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Hong Kong 100 (2015 edition) — The debrief

Hong Kong 100 (2015 edition) – The debrief
I’ve done it 3 times before (14.xx, 13.26, 12.51) and decided to do it a 4th time this year. It’s remarkable how this race has evolved! Back in 2010, the Race Directors (Janet and Steve), were handing out flyers for “the first ever solo 100km race in Hong Kong”. I don’t think very many joined! And, my 14.xx time put me in the top 20 of overall finishers. This year, my finishing time of 13 hours and 35 minutes made me 47th overall! The popularity of HK100 has soared and the number of fit people out there — simply incredible!

Ok, so, this is what happened yesterday. But, first, a line or two on how I prepared for it.

The preparation
Every ultra-runner has rituals before a race. And, invariably, one of them will include what I call “a dump sequence routine”. Meaning getting up early enough to dump at least two times. I can go into details (upon special request and I am sure you’ll want to know) but I’ll refrain for the sake of suspense. Suffice to say, the public toilets near the Starting Point are probably the most sought after resource before a run.

The second routine is what I call “the pedicure routine”, i.e. taping the leg, applying Vaseline on the sole of the feet and so on. I had a grand total of 10 band-aids all over the sole of my feet to prevent blisters.

The last routine is what I call the “lubricating the body routine” to prevent chaffing. Every runner, I am sure, will have a tub of Vaseline somewhere in the apartment! I learnt my Vaseline lesson the hard way. Back in 2006 I think it was, when I did the Oxfam Trailwalker for the first time, I completed the 100km course in 27 hours wearing Bermuda shorts and ended up walking like Donald Duck for 3 days after the event. All this because, I didn’t know the value of Vaseline. Vaseline rocks. Again, more details upon special request. (I am sure you’re dying to know).

The start
The atmosphere was electric as ever. I have to applaud Janet and Steve for their choice of music. Cold Play, Oasis and other cool bands. Very cool. Unfortunately, as I found myself a nice seat by the speaker, I missed my special spot in the “Elite” section and ended up behind the elites which meant I had some overtaking to do!

Pak Tam Chung (the start) to Hoi Ha
Soon after starting, the overtaking process began. I said ‘hi’ to many of my friends, Nick (from South Africa), Mark, Lloyd (who started despite a leg injury) and eventually bumped into Marie. She’s becoming a legendary ultra-runner. I told her that I was going to overtake her but that she’d be overtaking me in 4 hours or so. And, boy, was I right. She’s like the ultimate pacing machine, similar to my friend Tilly.

After the usual “dude, passing left, dude, passing right” routine, I found the right place for me. As I approached the dam, I saw Nic and M up ahead. I did the right thing for mankind and humanity and decided to stop them for a “random” gear check. They wouldn’t hear any of it.

Dom was waiting by Sai Wan beach, I said ‘hi’ to him and smiled for the numerous cameras that were there. Btw, I have to say this – there are so, so many cameras on the course that you feel like some sort of a celebrity when running!

On Mac Stage 2, I saw Chris behind me. He told me what a beautiful day it was and that his time target was the same as mine – 13 hours. He said he’d be following me. I heard him behind me for a while but I think he stopped at the next check point longer than I did.

On the way from Mac Stage 2 to Hoi Ha, I was with a girl called Wayan who I later learned was some sort of a legendary female runner! She jumped and screamed so much at the sight of photographers that I thought she’d run out of energy more from posing for the cameras than running! The motivation was great though! I tried following her as much as I could so I could share her enthusiasm and motivation but she gave me the slip soon after Hoi Ha. I just couldn’t keep up with her. (She finished around 12.40 I think). Retha was there at the Hoi Ha checkpoint and helped me with food.

On the way to Hoi Ha – Courtesy All Weather Kwok

Hoi Ha to Kei Ling Ha
Soon after I left Hoi Ha and headed up on the road, the boring part of the course began. There was this non-stop undulating technical section all the way to Yung Shue O. Here’s where I gave myself an instruction to “stay in gear”. I pretended I was a car (yes, I can be weird) and told myself to stay on Gear 1 and just keep jogging. I saw Wayan in the distance every now and then but she was more like a car on 3rd gear! Soon, she disappeared from my view. I kept a consistent pace all the way to Yung Shue O which is where I met the legendary female runner Claire. The fact that I saw her meant something was wrong with her.

“Shouldn’t you be way up ahead?” I asked her.
“I am not sure. Should I?” she replied.

She told me that her TNF victory had taken a lot out of her. I overtook her (will probably never happen again), and eventually, I was back on my favorite Mac trail climbing up Rooster Hill. There was this guy coming from the opposite side who said “Hi Vince, I’ll read about this tonight [on your blog]”. I wished I was him instead of the guy who had 60 more kms to run! Eventually at the top of Rooster Hill, I saw two or three guys who were cheering me on and said “Vince – hikeinhongkong”. I was surprised they knew who I was and even more surprised that they’d heard actually heard of my blog!

The run down from Rooster Hill to Kei Ling Ha was great. I saw Dom taking photos on the last downhill stretch. When I reached the checkpoint, I saw Tilly and Retha there who were helping me fill my Hydrapack and getting me stuff to eat. It felt great to see them.

At the checkpoint – courtesy Yan

Kei Ling Ha to Beacon Hill
Mac Stage 4 started off well but I found myself losing it on the climb up Ma On Shan. I slowed down and tried to recover but something didn’t seem right. It was getting more and more tired. Stage 4 was a pretty low point for me. I had to tell myself that my time did not matter (I was trying to get rid of the 12.51 target in my mind that I wanted to beat). I kept telling myself that all that mattered was that I completed the run. And, I knew I could do Sub 14 even if I slowed down quite a bit. Plus, I wanted the HK100 jumper they give out at the finish! Despite all this, I found it hard to concentrate.

I saw Cynthia by the flat stretch on Stage 4 where all the paragliders land. She asked me how I was feeling and I said “very tired”. She told me that I was NOT feeling tired and asked me to keep going.

Eventually, I reached Gilwell Camp, said ‘hi’ to Tim and saw Denise who told me that Vic was also waiting for me near the support point. It was great to see my 5-time OTW teammate Vic who gave me some much needed words of encouragement. Marie then went by (just as anticipated). She looked strong and focused. I told her that she was an awesome runner and added that I’d see her at the finish line.

Vic left me at Sha Tin pass and I started plodding up Stage 5. Beacon Hill was a struggle. I felt incredibly sleepy as I was going up Beacon Hill. In fact, I got so sleepy that for the first time during the race, negative thoughts of aborting entered my mind! I told myself the usual – “Be a man! Rise to the occasion! Time doesn’t matter, kill speed, finish the run and enjoy the race”. As I was having this pep talk with myself, I saw Brendan come by. He looked strong and focused. We reached the checkpoint on Beacon Hill and saw the kids there who were great! One of them got me tomato soup and told me that I looked strong and was doing a great job! Haha! I certainly didn’t look that way. The kids certainly got me into a positive frame of mind. After seeing them, I hit the gas again and went downhill as fast as I could to Tai Po Road.

Tai Po Road to Tai Mo Shan
By the time I got to Tai Po Road, I succeeded in pretty much squashing all negative thoughts of aborting and was less worried about my time. I just plodding away all the way until Shing Mun. I traded places with Brendan but I was quite sure he’d overtake me for good on Needle Hill!

Upon reaching Shing Mun, I yelled out “Vivien” in the dark! Vivien came by, offered me some encouragement, and gave me some hot chocolate (powder sourced from Australia!) I sipped on that and started going up Needle Hill. As expected, Brendan overtook me, and I told him I’d see him at the finish line. Normally, I run nonstop all the way from Needle Hill to Grassy Hill but not today. I was too tired. The leg wasn’t too comfortable either. I just fast walked most of it which I am sure cost me some time.

Grassy Hill somehow reenergized me and the trail down to Lead Mine Pass, though not-so-enjoyable today, ended quickly. I reached Tai Mo Shan at about 8.05pm and decided to just continue without stopping to try and complete the course in Sub 13.5 hours.

Tai Mo Shan to the finish
I was only wearing my sweaty and cold tee shirt. I thought the cold weather would make me run faster. It did but the body was tired and wobbling. At one point, during one such wobbly experience, I banged my knee against a rock! That woke me up. Then I told myself to “stay in gear” and jogged as much of TMS as I could.

At the very top of Tai Mo Shan, two runners overtook me – Nicole and some other guy. I didn’t quite have the motivation or the energy to get back at them. I told myself “may the best man win” and kept going at my usual pace — until I reached that turnoff which is essentially only 5kms from the finish. I started on Gear 1 and saw the flashlight from the two runners who’d just overtaken me around 1 minute ahead of me. Before I knew it, I was on Gear 4, accelerating and clocking in 14kmh. I overtook both of them. The guy said “well done” as I passed him.

In what seemed like a pretty short time, thanks to the 14kmh acceleration, I saw the finish lights. The announcement came from the speakers “Vince from India has just finished”. But, I knew to take that announcement with a pinch of salt! The first time I did the race, I was flattered that they somehow seemed to know who I was which kind of puzzled me. (Come on, I can’t be that famous!) Upon further investigation, It turned out that they have a computerized system, that reads the tag on the bib and displays the runner’s name and nationality on a computer screen in front of the announcers! Neat! In any case, it was great to hear my name and even greater to know that I had actually finished! I completed the course in 13 hours and 35 minutes.

The finish
Peter, Dom, Bei, Anne were all there at the finish and helping me! It was great to see all of them! Peter got me my bag, Bei got me hot soup and Anne told me when the next bus was going to leave! I was chatting to super runner John Ellis who completed the course in 12 hours!! Impressive! Brendan finished in 13.10 and Marie did 12.51. Amazing runners. What I loved about all of them was how they were so strong, enthusiastic and happy at the finish. I felt like I had just gone over burning hot coal and my body was so tired that I would have fallen asleep that very instant. Plus, I was walking like Donald Duck. Not, not a Vaseline issue (thank goodness) but more because I pulled a nerve on that last downhill stretch as I was going all out to overtake Nicole and the other guy!

The race was (as usual) superbly organized and the support from friends was supreme! It was a fabulous social get-together on the trails.

The takeaways
1. I read in the book “Failing forward” by John Maxwell that one needs to manage energy, not time. Capacity is a person’s ability to spend and recover energy. The “recovery” today wasn’t good. Also, one of the criteria by which I judge myself on how well a run went, is to ask myself whether I feel absolutely fantastic at the end of the run. Today, I didn’t. Why? I am not sure. Perhaps, I should have gone out with a 13.30 target instead of a sub 13 target and accelerated during the 2nd half of the run depending on the extent of recovery.

2. I am glad I persisted and completed. The ability to squash negative thoughts by turning them into productive thoughts was good. Mac Stage 5 was my lowest point but I was strong enough mentally to reframe those useless thoughts and detach myself from them. (The kids on Beacon Hill really helped!)

3. Double Au before the next HK100: I need to do a two solo Double Aus (Mac 3 to 8) to test the body and mind, as well as to determine realistic targets, before the next 100km race.

Oh, btw, this report won’t be complete if I don’t tell you what I learnt on the Science Podcast I was listening to. Unfortunately, my Mp3 player stopped working as my sweat entered the player during the run (doh) but here’s something cool I listened to just before the player went bust. Apparently, back in the day in the 1600s, they were trying to investigate the use of blood. One scientist did an experiment: They had a docile sheep and a madman in a stadium with many onlookers watching. They slit the sheep’s jugular and cut the man’s wrist to exchange their blood. The hypothesis was that the man would turn docile, and the sheep would become mad! Nothing happened!

In another experiment, they gave an old person a young man’s blood and vice versa. It turned out that the amount of neuronal activity went up in the old man as soon as he received the young man’s blood and the neurons in the young man were not firing as rapidly when he got the older man’s blood. In other words, if you want to stay mentally sharp at an old age, you need to transfuse yourself with some young blood!

And, here’s something that shocked me. You know how donating blood is considered to be such a noble act? Well, that isn’t exactly the case. Apparently, it’s a billion dollar industry and the blood that is donated is actually sold to other blood banks and hospitals. There is a market for blood and the ones who get jibbed are the donors who don’t get their fair share of money for their “noble” donation!


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The North Face (Hong Kong) – 100 solo

Wow! What a tough course! Keith warned me about it and he wasn’t kidding. The last 3-4 hours were especially brutal! I usually try and recce courses in advance, but, with this one, I decided to surprise myself (and I felt shocked at the end). Well, to be fair, I’ve done bits and pieces of the course before but one part I should have done before but didn’t was the bit from Tai Mo Shan to Lead Mine Pass. Long, technical and undulating. If you’re doing the race, recce this bit for sure!

The pre-race preparation
I read this in Bravo Two Zero (Andy McNab). The 7 Ps of success: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I’d give myself a 7/10 for my planning. I made a last minute change the day before the race. I swapped by light Redlaight bag for a much bulkier bag. The reason I gave myself was that I couldn’t fit the Goretex jacket in my Redlaight bag (which I guess is true but I could have squeezed it in), but what was also an important consideration was that my Redlaight bank smelled like a big pig had pooed in it (this is what happens if you forget to stuff your bag in the washing machine after training).

It’s also amazing what a bit more space in a bag does. I read this in the book 4-hour workweek by Tim Ferris: “Time is wasted in the proportion that it is available”. I discovered yesterday that this also holds good with space! With a bigger bag pack, I now had more space and so carried more junk. An aluminum flask was one of them! Well, at the time of packing it seemed like a good idea (I figured I’d carry hot chocolate and have it on top of Pat Sin Leng) but, on the actual race, I felt like a donkey carrying more than its share of load. Trust me, after 90km, you don’t want to carry an aluminum flask up a 600m hill.

From The Start (Tai Mei Tuk) to Luk Keng
Ok, as a word of caution, I am usually bad at describing courses so please don’t use this post as any definitive guide!

Anyway, after our photos at the start, we set off at around 8am. I was at the back and started overtaking many of the slower hikers/runners soon as the race started. I somehow lost Vic in the first 2-3 minutes.

Group photo at the beginning – Courtesy Vic

The part from Tai Mei Tuk to Wu Kau Tang was full of “Dude, passing left. Dude, overtaking from right” and so on. I finally found myself behind some runners who were running at my speed and I used them as pacers.

