Cloudy Hill, Pat Sin Leng, Plover Cove plus plenty of sunshine
A poolside Corona or a 37km run?
35 degrees centigrade. 90% humidity. Zero cloud cover. Scorching heat. This is the kind of weather an average Joe would spend relaxing, lying on a poolside bench and sipping an ice-cold Corona. But, us? No, not the Hong Kong Trail Runners. Our way of relaxation in this weather is to go out on a mammoth scorching hot run. And not just any run. Today’s run was the mother of all heatstroke-causing runs. Cloudy Hill, Pat Sin Leng and Plover Cove. 37kms of sheer brutality with over 2200m of accumulated elevation. Extreme endurance training at its very best.
Battle for love
We’ve seen this so many times in the movies — the classic love story plot. Two guys fall for the same beauty and, after an arduous fight, only one of them emerges victorious and the disappears forever into the sunset!
Well, that’s just the movies. Real life is very different. In real life, you can actually slice up the “beauty” so that both men came partake in the victory. Yes, that’s right, and that’s exactly what happened last year when Hannes and I fought tooth and nail for our beloved Plover Cove. The fight was worth every kilometer of the 18km long trail which remains Hong Kong’s most beautiful trail by a wide margin.
Last year, after several rounds of heated exchange, Hannes and I settled for co-owning this beauty. The agreed split was 60/40 (60 to Hannes and 40 to me). It was the best I could negotiate at that point in time in that Thai restaurant. (It was hard to concentrate while savoring some delicious eggplant curry). But, in all fairness, I’ll have to give Hannes some credit. You know how if you really like someone intimately, you’ll invariably end up learning more about their parents and their background, etc, etc? Well, much to his credit, Hannes does seem to know his stuff about Plover Cove and her background. For instance, did you know that:
- Plover Cove was the first “reservoir in the sea” all over the world
- The King of the Hills Tai Po marathon went around Plover Cove from 1984 – 2006
- The highest point of Plover Cove is about 5 minutes away from the main trail and has a trigonometric station on it
I didn’t know any of this until he told me. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t love Plover Cove enough, let’s say it just means that “love is blind”, so I can chalk up my ignorance to true love!
Choosing is a lot easier than you think
Do you want a delicious slice of pizza with some extra cheese on it OR do you want a cup of mouth melting ice cream with some extra dark chocolate on it?
I know what you’re thinking — do you really have to choose? If you have the ice cream, you’ll miss out on the pizza and if you have the pizza, you’ll miss out on the ice cream. Why not just have them both? And, that’s exactly what I did today! Oh, hang on, I didn’t really eat anything for the most part of the day but what I mean to say is that I chose to run not one but TWO of the best trails in Hong Kong in one day — Sharp Peak in the morning and Plover Cove in the afternoon! Why choose between them when you can run both of them in one day?
Sad to see my home on Sharp Peak being dirtied
And so, I parked my motorbike in Pak Tam Chung at about 10.45am (yes, late start) and took a bus to Pak Tam Au. I reached the summit of Sharp Peak in 51 minutes and was disgusted at what I saw.
A repulsive waft of stinking smoke on top of the peak was my welcome into my own home!! There were two guys smoking their lungs out and exchanging one cigarette between them. Repulsive. I looked around and the place reminded me of a big garbage dump. Cigarette butts lay strewn all over. Plastic bags were omnipresent and a conspicuous eyesore. Chocolate wrappers, tissues and other waste material were dispersed all around. I was appalled. My love with Sharp Peak began around 10 years ago when I was mesmerized by the views and loved being on the summit. I read my newspaper there every Saturday. Today, the place looked more like a public rubbish bin. I was deeply disappointed.
I decided I wasn’t going to point fingers at anyone. Bottom line — the place needs to be cleaned up and an appeal needs to be put up on that Trigonometric Station at the top. An appeal to fellow hikers to remind them that we are truly lucky to have these beautiful trails in Hong Kong. The least we can do as hikers and nature lovers is to keep them that way. That doesn’t just include *not* dumping garbage ourselves but it also includes picking up any garbage that’s been irresponsibly strewn around at the top by others.
I invite all readers to join Hong Kong Trail Runners in a Sharp Peak clean up event. Let’s join forces to rid our peaks of garbage. Please see the details here.
