King of the hills 2011 – Tai Po

It was the first race of the 4-part series today. Last year, we did the Sham Tseng course in New Territories, so this year we had to do the Tai Po course (it alternates every year) which actually is my most favorite King of the hills course.

A self check revealed a couple of problems (a) the Achilles tendon on my right leg was a little painful each time I put my shoes on (thanks to wearing an old pair of shoes when I did the Overland Track in Tasmania) (b) right knee was complaining of something (possibly a “high” jump on a rock in Tasmania didn’t go too well with the knee (c) an irritating cold that loves me to death (literally).

So, the mission was to fix all three problems by doing this race at a comfortable pace. (I strongly believe that hiking is the best way to fix hiking-related injuries. I know, sounds stupid, but ain’t snake venom the best way to fix snake poisoning?)

Woke up at 0615 to a cold morning (14 degrees) and got on my motorbike at 0710. Romain and I had planned to ride up to Bridespool (the end of the race) so that we would have comfy transportation back after a hard race. After we parked at Bridespool, we went to the bus stop only to read that the first bus to Tai Po (near the start of the hike) wasn’t until 0845. There were no taxis either. So, I came up with an ingenious idea (yes, I am full of them). We took one bike to Tai Mei Tuk and left one bike at Bridespool. From Tai Mei Tuk, we took bus 75K to Tai Po and Romain somehow navigated to the start of the hike from a nearby bus stop. We were at the starting point by 0830.

The “kings” of the hills were all there: Jan, Vivien, Steve, Jinhwa (actually “queen”), etc, etc. Steven and I were looking in awe at all the big names who were present.

“Stone is here, Darren is here, William too. Michael Maddess is also present. Look at him, that’s Raymond and he’s super fast too”, and so the conversation went until Roger Graham (let’s just say he is not exactly known for speed) interrupted with “I am here too!”

At 0900, the race began and the weather got hotter. All was cool but there is never a race where I don’t end up going the wrong way. Today was no exception but today, I did one better. I lead 3 people the wrong way too as we are trying to get up Pat Sin Leng. The guy behind me was saying that he hadn’t seen any markers.

“Do you know the way?” I asked. “No, I thought you knew” came the scary response from this guy who obviously doesn’t know me. I was considering returning to the previous marker but continuing to jog seemed to be my body’s preferred choice. And suddenly, all the racers appeared in front of me from the opposite direction and were taking a sharp left. I took a sharp right and got reunited with the racers. I had to re-overtake a bunch of guys but it looked like I didn’t lose that much time in the grand scheme of things.

From there, I made sure that I was following my rules of running. 10-11.5 kmh on flats, comfortable pace, nice rock n roll music and enjoying the run. I saw a bunch of tourists on the trail and wanted to impress them with my dazzling technical jumps as I was navigating a section with a few circular stones that were laid on the ground to help cross a small stream. Unfortunately, my macho attempt didn’t have the desire effect as I slipped and fell, instantly causing some bleeding scratches on my right leg. I got up immediately and tried to “save face” by recovering and running immediately. I responded with “completely fine” to all their “are you okay?”s and ran quickly. As soon as I was out of their sight, I stopped to inspect my bleeding leg and confirmed that it was okay. I then continued with the run and BANG. It was deja-vu as I kissed the ground yet again as I misstepped and fell. Status: some more minor bleeding on the right knee but all systems were go. In fact, it helped take my mind off the original problem with the knee. (Roger later suggested after the race that he would gladly slap me in the face to help take my mind off any future problems).

The run from there to the finish was very well managed. Only trouble was that I ran out of water at one point and asked a photographer for water and he helped me. (Thank you). But, overall the entire run was well managed and I didn’t feel like quitting or cussing at any point. Actually, maybe cussing though – especially at the end when there was a lot more uphill to reach Wu Kau Tang than I anticipated. And also near the end when I lost about 1-2 mins trying to find the right track to get to Bridespool from Wu Kau Tang.

From our racing club, Steven came first (4h22m) and we had many others after him. I finished in 4h40m and came 29th overall. I realized that there are MANY, MANY super fit guys and girls in Hong Kong. The winner (goes without saying) was a super human called Stone Tsang. He wins pretty much every time. All mere mortals finished much later. I think I finished a whole 1hr3m after him!

Overall, very happy with the way the run was managed despite issues with the leg. In fact, apart from the last 10 mins or so, I don’t think I even felt any real pain in the right knee.