On the way from down to Wu Kau Tang for the second time (you do TMT – WKT – WKT – Luk Keng), I saw Tilly and Nic up ahead. “You look like my teammate from the Oxfam Trailwalker”, I told Tilly. We got talking briefly and then I took it upon myself to stop Nic for a “mandatory gear check”. After exchanging some banter, I heard a voice behind me “Vince, this is Mr. Guinness. Aren’t you happy Dawson isn’t here today?” It was Sam Guinness, the team behind us on the Oxfam Trailwalker who kept entertaining us on Stage 2. I chatted with Sam for a while before he turned on his boosters and disappeared into the horizon.

At Luk Keng, I saw Dom, Brendan and Hannes who were there supporting me. Brendan helped me with the water while Dom gave me coke. I also took some potatoes from Hannes. It was great to see them. Provided that energy boost I was looking for. I knew deep inside that the course was going to get much tougher from Luk Keng.

Luk Keng to Fan Ling and from Fan Ling to Kadoorie Farm
I remember having to take a little trail to the left of my favorite restaurant at Luk Keng. I also switched from rock music to some serious Science Podcasts to keep the mind active. I learnt so many things on this bit to Fan Ling thanks to the Podcasts. For example, did you know that the Mantle Shrimps can see more colors than a human being? Did you know that dogs can’t see the color red? Did you know that when newborn babies stare at you, they only see a white ray of light as they can’t see yet? The Podcasts made me forget about the running — that is, until we reached this super steep uphill, overgrown bit near the top of Cloudy Hill. I knew we were going to climb up Cloudy Hill later on in the day so I wondered why we couldn’t just do it now as we were so close to it! That steep bit and the technical downhill slope that followed was tough on my legs. Then came a long concrete stretch to Fan Ling. I saw Vivien there who high-fived me while Brendan/Milos and Dom were helping me with food and water. As always, it was great to see them.

Dom offering me hot chocolate (not Bloody Mary) in Fan Ling – Courtesy Philip

Dom showed me the way up Tai To Yan and off I went munching on Milos’ cookies and sipping on Dom’s hot chocolate. Some girl overtook me here but I just didn’t have it in me to get back at her. This is where I think I made my second mistake — I should have eaten more. I had stuff in my bag but was too lazy to turn the bag around, get something out and eat it. I felt more tired going up Tai To Yan and saw Chor Kin at a distance looking equally tired. He did well to make a relatively quick recovery. Then, on the way down to Kadoorie Farm, I saw Rupert taking photos using his big camera. He said something like “where are the pants?” He was reminding me of M’s “pant bet”. He challenged me to wear his Bangkok pants for the race (M’s a mysterious man — he’s got unique taste).

Rupert turned me into a model – Courtesy Rupert

Dom, Milos and Brendan were waiting at Kadoorie Farm and Dom told me to focus on Tai Mo Shan and not worry about what followed. It was good advice and I did just that. I tuned onto the next Podcast. Did you know that when you sleep, the brain deletes all unwanted stuff, removes noise from the data that is stored during the day, and performs various permutations and combinations on the remaining data in the form of dreams? This is why you get those awesome ideas when you sleep and wake up the next day.

Dom, Milos, Brendan helping me at the checkpoint – Courtesy Milos

Kadoorie Farm to Lead Mine Pass via Tai Mo Shan
Believe it or not, Tai Mo Shan wasn’t all that hard. It was a steep climb for sure but it wasn’t as hard as I had expected it to be. Maybe because I was prepared for it. It was cold for sure though. My Goretex jacket came on and so did the balaclava. I caught up with Chor Kin again (who had since passed me) in the Tai Mo Shan checkpoint. I had some corn soup there, put on my torch and went running down that Shing Mun Section.

This is probably where I lost time on the race — Shing Mun. Combination of not eating enough (even though stomach was fine) and not knowing the route meant I was robbing myself of energy. The technical Shing Mun bit is usually what I excel at but I also had a slight problem with my knees on the downhill bits. I wanted to preserve them for Pat Sin Leng. I lost quite a lot of time on the way to Lead Mine Pass. Chor Kin and two others overtook me here.

Lead Mine Pass to The Finish
After Lead Mine Pass came that terrible Wilson Section to Tai Wo. I don’t know why but I have never been a fan of that. Again, I slowed down on this bit mainly because of a lack of energy than anything else. But, I ran all runnable bits and eventually reached the start of Cloudy Hill. Another girl, Nikki, I think her name is, overtook me at the top and she was moaning as she passed me. She was probably in pain. She did very well though. She was way up ahead of me as I was trying to catch up. The part down to Sha Lo Tung also cost me some time. I couldn’t run down as fast as I had hoped. I kept my pace steady as I approached the bottom of Pat Sin Leng and switched onto yet another Science Podcast to take my mind off the steep climb. Did you know that at the age of 4, something happens in the human brain that allows you to exercise self-control? Those who develop this at that age tend to do much better later on in their lives. Malcolm Gladwell ascribes this more to the year in which you were born in his book Outliers.

Pat Sin Leng killed me. I should have eaten more. I was wobbling around like a drunken sailor and lost momentum when climbing from one stair to another! Ricardo overtook me here and asked me if I was okay. I told him I was tired while somehow extracting a bit more energy from the body. I think I was thinking HK100 style energy (enough juice to last 13-15 hours) but I should have made sure I was prepared for (16-18 hours). Anyway, shoulda woulda coulda. After I reached the top, I used gravity to largely guide me on the downhill bits. The moon shone beautifully up above in a yellowish whitish color. Every now and then, I stole a glance at the moon which humbled me. The stars shone and the sky was clear.

I was elated when I ran down the last steep bit of Pat Sin Leng but it certainly wasn’t over then. That 3km stretch back to Tai Mei Tuk seemed to go on forever and, even after reaching Tai Mei Tuk, there was yet another steep bit left which I didn’t know about! Kind of like the icing on the cake!

Finally, 17 hours and 37 minutes later (27th overall), I reached the finish point. I spent less than 30 minutes at the finish in order to get back on my motorbike asap as I feared falling asleep. I increased speed on the motorbike to stay awake but instead landed myself a speeding ticket! DAMN.

Special thanks to Dom, Brendan, Milos, Hannes and Viv! Great to see all of you on the course!

As hard as this course was, it was beautiful! And the markings/organization was fantastic!

Executive Debrief:
1. In the future, know the course (I guess I know now)
2. Carry enough energy and consume it, especially during the 2nd half. Force it down, military style
3. Don’t carry the kitchen sink during a race. Oh, and btw, wash your hiking bag well in advance!


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Oxfam Trailwalker 2014 — The debrief

Trailwalker is not just about 4 guys running a 100kms. It’s much more than that. It’s about running and finishing as a team while making sure that the bond in the team is strong from start to finish. The success of finishing tastes sweeter because of this team bond. Trailwalker is also an exercise in logistics. The support crew’s role is crucial. Without the help of a solid support crew and a plan/strategy to help the runners with required logistics (food/water and so on), the team is unlikely to succeed in its goal of finishing as a team in the least possible time. The team does not just comprise of the runners but also comprises of the support crew and the numerous well wishers who are on the trail cheering the team on. This is the reason why I do the Trailwalker every year. It’s a social event, a chance to exchange banter with fellow runners and it teaches you that unity is strength. I read this somewhere: “Alone we go fast, together we go far”. When you have a great team, you can go really, really far.

This was my 7th consecutive Trailwalker and Rupert’s (my teammate) 18th Trailwalker. He turned from a minor to a major today.

Our Support Chief was Dom who coordinated all the logistics on a whatsapp group. Two motorbikes, 5 mules, water, food, checkpoint preparation — the entire spectrum. Not easy. Everyone had to be on time in remote parts of the trail with the required supplies that us runners wanted.

Emilie made us pose at the start

Stages 1 & 2
The start seemed less crowded than usual. Probably because we only had around 110 “S” teams starting at 0830. After the usual “are you ready?” pep talk blazing out of the speakers in Chinese and English, the countdown began. Tilly, Rupert, Michael and I set off to a good start and were accompanied by Gilles who was our first mule for the day. He pretty much carried all our stuff and took orders from us for food and water. By the way, running as a mule and supporting 4 demanding runners is not easy. It’s not just about the heavy bag pack containing 3L+ water that the mule has to carry around; it’s also about running a little faster than the team (while carrying everything) and coping with each individual runner’s demands for water and food. Meaning stopping to fill up water into hyrdrapacks whenever required and then running fast again to catch up with the runners. The mule also has to update the team’s status on the whatsapp Support Group for the Support Crew.

As we were jogging on bits of Stage 1, I took a mini-break to answer nature’s call. After finishing my business, I ran back up on the concrete “trail” towards my team which is when I heard some abuse from behind. In a thick and loud Australian accent someone gave me some abuse about being the “slowest guy in the team”. The voice urged me to run faster and stop fooling around. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good look at the source of this voice so I couldn’t come up with any witty retort.

We moved past the dam completing 10% of the OTW (10km!) and entered Stage 2. The climbing began as we started going up Chek Keng. That’s when I heard that familiar abuse again. This time the abuse got louder and I got a good look at the source of the abuse. It was Dawson who continued to be our major source of entertainment on Stage 2. His loud, entertaining voice and slick comments were a welcome distraction. His energy was also contagious. But, I am sure not everyone will agree with me. I could almost see his teammate Sam going faster than everyone else on the team in a vain attempt to run away from Dawson! It was quite interesting watching Dawson in action. He’d make his smart ass comments and be engaged in a serious conversation but just as some random hiker would pass from the opposite direction, he’d turn his head 90 degrees and greet this person with a loud “Hi Mate”, almost startling the innocent hiker! Some of his comments were gold. He told us that his original teammate, John, who had to be replaced this time around because of an injury, was a “pacing machine” but, in terms of company, this new teammate “was certainly an upgrade to John”.

Such quality entertainment and a first class mule service from Gilles, got us through Stages 1/2.

As we reached Pak Tam Au, we had a big gang cheering us on. I remember seeing John, Rachel and Emilie who had our support kits (food mainly). We thanked them and left to start the first major climb on Stage 3.

Stage 3 and Stage 4
All we had to carry at Pak Tam Au was 500ml of water. After about 500m of that initial steep climb, we had two new mules on Stage 3 waiting for us. Dom, our Support Chief who doubled as a mule (a man of many facets) and Nick. Stages 3 and 4 are the harder sections of the Maclehose trail. Muling for runners is more challenging as the mule needs to negotiate the steep trails, carry heavy gear and go back and forth to service the runners. Nick and Dom received frequent requests from us for water and were also responsible for picking up dropped poles and handing it back to us whenever we wanted them.

In order to optimize and average out our team speed, we started using the tow rope. Michael and I started to tow Tilly. It was largely overcast on Stage 3 which was very different from what it was an year back. The cloudy weather certainly helped us keep a consistent pace. It felt great to be on the trails, talking to other teams and exchanging banter with our mules. That’s what makes the Trailwalker so special. It’s one big party on the trails! It’s a social event in nature.

After Stage 3, we hit Sai Sha road and heard a bunch of well wishers supporting us. I saw John again who was busy with his camera taking photos.

This is me posing for John’s camera and Tilly wondering what I was doing! – Courtesy John

Our support crew was waiting for us a little further up from the checkpoint. Rom was there and he had all our food ready. He asked us if we had “special requests”. I told him I wanted something hot and he made me tea! I also saw Cynthia and Irena there. Irena told me that J-Luc had fallen of his bike as he cramped up while turning it around. He came all the way to Sai Kung on his bike just to give us water so I felt sorry to hear that. As we continued on the trail, just a little bit ahead, I saw J-Luc cheering us on and limping a little bit. He pooh-poohed any talk about his fall, telling us that “it happens”. He kept encouraging us to stay strong and run fast!

Again, these are times when you learn that the Trailwalker is really a team event and that the team just doesn’t comprise of the runners. As Michael later said at the finish, the winner is the team, the team that comprises of the runners/support crew and everyone else who encourages the team along the way. This is also why quitting becomes difficult. You feel like you are letting down a big group of people by throwing in the towel early. This is why there are probably more DNFs in solo events and not as much in team events.

We owe a big thank you to this guy — Rom, our mobile support person. Courtesy – Jean Luc

The sun made an appearance on Stage 4 as we were climbing up Ma On Shan, but only briefly. The canopy of trees was illuminated when the sun shone upon them which was beautiful to watch.

Leaving Stage 3 and getting onto Stage 4. Courtesy – Jean Luc

After we got to the top of Ma On Shan, the skies turned overcast again and a gentle breeze kept us cool. The conditions for running were ideal.

Nick left us after an excellent muling service near Pyramid Hill and Dom serviced the 4 of us all the way up until Gillwell camp. We kept trading places with a Cosmoboys mixed team on Stage 4 and this little exchange of places continued all the way until the final moment on Stage 10!

From Gilwell camp, we ran to Sha Tin pass to a loud welcome from our Support Crew. I saw John taking photos again. Hannes handed me a pack of one of his special Swiss potatoes and told me to share it with everyone! (He probably thought I would devour them all by myself). I also saw Cynthia and Rom who offered us one of his special cups of hot tea again. Running through a checkpoint with so much support made us all feel like celebrities!

Our team coming into Sha Tin pass – Courtesy John

Nice run down to Sha Tin pass – Courtesy Fuse Choy

Stage 5 and Stage 6
Dom was supposed to leave us after a grueling muling session on stages 3/4 and Milos, our tall and strong mule, was supposed to take over from him. Despite niggles with his foot, Milos still showed up, all set to run Stages 5,6,7 and 8 with us. Knowing that Milos had a problem with his foot, Dom decided to continue running Stage 5 despite having muled through the tough stages 3 and 4.

Milos has prior experience muling and taking orders from exhausted and demanding runners. Last year, he was our mule on the same set of stages and I remember feeling particularly bad on Stage 5. I ordered him around, asking him for water, food, etc. He complied like a good mule. This year, I was still going strong so we actually managed to have a proper conversation on Stage 5.

I also gave Tilly some of Hannes’ potatoes and much like an advertisement for a new pack of chips, she went “yummm” and even took some more! (Tilly is quite selective of what she eats). Hannes’ potatoes got its thumbs up from Tilly which takes feedback for his culinary skills to a whole new level.

We overtook the Cosmoboys mixed team somewhere near the end of Stage 5. I saw Hannes again on Tai Po road and duly took another pack of his coveted potatoes. He said he’d send me the bill later.

As we were going up Stage 6, I gave some of Hannes’ potatoes to Michael who, much like Tilly, went “yummm” after eating them. I told Michael to send an email to Hannes complimenting him on his Swiss culinary skills. I told him that Hannes will never forget a compliment to his Swiss heritage, whether that’s potato-making-skills or his impeccable Swiss punctuality.

