Oxfam Trailwalker 2013
We had a collective 29 years of Trailwalker experience in the team! We had veteran Rupert who was on his 17th Trailwalker, effectively dwarfing my 7th consecutive Trailwalker experience and Vic’s 5th consecutive Trailwalker experience. Michael, our new teammate, was attempting his first 100km run but judging by his recent form, it looked like it was going to be easy-peasy for him. Our team target was 15 hours.
One car. Several motorbikes. Several pacers. Several “static” supporters. Loads of well wishers. An Excel spreadsheet that seamlessly coordinated all of the above. It felt like we were some kind of celebrities! In fact, I was getting used to bossing our pacers and mules around. All this was the effort of our Support Team Leader Martijn and Rom. I couldn’t help but ask “Do we really deserve this?”
Stages 1 and 2
We got off to a nice and well-paced start at 9am. We had Rom and Pierre with us who were pacing us and carrying our supplies all the way from the start to the end of Stage 2.
We came across some interesting tee shirts as we watched the other runners. The Fire Services team had a nice tee shirt on which had the word “Fire” written on it with an image of a burning fire.
“Are you on fire?” Michael asked one of the guys on the team. Judging by the way they were going, it very much looked like that was the case!
We were bang on schedule (or even about 10 minutes ahead) by the time we got to that downhill concrete stretch right before getting down to the beaches in Sai Wan. I was eagerly waiting for my coconut water that our “static” support person Roger was supposed to bring me near the beach on Sai Wan.
That’s when we saw it – a sudden and uncalled for detour! There was this dodgy looking guy who inverted the Oxfam Trailwalker sign so it pointed in the direction we knew to be wrong. He insisted that we take the other concrete trail all the way to Pak Tam Chung instead of going to Sai Wan. Rupert protested. Vic thought it was one of our rival teams trying to pull a fast one on us in an attempt to send us the wrong way. It took this guy a little bit of convincing to make us go the wrong way. Apparently, the villagers in Sai Wan had blocked access to the runners to protest against the Government taking away what they claim to be their land by the beaches. It was pretty frustrating – not only because we had to go the wrong way all of a sudden but because if the villagers do somehow win, they’d probably sell the land to some developer who will build some eyesore resort in an otherwise pristine Sai Wan. Rupert and I vowed never to buy anything from the villagers in Sai Wan to express our contempt.
Rom somehow ended up in Sai Wan which left us with only one mule – Pierre, who was running out of water for himself. He was now serving 4 runners and had to take care of himself as well.
We were running dry when we reached Pak Tam Chung and were shocked to know that there was no water available there at all. Luckily, Martijn had prepared for this contingency and sent our Stage 3 pacer/mule Mark down to Pak Tam Chung with supplies. We then ran up the road from Pak Tam Chung all the way to the Stage 3 junction via the Care Action route.
Stages 3 and 4
The sun was shining brightly and the views were spectacular. We had pacers/mules James and Mark with us for these two stages. I loved bossing Mark round. All I had to say was “water” and he’d come running up to with water. I felt powerful! James gave me a peanut butter sandwich which I gobbled up quickly.
Stage 3 was largely done on autopilot mode. We were pacing ourselves very well and we finished the stage on target or slightly ahead of schedule.
At the end of Stage 3 near Kei Ling Ha, we met Rom and his BMW support crew. I knew Rom was a fantastic runner but I didn’t know he good a cook he was as well! I grabbed his potatoes which tasted delicious. My main regret as I left the checkpoint was that I didn’t carry enough of his potatoes.
I saw Hannes at the checkpoint as well. He told us that we were doing great and looking very strong which felt good to hear!
Stage 4 was longish but again, very well paced. On the top of Ma On shan, I saw our team photographer Phoebe and I made sure I asked her my usual question – “does my hair look ok?”
We somehow burnt Mark out somewhere near the end of Stage 4. I think we were way too demanding! James seemed to be lagging behind as well. He kept appearing and disappearing towards the end . But, not before ensuring that all of us very doing well and had all our supplies! As I saw James struggling a little bit, I looked at him and said “I wish I could help you”. “Yes, pull me!” he exclaimed. I pretended not to hear that!
Stages 5, 6
We were greeted by our Support Team Leader/runner/mule/pacer Martijn (talk about wearing multiple hats) on Sha Tin pass road. Our pompom donning cheerleader Jean-luc also greeted us enthusiastically as we cruised to our static support crew in Sha Tin pass. I quickly changed my tee shirt, applied some Vaseline on the sole of my feet, drank ginger tea and got ready to leave the checkpoint. I saw Hannes there who treated me to some special Swiss potatoes. I grabbed a pack of potatoes from him and started going up Stage 5. Vivien and Milos were our pacers/mules for Stages 5 and 6. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed bossing Milos around as he was guarding the back. He was my personal mule. All I had to do was shout out instructions and he’d obey. Power does corrupt!
Again, we were bang on target or slightly ahead of schedule as we arrived at in Shing Mun at the end of Stage 6. None of us had any significant problems up until Stage 6. Vic reminded me of our first Trailwalker five years back when our teammate Yuki was cross with us for having run too fast! It was also her birthday so we remembered her and wished her happy birthday!