I barely spent a couple of minutes at the peak. I couldn’t stand the cigarette smoke. I couldn’t stand looking at the garbage. I decided we would launch a Sharp Peak cleanup event and eventually extend the event to other peaks — one peak a month. I planned the event in my mind while running to Ham Tin. I then ran to Sai Wan and finally back to Pak Tam Chung to conclude my Sharp Peak Circuit in 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Pizza eaten, now for dessert
The “dessert” (Plover Cove) was supposed to be a 20-minute motorbike ride from Pak Tam Chung via Ma On Shan. Sadly, my navigation went awry. I spent around an hour on the motorbike touring parts of Hong Kong I had never heard of before. Around 40 miles and an hour later, I was (somehow) back on Tolo Highway and reached Wu Kau Tang at about 2.30pm to begin my Plover Cove run.
Plover Cove, being much harder and exposed, was relatively cleaner compared to Sharp Peak. But, like Sharp Peak (minus the garbage), the trail never ceases to amaze. It ALWAYS feels like a gift to be back on the trail.
I overtook some random hikers along the way and reached the halfway point in about an hour. I was already experiencing the trail runner’s high. (No, I don’t mean the kind of high Lance Armstrong felt — I mean the natural kind). In 2 hours and 10 minutes, I finished the run at the helipad at the end of the dam.
What a great day out! And, Sharp Peak is going to get sharper after we’re done with the cleaning. Please join us on the cleanup event and let’s bring back the cleanliness to our trails and (hopefully) civic sense to the community! Details here.
When I was running Stage 10 of the Maclehose trail during the Trailwalker, I realized (yet again) how boring it was. In fact, almost all of the reservoir trails in Hong Kong are dead boring except for the reservoir I personally own — Plover Cove. You don’t realize how much you miss something until you’re away from it. So, I decided to go run around *my* reservoir today (I think for the 10th time this year) and I also decided to gift the Mac 10 reservoir to former Plover Cover owner Hannes Niggli. (He needs something to own other than Mong Kok. Besides, whatever said and done, at the end of the day, I AM a generous guy!)
Another reason for the run was to test how quickly I’d be able to recover after a 100km run. Why? There is a pretty insane event being organized in Hong Kong in January. See this link. Andre has a new twist to the already insane challenge. He is challenging someone to do the four big trails of Hong Kong (Maclehose, Wilson, Hong Kong Trail and Lantau Trail) in 3 days. That’s roughly 300kms. Possible? Not sure. Time will tell. But I know there at least two insane guys contemplating on taking up the challenge. One is my Trailwalker teammate Chad and the other … is a stunning looking, talented Indian guy. (No prizes for guessing who that is). But, I have to admit, I might do 2 trails in 2 days and call it quits. Even insanity has its limits.
Anyway, going back to the post-Trailwalker recovery run around my reservoir, it went pretty well. I attempted getting under the 2-hour barrier but I had strict “no injury” orders to obey. So, I went at my optimal pace and finished strong in 2 hours and 8 minutes! As I read on a road sign during my epic motorbike trip around Kashmir in India, “Speed thrills but kills”. But, they were probably referring to those lunatic truck drivers…
It is, of course, a well known fact that I own Plover Cove. Not that I need to prove anything regarding ownership, but I wanted to see what it would take for me to do a Sub 2 hours Plover Cove circuit. Again, having run Plover Cove eight times this year alone (that’s not including races), I am rightfully entitled to own her. She’s all mine. I’ve got the maximum number of runs there. Period.
All I wanted to do today was to see what it would take for me to do the circuit in sub 2 hours.
(1) Temperature: Although the weather today was not as hot as it is during May/June, it was still hot! Plover Cove is HOT! And, I mean both “hot” as in pretty and “hot” as in temperature! An ideal Sub 2 hours would need Jan/Feb kind of temperature
(2) Faster flat stretches and faster downhill speed: I think my uphill speed was good enough (I was even running up anything that was less than 40 degrees in inclination). On the flats, I averaged around 11-12kmh. A successful sub 2 hour attempt would need 13-14kmh flat running speed
(3) More risks! I’ll need to skip steps while running down and push the body beyond the “enjoyable” limits
2 hours 8 minutes was what it took me today at an enjoyable yet optimized speed. To cut off 9 minutes more from that might not be my cup of tea. But, as the owner, I give everyone else permission to attempt that!
Recovery Run/Hike – Cloudy Hill, Pat Sin Leng and Plover Cove
112 – that’s the magic number. My total mileage for last week. Two words to summarize it – “too much!” So, after having already run 44kms this week, I wanted to do a lazy 37km recovery run to give my legs a chance to recover from training too much. Besides, my two teammates Vic and Romain were also uncharacteristically feeling extremely lazy. I’ll tell you why in a second but, before that, here’s what the Hong Kong Government advises people to do when there is a Typhoon 8 signal.
Typhoon 8 Precautions
Do not stand near windows on the exposed side of your home. Move all furniture and valuables away from these areas. Make sure you have a safe place to shelter, should windows be broken.