It was still bright when we got to Shing Mun which was an encouraging sign. It meant that we were running at a Sub 15 hour pace.

Support crew arranging all our food before we got there. Courtesy – Milos

Stage 7 and Stage 8
Our support crew was waiting at Shing Mun and gave us our supplies of food before we set off to do Stages 7/8. Dom made a reappearance, now as a static supporter, only to have his legs tested by us again. One of us forgot our headlamps and he had to make an Olympic Sprint dash to give it to us as we continued jogging on the road to Needle Hill.

Michael towed Tilly all the way up Needle Hill and Rupert started using his poles for the climb. I was falling behind as I couldn’t keep up with Michael’s energy (despite him towing Tilly) and Rupert’s poles-enabled climbing speed.

Going up Needle Hill – Courtesy Milos

I was engaged in a conversation with Milos and waiting patiently for the downhill stretch from Needle Hill to Grassy Hill trail. I closed the gap there and we plodded up Stage 7. I saw Sophia supporting a really fast team. She was super strong and very chatty which was a welcome distraction. She also offered me sweet potatoes. I felt like my energy levels were running low but that’s never a problem when there’s a mule around. I asked Milos whether he had something exciting to eat and he offered me a choice between Caramel flavored Gu, Chocolate Gu and something else. He recommended the first one. I had a bit of that and my energy levels came back up to normal levels almost instantly! Not sure what they put in those things but it did the trick today.

We went down Grassy Hill and checked in to CP8 where Rupert’s friend Ben was waiting for us. He was our surprise 2nd mule for Stage 8. I took over from Michael and started to tow Tilly up Tai Mo Shan to keep the team together. Although Tai Mo Shan is at 950m or so, it’s not all that difficult a climb. It’s got this unique terrain which makes it a pleasure to climb up. As an added bonus, you also get great views of Tsing Ma bridge near the end.

As we neared the top, the headlamp started illuminating a strong mist and it felt like the temperature went down 3 degrees or so. The concrete road down to Route Twisk from from Tai Mo Shan was a little hard on Tilly (stitches) and Michael (knees) but neither of them let it bother them!

Upon reaching Route Twisk, we were greeted by a loud enthusiastic voice. “Vincenzo!” yelled Peter which was great to hear! A little further down we had Spiderman (Vic surprised us with his Spiderman costume) and cheerleader Jinha showed up in her pink skirt. Apparently, there was talk of Vic wearing the skirt. Thankfully, he refused.

Peter, Jinhwa and Vic’s combined enthusiasm and all the checkpoint support crew helped us get plenty of energy back!

Stage 9 and Stage 10
We thanked Milos for his excellent muling skills. He told us he’d take a taxi to the finish and meet us there! We half-hoped we could have been in that taxi!

Before leaving Stage 9, I had a special treat from Retha and Hannes who offered me a slice of Margarita Pizza! It couldn’t have come at a better time. I was devouring it like a hungry lion while watching a tired Rupert gulping on his liquid energy from a bottle. He looked like he was having some trouble but it seemed like nothing he couldn’t overcome.

It was a treat to run with Jinhwa and Vic. Their muling enthusiasm kept us in high spirits and they were shouting words of encouragement at us in regular intervals. Vic was taking care of Rupert and Michael while Jinhwa took care of Tilly and I.

We went back in memory lane and remembered our Trailwalker team in 2010! Jinhwa, Vic, Steven and I were part of the Jinhwaboys team and finished the Trailwalker as a team in around 18 hours! Jinhwa, Vic and I gave a shout out to Steven and engaged in chitchat. We eventually approached our penultimate checkpoint, CP9.

Stage 10 saw us slowing down a little bit. We were still running but the fatigue brought down the pace slightly. I had music playing out of my iPhone speakers while Vic and Jinhwa were running back and forth encouraging all of us. Michael was towing Rupert to average out the speed while I continued to tow Tilly.

Somewhere along the long and seemingly never-ending reservoir section, we overtook the HK100 team. One of them was clearly hurting. I asked him if he was okay and he replied “okay, okay”.

Michael had a special surprise waiting for him after we got back on the road from the reservoir stretch. His girlfriend Emilie decided to run the last 5km with us. She joined Vic and Jinhwa in encouraging us. Fueled by this additional source of motivation, we jogged as fast as we could as a team to get to the finish line.

The final 1km stretch seemed like it was longer than usual. We grouped together and ran as a team eagerly waiting for the cameras at the finish line. Jinhwa, Vic and Dom were right behind us shouting out words of encouragement and Vic played The Final Countdown on his phone.

After 14 hours 41 minutes and a taunting, extra 100m run to the finish, the energy of the finish line lit us all up again! We saw Gilles, Milos, Dom, J-Luc, Irina and so many more of our friends at the finish line! My friends from the Hong Kong Trampers — Ringo, Tim, KW, Xiaofung (who flew in from Beijing) were all there congratulating us (as they have always been doing for the past 7 years). The atmosphere was electric!

HKTR’s new record — a fantastic team performance!

Our support team — without these guys, we couldn’t have finished

Despite Rupert and Michael stinking a lot, we still did a team hug

Our thanks
What can I say! Again, the Trailwalker is not just an experience in running. It’s a lesson in caring for each other in the team and operating as a team. It’s a lesson in eating and drinking to stay fueled, managing and coordinating logistics and a lesson in knowing how lucky you really are for a truly awesome support team!

Special thanks to my teammates and our support crew! Together, we created a new HKTR OTW record!


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Lessons learnt from a DNF: Lantau 70 2014

Lessons learnt from a DNF: Lantau 70 2014

The most dreaded acronym in the running world – DNF. No, not, Do Not Forget but Did Not Finish! Well, I guess you Do Not Forget that you Did Not Finish but that feeling only lasts a while. Or, it lasts only until you write a report like this one where you learn from what has happened, and put the issue to rest.

As you can guess, this report is mainly written for myself so if you are reading it, you will probably be bored! The idea is that I will read this report before any competitive race I do in the future so I can go in armed with the lessons learnt from today instead of trying to simply “forget about the bad experience”.

Let me start off by saying that DNF-ing can actually be a good thing. Usually, one learns much more from “failures” than from “successes”. Success only tastes sweet after one has some experience tasting sourness too.

In the context of today’s run, “success” was the achievement of the following two goals:

1. Completing the 70km run while enjoying it
2. Optimizing the time taken to complete it

The result of course was a failure in mission on both counts!

Here’s what happened:

Mui Wo to Ngong Ping
I started off very well and thought I had everything under control. I knew the trail inside out and I also knew that I could reach Ngong Ping in 2 hours 15 minutes or so while keeping a standard pace.

Signs of things going well:
1. It felt like a training run and I knew what I was doing and was in full control
2. I felt strong and did not see the need to slow the pace down

Signs of impending trouble:
1. My stomach did not feel all that great to begin with. Curry + a Tsing Tao the previous day, sort of caused problems in the morning and I did not sleep well the previous night. I drank UCAN but burping did not feel normal. It felt like I was accumulating fluids in the stomach. (I addressed it by forcing a pee at the top of Sunset Peak and it sort of helped)

2. The leg did feel a little strained but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

3. I was hot as the sun was shining hard but I thought I could handle that fine

I reached Ngong Ping in 2 hours and 17 minutes or so. I felt strong at that point and after some pictures and claps at the Checkpoint I carried on. (The cheering and the clapping at that checkpoint brought back a lot of spent energy! Volunteers make a huge difference during a run – thank you to all those people who were there)

Ngong Ping to Tai O
This stage was when I started to experience problems. Up until the concrete run from Ngong Ping to the start of Man Cheung Po, I was relatively ok but after that I could feel the body deteriorating.

Signs of things going well:
1. I was overtaking other runners and felt like I was in my hometown, at least for the first 15-20 minutes

Signs of impending trouble:
1. Again, stomach trouble. I could feel cramps in the stomach. I addressed it by taking in more of UCAN and drinking plenty and plenty of water. But, I couldn’t burp. I tried to burp but that created a nauseous feeling. I felt like there was too much water in the stomach that I couldn’t get rid of. The stomach wouldn’t process the water and that left me feeling like a bid Teddy Bear

2. It was HOT! I was overheating but I thought I knew how to handle the sun. I went back into training mode and dealt with it but my stomach would not cooperate. Every time I needed to accelerate, stomach cramps would prevent me from doing so. Downhill was the same. I tried addressing through artificial burps but that did not help. Water wasn’t being processed

3. I felt sleepy. Very sleepy. I found it quite hard to keep my eyes open

I looked at the Garmin and saw that I had only done about 25kms, which I guess was expected. But, I felt like I had done 45! The part to Tai O I have done many times in about 4 hours or so feeling fresh at the end but today was different. In fact, I remembered the time I had run from Mui Wo to Tai O AND back (56kms) feeling so much better AFTER the run at that time than I did now.

I reached the checkpoint at Tai O kind of wobbling. I tried to put on a brave face but the pictures probably reflected otherwise! Again, a fantastic checkpoint crew and I loved all the encouraging signs that were put up along the way. I thought to myself and I should let Shane from LBC know that they really helped!

My friends M, Tilly and Dom were at CP2 helping me fill up. I was half attentive as I spoke to them and my body was begging my mind to quit there. I sort of overruled that request and got the legs moving again. It was tough and even felt like the wrong decision at that point to plod on.

I saw John Ellis coming in. I was totally amazed. The guy just ran 120kms 2-3 days back and was running 70kms again today! He looked strong, he was smiling and he looked fit! I was in total admiration of him.

Tai O to DNF
I slowly got my engines running again on the concrete stretch from Tai O to Shek Pik. John overtook me and I exchanged pleasantries with him before reaching the next big climb. That climb was demoralizing. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, felt a headache, felt nauseous, could not control my stomach and was walking on the trail like a drunken man.

I remember John reappearing and saying to me “we meet again”. He took a wrong turn! After that, I felt like a student who did not know any answers to the questions in an important exam. Time was ticking but mind came up blank on answers.

I sat down on the trail for what I told myself would be exactly one minute. 10 minutes went by and I was still sitting and day dreaming as my eyes closed. Every now and then I was woken up my another runner who asked me if I was okay.

I did not like the way I was feeling and gave myself a pep talk. I got up and moved the legs one more time. Then came a bout of vomiting. All the UCAN plus water plus whatever else I had drunk came out of my mouth in a wild gush. Some lady saw me as she was climbing up and had a “poor guy” expression on her face. After vomiting, the stomach cramps got worse and the drowsiness struck again. I sat down one more time and saw Brendan and Val come by. I told them to carry on and said I was fine. Then came Mark Green who sat next to me as he said he wanted a break too. I ran my DNF-ing option by him to seek approval for a crime I was going to commit! He told me that I had nothing to prove. “You set an aggressive target and it did not work out. There’s no problem with that”, he explained in a manner that made it seem like I was unnecessarily overthinking my plight. I told him to carry own once he was ready.

I got up and tried one last time to regain control of my body and mind. Three minutes later I sent a message to Shane to let him know that I’d be quitting.

Dom called me moments later to ensure that I was doing okay and would be able to get off the hill alright. I told him that I could definitely do that. I could definitely walk/stop and walk and get out of there.

It took me close to 1.5 hours to do the last 3-4 kms before exiting at Tai O road. The bus ride to Tung Chung almost made me throw up again.

What lessons have I learnt?
First of all, I have to say that the course was well marked and all the encouraging signs that were put up along the way were awesome. I would have loved to see the signs all the way through but that did not happen. The support I got from my friends (Dom, Tilly, Peter, Vic, Ronnie, Narelle and so on) made me feel guilty about not being able to carry through.

Alright, so here’s the postmortem of the race for me to learn and address the issues to prevent it from happening again.

The Good
1. I liked the raced, enjoyed the trail and was mentally in it before all the stomach cramps hit. In other words, I never was a chore or “another bloody race” to begin with

2. I am willing to learn from this, hit the drawing board and get back into action soon!

The bad
1. Stomach cramps: Curry/beer the previous day was a mistake. It left the stomach weak for a 70km run

2. Knowing (1), I should have paced myself and slowed down. John did that beautifully. He sped up after Ngong Ping, not before. I should have hit the brakes. Why didn’t I do so? I felt like I was in my hometown, I felt like I had done that trail several dozen times before during training runs and felt quite confident I could do the same this time around. Perhaps, minus the stomach cramps, I would have been correct but nonetheless, it would have been prudent to not reach Tai O in 4 hours 17 minutes! I should have been there in about 4 hours 45 minutes or so and sped up later on

3. Sunstroke: Given the fact that I was getting baked by the sun, I should have slowed down even more. I don’t know why I felt that sleepy and nauseous during the run, perhaps it was the stomach and not the sun? I have trained very well under the impact of the sun before with little problems

All in all, the changes to put in place are the following:

1. Next time I will NOT have beer and/or curry and/or anything out of the ordinary before the race day!

2. I will go with my regular pizza chips for breakfast, carry a little bit of UCAN and eat Granola bars/Sojo bars along the way

3. I will pace myself better. The next solo test is the TNF 100. I will ensure I go very slow initially to avoid putting myself in this situation later on

And lastly, I will not dwell unnecessarily over DNFs. Like Mark Green said, “I set an aggressive target and it did not work out”. Time to put checks in place, realize what went wrong and get back into the game!


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Surviving Wilson Ralleigh – 2014

Wilson Trail… What can I say? We don’t like each other. It’s only 80kms long but… it always and I mean always… questions my ability to run long distance races!

This post I put on Facebook addressed to Mr. Wilson himself sums it up.

“I saw you for the first time a couple of years back and fell sick within 3 hours. You and I have since shared a love/hate relationship. Ok, truthfully, mostly hate. But, hey, I tried to make amends. Not once, not twice but thrice. The first time since our tragic meet, I called it truce but you wouldn’t even let me into your world. You made the excuse of some impending typhoon which never came. The second time, you wouldn’t even let me go beyond No-Name Hill. I had to DNF at Tai Po with all sorts of stomach cramps. The third time I came back as part of a team called “Ninja Warriors”. I declared war on you and returned to your territory armed with 15 Japanese Gels! I got my revenge but not without incident. I returned home a badly wounded soldier. This time, the 4th time, I am willing to hoist the White Flag and call it “Peace”. I promise to not speak ill of your boring stretches of dull concrete “trails” if you let me visit your territory and complete it without incident. We want to finish strong. We want to finish fast. And I’ll hold my end of the bargain, for the next 3 months, I’ll say nothing about the boring reservoir stretch or the grueling sure-cure-for-insomnia Shing Mun section. Deal Mr. Wilson?”

