Putting an end to the infamous Curse of Wilson Ralleigh
One totally hardcore 78km trail. 3 failed attempts. The first time I hardly managed 25kms of it before crashing and burning on Devil’s Peak (what a fitting name!) At that point, I could barely keep up with teammate April, who was running without any respect for the devils! They got me though.
The second time, a typhoon canceled our rendezvous and never showed up for the meeting either! We ended up having a clear day outside while being stuck at home.
The third time, a 400m hill we didn’t know the name of, i.e. “No-Name” hill (Tung Yung Shaan), took me out. An ankle twist shattered my confidence while climbing up that hill and severe stomach problems followed. I ended up with severe cramps on my legs and could barely walk down from Lead Mine Pass to Tai Po. It was Game Over for me at that point. Wilson won.
And so, I concluded that as far as trails and races go, I was cursed on the Wilson Trail. It simply wasn’t for me. Nature had decided that I was jinxed. I must have severely pissed off Mr. Ralleigh at some point in history. We were sworn enemies.
Fast forward to 2012
Rom Riche didn’t seem to think much of my history with Wilson. He chalked that up to bad coincidence (3 times) and asked me to do the full course with him. I hesitated as Wilson brought back nightmares!
Then, being the action movie buff that I am, I happened to watch Rocky Part One. Then I watched Rocky 2. Then came Rocky 3 followed by Rocky Balboa. And in rare moment of Sylvester Stallone fueled machismo, I said “yes!” (Maybe I should have watched one of those movies where the hero dies at the end?)
And, the d-day: 2012-10-13, Wilson Ralleigh 2012
We showed up at around 7.20am at the start. It was quite an electric atmosphere. There were many Tornado Teams present (read: insane guys attempting 156km -to and fro-). Who in the right mind does that? Over 10 teams! And, our friends Martijn and Olivia were among them.
Fashion has always been deep-rooted in my blood. When I saw heaps of short plastic strings at the Luggage Desk intended to secure baggage tags, the Georgio Armani in me immediately sprung to action. Where an unimaginative pair of normal eyes would only see a boring piece of string, my four eyes saw the next best trendsetting suave fasteners for securing eyeglasses. It had just the right texture and color to be worn with any outfit. I immediately made history by making myself one. It became an instant hit on the trail. In fact, our support member Jenny, who was present at the start assured me that “it wouldn’t make me look any more uncool than normal”. (I think that’s a complement?)
Top runners Nora and Andre were at the start too supporting all of us. With that much support and encouragement, it almost felt like failure was a sin!
Start to Quarry Bay. Plus Olivia’s cocktail party trick
Rom and I had a simple strategy. We were going to start very slow and depending on the situation, we were going to speed up much later on. Given the fact that Martijn and Olivia were attempting the Tornado and had to watch their pace closely, we decided to follow them at the beginning. I looked to them soon after the race started at 8am and said “you guys seem fairly close to the finish point!”
Olivia is famous not just for her running but also for her partying. In fact, she gave me a big tip on cocktail parties. Ever been stuck at a cocktail party talking to some boring person that you want to escape from? How would you get away from them without hurting his or her feelings? Olivia’s answer: “Offer to buy them a drink and never return!” Classic! If ever she offers to buy me a drink at a party, I should make sure I follow her.
After being enlightened on that little party trick, Rom and I seemed to naturally part ways with Martijn and Olivia. We were still going slow but at a faster pace than them. My nutrition involved carrying 12 Japanese Wider Energy gels for the entire 78km, 3 at each of our support points. I was having one of those gels every hour and told Rom how delicious they tasted.
At various points on the trail, we heard the celebratory sound of bells ringing. Closer examination revealed a red tee shirt and a fit looking guy. It was Andre. He was taking photographs and ringing bells as we passed him on several points on the trail! He gave us a high five each time we passed him. Soon, hearing the sound of those bells automatically brought smiles to our faces!
The great MTR run
There’s an old saying. “When you miss a train, there’s always another”. True, but when you are participating in a race that involves a train ride from Hong Kong side to Kowloon side, you can’t quite afford to miss the train!
