Oxfam Trailwalker 2012!
My 6th consecutive Trailwalker. The first time I walked the Trailwalker was back in 2006 and it took us roughly 26 hours to complete it! Since then, thanks to a guy called Steven Sparky, our Trail”WALKER” was somehow transformed into Trail”RUNNER” and our times kept getting better and better! Fast forward to yesterday and I am both awestruck and surprised at our transformation from an amateur waking group into a full-fledged running group complete with close to a 50-member+ support team!
Murphy’s law and Chinese wisdom
“When everything’s under control, you don’t know what the hell is going on!” – Murphy’s Law
Our Traiwalker team looked rock solid. Until four days before the Trailwalker, when the fittest guy on our team, my Wilson teammate Rom Riche, got injured. But, we borrowed some wisdom from the old Chinese adage “there is opportunity in every crisis”. We had two opportunities in this “crisis”. (1) We recruited Chad Lykins -a very fit guy who would be making history every step of the way after 60kms of running (his previous record for long distance was 60kms)- (2) Rom became our Chief Support Team Manager. (A job that comes with immense responsibilities and a seven figure salary -paid in Zimbabwean currency of course-).
And, I can tell you, running is a LOT, LOT easier than coordinating support. Coordinating check point teams, mules, tracking our location at each and every checkpoint is a full-time job! We even had a “whatsapp” group with close to 20 supporters on it to track us at various checkpoints to get ready for our arrival. My former teammate Steven was also involved all the way from Canada. He kept track of our locations all the way from Canada using GPS. It felt like we had some F1 pit-stop support crew supporting us every step of the way!
The goals for the day
1. To finish as a team within 16 hours
2. A nice-to-have goal to retain our machismo: To beat the Team Green girls. (4 fit and beautiful girls who looked all set to create a new record). I actually gave them a well-intentioned warning beforehand. I told them that just in case they were going to be ahead of us, they had to wait an hour for us on Stage 10 and get their make-up in order for the final group photo. (It’s very important to look all dressed up for the final team photo). But, shockingly, they didn’t heed my advice and proceeded to complete the Trailwalker in an amazing time of 14 hours 32 minutes. Slightly more than an hour ahead of us! As veteran runner Andre observed, “we got chicked”. Hmm. Wonder what went wrong with my make-up plan. I think, next time, we should probably lure them with something even more valuable than make-up. A Hello Kitty party before Stage 10?
I have to say – it wasn’t the start I was hoping for. As soon as some VIP guy blew the starting “race horn”, a lady spectator came crashing straight into me at top speed to get out of the way of frenzied runners. (My charming looks tend to have that affect). But, unfortunately, my Garmin didn’t like that. She ended up breaking my Garmin strap resulting in it falling straight to the ground. I was worried that the stampede of runners behind me would stomp my 3000 bucker Garmin to death so I bravely decided to risk my hand instead. (You can always buy another hand but a new Garmin?) Luckily, I rescued my semi-broken Garmin from the stampede. (And, I didn’t lose my hand either). Note to self: pick a relatively calmer place during race starts.
Stage 1 – All Systems go
Stage 1 went well. We were on target and our pace was well-controlled. We even ended up being faster than the Team Green girls.
Chad looked all excited about his first 100km run. He asked us how many times each of us had done the Trailwalker. I proudly said “6″ hoping to dazzle him with my answer, but when it was Rupert’s turn to answer the question, he ended up dwarfing my accomplishment with “16″. That did it. “16? Ok, I am following your orders today”, Chad decided.
Stage 2 – The first sign of trouble
Trailwalker is all about managing situations that the team encounters along the way. I have never had a Trailwalker where something or the other didn’t go wrong. And, I have never had a Trailwalker where some good old patience and good team spirit didn’t fix it.
Stage 2 was when we had our first sign of trouble. Rupert started coughing pretty badly. Soon, coughing turned into puking. I have been in that situation several times before. First, the stomach becomes upset, soon there’s nothing in it (thanks to the puking) and then it sort of shuts down. Once it shuts down, an hour or two later, so do the legs. Energy doesn’t flow to the muscles as the stomach isn’t able to process any food. Rupert, a Trailwalker veteran, clearly anticipated that and took steps from the beginning to fix it. He didn’t let his stomach shut down. He had Gu (it contains Amino Acids which apparently helps with a bad stomach) and we slowed the pace down to prevent his stomach from shutting down. We also started using the tow rope. I started pulling him from Stage 3 onwards which eased the burden on him and also kept us moving at a relatively good pace. Despite his stomach issues, we were still on target to do a sub-16 Trailwalker.
Stage 3 to Sha Tin Pass
Our “mules” joined us from Stage 3 onwards. In case, you are wondering, a mule isn’t someone from Bagota carrying cocaine, it is a runner who has the painful task of carrying everything we give to him, including water, food, garbage like chocolate wrappers, etc, etc. I know what you’re thinking – GREAT JOB! (Details on application to follow).
We had Gilles, Lawrence and Mark run with us from Stage 3 to Sha Tin pass. Rupert made somewhat of a recovery on Stage 4 after several rounds of puking. It’s amazing he was still running! I suspect it was sheer mental fortitude. He is known to run with broken fingers, damaged ankles, etc, etc.
At Sha Tin pass, our “fixed” support team (Jenny/Cynthia) met us with our support kits. We posed for a quick group photo and left soon after.
Stages 5, 6,7,8
We had a new mule, Jacques, on Stage 5. By then, I was getting all arrogant and I enjoyed bossing our mules around. Power is addictive I tell ya. Now, I know why Presidents seek a second term and why politicians love their power. It feels great! I ordered our mule Jacuqes, to call me “Sir” while asking him to collect my trash, fetch water, coke, etc, etc. There’s nothing that corrupts more than power!
I fueled myself mainly on potatoes, Granola bars, chocolates and ginger tea. Worked like a charm. I had zero stomach trouble and felt pretty strong all the way. (Hmm.. to come to think of it, I probably felt great more because I didn’t have to carry anything). Hannes’ and Rom’s trademark potatoes with olive oil were especially delicious. I might have even put on weight after running 100kms!
On Stage 8, we had Cora, Rushi and many of our friends from the Hong Kong Trail Runners Support Team cheer us on. The atmosphere was electric!
We were joined by mules Gilles and Vivien on the final two stages. Stage 9 started off quite well and I enjoyed the first 10 minutes of it. After that, it NEVER seemed to end. Rupert was throwing up again but despite all odds, he had actually run most of the Trailwalker on a VERY BAD stomach! Not many people are capable of such performance under those conditions.
The culmination of fantastic support and a phenomenal team effort came together at the end of Stage 10 where we were greeted by our MASSIVE support crew. Cameras were clicking all over and I felt like a celebrity. The support team had worked for 16 hours and were still enthusiastic!
Rupert ended up puking once again after completing the Trailwalker! How he did a 15H39M Trailwalker in such conditions is beyond me.
We achieved Goal 1 but as for Goal 2, hmm…. it looks like we need something more than a make-up station to get the girls to slow down. We have one year to think up something.
Special thanks to all my teammates plus our fantabulous support crew. There’s no way we could have done a Sub 16 Trailwalker without them!
Garmin. (started a little later because of the crash in the beginning)