And, this is how the day unfolded.

Home to the start of Wilson trail
Like a pilot that goes through his checklist before takeoff, I did my “runner” checklist too:

1. Dump in the morning after getting up — check
2. Vaseline at sensitive places (can’t elaborate) — check
3. Anti-blister protection. Usually Compede but I decided not to pay the horrendous 140 bucks for it and simply used Bandaids — check
4. Dump again after reaching the starting point: I checked into Pacific Coffee on Lydhurst terrace to do the honors. I only wanted to use the loo but decided that that might look too cheap so I said to the lady at the counter “Can I have some tea and is there a toilet around here?” Had she said no to the second part of the question, I would have not bothered with the tea!

Our pic at the start – probably the most natural smile of the day!

Start to Quarry Bay via Park View
Dom and I decided that I would lead and set a reasonable pace for a hot summer day. I started leading until and were in #2 position overall within the first 5 minutes. The team ahead was called UFO and Ying Ying and Thomas were its members. Hmm.. UFO — what can I say? UFO seemed to be the apt name for the team. Within the first 10 minutes, the UFOs were out of sight. They maintained a pace which seemed more like they were running 20km, not 80km! We later learnt that they were gunning for a 9 hour finish!

At Park View, we were already a good 15 minutes behind the UFOs. Chor Kin was there and gave us a high five. We then climbed up Mount Parker (I think that’s what it’s called) and eventually got down to Quarry Bay. I was initially on the footpath trying to “mgoi” our way to the MTR station but Dom told me to get on the road. I did that and kept looking back every 10 seconds to make sure we weren’t going to get run over by a bus!

My friend Danny was at the MTR station with two Pret Sandwiches and water for us. He ran with us to the platform and just as we reached the platform we saw a train got by. The next train was empty and didn’t even stop! We waited for the train after that one and got the attention of curious onlookers who seemed to be wondering what we were doing! I gobbled up my sandwich in the MTR (flouting an MTR rule with pride) and asked Danny to buy me a can of cold Coke in Yau Tong. He ran up ahead, bought the coke, handed it over to me and went back to the counter to pay for it! (Thank you Danny!!)

Yau Tong to Sha Tin Pass via No-Name Hill
First came Devil’s peak. I gave a big shout out to April! This is where I quit the first time I attempted the Wilson Trail. I couldn’t keep up with her and felt sick! Today though, the engines were still solid and well-oiled (or so I thought!) Devil’s Hill and Black’s Link, under the hot sun, wasn’t easy but wasn’t difficult either. We had the right pace to see it through.

After a checkpoint, came No-Name Hill. This is where my belching got particularly uncomfortable. One loud belch and I’d have energy, albeit temporarily. I didn’t think much of it but reduced my pace. It was also pretty darn hot but I thought I was solar-powered and the heat wouldn’t bother me.

When we reached Sha Tin Pass, Dom looked at me and said “Thanks for that slow pace on No-Name Hill”. Talk about false credit! I mumbled something like “I think I did it for myself more than you” but even before I could finish the sentence … it happened.

What happened? My stomach’s contents were spilled out rather evenly on a nice little grassy patch by the side of the concrete road on Sha Tin Pass. (Next time you fellows want a break after No-Name Hill, I wouldn’t recommend sitting there). A minute later, it happened again. The Pret Sandwich and all the Coke went straight out my mouth!

And, that’s when I thought of Steven. It reminded me of our adventure a couple of years back when my then teammate Steven and I had a very similar experience. I felt the same stomach issues and cramped up in both my legs and stomach and couldn’t go beyond Shing Mun.

I also thought of my Trailwalker teammate Rupert. He is Mr. Mentally Strong. There was this one time during our OTW race where he started puking from Stage 2 of the Mac all the way to Stage 10. We still managed to complete running the entire trail in 15 hours or so with him on the tow and puking every 15 minutes or so. He’d have a gel, run some more and puke again. It would be a vicious circle. What I learnt from him on that occasion was that it is indeed possible for someone to puke and run if he/she is mentally strong!

I also read in some book recently about how during such tough situations one should always ask oneself “What is great about this situation? What can you do to enjoy it and turn it around to get to where you want to go?”

What’s great about this situation? My first answer was “what the heck can be great about this situation! I am dying man!” But, eventually I coerced a “this gives me a fresh start!” out of my mouth and asked Dom for water to wash off the remnants of vomit around my mouth. He was dry and so was I! Great. Well, nature came to the rescue later as I sat down by one of the natural water pipes on Sha Tin Pass. I drank water and cleaned my mouth as best I could. I hogged that “tap” for a good five minutes creating a mini-queue behind me from passersby. They were kind about it though. This lady wanted to know how someone can even run 80kms! I wanted to reply to the lady saying “Lady, that’s the question I am asking myself now” but I didn’t have the energy for that retort!

I’d be lying if I said that thoughts of DNF-ing didn’t come to my mind then. They certainly did and I tested Dom with a “If history is any guide, I’d probably start cramping soon and will be down by the time we hit Shing Mun”. I was expecting a “Don’t worry Vince, let’s leave here”. But, Dom’s answer was quite the opposite. He said “Here, take Sustained Energy and some Electrolytes and let’s keep moving” and handed me his water bottle! I took it, had a swish and tried to jog at a slow pace. I knew this was going to be a tough race from thereon. I did want to curse Mr. Wilson but refrained from doing so. I read a quote by Nelson Mandela which came to my mind “Holding resentment in oneself is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die”.

Mr. Wilson was no longer alive but his soul… that’s questionable. And, what he has against me? No idea.

Sha Tin Pass to Shing Mun via Tai Po Road
Oh man. There’s no greater misery than to run a mindlessly boring concrete stretch when you are puking every 20 minutes or so. (Sorry, Mr. Wilson). I was in the front and jogged 10 minutes, puked a little and walked 2 minutes. Then I went back to jogging, boy was it never ending. I told Dom that I was sorry for having slowed us down but he replied with a “Don’t worry mate – it’s all part of the experience”. In such a situation having a teammate like that is gold! I told him to tell our support crew (Martijn, Pete and Vic) to not show up as I wasn’t sure of our ETAs but I don’t think that message ever went across as all the three of them were there to show us their support!

I then went on the tow. Dom-inator was strong! Every time I felt a little tired, I’d take advantage of his strength and be moving at the same time!

After somehow having survived that concrete stretch I saw M in the distance. It was a relief to see him. He had this awesome collection of eatables which, on any other day, I would have devoured. But, today, I took some crisps, took some coke and carried on. In our group, M is always considered to be the selfless lifesaver. Whenever you’re in trouble, you know you can count on him. He’s also Mr. M-Cyclopedia and has probably read more on the subject of nutrition than even a nutritionist. So, given my ailing stomach, I asked him if I could go for a Coke and he said, “Yes, but no guarantees”. (That’s what happens when you read too much. There is always one camp that agrees and another one that disagrees on any given subject resulting in the reader never being sure of the outcome!) I grabbed a Coke, thanked M-Cyclopedia and left.

Tai Po Road to Shing Mun Reservoir
Despite me slowing us down quite a bit, I was surprised to learn that we were still in the 2nd place overall. For a fleeting moment, I actually thought I could complete the entire 80kms. I went back on the tow and mighty Dom towed me all the way up Golden Hill. One good sign was that my legs were still intact. I could still maintain a reasonable good downhill pace and for some strange reason, I wasn’t cramping in my legs. Maybe Dom forcing me to have Sustained Energy with Electrolytes was working. I’d get off the tow, set the pace downhill and get back on the tow during the uphill sections. I was wondering how Dom managed to stay that strong throughout. His towing strength never wavered.

Once we reached Shing Mun, I was suddenly in high spirits when I heard a “COME ON BOYS!” in a part Australian/part American accent. It was Pete cheering us up at the checkpoint. Him and Mr. M “Lifesaver” Doekes were there with bags of ice, salted potatoes, cold drinks and food! I have to say — I’d attribute me doing the next stretch of Shing Mun solely to their support (and Dom’s towing!) The ice was godsend. The water in my bladder felt cold, soothing and somehow calmed the stomach down.

Dom told Pete about my puking experience and unknowingly, he cleverly answered my “What is great about this situation?” question with a lot of creativity. “Hope you enjoyed the view”, he told Dom. “It’s better than carrying it — less weight” came one of his later quips. I thought to myself that those were the answers I needed back at Sha Tin Pass!

Putting on an artificial smile at Shing Mun. Pete and M gave me a second life here

Shing Mun Reservoir to Marker 99
The concrete stretch all the way upto Lead Mine Pass was again made easy thanks to Dom towing me along. I was worried about his hips and his legs and felt a little uncomfortable putting him at risk. But, heck, it’s like someone giving you cold water when you are thirsty. Pretty hard to refuse! We reached the checkpoint in Tai Po and were told that we were still in #2 position. I was quite surprised. I thought we had killed quite some time. I had hot chocolate at the checkpoint and remembered the time I had totally seized up and quit at that very junction a couple of years back. I remembered J and Vic meeting us here, all ready to run to the finish with Steven and I, but I could barely move my legs at the point! I was disappointed to let everyone down then. At least today, I was still mobile!

We saw the Tornado guys on their return trip during the stretch from Tai Po to Tai Wo. I saw some girls looking all happy and excited to make the return trip. I was telling myself that I had no excuse to look all sullen if those guys and girls could do the Wilson trail not just once but two times, and that too with such a grin on their faces. I told myself to man-up and keep the legs moving, even if that meant moving a very slow jogging pace.

Once we reached Tai Wo, we walked a little bit to Marker 99 and rendezvoused with our enthusiastic teammate Vic who saw us there with Green Tea, food and what not! Again, I felt I owed it to Vic, Dom and our Support Crew just to finish strong and remain in #2 position. I knew that the 3rd team was around 15-20 minutes behind. I was expecting them to catch up anytime as I was slowing us down considerably.

Marker 99 to the end of Pat Sin Leng via Cloudy Hill
Vic was upping our morale and took pictures of a suffering-me being towed by Dom up Cloudy Hill! I had another one of my big down moments on Cloudy Hill. I was losing power and felt like the body would crash anytime like a Windows Vista machine! Dom and Vic forced me to eat some apricots and raisins. I did that and drank some water. A big belch two minutes later ensured enough energy supply for 10 more minutes. Then came another puking episode but I think nothing much came out at that point. A the top of Cloudy Hill, I told Dom that I had no idea how I was going to do Pat Sin Leng. “We’ll bring you across no matter what. No DNF-ing”, was his response. Luckily, we had one of my favorite stretches after that, the run from Cloudy Hill down to the start of Pat Sin Leng. The trail goes through this wooded section which always refreshes me. And, I still had good power in my legs. I was like a motorcycle with solid wheels but a sputtering engine. Luckily, the downhill technical bits didn’t really need the engine so I navigated them using gravity power at quite a good pace. Had I had leg cramps too, I think we’d have been even slower. I still don’t know how but despite all the puking, I avoided having leg cramps.

The Pat Sin Leng climb was probably the 2nd toughest climb I did for the day after Cloudy Hill. Again, how Dom maintained that pace while having me on the tow, I don’t know. The guy seemed invincible. Maybe it was all the training in The Alps.

This was also the first time I had leg cramps. I had to sit (and puke) by another nice grassy bit by the side of the trail. Messages came in from Rom who reminded me of the time him and I did the Wilson Trail around 2 years back. I was a nonstop puking machine on Pat Sin Leng then. It seemed like history had repeated itself. But, I still had use of my legs and I could still maintain a reasonable downhill pace. Vic was cheering us on and I somehow managed to keep the legs moving for the most part. After what seemed like an endless 6km stretch, we were at the beginning of the Pat Sin Leng range and I was on the tow again.

Vic fell back, I think he was trying to see where the 3rd team was. I turned around as we climbed the last hill and saw headlights around 10 minutes behind us. I knew we had to up the pace. It would suck being overtaken during the last bit and I wouldn’t get a return on my puking if we lost our position during the last homerun stretch!

I came off the tow and checked my legs. I still had gravity power and the legs were, for the most part, still strong. Realizing again that I didn’t need the engine during the downhill stretches, I took the lead again and tried to maintain an average of 10-12kmh on the last downhill stretch of Pat Sin Leng.

Vic sums up our Cloudy Hill/Pat Sin Leng experience

Pat Sin Leng to Nam Cheung — the finish
I wanted to take advantage of gravity and the downhill bits and trying upping our pace wherever possible. I ran straight down the technical bits with Dom following me closely from behind. By this time, we lost Vic! The stretch to Nam Cheung was long but I enjoyed parts of it. There was this grassy section which felt like we were breathing in pure air. After what seemed like 6-7kms, we were at the road. Dom looked at me and said “Well done Vince, this is a very strong finish”. I thought to myself that it was probably because he towed me three quarters of the way! I pretty much saved all my energy for the grand finale and even then, he was following me with such ease and comfort!

The winding road section seemed to go on for a little bit and finally we heard the cheers at the finish point. We ran across the banner and finished in 12 hours and 44 minutes. We won our category (thanks to Dom cleverly registering us in Male Open and not Elite) and thought we came 2nd overall.

Later we realized that a mixed team beat us by 15 minutes (they started 2 hours after us) but, heck, I have to say that finishing for me was a much bigger accomplishment! This clearly would not have been the case but for my teammate Dom, our HKTR support crew, M “Lifesaver” D, Pete, super Vic and my friend Danny who helped us out in Quarry Bay MTR station!

The finish after The Finish
Both Dom and I were battered but me more so than Dom despite him doing a lot more work than I did! Vic was like our mother helping us wounded soldiers with pretty much everything — bringing us soups, getting our luggage, helping us get on the bus and ordering us cabs to get back home!

Oh, the puking journey had one last chapter left at Tsing Yi MTR station. Armed with a plastic bag, just outside Tsing Yi MTR station, I am proud to declare that the final remnants of Sustained Energy, Coke, Electrolytes made its way out successfully through my mouth and into a plastic bag which I carried around in anticipation of this special occasion.

Then came R&R (Rest and Recovery) and I am glad to report that now my food waste is successfully processed in the orthodox fashion (through my rear) rather than via my mouth. I know what you are thinking — “thanks for sharing”. You’re most welcome.

In order to show my appreciation for our Support Crew, I plan to give them a Treasure Map with a little twist. A map that will contain geographical “treasures” on the Wilson Trail that they are better off avoiding. And, here’s a tip: there are a few nice grassy patches and rocks which look like they’d make a comfortable seat when you are tired — avoid them.

And, oh yes, Mr. Wilson — I think we need to talk.


