Double ‘O’ – Mui Wo to Tai O and back! 55kms, 4000m+ elevation!
One of legendary trail runner KK Chan’s killer training runs is a tough run from Mui Wo to Ngong Ping and back! i.e. “The Lantau 4 Peaks”. And that involves climbing each of Hong Kong’s two highest peaks two times! As if that wasn’t enough, Vic wanted to further improvise on this run. Knowing his fondness for torturing himself (and us), he decided to add a little extension post Ngong Ping – a 12km undulating trail from Ngong Ping to Tai O featuring 3 more high hills! That’s Mui Wo -> Sunset Peak -> Lantau Peak -> Ngong Ping -> Lantau Stage 4 -> Man Cheung Po -> Tai O. Then you do an “about turn”, and guess what! You’ll have to do the same thing backwards! 55kms, 4000+ elevation! To put this in perspective, the entire 100km Oxfam Trailwalker course features about 4500m in elevation. In about half the distance, Vic’s improvised course covers an almost equal amount in total elevation. Insane guy.
In anticipation of this run, I bought a brand new pair of shoes to replace my old worn-out dilapidated ones. And, just as I was going to break them in on this run, the day started off with massive thunderstorms. (Nature seemed intent on messing with my new pair of shoes). I didn’t want my shiny new pair of shoes to look like they had been through hell and back so I was reluctant to wear them. But, my old ones were already in the dustbin so I had no choice. I then told myself a dirty joke and wore them, knowing very well that they would look several months older by the end of the day. Ok, I can read your mind – you want to know what the dirty joke is, right? Well, here goes: a lady is confused and asks her friend what she should wear on her honeymoon. She has too many choices of clothes to wear. Her friend finally replies – “it doesn’t matter what you wear because either way you’re going to get screwed!”
The thunderstorms didn’t seem to do much to intimidate the runners. We almost had full attendance. Martin showed up sporting a scruffy, unshaven look to intimidate the mountains while the rest of us showed up looking all gung-ho, ready for some trail torture.
Steven Sparksman, my Trailwalker teammate for several years, once ruled that all runs that begin from Mui Wo have to begin at the Mui Wo postbox right beside the ferry pier. Knowing very well that he’d be tracking our start and performance the same way NASA tracks Curiosity, we made sure that we took our group photo right by the postbox.
I was with super fast runner Aya on the way upto Sunset Peak. She claimed that she hadn’t been training enough but judging from the way she was climbing up Sunset Peak, it seemed like she didn’t need any! 2.5 hours later, after a highly slippery downhill stretch from Lantau Peak to Ngong Ping, I descended down to enlightenment to Wisdom Path in Ngong Ping. Aya and Romain soon followed. We then bid goodbye to Aya there as she had to take the 1.30pm ferry back to Central from Mui Wo. She took the Shek Pik trail on the way back.
As always, we attracted quite a few inquisitive touristy eyes as we were running to 7/11 in Ngong Ping to refuel. We were in complete contrast to all the neatly dressed perfume wearing tourists there. Our “perfume” was a lot of sweat. We bought our water and noodles there. The 7/11 cashier graciously offered to give us a receipt to which we spontaneously replied “thanks but no thanks”. Jinhwa and Sharon suddenly developed a craving for Ramen noodles at Ngong Ping. Overwhelmed by the taste of a fresh bowl of delicious Ramen noodles, their decision was made. They were going to eat some Ramen, wash it down with Tsing Taos and exit the trail.
That left Martijn, Olivia, Sofree, Vic, Romain, Martin, Sunny and I soldiering on to Tai O. The trail from Ngong Ping to Tai O from was truly mesmerizing. The weather couldn’t have been better and the mist engulfed the hills. As we were breathing in the fresh Man Cheung Po air, the mist entered our lungs cooling the body down. It put us in a state of pure ecstasy. The kind of feeling that draws an unbeatable affinity to trail running. It was the most memorable part of the day.
Sofree turned around halfway on this trail and headed back to Mui Wo to ensure that she had enough daylight to complete the run. The last part of the trail to Tai O is probably THE trail in Hong Kong with the most number of ass prints. It felt like a ski slope and falls on butts were a given. Romain slid down on his butt during one such fall and went up and down some steps on his butt in the process.
