked for Viv as he ran downhill like there was no tomorrow. “Passing right, passing right” he yelled repeatedly as Vic and Vic overtook the KMB team. It was then my turn to repeat that maneuver. Excited about the prospect of achieving Objective 2 and doing our support team proud, I yelled out words of encouragement as we maintained a kick-ass pace. Finally, the finish line was in sight and we ran to the welcome of our supporters as we came first in the corporate category beating the KMB team by 12 seconds! We completed the Hong Kong trail in 5 hours and 13 minutes!

A fast sprint finish, beating the KMB team by 12 seconds – Courtesy Vivien

The turnout of events in the last 2 minutes was simply incredible. Where Vic and Viv got their Rambo-like strength from in the last 500m, I don’t know. But, what I do know is that without the help and support from such a fantastic bunch of people, we certainly couldn’t have achieved any of this.

At the finish, we had champagne and beer waiting for us (thanks to Philip) and the celebrations began. We shook hands with the KMB team who were simply spectacular. I only wish I would be able to run like them when I hit their age.

The awesome KMB Team – Courtesy Chu Wai Tim

Our team and KMB Team – Courtesy Chu Wai Tim

This is how close it was! – Courtesy Chu Wai Tim

Celebrating with our supporters at the finish – Courtesy Vivien

Btw, ace runner Nora Senn created a new record today (and has effectively declared herself fit) by completing half the Hong Kong trail (25km) in 2 hours and 11 minutes.

Gratitude to supporters
We own a big debt of gratitude to everyone who came out to support us today. Especially to Romain and Martijn who coordinated an operation that even the military couldn’t have pulled off so efficiently.

Of course, special thanks to my teammates Vic and Viv for being such great teammates. And, to Viv, in particular, for teaching me those French swearwords. It should come in handy when I find myself struggling on the trails at some point.