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Hong Kong 100 (2015 edition) — The debrief

Hong Kong 100 (2015 edition) – The debrief
I’ve done it 3 times before (14.xx, 13.26, 12.51) and decided to do it a 4th time this year. It’s remarkable how this race has evolved! Back in 2010, the Race Directors (Janet and Steve), were handing out flyers for “the first ever solo 100km race in Hong Kong”. I don’t think very many joined! And, my 14.xx time put me in the top 20 of overall finishers. This year, my finishing time of 13 hours and 35 minutes made me 47th overall! The popularity of HK100 has soared and the number of fit people out there — simply incredible!

Ok, so, this is what happened yesterday. But, first, a line or two on how I prepared for it.

The preparation
Every ultra-runner has rituals before a race. And, invariably, one of them will include what I call “a dump sequence routine”. Meaning getting up early enough to dump at least two times. I can go into details (upon special request and I am sure you’ll want to know) but I’ll refrain for the sake of suspense. Suffice to say, the public toilets near the Starting Point are probably the most sought after resource before a run.

The second routine is what I call “the pedicure routine”, i.e. taping the leg, applying Vaseline on the sole of the feet and so on. I had a grand total of 10 band-aids all over the sole of my feet to prevent blisters.

The last routine is what I call the “lubricating the body routine” to prevent chaffing. Every runner, I am sure, will have a tub of Vaseline somewhere in the apartment! I learnt my Vaseline lesson the hard way. Back in 2006 I think it was, when I did the Oxfam Trailwalker for the first time, I completed the 100km course in 27 hours wearing Bermuda shorts and ended up walking like Donald Duck for 3 days after the event. All this because, I didn’t know the value of Vaseline. Vaseline rocks. Again, more details upon special request. (I am sure you’re dying to know).

The start
The atmosphere was electric as ever. I have to applaud Janet and Steve for their choice of music. Cold Play, Oasis and other cool bands. Very cool. Unfortunately, as I found myself a nice seat by the speaker, I missed my special spot in the “Elite” section and ended up behind the elites which meant I had some overtaking to do!

Pak Tam Chung (the start) to Hoi Ha
Soon after starting, the overtaking process began. I said ‘hi’ to many of my friends, Nick (from South Africa), Mark, Lloyd (who started despite a leg injury) and eventually bumped into Marie. She’s becoming a legendary ultra-runner. I told her that I was going to overtake her but that she’d be overtaking me in 4 hours or so. And, boy, was I right. She’s like the ultimate pacing machine, similar to my friend Tilly.

After the usual “dude, passing left, dude, passing right” routine, I found the right place for me. As I approached the dam, I saw Nic and M up ahead. I did the right thing for mankind and humanity and decided to stop them for a “random” gear check. They wouldn’t hear any of it.

Dom was waiting by Sai Wan beach, I said ‘hi’ to him and smiled for the numerous cameras that were there. Btw, I have to say this – there are so, so many cameras on the course that you feel like some sort of a celebrity when running!

On Mac Stage 2, I saw Chris behind me. He told me what a beautiful day it was and that his time target was the same as mine – 13 hours. He said he’d be following me. I heard him behind me for a while but I think he stopped at the next check point longer than I did.

On the way from Mac Stage 2 to Hoi Ha, I was with a girl called Wayan who I later learned was some sort of a legendary female runner! She jumped and screamed so much at the sight of photographers that I thought she’d run out of energy more from posing for the cameras than running! The motivation was great though! I tried following her as much as I could so I could share her enthusiasm and motivation but she gave me the slip soon after Hoi Ha. I just couldn’t keep up with her. (She finished around 12.40 I think). Retha was there at the Hoi Ha checkpoint and helped me with food.

On the way to Hoi Ha – Courtesy All Weather Kwok

Hoi Ha to Kei Ling Ha
Soon after I left Hoi Ha and headed up on the road, the boring part of the course began. There was this non-stop undulating technical section all the way to Yung Shue O. Here’s where I gave myself an instruction to “stay in gear”. I pretended I was a car (yes, I can be weird) and told myself to stay on Gear 1 and just keep jogging. I saw Wayan in the distance every now and then but she was more like a car on 3rd gear! Soon, she disappeared from my view. I kept a consistent pace all the way to Yung Shue O which is where I met the legendary female runner Claire. The fact that I saw her meant something was wrong with her.

“Shouldn’t you be way up ahead?” I asked her.
“I am not sure. Should I?” she replied.

She told me that her TNF victory had taken a lot out of her. I overtook her (will probably never happen again), and eventually, I was back on my favorite Mac trail climbing up Rooster Hill. There was this guy coming from the opposite side who said “Hi Vince, I’ll read about this tonight [on your blog]”. I wished I was him instead of the guy who had 60 more kms to run! Eventually at the top of Rooster Hill, I saw two or three guys who were cheering me on and said “Vince – hikeinhongkong”. I was surprised they knew who I was and even more surprised that they’d heard actually heard of my blog!

The run down from Rooster Hill to Kei Ling Ha was great. I saw Dom taking photos on the last downhill stretch. When I reached the checkpoint, I saw Tilly and Retha there who were helping me fill my Hydrapack and getting me stuff to eat. It felt great to see them.

At the checkpoint – courtesy Yan

Kei Ling Ha to Beacon Hill
Mac Stage 4 started off well but I found myself losing it on the climb up Ma On Shan. I slowed down and tried to recover but something didn’t seem right. It was getting more and more tired. Stage 4 was a pretty low point for me. I had to tell myself that my time did not matter (I was trying to get rid of the 12.51 target in my mind that I wanted to beat). I kept telling myself that all that mattered was that I completed the run. And, I knew I could do Sub 14 even if I slowed down quite a bit. Plus, I wanted the HK100 jumper they give out at the finish! Despite all this, I found it hard to concentrate.

I saw Cynthia by the flat stretch on Stage 4 where all the paragliders land. She asked me how I was feeling and I said “very tired”. She told me that I was NOT feeling tired and asked me to keep going.

Eventually, I reached Gilwell Camp, said ‘hi’ to Tim and saw Denise who told me that Vic was also waiting for me near the support point. It was great to see my 5-time OTW teammate Vic who gave me some much needed words of encouragement. Marie then went by (just as anticipated). She looked strong and focused. I told her that she was an awesome runner and added that I’d see her at the finish line.

Vic left me at Sha Tin pass and I started plodding up Stage 5. Beacon Hill was a struggle. I felt incredibly sleepy as I was going up Beacon Hill. In fact, I got so sleepy that for the first time during the race, negative thoughts of aborting entered my mind! I told myself the usual – “Be a man! Rise to the occasion! Time doesn’t matter, kill speed, finish the run and enjoy the race”. As I was having this pep talk with myself, I saw Brendan come by. He looked strong and focused. We reached the checkpoint on Beacon Hill and saw the kids there who were great! One of them got me tomato soup and told me that I looked strong and was doing a great job! Haha! I certainly didn’t look that way. The kids certainly got me into a positive frame of mind. After seeing them, I hit the gas again and went downhill as fast as I could to Tai Po Road.

Tai Po Road to Tai Mo Shan
By the time I got to Tai Po Road, I succeeded in pretty much squashing all negative thoughts of aborting and was less worried about my time. I just plodding away all the way until Shing Mun. I traded places with Brendan but I was quite sure he’d overtake me for good on Needle Hill!

Upon reaching Shing Mun, I yelled out “Vivien” in the dark! Vivien came by, offered me some encouragement, and gave me some hot chocolate (powder sourced from Australia!) I sipped on that and started going up Needle Hill. As expected, Brendan overtook me, and I told him I’d see him at the finish line. Normally, I run nonstop all the way from Needle Hill to Grassy Hill but not today. I was too tired. The leg wasn’t too comfortable either. I just fast walked most of it which I am sure cost me some time.

Grassy Hill somehow reenergized me and the trail down to Lead Mine Pass, though not-so-enjoyable today, ended quickly. I reached Tai Mo Shan at about 8.05pm and decided to just continue without stopping to try and complete the course in Sub 13.5 hours.

Tai Mo Shan to the finish
I was only wearing my sweaty and cold tee shirt. I thought the cold weather would make me run faster. It did but the body was tired and wobbling. At one point, during one such wobbly experience, I banged my knee against a rock! That woke me up. Then I told myself to “stay in gear” and jogged as much of TMS as I could.

At the very top of Tai Mo Shan, two runners overtook me – Nicole and some other guy. I didn’t quite have the motivation or the energy to get back at them. I told myself “may the best man win” and kept going at my usual pace — until I reached that turnoff which is essentially only 5kms from the finish. I started on Gear 1 and saw the flashlight from the two runners who’d just overtaken me around 1 minute ahead of me. Before I knew it, I was on Gear 4, accelerating and clocking in 14kmh. I overtook both of them. The guy said “well done” as I passed him.

In what seemed like a pretty short time, thanks to the 14kmh acceleration, I saw the finish lights. The announcement came from the speakers “Vince from India has just finished”. But, I knew to take that announcement with a pinch of salt! The first time I did the race, I was flattered that they somehow seemed to know who I was which kind of puzzled me. (Come on, I can’t be that famous!) Upon further investigation, It turned out that they have a computerized system, that reads the tag on the bib and displays the runner’s name and nationality on a computer screen in front of the announcers! Neat! In any case, it was great to hear my name and even greater to know that I had actually finished! I completed the course in 13 hours and 35 minutes.

The finish
Peter, Dom, Bei, Anne were all there at the finish and helping me! It was great to see all of them! Peter got me my bag, Bei got me hot soup and Anne told me when the next bus was going to leave! I was chatting to super runner John Ellis who completed the course in 12 hours!! Impressive! Brendan finished in 13.10 and Marie did 12.51. Amazing runners. What I loved about all of them was how they were so strong, enthusiastic and happy at the finish. I felt like I had just gone over burning hot coal and my body was so tired that I would have fallen asleep that very instant. Plus, I was walking like Donald Duck. Not, not a Vaseline issue (thank goodness) but more because I pulled a nerve on that last downhill stretch as I was going all out to overtake Nicole and the other guy!

The race was (as usual) superbly organized and the support from friends was supreme! It was a fabulous social get-together on the trails.

The takeaways
1. I read in the book “Failing forward” by John Maxwell that one needs to manage energy, not time. Capacity is a person’s ability to spend and recover energy. The “recovery” today wasn’t good. Also, one of the criteria by which I judge myself on how well a run went, is to ask myself whether I feel absolutely fantastic at the end of the run. Today, I didn’t. Why? I am not sure. Perhaps, I should have gone out with a 13.30 target instead of a sub 13 target and accelerated during the 2nd half of the run depending on the extent of recovery.

2. I am glad I persisted and completed. The ability to squash negative thoughts by turning them into productive thoughts was good. Mac Stage 5 was my lowest point but I was strong enough mentally to reframe those useless thoughts and detach myself from them. (The kids on Beacon Hill really helped!)

3. Double Au before the next HK100: I need to do a two solo Double Aus (Mac 3 to 8) to test the body and mind, as well as to determine realistic targets, before the next 100km race.

Oh, btw, this report won’t be complete if I don’t tell you what I learnt on the Science Podcast I was listening to. Unfortunately, my Mp3 player stopped working as my sweat entered the player during the run (doh) but here’s something cool I listened to just before the player went bust. Apparently, back in the day in the 1600s, they were trying to investigate the use of blood. One scientist did an experiment: They had a docile sheep and a madman in a stadium with many onlookers watching. They slit the sheep’s jugular and cut the man’s wrist to exchange their blood. The hypothesis was that the man would turn docile, and the sheep would become mad! Nothing happened!

In another experiment, they gave an old person a young man’s blood and vice versa. It turned out that the amount of neuronal activity went up in the old man as soon as he received the young man’s blood and the neurons in the young man were not firing as rapidly when he got the older man’s blood. In other words, if you want to stay mentally sharp at an old age, you need to transfuse yourself with some young blood!

And, here’s something that shocked me. You know how donating blood is considered to be such a noble act? Well, that isn’t exactly the case. Apparently, it’s a billion dollar industry and the blood that is donated is actually sold to other blood banks and hospitals. There is a market for blood and the ones who get jibbed are the donors who don’t get their fair share of money for their “noble” donation!


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The North Face (Hong Kong) – 100 solo

Wow! What a tough course! Keith warned me about it and he wasn’t kidding. The last 3-4 hours were especially brutal! I usually try and recce courses in advance, but, with this one, I decided to surprise myself (and I felt shocked at the end). Well, to be fair, I’ve done bits and pieces of the course before but one part I should have done before but didn’t was the bit from Tai Mo Shan to Lead Mine Pass. Long, technical and undulating. If you’re doing the race, recce this bit for sure!

The pre-race preparation
I read this in Bravo Two Zero (Andy McNab). The 7 Ps of success: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I’d give myself a 7/10 for my planning. I made a last minute change the day before the race. I swapped by light Redlaight bag for a much bulkier bag. The reason I gave myself was that I couldn’t fit the Goretex jacket in my Redlaight bag (which I guess is true but I could have squeezed it in), but what was also an important consideration was that my Redlaight bank smelled like a big pig had pooed in it (this is what happens if you forget to stuff your bag in the washing machine after training).

It’s also amazing what a bit more space in a bag does. I read this in the book 4-hour workweek by Tim Ferris: “Time is wasted in the proportion that it is available”. I discovered yesterday that this also holds good with space! With a bigger bag pack, I now had more space and so carried more junk. An aluminum flask was one of them! Well, at the time of packing it seemed like a good idea (I figured I’d carry hot chocolate and have it on top of Pat Sin Leng) but, on the actual race, I felt like a donkey carrying more than its share of load. Trust me, after 90km, you don’t want to carry an aluminum flask up a 600m hill.

From The Start (Tai Mei Tuk) to Luk Keng
Ok, as a word of caution, I am usually bad at describing courses so please don’t use this post as any definitive guide!

Anyway, after our photos at the start, we set off at around 8am. I was at the back and started overtaking many of the slower hikers/runners soon as the race started. I somehow lost Vic in the first 2-3 minutes.

Group photo at the beginning – Courtesy Vic

The part from Tai Mei Tuk to Wu Kau Tang was full of “Dude, passing left. Dude, overtaking from right” and so on. I finally found myself behind some runners who were running at my speed and I used them as pacers.