Once we reached Quarry Bay, we had military style support. Dominic and Nora had MTR tickets ready for us and paced us all the way to Yau Tong! We took the shortest path to the platform, ran down escalators, bumped into young attractive girls (I promise it was inadvertent) and just as we got onto the platform, the train arrived. The timing could not have been more perfect! Once inside the MTR station, under the curious eyes of several onlookers, Nora and Dominic filled our Hydrapacks with water. It was like an adrenalin fueled F1 pit-stop!
We exited Yau Tong MTR station all juiced up and switched back to our slow-and-steady gear after that.
To Sha Tin pass and beyond!
All these trails in Hong Kong bring back memories! Climbing up Devil’s Peak brought back memories of “3-years-back” when I was running with April, feeling all unstable and sick! This time, I looked at the summit thinking “you may have brought me down 3 years back Mr. Devil but look at me today” [imagine diabolic laughter in the background].
We controlled our pace beautifully all the way until No-Name hill, when memories from last year resurfaced. I looked at the trail and said “Mr. No-Name, I am not going to let you give me an ankle twist this time around, I’ve got 4 eyes now (and a dandy eyeglasses fastener!)” In fact, near the top of No-Name hill, we even overtook top runner Fai who seemed to look a little tired.
We were bang on schedule as we approached our Sha Tin pass Support Team. Carol, Nora, Jean-Luk and Jenny were there with our baggage all laid out on the floor. I had some hot tea, loaded my bag with 3 more Japanese gels, changed my tee shirt and posed for some photos with Romain. We spent all of 6 minutes at our support checkpoint.
The reservoir of boredom
Sha Tin Pass to Shing Mun is probably one of the most boring sections of the Wilson Trail. There’s a godforsaken 5km long concrete trail that runs along a catchment. It’s a sure test of patience! Anyone who passes that without cussing deserves a gold award for patience!
I had a plan for beating this first test of boredom. David Guetta. Listening to kick ass lyrics like “You shoot me down, but I won’t fall, I am titanium” did the trick (almost). We overtook 2 Tornado teams along this catchment.
The trail from the end of that reservoir to Shing Mun is a silent killer. The boredom of that reservoir in combination with some strong smell of money poo can have a debilitating effect on many fit bodies! (no joke! There are a million monkeys en route and trust me, they don’t use toilets).
I was beginning to feel a little tired on the way to Shing Mun. That delicious gel I had in the morning started tasting like crap. I decided to take the focus off my tired body and instead focused on all the monkeys. But, how long can one look at monkeys plucking lies out of each other’s heads? I was even reminded about my friend Maggie’s discovery about monkeys having red butts. After careful examination of monkey butts, I concluded that she was correct. But even monkey butts got boring. Eventually, after what seemed like hours of boredom, we were at Shing Mun!
Cynthia and Carol were waiting for us there. As usual, I had 3 more Japanese gels at the checkpoint but this time, I just took one of them! I was tired of those gels! Instead, I picked up some crackers and a pear at the checkpoint. Those natural picture perfect smiles that I am so famous for (humor me), turned a tad more artificial at Shing Mun as I was growing increasingly tired!
Shing Mun to Tai Wo
The second most boring stretch of the Wilson Trail is yet another 5km run around a boring reservoir around Shing Mun. Boring is an understatement. No amount of monkey staring or David Guetta music can fix that. I started counting the markers every 500m until we eventually reached the 5km mark. Then we had to climb up a concrete trail to Lead Mine pass. Romain was still going very, very strong whereas I noticed some teething problems in myself. My stomach seemed to be on the verge of complaining, I was getting sleepy and the power in my body was dropping. Memories from last year came flooding back. I remembered cramping up at the same spot last year, being unable to walk on the stretch from Lead Mine Pass to Tai Po. This year was better but I wasn’t exactly kicking ass! Wilson and its curse on me seemed to start taking effect.
On the way down to Tai Po, we heard Andre’s bells of encouragement again. It brought a smile to my tired face. I told him that I was having nutrition trouble and problems focusing. I asked him to tell me WHY I was running the Wilson Trail. “You are doing this to feel strong and to feel the pleasure of crossing the finish line!” he exclaimed. He then made me a Nutella Sandwich and asked us to beat it! We saw Dominic just before the turn to Tai Wo. I told him that I needed a new stomach and a new pair of legs. “See you in Tai Wo”, he said, ignoring my request with a tone that seemed to read “stop being a baby”.
