Vibram Hong Kong 100, 2013 edition
My third consecutive time in three years on the Hong Kong 100. The first time I did it, I completed the course in 14 hours and 53 minutes. Last year, I surprised myself by finishing it in 13 hours and 28 minutes. This year, I somehow completed it in 12 hours and 51 minutes! Don’t ask me how. Probably just got lucky!
I wanted to be at the start by 7am to collect my race bib. Unfortunately, an emergency dump request from the body just as I was about to leave home at 6.10am (yes, too much information) meant that I had to bike it all the way to Sai Kung to make it on time. (I thought about dumping the Tour De France style — without getting off the bike but it sounded too gross [much like the doping revelations]).
I arrived at the start at about 7.10am. It was jam packed with fit individuals. It felt like an army recruitment camp. The toilets were buzzing with activity (an indicator of an imminent race) and the fit guys were running minor laps around the starting point to get the body in rhythm.
Roger Graham showed up in the bag-drop queue and lifted his jacket to reveal his true name. “Call my Muz”, he said, as he displayed his bib which read “Muz Mohamad”. I remember he was “Bruce Pye” last year. One man — several identities, Jason Bourne style.
At about 7.55am, race organizer Janet Ng’s mom rang the opening bell. And 1200 runners (half of them from overseas) were on their way to run a 100kms!
From the start to the end of Maclehose Stage 1
Initially, I was behind quite a few runners and couldn’t overtake them easily. But, once my engines were warmed up, I started my “passing left, passing right” routine to get ahead of the slower runners. I saw one guy on the ground, writhing in pain, probably from an ankle injury, but he just appeared to need some time on his own. The trail eventually lead to Maclehose 1 and after about 20 minutes on the Mac 1 trail to East Dam, I saw Martijn, Rupert and Olya up ahead.
“Yo, you don’t wait for me, you don’t stop, what’s up with that?” I inquired as I tapped them on their shoulders. “I haven’t see you all morning!” Martijn said, as we started talking.
Olya was navigating and chose the shortest distance along the windy concrete path. “It saves a couple of metres”, Martijn explained as we ran as a team (I was cleverly drafting off Olya).
I saw Alger Chan and KK Chan, two top runners up ahead. At that point, I left Olya and Martijn and decided to up the pace a little bit.
“Hi Hero!” I said to KK Chan.
“Old man, not hero!” KK responded.
“No… Old HERO man!” I said to the 50-something-year-old KK, a true Hong Kong trail running legend. We exchanged pleasantries and I went ahead of him.
The cameras were clicking everywhere. Lloyd Belcher was in his trademark position, crouching down on the floor and squinting his right eye as he gazed into the viewfinder of his LONG camera. “Yo!” I shouted to him to which he said something that I couldn’t quite get! The cameras were clicking everywhere and loads of people were clapping as I approached East Dam. I felt like a celebrity.
East Dam to Wong Shek Pier via Ham Tin
The beautiful beaches of Sai Kung provided me with some extra motivation as I ran along Mac Stage 2, all the way to Ham Tin. The views never ceased to amaze. I stared at the beaches wondering what I was doing stuck in a cubicle 5 days a week when the world outside was so beautiful. I saw ace runners AJ and Pig Chan somewhere on the way from Sai Wan to Ham Tin. “I am chasing the Pig”, AJ told me as he pointed towards Pig Chan who is one heck of a fast Pig. I overtook both of them while noting that they’d get back at me sometime during the race.
Somewhere at a distance I could see the HKTR tee shirt and could hear a lot of clapping. It was Jean-Luc and Phoebe encouraging the runners. I gave them a high-five and proceeded to the check point. I told myself that I’d NOT be having anything else other than standard food, i.e. no gels or Gus or anything of that sort. So, I grabbed a few biscuits, a sandwich and left the checkpoint.
The route to Wong Shek Pier was filled with photographers! There was at least one camera every 200m or so! I gave them all a trademark smile and reached the Hoi Ha checkpoint to plenty of cheering and claps. The support was simply fantastic! It pumped a lot of adrenalin in the body. After grabbing more biscuits and a sandwich, I left the checkpoint.
Wong Shek Pier to Hoi Ha
There are two killer stretches on the HK100. This *has* to be one of them. Extremely technical and missteps on this stretch will cause ankle twists! On this 6km stretch, I lowered my speed to something I could safely manage and told myself to be “disciplined”. Meaning, I had to watch where I was going and each jump over a boulder had to be pre-approved by the brain! Somewhere along this stretch, I saw a girl who was running up all steep slopes! I recognized her from the paper — she was the Nepali girl “who eats mountains for breakfast” as the paper put it. We traded places every now and then but I finally had her. (All the running up slopes probably made her tired).
After about an hour, I reached Hoi Ha and saw Hannes, Dominic and Jinhwa there. Hannes and Jinhwa were on the BMW riding towards the checkpoint and shouted out words of encouragement while Dominic was stationary and gave me a high-five.
Hoi Ha to Yung Shue O
This is the 2nd killer stretch — not because it is technical but because it is long and boring! There’s a never-ending concrete stretch which seemingly goes on forever. I ran past a guy donning a ponytail (I thought he was Spanish but Martijn later told me he was Belgian) and he appeared to be slightly stronger than I was. During a brief encounter, he looked at me and said “thank you so much for the company, I was struggling there”. I did a self-check and thought to myself that the feeling was mutual! This stretch lasted forever!
