King of the Hills (Sham Tseng) is not only the longest race in the series but also, arguably, the hardest one to navigate. The starting point is itself a bit of a hassle to get to. I remember almost missing the race two years back because we couldn’t find the starting point. However, I have come a long way since then. (Yes, I am giving myself a pat on the back). Today, I made history by parking my motorbike right at the starting point of the course and didn’t even make a single mistake anywhere during the ride. (The world needs to prepare for a new navigating genius). And through this truly remarkable achievement, like a true leader, I also gave myself no option but to finish the whole 38km course as I had to ride the motorbike back! How’s that for motivation to finish?
Anyway, there are plenty of great things about me, but going back to the Sham Tseng Mountain Marathon recce, 7 trail runners showed up at 8.20am in the morning for the run.
None of us knew the route too well but that wasn’t going to be a problem. We were all going to be guided by a supernatural force. A force that knows right from wrong, good from evil, correct from incorrect. Yes, I am referring to Garmin, of course! We had 6 of those gizmos between us and were invariably pointing it upwards at various junctions to try and receive a signal from God (or the satellites, whichever came first).
But, in a tragic blow to the paranormal, we soon discovered that this supernatural force we depended on, wasn’t exactly worth depending on! The screen simply displayed “working” on all our watches when it, in fact, wasn’t actually doing much! (It reminded me of the days of Windows 95/97/2000/2003 when the computer would simply freeze or, even worse, it would display that horrible blue screen of death). Anyway, we did have a backup plan and this one was all flesh and blood. It was Rupert! Having run this course several times in the past (and cracking/chipping his bones in the process), he was deemed to be the best person to depend on when we had navigation issues! But, it wasn’t a foolproof solution. We still made some mistakes and ran more of those reservoir roads than we really should have.
By the time we reached Chuen Long, we were all getting a bit tired. Rupert and I still wanted to climb Tai Mo Shan while the rest of the crew decided to give that 700m climb a miss. Rupert was going to stop at Route Twisk (after Tai Mo Shan), so my plan was to climb Tai Mo Shan with him and then catch up to the rest of the guys later on. About 20 minutes into the Tai Mo Shan climb, I realized why the rest of the crew decided to give it a miss! It was hot, overgrown, full of spider webs and STEEP! I know that there’s one proven method to deal with spider webs and that is to let someone else go ahead in front of you! Initially, I was the recipient of some gooey gifts from spiders but then, there came a point where I was overwhelmed with generosity from the spiders. Also, I am a big fan of sharing gifts equally, irrespective of the price. So, long story short, Rupert went ahead! Some breezy weather and overhead clouds were a welcome sign. We plodded on for about 30 minutes to get to the top. Then came a nice ridge run followed by a super slippery technical trail which cost us a plenty of falls on our butts. The view of Tsuen Wan and Tsing Ma bridge in the distance was certainly stunning but admiring them while running wasn’t such a great idea. It’s like that ad on TV where some guy is riding a bike and is distracted by some gorgeous babe on the other side of the road. In that costly moment of distraction, he ends up riding his bike straight into the guy immediately in front of him. Such is the cost of beauty. And while running a technical, rocky trail like this one, the cost of admiring beauty is invariably an unwelcome fall on the butt.
Upon reaching Route Twisk, I bid goodbye to Rupert but not before I sought some much needed directional advice from him. I was looking for the best way to catch up to the rest of the crew. He told me to go 200m ahead and look for a reservoir road to my right. But, despite the newfound navigation genius in me, I could never find that reservoir road! My Garmin wasn’t quite working and I was really running out of supernatural options. Then I remembered that there is a force out there that knows the answer to every single question known to mankind. Google. Well, almost everything. Google Maps could only draw me a road-based solution to get to the finish point instead of my desired trail-based solution. And so, I prepared to run on the road all the way back to Tsing Lung Tau but less than 5 minutes into the concrete road run, I was bored to death. I then saw a bus headed for Tsuen Wan. The rest is history. Wait. Not quite. My great “motivation” from the morning meant that my motorbike was back at the start in Sham Tseng! So, after hopping on multiple modes of transportation and jogging a straight 1km uphill, I ended up back at the start and waited for my teammates to finish!
My advice to those who want to do this race. Recce it!!