Avoid staying in the street. Return home as soon as possible if conditions so permit.
When Typhoon Kai Tak paid a visit to Hong Kong on Thursday night, my HKTR teammates had a game plan. And, it didn’t quite involve heeding HK Government’s “avoid staying in the street” precaution. Instead, in their typical insane fashion, they literally threw caution to the wind and embarked on an overnight 48km Typhoon 8 run beginning at 10.30pm, exactly when the Number 8 Typhoon Signal was hoisted. They were banking on the Signal 8 lasting throughout the night and on Friday, meaning they wouldn’t need to go to work on Friday.
They met in Yau Tong, ran the Wilson trail until Sha Tin pass and then ran stages 6,7 and 8 of the Mac, finishing at 6.30am in Route Twisk. That’s 48kms in distance and about 2500m in elevation under a Typhoon 8 signal! It was as though they disdainfully danced on the butt of the typhoon! Of course, no typhoon would have tolerated such blatant disrespect. So, in what seemed like a brutal act of sweet revenge, typhoon Kai Tak taught them a lesson by weakening just in time for work on Friday morning! That left Romain spending all day at work on Friday without having slept a wink the previous night while Vic feigned some excuse and “worked from home” on Friday (read: slept at home).
When I met Romain in the morning, unsurprisingly, he looked exhausted – both physically and mentally. Vic looked better (thanks to “working from home”) but still seemed tired from the typhoon festivities. All in all, this meant that we all were going to take today’s run very easy!
Fulfilling responsibilities + admiring the beauty of Plover Cove
The Webster dictionary defines “responsibility” as “moral, legal or mental accountability”. Shirking responsibility is defined as “evading the performance of an obligation”.
As one of the owners of Plover Cove, I have assumed full responsibility of ensuring that the trail is free of litter and well taken care of. This requires the commitment to run around Plover Cove in all kinds of weather – scorching heat, bitter cold, thunderstorms, typhoons, etc, etc.
My fellow “owner” Hannes Niggli, hardly shows up, if ever. And on a hot day like today when the temperature reached 34 degrees celcius, he was off relaxing in Switzerland. The run today required 4L of water! It was HOT. But, I showed up. And that’s despite having run a hilly 32km yesterday. If this isn’t being truly responsible, what is! I’ll have to gather public support to oust him as one of the owners of Plover Cove and assume full control.
The views were absolutely breathtaking. It’s hard to believe that Hong Kong is home to such natural beauty. Take a look.
Cloudy Hill, Pat Sing Leng and a SUPER HOT Plover Cove
One of the hardest 37km courses in Hong Kong has to be Tai Wo MTR to Tai Mei Tuk via Cloudy Hill, Pat Sin Leng and Plover Cove. And when it is HOT, I promise you – you ain’t gonna love this course! It’s a true acid test of a trail runner’s ability to withstand heat!
As the whole world already knows, I own the last part of the course, i.e. Plover Cove. I can make a legitimate claim to Pat Sin Leng as well but in order to give “other people” (read: Hannes Niggli) a chance to own something, I am doing the noble thing and not contesting ownership of Pat Sin Leng. However, despite resolving the Plover Cove ownership dispute successfully and in a true gentlemanly fashion, it looked to me like Hannes wasn’t treating me like an equal partner as he unilaterally declared the following on the event page: “i have opened both properties for ‘common people’s access’ but please observe opening hours as i will close pat sin leng at 1030 and plover cove at 1300″.
8 of us showed up at Tai Wo MTR station to take on the heat and this course. Except for my teammate Vic, who was much slower than usual because of a highly intensive gym workout the previous day, we were mostly running as a group until the first hill of Pat Sin Leng.
As I was by the side of the trail on top of Pat Sin Leng, I saw Romain pass me without noticing me. I waited for the rest of the group to catch up with us and once they did, I chased after Romain. He thought I was in front of him and was running at a fast pace to “catch up” with me! That’s like the Coyote running after Road Runner! This little unintentional chase took us too far ahead of the group! By the time we reached the end of Pat Sin Leng, we were roughly 30+ minutes ahead of the group. The sun was also shining strongly and we were out of water; so, we decided to wait for the rest of the group at Wu Kau Tang. For immediate relief from the strong sun, we decided to take a much-needed dip in the Bridespool pools.
Cooling down in Bridespool
This relief from the sun was short-lived as we started our climb on Plover Cove. To give you a taste of what it was like, I am going to ask you to imagine that you are in a HOT yoga session (no, no, no, no, I mean WITHOUT the hot girls!) Now, imagine being trapped right under the source of the hot air with no escape. Next, substitute the hot yoga exercise with 17kms of trail running that includes some killer ups and downs. That is what it was like! As Romain soon discovered, that’s not a very pleasant experience! The heat takes away all the energy from the body. The views were indeed ever so beautiful, but it’s hard to appreciate beauty when you are in a beat up state!