Eventually, I could see the end of this trail which immediately pumped in more adrenalin in the body. Hannes and Jinhwa were at that checkpoint and handed me a ziplock bag containing Hannes’ secret recipe for success — Swiss potatoes in olive oil. Tasty, I tell ya. I grabbed the potatoes from them, filled up water in my Hydrapack and left the checkpoint.
Yung Shue O to Kei Ling Ha
I could hear loud bells as I prepared to climb to the intersection of the Maclehose Trail. It was Romain, the official marshal, encouraging the runners! I said ‘hi’ to him and continued to climb up. A shirtless guy came approaching from behind and tapped me on the back as he overtook me. It was Wong Ho Fai, who looked very strong. I also saw another fast runner Anthony Davies peeing in some corner. I overtook him but he came back at me looking real strong and went past me at lightning speed.
At this point, I started feeling very, very sleepy. I was going uphill feeling like a zombie. I was longing for caffeine. I promised myself that I’d have coke at the next checkpoint and forced myself to climb up in a disciplined fashion. Then I had an idea — I’d run down top speed on all the downhill bits in an effort to pump in more adrenalin into the body. It worked. I ran down Rooster Hill at top speed and overtook Anthony Davies who appeared to be strangely slow on the downhill stretches. On the final stretch, I could hear someone yell out “I am going to read about this on your blog tonight!”
Upon reaching Kei Ling Ha, all the clapping and cheering woke me up some more. Andre filled up my Hrdrapack with water while I also got my spare water bottle filled up with Coke! It was supposed to be my medicine for keeping awake.
Maclehose Stage 4 and Stage 5
Sleeeeeeeepy! I could barely keep awake on the climb up to Ma On Shan. A Cosmoboy kid overtook me on the climb and I had a lot of trouble just staying awake. I had to bite my tongue and pump in loud music into my ears in an attempt to keep the body awake. Upon reaching the top of Ma On Shaan, I figured that adrenalin was the best answer to keep the body from sleeping. I ran down faster than I should have done on all the downhill stretches. It worked. Then I told myself that my “keeping awake” trouble would end after Beacon Hill, as I’d have to concentrate more in the dark which would keep focus.
I got my supplies at Gilwell Camp checkpoint and ran as fast as I could to Sha Tin pass. As expected, Pig Chan came after me from behind and all I could hear was “Hi Vince” before he disappeared into the horizon.
The climb up to Beacon Hill was not as bad as I had expected. I was still awake (thanks to the Coke) and the climb didn’t last very long. The kids at the checkpoint were amazing. They had walkie-talkies and pre-ordered my drinks even before I could reach the checkpoint!
Beacon Hill to Shing Mun
I ran down pretty fast on the stairs and the downhill stretches in an effort to keep the adrenalin pumping in the body. I wasn’t feeling sleepy anymore. Upon reaching Mac 6, I continued running up that concrete slope with music blasting into my ears. I stopped to pee even if I didn’t have to. Peter Lee, a legendary runner, once told me that it was important to pee every 2 hours or so even if you didn’t want to go. I completely agree. The peeing seemed to have a soothing effect on the stomach and kidneys. At about 6.10pm, I came running down to the BBQ campsite on Mac 6. I saw Martijn there much to my surprise. He told me that he had stomach problems and had to abort. Despite that, he had come down to Mac 6 just to support us! I was touched. Martijn and Romain were like my Ferrari pit-stop. They filled up my bag with water at the checkpoint, got me food and ensured I was doing ok! I was touched and grateful plus extra motivated to finish! After having a slice of orange, I left the checkpoint all ready to complete the last two stages of HK100.
Needle Hill, Grassy Hill and Tai Mo Shan
At this point, I was wide awake and felt very strong! Needle Hill was familiar territory as well. I reached the top of Needle Hill in about 30 minutes. I ran most stretches from there on, all the way up to the top of Grassy Hill. In about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Shing Mun reservoir, I reached Lead Mine Pass.
For the first time during the race, I didn’t have to reload at any checkpoint. I was keen to get the race over and done with. I looked at the checkpoint guy and told him that “I was going to get this baby over and done with” (he probably thought I was weird). And off I went to climb up Tai Mo Shan.
I tried running on a lot of the Tai Mo Shan stretches but ended up falling on some occasion as the mental determination was stronger than what the physical body was capable of handling! I then slowed down a notch and kept the pace pretty consistent. The cold wind on top didn’t help too much! It was foggy and the visibility was terrible. I watched the white line at the centre of the road and followed that like a plane being guided to the finish. I must have been doing about 13-14kmh from the top of Tai Mo Shan to the finish.
Near the finish, Martijn and Romain greeted me again and ran with me to the finish! And, there it was — a time of 12 hours and 51 minutes, much to my surprise. This PB record is probably going to stick for a while as I don’t see how/when I can ever beat this.
Lucky to have all this support
Of course, I don’t think I would have even completed this race had it not been for the support and encouragement of HKTR, Martijn, Romain, Dominic, Hannes, Jinhwa, Jean-luc, Phoebe, Sharon, Andre and everyone else who came out to support us. Heartfelt “thank you” to all of you!
And now, I have to go to Sai Kung again to bring my bike back home!