On the way from down to Wu Kau Tang for the second time (you do TMT – WKT – WKT – Luk Keng), I saw Tilly and Nic up ahead. “You look like my teammate from the Oxfam Trailwalker”, I told Tilly. We got talking briefly and then I took it upon myself to stop Nic for a “mandatory gear check”. After exchanging some banter, I heard a voice behind me “Vince, this is Mr. Guinness. Aren’t you happy Dawson isn’t here today?” It was Sam Guinness, the team behind us on the Oxfam Trailwalker who kept entertaining us on Stage 2. I chatted with Sam for a while before he turned on his boosters and disappeared into the horizon.

At Luk Keng, I saw Dom, Brendan and Hannes who were there supporting me. Brendan helped me with the water while Dom gave me coke. I also took some potatoes from Hannes. It was great to see them. Provided that energy boost I was looking for. I knew deep inside that the course was going to get much tougher from Luk Keng.

Luk Keng to Fan Ling and from Fan Ling to Kadoorie Farm
I remember having to take a little trail to the left of my favorite restaurant at Luk Keng. I also switched from rock music to some serious Science Podcasts to keep the mind active. I learnt so many things on this bit to Fan Ling thanks to the Podcasts. For example, did you know that the Mantle Shrimps can see more colors than a human being? Did you know that dogs can’t see the color red? Did you know that when newborn babies stare at you, they only see a white ray of light as they can’t see yet? The Podcasts made me forget about the running — that is, until we reached this super steep uphill, overgrown bit near the top of Cloudy Hill. I knew we were going to climb up Cloudy Hill later on in the day so I wondered why we couldn’t just do it now as we were so close to it! That steep bit and the technical downhill slope that followed was tough on my legs. Then came a long concrete stretch to Fan Ling. I saw Vivien there who high-fived me while Brendan/Milos and Dom were helping me with food and water. As always, it was great to see them.

Dom offering me hot chocolate (not Bloody Mary) in Fan Ling – Courtesy Philip

Dom showed me the way up Tai To Yan and off I went munching on Milos’ cookies and sipping on Dom’s hot chocolate. Some girl overtook me here but I just didn’t have it in me to get back at her. This is where I think I made my second mistake — I should have eaten more. I had stuff in my bag but was too lazy to turn the bag around, get something out and eat it. I felt more tired going up Tai To Yan and saw Chor Kin at a distance looking equally tired. He did well to make a relatively quick recovery. Then, on the way down to Kadoorie Farm, I saw Rupert taking photos using his big camera. He said something like “where are the pants?” He was reminding me of M’s “pant bet”. He challenged me to wear his Bangkok pants for the race (M’s a mysterious man — he’s got unique taste).

Rupert turned me into a model – Courtesy Rupert

Dom, Milos and Brendan were waiting at Kadoorie Farm and Dom told me to focus on Tai Mo Shan and not worry about what followed. It was good advice and I did just that. I tuned onto the next Podcast. Did you know that when you sleep, the brain deletes all unwanted stuff, removes noise from the data that is stored during the day, and performs various permutations and combinations on the remaining data in the form of dreams? This is why you get those awesome ideas when you sleep and wake up the next day.

Dom, Milos, Brendan helping me at the checkpoint – Courtesy Milos

Kadoorie Farm to Lead Mine Pass via Tai Mo Shan
Believe it or not, Tai Mo Shan wasn’t all that hard. It was a steep climb for sure but it wasn’t as hard as I had expected it to be. Maybe because I was prepared for it. It was cold for sure though. My Goretex jacket came on and so did the balaclava. I caught up with Chor Kin again (who had since passed me) in the Tai Mo Shan checkpoint. I had some corn soup there, put on my torch and went running down that Shing Mun Section.

This is probably where I lost time on the race — Shing Mun. Combination of not eating enough (even though stomach was fine) and not knowing the route meant I was robbing myself of energy. The technical Shing Mun bit is usually what I excel at but I also had a slight problem with my knees on the downhill bits. I wanted to preserve them for Pat Sin Leng. I lost quite a lot of time on the way to Lead Mine Pass. Chor Kin and two others overtook me here.

Lead Mine Pass to The Finish
After Lead Mine Pass came that terrible Wilson Section to Tai Wo. I don’t know why but I have never been a fan of that. Again, I slowed down on this bit mainly because of a lack of energy than anything else. But, I ran all runnable bits and eventually reached the start of Cloudy Hill. Another girl, Nikki, I think her name is, overtook me at the top and she was moaning as she passed me. She was probably in pain. She did very well though. She was way up ahead of me as I was trying to catch up. The part down to Sha Lo Tung also cost me some time. I couldn’t run down as fast as I had hoped. I kept my pace steady as I approached the bottom of Pat Sin Leng and switched onto yet another Science Podcast to take my mind off the steep climb. Did you know that at the age of 4, something happens in the human brain that allows you to exercise self-control? Those who develop this at that age tend to do much better later on in their lives. Malcolm Gladwell ascribes this more to the year in which you were born in his book Outliers.

Pat Sin Leng killed me. I should have eaten more. I was wobbling around like a drunken sailor and lost momentum when climbing from one stair to another! Ricardo overtook me here and asked me if I was okay. I told him I was tired while somehow extracting a bit more energy from the body. I think I was thinking HK100 style energy (enough juice to last 13-15 hours) but I should have made sure I was prepared for (16-18 hours). Anyway, shoulda woulda coulda. After I reached the top, I used gravity to largely guide me on the downhill bits. The moon shone beautifully up above in a yellowish whitish color. Every now and then, I stole a glance at the moon which humbled me. The stars shone and the sky was clear.

I was elated when I ran down the last steep bit of Pat Sin Leng but it certainly wasn’t over then. That 3km stretch back to Tai Mei Tuk seemed to go on forever and, even after reaching Tai Mei Tuk, there was yet another steep bit left which I didn’t know about! Kind of like the icing on the cake!

Finally, 17 hours and 37 minutes later (27th overall), I reached the finish point. I spent less than 30 minutes at the finish in order to get back on my motorbike asap as I feared falling asleep. I increased speed on the motorbike to stay awake but instead landed myself a speeding ticket! DAMN.

Special thanks to Dom, Brendan, Milos, Hannes and Viv! Great to see all of you on the course!

As hard as this course was, it was beautiful! And the markings/organization was fantastic!

Executive Debrief:
1. In the future, know the course (I guess I know now)
2. Carry enough energy and consume it, especially during the 2nd half. Force it down, military style
3. Don’t carry the kitchen sink during a race. Oh, and btw, wash your hiking bag well in advance!


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Oxfam Trailwalker 2014 — The debrief

Trailwalker is not just about 4 guys running a 100kms. It’s much more than that. It’s about running and finishing as a team while making sure that the bond in the team is strong from start to finish. The success of finishing tastes sweeter because of this team bond. Trailwalker is also an exercise in logistics. The support crew’s role is crucial. Without the help of a solid support crew and a plan/strategy to help the runners with required logistics (food/water and so on), the team is unlikely to succeed in its goal of finishing as a team in the least possible time. The team does not just comprise of the runners but also comprises of the support crew and the numerous well wishers who are on the trail cheering the team on. This is the reason why I do the Trailwalker every year. It’s a social event, a chance to exchange banter with fellow runners and it teaches you that unity is strength. I read this somewhere: “Alone we go fast, together we go far”. When you have a great team, you can go really, really far.

This was my 7th consecutive Trailwalker and Rupert’s (my teammate) 18th Trailwalker. He turned from a minor to a major today.

Our Support Chief was Dom who coordinated all the logistics on a whatsapp group. Two motorbikes, 5 mules, water, food, checkpoint preparation — the entire spectrum. Not easy. Everyone had to be on time in remote parts of the trail with the required supplies that us runners wanted.

Emilie made us pose at the start

Stages 1 & 2
The start seemed less crowded than usual. Probably because we only had around 110 “S” teams starting at 0830. After the usual “are you ready?” pep talk blazing out of the speakers in Chinese and English, the countdown began. Tilly, Rupert, Michael and I set off to a good start and were accompanied by Gilles who was our first mule for the day. He pretty much carried all our stuff and took orders from us for food and water. By the way, running as a mule and supporting 4 demanding runners is not easy. It’s not just about the heavy bag pack containing 3L+ water that the mule has to carry around; it’s also about running a little faster than the team (while carrying everything) and coping with each individual runner’s demands for water and food. Meaning stopping to fill up water into hyrdrapacks whenever required and then running fast again to catch up with the runners. The mule also has to update the team’s status on the whatsapp Support Group for the Support Crew.

As we were jogging on bits of Stage 1, I took a mini-break to answer nature’s call. After finishing my business, I ran back up on the concrete “trail” towards my team which is when I heard some abuse from behind. In a thick and loud Australian accent someone gave me some abuse about being the “slowest guy in the team”. The voice urged me to run faster and stop fooling around. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good look at the source of this voice so I couldn’t come up with any witty retort.

We moved past the dam completing 10% of the OTW (10km!) and entered Stage 2. The climbing began as we started going up Chek Keng. That’s when I heard that familiar abuse again. This time the abuse got louder and I got a good look at the source of the abuse. It was Dawson who continued to be our major source of entertainment on Stage 2. His loud, entertaining voice and slick comments were a welcome distraction. His energy was also contagious. But, I am sure not everyone will agree with me. I could almost see his teammate Sam going faster than everyone else on the team in a vain attempt to run away from Dawson! It was quite interesting watching Dawson in action. He’d make his smart ass comments and be engaged in a serious conversation but just as some random hiker would pass from the opposite direction, he’d turn his head 90 degrees and greet this person with a loud “Hi Mate”, almost startling the innocent hiker! Some of his comments were gold. He told us that his original teammate, John, who had to be replaced this time around because of an injury, was a “pacing machine” but, in terms of company, this new teammate “was certainly an upgrade to John”.

Such quality entertainment and a first class mule service from Gilles, got us through Stages 1/2.

As we reached Pak Tam Au, we had a big gang cheering us on. I remember seeing John, Rachel and Emilie who had our support kits (food mainly). We thanked them and left to start the first major climb on Stage 3.

Stage 3 and Stage 4
All we had to carry at Pak Tam Au was 500ml of water. After about 500m of that initial steep climb, we had two new mules on Stage 3 waiting for us. Dom, our Support Chief who doubled as a mule (a man of many facets) and Nick. Stages 3 and 4 are the harder sections of the Maclehose trail. Muling for runners is more challenging as the mule needs to negotiate the steep trails, carry heavy gear and go back and forth to service the runners. Nick and Dom received frequent requests from us for water and were also responsible for picking up dropped poles and handing it back to us whenever we wanted them.

In order to optimize and average out our team speed, we started using the tow rope. Michael and I started to tow Tilly. It was largely overcast on Stage 3 which was very different from what it was an year back. The cloudy weather certainly helped us keep a consistent pace. It felt great to be on the trails, talking to other teams and exchanging banter with our mules. That’s what makes the Trailwalker so special. It’s one big party on the trails! It’s a social event in nature.

After Stage 3, we hit Sai Sha road and heard a bunch of well wishers supporting us. I saw John again who was busy with his camera taking photos.

This is me posing for John’s camera and Tilly wondering what I was doing! – Courtesy John

Our support crew was waiting for us a little further up from the checkpoint. Rom was there and he had all our food ready. He asked us if we had “special requests”. I told him I wanted something hot and he made me tea! I also saw Cynthia and Irena there. Irena told me that J-Luc had fallen of his bike as he cramped up while turning it around. He came all the way to Sai Kung on his bike just to give us water so I felt sorry to hear that. As we continued on the trail, just a little bit ahead, I saw J-Luc cheering us on and limping a little bit. He pooh-poohed any talk about his fall, telling us that “it happens”. He kept encouraging us to stay strong and run fast!

Again, these are times when you learn that the Trailwalker is really a team event and that the team just doesn’t comprise of the runners. As Michael later said at the finish, the winner is the team, the team that comprises of the runners/support crew and everyone else who encourages the team along the way. This is also why quitting becomes difficult. You feel like you are letting down a big group of people by throwing in the towel early. This is why there are probably more DNFs in solo events and not as much in team events.

We owe a big thank you to this guy — Rom, our mobile support person. Courtesy – Jean Luc

The sun made an appearance on Stage 4 as we were climbing up Ma On Shan, but only briefly. The canopy of trees was illuminated when the sun shone upon them which was beautiful to watch.

Leaving Stage 3 and getting onto Stage 4. Courtesy – Jean Luc

After we got to the top of Ma On Shan, the skies turned overcast again and a gentle breeze kept us cool. The conditions for running were ideal.

Nick left us after an excellent muling service near Pyramid Hill and Dom serviced the 4 of us all the way up until Gillwell camp. We kept trading places with a Cosmoboys mixed team on Stage 4 and this little exchange of places continued all the way until the final moment on Stage 10!

From Gilwell camp, we ran to Sha Tin pass to a loud welcome from our Support Crew. I saw John taking photos again. Hannes handed me a pack of one of his special Swiss potatoes and told me to share it with everyone! (He probably thought I would devour them all by myself). I also saw Cynthia and Rom who offered us one of his special cups of hot tea again. Running through a checkpoint with so much support made us all feel like celebrities!

Our team coming into Sha Tin pass – Courtesy John

Nice run down to Sha Tin pass – Courtesy Fuse Choy

Stage 5 and Stage 6
Dom was supposed to leave us after a grueling muling session on stages 3/4 and Milos, our tall and strong mule, was supposed to take over from him. Despite niggles with his foot, Milos still showed up, all set to run Stages 5,6,7 and 8 with us. Knowing that Milos had a problem with his foot, Dom decided to continue running Stage 5 despite having muled through the tough stages 3 and 4.

Milos has prior experience muling and taking orders from exhausted and demanding runners. Last year, he was our mule on the same set of stages and I remember feeling particularly bad on Stage 5. I ordered him around, asking him for water, food, etc. He complied like a good mule. This year, I was still going strong so we actually managed to have a proper conversation on Stage 5.

I also gave Tilly some of Hannes’ potatoes and much like an advertisement for a new pack of chips, she went “yummm” and even took some more! (Tilly is quite selective of what she eats). Hannes’ potatoes got its thumbs up from Tilly which takes feedback for his culinary skills to a whole new level.

We overtook the Cosmoboys mixed team somewhere near the end of Stage 5. I saw Hannes again on Tai Po road and duly took another pack of his coveted potatoes. He said he’d send me the bill later.

As we were going up Stage 6, I gave some of Hannes’ potatoes to Michael who, much like Tilly, went “yummm” after eating them. I told Michael to send an email to Hannes complimenting him on his Swiss culinary skills. I told him that Hannes will never forget a compliment to his Swiss heritage, whether that’s potato-making-skills or his impeccable Swiss punctuality.