We had Martijn and Milos as our pacers/mules on this junction. This was the first time I felt my body slowing down. I wasn’t sure of the reason but I had trouble keeping up with the guys as we were climbing Needle Hill. However, on the downhill, I was much faster (or at least I thought I was) and I went ahead of them knowing that they’d catch up with me on the way upto Grassy Hill. I quickly realized that they had caught up with me way sooner than that! That meant only one thing – I was losing power! Our outcome for the day was to finish running the Trailwalker as a team in the minimum amount of time possible while enjoying the process (well, kind of). So, I checked pride and ego at the door and asked for our tow rope! I saw mighty Michael walking up ahead looking real strong. I couldn’t read the slightest expression of tiredness in his face. It looked like this was a walk in the park for him. I asked him to tow me using the tow rope. And, off we went, with me using about 80-90% of my power and deteriorating slowly but surely! Rupert was being towed by Vic as he appeared to be slowing down as well but not as much as me. My stomach then refused to eat/digest and peeing became a thing of the past! My pee stops were long and devoid of any peeing! I tried drinking hot water/ginger tea but neither seemed to help.
I got off the tow on the trail down to Lead Mine pass from Grassy Hill and thought to myself how great it would have been had this been a HK100 race that ended at the end of Stage 8 instead of Stage 10.
I sat down for about 30 seconds at the foot of Stage 8 and drank a cup of coffee at the checkpoint which I usually never do. I figured I needed the caffeine to stop myself from wobbling around the trail or falling asleep! Then came the usual mental question regarding why I was doing this. I remembered Steven’s answer, “because it’s there!”
Vic somehow started eating like a man who hadn’t eaten in ages. That meant he had a lot of power and energy to kill. Being the capitalist that I am, I immediately decided to capitalize on the opportunity and asked him to tow me! And tow, he did! I was only using about 70% of my usual power while climbing Tai Mo Shan but I was still deteriorating at a pace faster than before.
Martijn was next to me and cheering me up. “Think about Scott Jurek”, he insisted. “Tell yourself that you’re a winner. I am a winner.. I am a winner..” he repeated trying to set my mental state of mind. All my answers to his questions were all one-worded. I was conserving every ounce of energy I could and by me not talking, Martijn knew I had a problem! That’s like when the radio stops singing.
Near the pavilion on Tai Mo Shan, a mixed team overtook us. I was a little pissed off for slowing the group down and not being able to catch up with them but beating them at that time was the last thing on my mind. There were even those fleeting thoughts of self-doubt crossing my mind. “Can I really finish this today?”
I got off the tow on the downhill stretch to Route Twisk. I remembered my motorbike and how I was riding up and down this stretch just two weeks back. It was a shame I didn’t have the Kawasaki Ninja today!
Stages 9 and 10
Martijn left us on Stage 9 and we had Sunny and Ollie pacing us on Stages 9/10. Ollie and I are usually the loudest, noisiest chatterboxes in the group. (Actually, maybe Ollie has an edge over me in that department). She was encouraging me through Stage 9 and engaging me in interesting conversations or at least trying to – all this while I was on the tow with Vic. Unfortunately, I could only manage a string of loosely stitched up words in response which in many cases didn’t quite make sense. Stage 9 was long and boring. I was trying to focus and Ollie was forcing me to drink sips of water. Each time I’d have water, I’d burp a little and there was some release of energy – albeit short lived.
After what seemed like an eternity, we were at checkpoint 9.
Then came the last and most boring stretch of the Trailwalker – Stage 10. Sunny somehow went the wrong way on Stage 10 so we only had Ollie pacing us and carrying our stuff. After going around the reservoir, which I’ll say is definitely a sure cure for insomnia, we were finally at the concrete road going up to the special checkpoint just before getting into the last trail on the Trailwalker on Stage 10. I hated the sight of that trail but Vic assured me that it was only 3km long. But, it sure felt longer. Ollie engaged me in a conversation about stress management and made a point which I really wanted to refute but lacked the energy to do! I realized how hard a punishment not being able to talk can be!
And then finally, the last concrete bit to Tai Tong was in sight. Ollie and Sunny encouraged us to push ourselves to try and finish before 15 hours. I got off the tow with Vic and tried giving it my final push. We saw another team about 20-30m in front of us and tried to overtake them. Vivien showed up just before the final finish sprint and shouted words of encouragement at us. We regrouped and sprinted towards the finish line together with the other team about 5m ahead of us! As we crossed the finish line, our support group erupted in a loud cheer and much to our relief, we noticed that the team that was 5m ahead of us was not a complete team! They were still waiting for two more members to join them!
Somehow at the finish, my energy came back, my stomach problems disappeared and I felt alright again! It was probably the release of adrenaline from a charged atmosphere.
It felt so special to be there with our Support Team, pacers, mules and well wishers. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Running the Trailwalker was so much easier compared to the task they were entrusted with.
Our support team – Martijn, Rom, Jean-luc, Pierre, Mark, James, Ben, Vivien, Milos, Sunny, Ollie, Phoebe, Hannes, Cora, Chee, Ringo, VIvian and everyone else – THANK YOU so much! We hope we were deserving of your help! Without you, we couldn’t have come anywhere near 15 hours!
My awesome teammates – Vic (our 5th OTW together), mighty Michael (he was strong all the way to the finish) and the invincible Rupert.