Can you appreciate this beauty..
When you are in this state?
Unwilling to succumb to the scorching heat, we soldiered on slowly, yet steadily. Soon, we were almost out of water! I realized that the two most precious commodities under hot weather are shade and water! Then came a big surprise from Vic in the form of a text message. He was walking towards us from the other direction carrying a cargo of 5 bottles of cold water! It reminded me of my teammate Dominic’s gesture when we attempted this course under similar weather in 2010! When someone brings you cold water when you most need it, you never forget it! Thank you Vic!
Vic bringing us water
Suffering (and surviving) the last leg
A very sensible warning from the Government
And there’s only one way to aptly conclude the 37km run for the day under scorching heat. And that is to take a dip in the Plover Cove reservoir!
Chilling (literally) in my reservoir
Oh and before I forget, the icing on the cake was a special video we shot for Hannes at MY reservoir.
Sunday was officially supposed to be rest day. But during the “resting” moments, glimpses of Plover Cove kept flashing in my mind. Like a responsible owner who matches words with not only action, but also with a lot of love and dedication, I instinctively decided to go on a spin around my reservoir. For the record, this is the 5th time I have run Plover Cove this year. That’s a full 18km of love and care! And, I have done at least a part of the course a total of 9 times this year. Now, you tell me, if this isn’t true love, what is?
Oh, and as for my speed, who cares? When you talk about love and care, speed is of least importance.
Distance: 17.88 km
Elevation Gain: 564 m
We were supposed to have heavy thunderstorms yesterday. So, I conveniently used Hong Kong Observatory’s weather forecast as an excuse to sleep in, instead of getting up early in the morning to do a trail run. When I finally awoke from my slumber, I was full of guilt. Trust me, an athlete succumbing to the vice called “extended sleep” is like a politician succumbing to bribe! What didn’t help one bit was the view from outside my window. The sun was shining nice and bright! I wanted to sue the Hong Kong Observatory for causing needless mental anguish. A couple of hours later, I heard heavy thunder. Soon, black clouds blanketed the skies. Within a span of a couple of hours, the skies went from being illuminated by the sun to being illuminated by frequent lightening. The guys at the observatory probably felt vindicated! I even suggested that they change their motto to: “HK Observatory, we always have the last laugh!”
The prediction for today, yet again, was heavy rain. However, there was no way we were going to fall victim to the trap of extended sleep. Besides, what was in store for the day was way too exciting. We were going to do a run covering three of Hong Kong’s most beautiful trails: Cloudy Hill, Pat Sin leng and my very own home, Plover Cove. That’s like getting a high dosage of endorphins from nature for free! The first time I attempted this run, I ran out of water in the middle of Plover Cove and was suffering from all sorts of cramps until my friend Dominic brought me water at the end of the Plover Cove dam. The second time I attempted it, I almost had a heatstroke on Plover Cove and had to walk at a snail’s pace to complete the course. It took us roughly 4.5 hours just on this leg that day.
Today, the weather seemed perfect for this run. Contrary to the Observatory’s forecast, there was hardly any rain. And, no, they didn’t have the last laugh either! In fact, it was sunny in the afternoon! I guess even the observatory boys get it wrong at times. Steven and I maintained a steady and fast pace on both Cloudy Hill and Pat Sin Leng. I attempted what I call the “tank maneuver” during a lot of the uphill stretches. What is that? Well, basically, it involves pretending that you’re a tank (I mean a US army kind of tank not a water tank!) and “rolling” up the hill effortlessly just like a tank would! (Yes, weird. Well, to each his own!) So, the idea behind this is that, when the going gets tough, the tough gets “rolling”. Unless, of course, the inclination is so high that the “tank” needs reinforcement. And, no, the tank doesn’t have a turret to fire a canon at the hill.
It took as about 3.5 hours to do Cloudy Hill, Pat Sin Leng and run to Wu Kau Tang via Bride’s pool. After refueling at a rather empty shop in Wu Kau Tang, we entered my territory, Plover Cove. Like a responsible owner, I removed random items of garbage I found strewn around on my trail. We kept a fairly comfortable pace and completed this leg of the run in 2 hours 52 minutes, feeling relatively good at the end of it. For the first time in all my attempts, I felt fresh and energized at the end of completing this course.
37 kilometers, almost 2000m in elevation, plenty of greenery and a great adrenalin rush. I couldn’t recommend this course more.