It was still bright when we got to Shing Mun which was an encouraging sign. It meant that we were running at a Sub 15 hour pace.

Support crew arranging all our food before we got there. Courtesy – Milos

Stage 7 and Stage 8
Our support crew was waiting at Shing Mun and gave us our supplies of food before we set off to do Stages 7/8. Dom made a reappearance, now as a static supporter, only to have his legs tested by us again. One of us forgot our headlamps and he had to make an Olympic Sprint dash to give it to us as we continued jogging on the road to Needle Hill.

Michael towed Tilly all the way up Needle Hill and Rupert started using his poles for the climb. I was falling behind as I couldn’t keep up with Michael’s energy (despite him towing Tilly) and Rupert’s poles-enabled climbing speed.

Going up Needle Hill – Courtesy Milos

I was engaged in a conversation with Milos and waiting patiently for the downhill stretch from Needle Hill to Grassy Hill trail. I closed the gap there and we plodded up Stage 7. I saw Sophia supporting a really fast team. She was super strong and very chatty which was a welcome distraction. She also offered me sweet potatoes. I felt like my energy levels were running low but that’s never a problem when there’s a mule around. I asked Milos whether he had something exciting to eat and he offered me a choice between Caramel flavored Gu, Chocolate Gu and something else. He recommended the first one. I had a bit of that and my energy levels came back up to normal levels almost instantly! Not sure what they put in those things but it did the trick today.

We went down Grassy Hill and checked in to CP8 where Rupert’s friend Ben was waiting for us. He was our surprise 2nd mule for Stage 8. I took over from Michael and started to tow Tilly up Tai Mo Shan to keep the team together. Although Tai Mo Shan is at 950m or so, it’s not all that difficult a climb. It’s got this unique terrain which makes it a pleasure to climb up. As an added bonus, you also get great views of Tsing Ma bridge near the end.

As we neared the top, the headlamp started illuminating a strong mist and it felt like the temperature went down 3 degrees or so. The concrete road down to Route Twisk from from Tai Mo Shan was a little hard on Tilly (stitches) and Michael (knees) but neither of them let it bother them!

Upon reaching Route Twisk, we were greeted by a loud enthusiastic voice. “Vincenzo!” yelled Peter which was great to hear! A little further down we had Spiderman (Vic surprised us with his Spiderman costume) and cheerleader Jinha showed up in her pink skirt. Apparently, there was talk of Vic wearing the skirt. Thankfully, he refused.

Peter, Jinhwa and Vic’s combined enthusiasm and all the checkpoint support crew helped us get plenty of energy back!

Stage 9 and Stage 10
We thanked Milos for his excellent muling skills. He told us he’d take a taxi to the finish and meet us there! We half-hoped we could have been in that taxi!

Before leaving Stage 9, I had a special treat from Retha and Hannes who offered me a slice of Margarita Pizza! It couldn’t have come at a better time. I was devouring it like a hungry lion while watching a tired Rupert gulping on his liquid energy from a bottle. He looked like he was having some trouble but it seemed like nothing he couldn’t overcome.

It was a treat to run with Jinhwa and Vic. Their muling enthusiasm kept us in high spirits and they were shouting words of encouragement at us in regular intervals. Vic was taking care of Rupert and Michael while Jinhwa took care of Tilly and I.

We went back in memory lane and remembered our Trailwalker team in 2010! Jinhwa, Vic, Steven and I were part of the Jinhwaboys team and finished the Trailwalker as a team in around 18 hours! Jinhwa, Vic and I gave a shout out to Steven and engaged in chitchat. We eventually approached our penultimate checkpoint, CP9.

Stage 10 saw us slowing down a little bit. We were still running but the fatigue brought down the pace slightly. I had music playing out of my iPhone speakers while Vic and Jinhwa were running back and forth encouraging all of us. Michael was towing Rupert to average out the speed while I continued to tow Tilly.

Somewhere along the long and seemingly never-ending reservoir section, we overtook the HK100 team. One of them was clearly hurting. I asked him if he was okay and he replied “okay, okay”.

Michael had a special surprise waiting for him after we got back on the road from the reservoir stretch. His girlfriend Emilie decided to run the last 5km with us. She joined Vic and Jinhwa in encouraging us. Fueled by this additional source of motivation, we jogged as fast as we could as a team to get to the finish line.

The final 1km stretch seemed like it was longer than usual. We grouped together and ran as a team eagerly waiting for the cameras at the finish line. Jinhwa, Vic and Dom were right behind us shouting out words of encouragement and Vic played The Final Countdown on his phone.

After 14 hours 41 minutes and a taunting, extra 100m run to the finish, the energy of the finish line lit us all up again! We saw Gilles, Milos, Dom, J-Luc, Irina and so many more of our friends at the finish line! My friends from the Hong Kong Trampers — Ringo, Tim, KW, Xiaofung (who flew in from Beijing) were all there congratulating us (as they have always been doing for the past 7 years). The atmosphere was electric!

HKTR’s new record — a fantastic team performance!

Our support team — without these guys, we couldn’t have finished

Despite Rupert and Michael stinking a lot, we still did a team hug

Our thanks
What can I say! Again, the Trailwalker is not just an experience in running. It’s a lesson in caring for each other in the team and operating as a team. It’s a lesson in eating and drinking to stay fueled, managing and coordinating logistics and a lesson in knowing how lucky you really are for a truly awesome support team!

Special thanks to my teammates and our support crew! Together, we created a new HKTR OTW record!


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Lessons learnt from a DNF: Lantau 70 2014

Lessons learnt from a DNF: Lantau 70 2014

The most dreaded acronym in the running world – DNF. No, not, Do Not Forget but Did Not Finish! Well, I guess you Do Not Forget that you Did Not Finish but that feeling only lasts a while. Or, it lasts only until you write a report like this one where you learn from what has happened, and put the issue to rest.

As you can guess, this report is mainly written for myself so if you are reading it, you will probably be bored! The idea is that I will read this report before any competitive race I do in the future so I can go in armed with the lessons learnt from today instead of trying to simply “forget about the bad experience”.

Let me start off by saying that DNF-ing can actually be a good thing. Usually, one learns much more from “failures” than from “successes”. Success only tastes sweet after one has some experience tasting sourness too.

In the context of today’s run, “success” was the achievement of the following two goals:

1. Completing the 70km run while enjoying it
2. Optimizing the time taken to complete it

The result of course was a failure in mission on both counts!

Here’s what happened:

Mui Wo to Ngong Ping
I started off very well and thought I had everything under control. I knew the trail inside out and I also knew that I could reach Ngong Ping in 2 hours 15 minutes or so while keeping a standard pace.

Signs of things going well:
1. It felt like a training run and I knew what I was doing and was in full control
2. I felt strong and did not see the need to slow the pace down

Signs of impending trouble:
1. My stomach did not feel all that great to begin with. Curry + a Tsing Tao the previous day, sort of caused problems in the morning and I did not sleep well the previous night. I drank UCAN but burping did not feel normal. It felt like I was accumulating fluids in the stomach. (I addressed it by forcing a pee at the top of Sunset Peak and it sort of helped)

2. The leg did feel a little strained but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

3. I was hot as the sun was shining hard but I thought I could handle that fine

I reached Ngong Ping in 2 hours and 17 minutes or so. I felt strong at that point and after some pictures and claps at the Checkpoint I carried on. (The cheering and the clapping at that checkpoint brought back a lot of spent energy! Volunteers make a huge difference during a run – thank you to all those people who were there)

Ngong Ping to Tai O
This stage was when I started to experience problems. Up until the concrete run from Ngong Ping to the start of Man Cheung Po, I was relatively ok but after that I could feel the body deteriorating.

Signs of things going well:
1. I was overtaking other runners and felt like I was in my hometown, at least for the first 15-20 minutes

Signs of impending trouble:
1. Again, stomach trouble. I could feel cramps in the stomach. I addressed it by taking in more of UCAN and drinking plenty and plenty of water. But, I couldn’t burp. I tried to burp but that created a nauseous feeling. I felt like there was too much water in the stomach that I couldn’t get rid of. The stomach wouldn’t process the water and that left me feeling like a bid Teddy Bear

2. It was HOT! I was overheating but I thought I knew how to handle the sun. I went back into training mode and dealt with it but my stomach would not cooperate. Every time I needed to accelerate, stomach cramps would prevent me from doing so. Downhill was the same. I tried addressing through artificial burps but that did not help. Water wasn’t being processed

3. I felt sleepy. Very sleepy. I found it quite hard to keep my eyes open

I looked at the Garmin and saw that I had only done about 25kms, which I guess was expected. But, I felt like I had done 45! The part to Tai O I have done many times in about 4 hours or so feeling fresh at the end but today was different. In fact, I remembered the time I had run from Mui Wo to Tai O AND back (56kms) feeling so much better AFTER the run at that time than I did now.

I reached the checkpoint at Tai O kind of wobbling. I tried to put on a brave face but the pictures probably reflected otherwise! Again, a fantastic checkpoint crew and I loved all the encouraging signs that were put up along the way. I thought to myself and I should let Shane from LBC know that they really helped!

My friends M, Tilly and Dom were at CP2 helping me fill up. I was half attentive as I spoke to them and my body was begging my mind to quit there. I sort of overruled that request and got the legs moving again. It was tough and even felt like the wrong decision at that point to plod on.

I saw John Ellis coming in. I was totally amazed. The guy just ran 120kms 2-3 days back and was running 70kms again today! He looked strong, he was smiling and he looked fit! I was in total admiration of him.

Tai O to DNF
I slowly got my engines running again on the concrete stretch from Tai O to Shek Pik. John overtook me and I exchanged pleasantries with him before reaching the next big climb. That climb was demoralizing. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, felt a headache, felt nauseous, could not control my stomach and was walking on the trail like a drunken man.

I remember John reappearing and saying to me “we meet again”. He took a wrong turn! After that, I felt like a student who did not know any answers to the questions in an important exam. Time was ticking but mind came up blank on answers.

I sat down on the trail for what I told myself would be exactly one minute. 10 minutes went by and I was still sitting and day dreaming as my eyes closed. Every now and then I was woken up my another runner who asked me if I was okay.

I did not like the way I was feeling and gave myself a pep talk. I got up and moved the legs one more time. Then came a bout of vomiting. All the UCAN plus water plus whatever else I had drunk came out of my mouth in a wild gush. Some lady saw me as she was climbing up and had a “poor guy” expression on her face. After vomiting, the stomach cramps got worse and the drowsiness struck again. I sat down one more time and saw Brendan and Val come by. I told them to carry on and said I was fine. Then came Mark Green who sat next to me as he said he wanted a break too. I ran my DNF-ing option by him to seek approval for a crime I was going to commit! He told me that I had nothing to prove. “You set an aggressive target and it did not work out. There’s no problem with that”, he explained in a manner that made it seem like I was unnecessarily overthinking my plight. I told him to carry own once he was ready.

I got up and tried one last time to regain control of my body and mind. Three minutes later I sent a message to Shane to let him know that I’d be quitting.

Dom called me moments later to ensure that I was doing okay and would be able to get off the hill alright. I told him that I could definitely do that. I could definitely walk/stop and walk and get out of there.

It took me close to 1.5 hours to do the last 3-4 kms before exiting at Tai O road. The bus ride to Tung Chung almost made me throw up again.

What lessons have I learnt?
First of all, I have to say that the course was well marked and all the encouraging signs that were put up along the way were awesome. I would have loved to see the signs all the way through but that did not happen. The support I got from my friends (Dom, Tilly, Peter, Vic, Ronnie, Narelle and so on) made me feel guilty about not being able to carry through.

Alright, so here’s the postmortem of the race for me to learn and address the issues to prevent it from happening again.

The Good
1. I liked the raced, enjoyed the trail and was mentally in it before all the stomach cramps hit. In other words, I never was a chore or “another bloody race” to begin with

2. I am willing to learn from this, hit the drawing board and get back into action soon!

The bad
1. Stomach cramps: Curry/beer the previous day was a mistake. It left the stomach weak for a 70km run

2. Knowing (1), I should have paced myself and slowed down. John did that beautifully. He sped up after Ngong Ping, not before. I should have hit the brakes. Why didn’t I do so? I felt like I was in my hometown, I felt like I had done that trail several dozen times before during training runs and felt quite confident I could do the same this time around. Perhaps, minus the stomach cramps, I would have been correct but nonetheless, it would have been prudent to not reach Tai O in 4 hours 17 minutes! I should have been there in about 4 hours 45 minutes or so and sped up later on

3. Sunstroke: Given the fact that I was getting baked by the sun, I should have slowed down even more. I don’t know why I felt that sleepy and nauseous during the run, perhaps it was the stomach and not the sun? I have trained very well under the impact of the sun before with little problems

All in all, the changes to put in place are the following:

1. Next time I will NOT have beer and/or curry and/or anything out of the ordinary before the race day!

2. I will go with my regular pizza chips for breakfast, carry a little bit of UCAN and eat Granola bars/Sojo bars along the way

3. I will pace myself better. The next solo test is the TNF 100. I will ensure I go very slow initially to avoid putting myself in this situation later on

And lastly, I will not dwell unnecessarily over DNFs. Like Mark Green said, “I set an aggressive target and it did not work out”. Time to put checks in place, realize what went wrong and get back into the game!


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Surviving Wilson Ralleigh – 2014

Wilson Trail… What can I say? We don’t like each other. It’s only 80kms long but… it always and I mean always… questions my ability to run long distance races!

This post I put on Facebook addressed to Mr. Wilson himself sums it up.

“I saw you for the first time a couple of years back and fell sick within 3 hours. You and I have since shared a love/hate relationship. Ok, truthfully, mostly hate. But, hey, I tried to make amends. Not once, not twice but thrice. The first time since our tragic meet, I called it truce but you wouldn’t even let me into your world. You made the excuse of some impending typhoon which never came. The second time, you wouldn’t even let me go beyond No-Name Hill. I had to DNF at Tai Po with all sorts of stomach cramps. The third time I came back as part of a team called “Ninja Warriors”. I declared war on you and returned to your territory armed with 15 Japanese Gels! I got my revenge but not without incident. I returned home a badly wounded soldier. This time, the 4th time, I am willing to hoist the White Flag and call it “Peace”. I promise to not speak ill of your boring stretches of dull concrete “trails” if you let me visit your territory and complete it without incident. We want to finish strong. We want to finish fast. And I’ll hold my end of the bargain, for the next 3 months, I’ll say nothing about the boring reservoir stretch or the grueling sure-cure-for-insomnia Shing Mun section. Deal Mr. Wilson?”