Romain was of massive support. He stayed strong throughout and I drew inspiration from him. He also fed me some bullshit about Tai Wo being only 2 minutes away, etc, etc. When you’re tired, you want to believe all that even if you know it’s untrue! I sat down a few times on the way to Tai Wo but managed to maintain a reasonable running pace for the most part.
At Tai Wo, we saw Nora, Dominic and Hannes. We were still on schedule! I told them that I felt tired and needed a new pair of stomach and legs. Nora looked in disdain at the 3 usual Japanese gels I had requested at that checkpoint and said “we are going to have a chat about your nutrition later. But, for now, go finish the trail”.
Hannes brought his trademark potatoes cooked in olive oil (they were my teammate Jinhwa’s secret to recovery during the Trailwalker an year back when she was going through similar stomach issues). He also reminded us that “this was a race not a hike!” I looked at Hannes’ BMW motorbike and Dominic’s Kawasaki motorbike parked at Marker 99. I told them that I felt like riding that bike back to my home in Tsim Sha Tsui. Nora looked at me and said “Vince, I am injured otherwise I would have LOVED to go up Cloudy Hill and Pat Sin Leng. You are lucky to have these trails ahead of you. Go do it. Run for me!”
With that, we left!
Cloudy Hill and Pat Sin Leng
Climbing up the first half of Cloudy Hill went well. Then I started walking zigzag! Romain came to the rescue. He carried my bag all the way to the top of Cloudy Hill! That sort of made me recover. We were still maintaining a good running pace all the way to Hok Tau Reservoir.
Then came the killer of the killers. Pat Sin Leng. Going up that last hill required me to sit down a few times. Rom could see me losing power and did what we are trained to do in such situations. Lie. “Pat Sin Leng is flat, just 8 small hills”, he suggested. Hmm. That’s like telling an already wounded soldier that there’s only one more battle left. But, in a weird way, it helps! It at least brings a smile to the face!
All of a sudden, without warning, came two of Wilson’s strongest weapons directed straight at me. Leg cramps and puking! For some weird reason though, the puking made me feel better. The leg cramps went away too. We could still maintain a reasonable jogging/running pace but ran out of water. I had used mine up to clean my mouth after puking! Rom and I were both using his water which ran out at the last hill of Pat Sin Leng.
After what seemed like a grueling 2 hours, we went down the last hill of Pat Sin Leng. It was a relief. And, we were still on schedule!
Pat Sin Leng to the finish
The Wilson Trail doesn’t end after Pat Sin Leng. At the end of Pat Sin Leng, comes what seems like a needless 8km run all the way to Nam Cheung! We saw several Tornado teams turning back on this trail! I remember asking myself how someone could possibly turn around after having gone through 78km of that ordeal! But, looking at the faces of some of the Tornado runners, it looked like that hadn’t been through much! They were beyond human!
Around 4km from the finish, we saw our friends Vivien and Mikko. It was such a relief to see them and when they told us that we were “just ten minutes from the finish”, I felt the last surge of power running through my body. It was as though my mind agreed to power the body for the last home coming stretch. Mikko did a great job at “managing expectations”. His “ten minutes” were more like “twenty minutes” and his “last 1 km” was more like “last 3 km!” He knew exactly what to say to get us over the finish line, motivated and running. We even overtook a team on the way!
13 hours 53 minutes later, we broke my Wilson spell and I thin we came 7th in our category. I wish I could say “Wilson Schmilson, spell Schpell” but I have to say, I have a great deal of respect for Wilson. I know Wilson is capable of bringing me down!
To all our supporters
Our success in completing the Wilson Trail is a direct result of the support team we’ve had. Dominic, Nora, Andre, Hannes, Cynthia, Carol, Jenny, Vivien, Mikko, Tony, Phoebe, Jean-luk – if you’re reading, we couldn’t have done it without you!
Also, of course, to my strong teammate Romain! He was strong from start to finish despite carrying my bag on Cloudy Hill/Pat Sin Leng, while offering moral support, encouragement (and effective lies) every time the power in my body went down.
And to Mr. Wilson
Mr. Wilson, you may have the won the battle 3 times, but I WON THE WAR! [Imagine evil laughter in background]
Sorry, couldn’t help that.
Race Results (downloadable Excel file).
Here’s an analysis of the top 10 full course teams