Finally, close to 5 hours later, Romain, Vic and I reached Tai O, successfully completing 50% of the route for the day. It was then time for some sheer mental fortitude. The U-turn! The uphill climbs from the first half of the day would suddenly become easy downhill stretches and vice versa. We knew better than to give ourselves the time to dwell on the decision. We quickly bought water in Tai O and turned around as fast as we could! On the way back, I first saw Sunny who shook his head in disbelief seeing us turn around! “Crazy”, he murmured, as he was concentrating on not sliding down the ski slope at the end. Then, I saw Martijn and Olivia descending to Tai O. The determination in their eyes was unmistakable. I wanted to test them. I yelled out to Olivia and said, “don’t forget to turn back at Tai O”. Her reply was exactly what I had expected – “of course not!” Well, what can you expect from two crazy guys training for the most insane event in Hong Kong? It’s called Tornado and -get this- it involves running the entire 78kms of the Wilson trail (from Park View in Hong Kong island to Nam Cheong in New Territories) AND going all the way back! Imagine the mental resolve you need to turn around when 99.99% of the participants have just finished a very tough 78km course and are in a celebratory mood! They would have completed just 50% by then! But, one thing is for sure. If there is anyone I know with a rock solid mental focus and an abundant amount of physical endurance, it’s them! They’re like Energizer batteries – they never run out!
Almost at the top of a 490m hill, I saw a tired looking Martin. He looked like he was in pain. He seemed to be working on his mental strength and stretching to recover from what seemed like achy legs. I tested him too. “Don’t forget to turn back at Tai O”, I shouted out. “I’ll remember that!” he said with a smirk. Btw, running from Mui Wo to Tai O isn’t easy! Two years ago, I had no chance of even making it as far as Tai O. I remember dropping out several times unable to keep up with my teammates Steven, Yuki and Vic.
The most boring part of the day was a concrete road climb from the beginning of Lantau Stage 5 all the way upto Ngong Ping. I barely noticed it on the way to Tai O as it was downhill stretch but on the way back, it was hard to not notice! It was the most boring part of the day and I had to do it without my Mp3 player as it ran out of battery. Eventually, I had a déjà vu! I was at 7/11 again! The cashier gave me a “what’s this sweaty guy doing here again” kind of look as I bought -yet again- my cup noodles + water. Romain and Vic soon followed and they also had a strange feeling as though they had been there before! I am not sure what the secret ingredient is in those cup noodles but after eating them, I suddenly developed the strength of Popeye. I was able to run for the most part from Ngong Ping to Mui Wo.
In 10 hours 12 minutes, I was back in Mui Wo at the postbox. It took me about 5 hours and 12 minutes on the way back (inclusive of all breaks) compared to 5 hours on the way to Tai O. I saw Sofree there who had just arrived minutes before me. We got chatting for a bit until we heard some loud footsteps from what seemed like a racehorse dashing straight at us. It was a fresh looking Vic! He was almost going to crash into the postbox. Romain soon followed, also looking strong but definitely all scratched up. He fell victim to a man’s worst nightmare. Chaffing. We took our team picture right by the postbox (we knew Steven would be watching) and headed straight to “Rome Restaurant” for dinner. Btw, you have to remember that “Rome Restaurant” is not an Italian restaurant! It is a Chinese restaurant or a cha chan teng to be precise. Why the name “Rome Restaurant”? I don’t know but I guess, “while in Rome be a Roman?”
We got a message from Martijn and Olivia as we were eating. They were expected to finish at about 10pm. The thought of quitting hadn’t even entered their minds. On the contrary, they decided to even show off. After completing an already insanely tough run, they added 6kms to it and walked to Discovery Bay from Mui Wo!
Romain went back with a special gift from the trails. Here, take a look.
Special message to Vic, please no more further improvising on this already improvised run.
Including this run, my total mileage for the week has reached a shocking 112kms! Time to hit the couch and walk Rocky movies again!
Garmin (up until the point where it ran out of battery).