And, this is how the day unfolded.

Home to the start of Wilson trail
Like a pilot that goes through his checklist before takeoff, I did my “runner” checklist too:

1. Dump in the morning after getting up — check
2. Vaseline at sensitive places (can’t elaborate) — check
3. Anti-blister protection. Usually Compede but I decided not to pay the horrendous 140 bucks for it and simply used Bandaids — check
4. Dump again after reaching the starting point: I checked into Pacific Coffee on Lydhurst terrace to do the honors. I only wanted to use the loo but decided that that might look too cheap so I said to the lady at the counter “Can I have some tea and is there a toilet around here?” Had she said no to the second part of the question, I would have not bothered with the tea!

Our pic at the start – probably the most natural smile of the day!

Start to Quarry Bay via Park View
Dom and I decided that I would lead and set a reasonable pace for a hot summer day. I started leading until and were in #2 position overall within the first 5 minutes. The team ahead was called UFO and Ying Ying and Thomas were its members. Hmm.. UFO — what can I say? UFO seemed to be the apt name for the team. Within the first 10 minutes, the UFOs were out of sight. They maintained a pace which seemed more like they were running 20km, not 80km! We later learnt that they were gunning for a 9 hour finish!

At Park View, we were already a good 15 minutes behind the UFOs. Chor Kin was there and gave us a high five. We then climbed up Mount Parker (I think that’s what it’s called) and eventually got down to Quarry Bay. I was initially on the footpath trying to “mgoi” our way to the MTR station but Dom told me to get on the road. I did that and kept looking back every 10 seconds to make sure we weren’t going to get run over by a bus!

My friend Danny was at the MTR station with two Pret Sandwiches and water for us. He ran with us to the platform and just as we reached the platform we saw a train got by. The next train was empty and didn’t even stop! We waited for the train after that one and got the attention of curious onlookers who seemed to be wondering what we were doing! I gobbled up my sandwich in the MTR (flouting an MTR rule with pride) and asked Danny to buy me a can of cold Coke in Yau Tong. He ran up ahead, bought the coke, handed it over to me and went back to the counter to pay for it! (Thank you Danny!!)

Yau Tong to Sha Tin Pass via No-Name Hill
First came Devil’s peak. I gave a big shout out to April! This is where I quit the first time I attempted the Wilson Trail. I couldn’t keep up with her and felt sick! Today though, the engines were still solid and well-oiled (or so I thought!) Devil’s Hill and Black’s Link, under the hot sun, wasn’t easy but wasn’t difficult either. We had the right pace to see it through.

After a checkpoint, came No-Name Hill. This is where my belching got particularly uncomfortable. One loud belch and I’d have energy, albeit temporarily. I didn’t think much of it but reduced my pace. It was also pretty darn hot but I thought I was solar-powered and the heat wouldn’t bother me.

When we reached Sha Tin Pass, Dom looked at me and said “Thanks for that slow pace on No-Name Hill”. Talk about false credit! I mumbled something like “I think I did it for myself more than you” but even before I could finish the sentence … it happened.

What happened? My stomach’s contents were spilled out rather evenly on a nice little grassy patch by the side of the concrete road on Sha Tin Pass. (Next time you fellows want a break after No-Name Hill, I wouldn’t recommend sitting there). A minute later, it happened again. The Pret Sandwich and all the Coke went straight out my mouth!

And, that’s when I thought of Steven. It reminded me of our adventure a couple of years back when my then teammate Steven and I had a very similar experience. I felt the same stomach issues and cramped up in both my legs and stomach and couldn’t go beyond Shing Mun.

I also thought of my Trailwalker teammate Rupert. He is Mr. Mentally Strong. There was this one time during our OTW race where he started puking from Stage 2 of the Mac all the way to Stage 10. We still managed to complete running the entire trail in 15 hours or so with him on the tow and puking every 15 minutes or so. He’d have a gel, run some more and puke again. It would be a vicious circle. What I learnt from him on that occasion was that it is indeed possible for someone to puke and run if he/she is mentally strong!

I also read in some book recently about how during such tough situations one should always ask oneself “What is great about this situation? What can you do to enjoy it and turn it around to get to where you want to go?”

What’s great about this situation? My first answer was “what the heck can be great about this situation! I am dying man!” But, eventually I coerced a “this gives me a fresh start!” out of my mouth and asked Dom for water to wash off the remnants of vomit around my mouth. He was dry and so was I! Great. Well, nature came to the rescue later as I sat down by one of the natural water pipes on Sha Tin Pass. I drank water and cleaned my mouth as best I could. I hogged that “tap” for a good five minutes creating a mini-queue behind me from passersby. They were kind about it though. This lady wanted to know how someone can even run 80kms! I wanted to reply to the lady saying “Lady, that’s the question I am asking myself now” but I didn’t have the energy for that retort!

I’d be lying if I said that thoughts of DNF-ing didn’t come to my mind then. They certainly did and I tested Dom with a “If history is any guide, I’d probably start cramping soon and will be down by the time we hit Shing Mun”. I was expecting a “Don’t worry Vince, let’s leave here”. But, Dom’s answer was quite the opposite. He said “Here, take Sustained Energy and some Electrolytes and let’s keep moving” and handed me his water bottle! I took it, had a swish and tried to jog at a slow pace. I knew this was going to be a tough race from thereon. I did want to curse Mr. Wilson but refrained from doing so. I read a quote by Nelson Mandela which came to my mind “Holding resentment in oneself is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die”.

Mr. Wilson was no longer alive but his soul… that’s questionable. And, what he has against me? No idea.

Sha Tin Pass to Shing Mun via Tai Po Road
Oh man. There’s no greater misery than to run a mindlessly boring concrete stretch when you are puking every 20 minutes or so. (Sorry, Mr. Wilson). I was in the front and jogged 10 minutes, puked a little and walked 2 minutes. Then I went back to jogging, boy was it never ending. I told Dom that I was sorry for having slowed us down but he replied with a “Don’t worry mate – it’s all part of the experience”. In such a situation having a teammate like that is gold! I told him to tell our support crew (Martijn, Pete and Vic) to not show up as I wasn’t sure of our ETAs but I don’t think that message ever went across as all the three of them were there to show us their support!

I then went on the tow. Dom-inator was strong! Every time I felt a little tired, I’d take advantage of his strength and be moving at the same time!

After somehow having survived that concrete stretch I saw M in the distance. It was a relief to see him. He had this awesome collection of eatables which, on any other day, I would have devoured. But, today, I took some crisps, took some coke and carried on. In our group, M is always considered to be the selfless lifesaver. Whenever you’re in trouble, you know you can count on him. He’s also Mr. M-Cyclopedia and has probably read more on the subject of nutrition than even a nutritionist. So, given my ailing stomach, I asked him if I could go for a Coke and he said, “Yes, but no guarantees”. (That’s what happens when you read too much. There is always one camp that agrees and another one that disagrees on any given subject resulting in the reader never being sure of the outcome!) I grabbed a Coke, thanked M-Cyclopedia and left.

Tai Po Road to Shing Mun Reservoir
Despite me slowing us down quite a bit, I was surprised to learn that we were still in the 2nd place overall. For a fleeting moment, I actually thought I could complete the entire 80kms. I went back on the tow and mighty Dom towed me all the way up Golden Hill. One good sign was that my legs were still intact. I could still maintain a reasonable good downhill pace and for some strange reason, I wasn’t cramping in my legs. Maybe Dom forcing me to have Sustained Energy with Electrolytes was working. I’d get off the tow, set the pace downhill and get back on the tow during the uphill sections. I was wondering how Dom managed to stay that strong throughout. His towing strength never wavered.

Once we reached Shing Mun, I was suddenly in high spirits when I heard a “COME ON BOYS!” in a part Australian/part American accent. It was Pete cheering us up at the checkpoint. Him and Mr. M “Lifesaver” Doekes were there with bags of ice, salted potatoes, cold drinks and food! I have to say — I’d attribute me doing the next stretch of Shing Mun solely to their support (and Dom’s towing!) The ice was godsend. The water in my bladder felt cold, soothing and somehow calmed the stomach down.

Dom told Pete about my puking experience and unknowingly, he cleverly answered my “What is great about this situation?” question with a lot of creativity. “Hope you enjoyed the view”, he told Dom. “It’s better than carrying it — less weight” came one of his later quips. I thought to myself that those were the answers I needed back at Sha Tin Pass!

Putting on an artificial smile at Shing Mun. Pete and M gave me a second life here

Shing Mun Reservoir to Marker 99
The concrete stretch all the way upto Lead Mine Pass was again made easy thanks to Dom towing me along. I was worried about his hips and his legs and felt a little uncomfortable putting him at risk. But, heck, it’s like someone giving you cold water when you are thirsty. Pretty hard to refuse! We reached the checkpoint in Tai Po and were told that we were still in #2 position. I was quite surprised. I thought we had killed quite some time. I had hot chocolate at the checkpoint and remembered the time I had totally seized up and quit at that very junction a couple of years back. I remembered J and Vic meeting us here, all ready to run to the finish with Steven and I, but I could barely move my legs at the point! I was disappointed to let everyone down then. At least today, I was still mobile!

We saw the Tornado guys on their return trip during the stretch from Tai Po to Tai Wo. I saw some girls looking all happy and excited to make the return trip. I was telling myself that I had no excuse to look all sullen if those guys and girls could do the Wilson trail not just once but two times, and that too with such a grin on their faces. I told myself to man-up and keep the legs moving, even if that meant moving a very slow jogging pace.

Once we reached Tai Wo, we walked a little bit to Marker 99 and rendezvoused with our enthusiastic teammate Vic who saw us there with Green Tea, food and what not! Again, I felt I owed it to Vic, Dom and our Support Crew just to finish strong and remain in #2 position. I knew that the 3rd team was around 15-20 minutes behind. I was expecting them to catch up anytime as I was slowing us down considerably.

Marker 99 to the end of Pat Sin Leng via Cloudy Hill
Vic was upping our morale and took pictures of a suffering-me being towed by Dom up Cloudy Hill! I had another one of my big down moments on Cloudy Hill. I was losing power and felt like the body would crash anytime like a Windows Vista machine! Dom and Vic forced me to eat some apricots and raisins. I did that and drank some water. A big belch two minutes later ensured enough energy supply for 10 more minutes. Then came another puking episode but I think nothing much came out at that point. A the top of Cloudy Hill, I told Dom that I had no idea how I was going to do Pat Sin Leng. “We’ll bring you across no matter what. No DNF-ing”, was his response. Luckily, we had one of my favorite stretches after that, the run from Cloudy Hill down to the start of Pat Sin Leng. The trail goes through this wooded section which always refreshes me. And, I still had good power in my legs. I was like a motorcycle with solid wheels but a sputtering engine. Luckily, the downhill technical bits didn’t really need the engine so I navigated them using gravity power at quite a good pace. Had I had leg cramps too, I think we’d have been even slower. I still don’t know how but despite all the puking, I avoided having leg cramps.

The Pat Sin Leng climb was probably the 2nd toughest climb I did for the day after Cloudy Hill. Again, how Dom maintained that pace while having me on the tow, I don’t know. The guy seemed invincible. Maybe it was all the training in The Alps.

This was also the first time I had leg cramps. I had to sit (and puke) by another nice grassy bit by the side of the trail. Messages came in from Rom who reminded me of the time him and I did the Wilson Trail around 2 years back. I was a nonstop puking machine on Pat Sin Leng then. It seemed like history had repeated itself. But, I still had use of my legs and I could still maintain a reasonable downhill pace. Vic was cheering us on and I somehow managed to keep the legs moving for the most part. After what seemed like an endless 6km stretch, we were at the beginning of the Pat Sin Leng range and I was on the tow again.

Vic fell back, I think he was trying to see where the 3rd team was. I turned around as we climbed the last hill and saw headlights around 10 minutes behind us. I knew we had to up the pace. It would suck being overtaken during the last bit and I wouldn’t get a return on my puking if we lost our position during the last homerun stretch!

I came off the tow and checked my legs. I still had gravity power and the legs were, for the most part, still strong. Realizing again that I didn’t need the engine during the downhill stretches, I took the lead again and tried to maintain an average of 10-12kmh on the last downhill stretch of Pat Sin Leng.

Vic sums up our Cloudy Hill/Pat Sin Leng experience

Pat Sin Leng to Nam Cheung — the finish
I wanted to take advantage of gravity and the downhill bits and trying upping our pace wherever possible. I ran straight down the technical bits with Dom following me closely from behind. By this time, we lost Vic! The stretch to Nam Cheung was long but I enjoyed parts of it. There was this grassy section which felt like we were breathing in pure air. After what seemed like 6-7kms, we were at the road. Dom looked at me and said “Well done Vince, this is a very strong finish”. I thought to myself that it was probably because he towed me three quarters of the way! I pretty much saved all my energy for the grand finale and even then, he was following me with such ease and comfort!

The winding road section seemed to go on for a little bit and finally we heard the cheers at the finish point. We ran across the banner and finished in 12 hours and 44 minutes. We won our category (thanks to Dom cleverly registering us in Male Open and not Elite) and thought we came 2nd overall.

Later we realized that a mixed team beat us by 15 minutes (they started 2 hours after us) but, heck, I have to say that finishing for me was a much bigger accomplishment! This clearly would not have been the case but for my teammate Dom, our HKTR support crew, M “Lifesaver” D, Pete, super Vic and my friend Danny who helped us out in Quarry Bay MTR station!

The finish after The Finish
Both Dom and I were battered but me more so than Dom despite him doing a lot more work than I did! Vic was like our mother helping us wounded soldiers with pretty much everything — bringing us soups, getting our luggage, helping us get on the bus and ordering us cabs to get back home!

Oh, the puking journey had one last chapter left at Tsing Yi MTR station. Armed with a plastic bag, just outside Tsing Yi MTR station, I am proud to declare that the final remnants of Sustained Energy, Coke, Electrolytes made its way out successfully through my mouth and into a plastic bag which I carried around in anticipation of this special occasion.

Then came R&R (Rest and Recovery) and I am glad to report that now my food waste is successfully processed in the orthodox fashion (through my rear) rather than via my mouth. I know what you are thinking — “thanks for sharing”. You’re most welcome.

In order to show my appreciation for our Support Crew, I plan to give them a Treasure Map with a little twist. A map that will contain geographical “treasures” on the Wilson Trail that they are better off avoiding. And, here’s a tip: there are a few nice grassy patches and rocks which look like they’d make a comfortable seat when you are tired — avoid them.

And, oh yes, Mr. Wilson — I think we need to talk.


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