2015 HK 100 – Against all odds

I was really looking forward to this one. And I really wanted the golden dude I missed out on last year by about half an hour. The preparations were going well.  I felt I am in good form. I believed I had a chance to get that golden dude. But then exactly a week before the race I went for a final training run, first in Hong Kong after almost 2 weeks of stubborn training in freezing snowy Europe. After about 10 great kilometers on the trail came brief lapse in concentration followed by stumble and tumble somewhere under Violet Hill.  Nothing spectacular, nothing unusual on uneven trails. Knowing I will fall I tried subconsciously to pick the best landing spot. I managed that pretty well with only minor scratches on the palms of my hands. But unfortunately I had a plastic UD bottle in my front bottle carrier. And that bottle had pretty hard lid screwed on. And that lid ended up between the hard ground and my left ribcage. And that hurt like hell. The impact was pretty strong as it totally disconnected the lid from the bottle. I picked myself up and went on. I had to as no matter which way I turned I had at least 4-5 km till some point with public transport. I somehow managed to continue for further 10km over Violet, Jardines and Siu Ma Shan all the way home. I announced my arrival with words “I am in pain”. I thought that’s it for me and HK100…

Nevertheless I decided to try within the next 6 days to somehow get myself fit to race . The pain however got much worse the next day. The ice pack became my new best friend, compression shirts my essential fashion accessory. After advice from friends I got myself few tubes of Arnica gel. I tried kinesio tape, space healer (electrical massage device).  I still hoped.


Trying everything …

Running was totally out of question during the week before the race as sometimes it was painful even to walk. I tried to keep brave face but the chances of making it were slim.

Nevertheless I got myself ready, packed all the gear, prepared the drop bags and decided to take the gamble. I had to switch from planned light UD backpack to the heavier but better cushioned Raidlight Olmo. I thought that it may be wise to warn those behind me that I am in pain. And so there was a warning sign hanging on the back side my backpack.

warning sign

Warning sign to those behind and around me

I still wanted to have 2 front bottles – one for electrolytes (Nuun), the other for UCAN + some plain water reserve in the bladder in the backpack. I hoped that soft flask instead of hard bottle on the injured left side would be fine.

Brave face on before start - Photo by Richard Scotford

Brave face on before start – Photo by Richard Scotford

I lined up at the start being well aware that my race may be over after few minutes only. I had no idea at all how the ribs will react to my first attempt to run even for few meters since the injury. And the eager crowd around me freaked me out a bit. I did not want to experience any accidental hit or bump so right after start I took it easy.

The crowd around bruised me was freaking me out

The crowd around bruised me was freaking me out

And right after start it was painful. I felt every step, even the soft bottle on the chest was unbearable and I could not take a proper deep breath. By the time we reached the narrow path to the first trail section I was duly swallowed by the crowd. I tried to keep as much to the left as possible to make sure that anybody who wants to pass me can get the hint and pass me on my right. I hoped that somehow I can survive the next 3-4 km in this crowd on the narrow track and then sort myself out a bit once we hit the road again. I learned 2 things here. First – I need to get rid of that soft bottle from the front left pocket, second – breathing is less painful if I do not lean forward too much. With all the people around me I was a bit worried to stop on the narrow trail so I decided to leave fixing the bottle issue for the road. In the meantime I simple held the whole pocket with bottle with my hand.

In quite some pain at this point ... - Photo by Daniel Chung

In quite some pain at this point … – Photo by Daniel Chung

This helped a bit but I was still in a lot of pain. I thought here after 2 or 3 km that I gave it a try but that it may be time to face the reality and stop. Of course I could not stop there and turning back and facing all the people behind me was not exactly rib safe. I knew I have to get to the road anyway. I struggled through this section somehow but the final descent down to the road  was really hard to take. Then I saw the small pavilion or what was it by the restrooms. I stopped there for a bit. I took the soft bottle out. With heavy heart I poured the Nuun drink from the bottle to the bladder in my backpack (I hate to fill that up with anything other than just water). I readjusted the backpack on my shoulders and decided to try to go at least to the East Dam.

and then it felt OK, for a while ... -  Photo by Joe Chau

and then it felt OK, for a while as long as I was not leaning forward too much … – Photo by Joe Chau

Surprisingly after the short break running this road section was pretty OK. I was running at about 5:30-5:45 min/km pace and I even jogged the hills that people around me walked. Here I found out that climbs may be good for me on this day. I checked in at East Dam at 1h27min and I was still in one piece and full of renewed optimism. Few minutes later I was crying.

After East Dam there is the mild hill to climb. Everybody was on the steps. I thought that the parapet of sorts running alongside the pipe will be safer option for me. It wasn’t. After few meters my right foot slipped and hit the ground pretty hard. On any other day I would just resort to some nice language and forget about this minor incident 2 seconds later. Not now. That impact sent a sharp pain through my chest. I had tears in my eyes right away. It took maybe 5 minutes before the pain gradually disappeared. I tried to take a positive from this incident – another important survival lesson – no stumbles, no hard impacts, no falls allowed. Should be easy on 100km trail race …

Other than this painful moment I felt quite OK. I climbed strongly overtaking people in the process. I knew they will all return me the favour on the downhills. Up and down and across all the Saikung beaches the pain was bearable. The main issue that would last for the whole race was that I could not take a deep breath. I was worried that I may pay later for not sending enough oxygen down the system. But “later” was too far ahead. First I have to make it to “later” and then deal with what “later” brings.

It was not too bad on the beaches - Photo by Noel Lee

It was not too bad on the beaches – Photo by Noel Lee

I did not stop in Ham Tin for too long. I did not want to interrupt the decent rhythm I found. I only quickly refilled what had to be refilled, grabbed some bananas and went on. The next few kilometers were rather uneventful. The next and most important game changer event for me came once we left the beaches and started to wind through the forest towards Wong Shek. I was jogging nicely, then I thought I saw a familiar face walking towards me with camera and then I stumbled over some root. Stumble very similar to that one that busted my ribs a week ago. I was very lucky I managed to stay on my feet this time. Fall would surely mean the end of the day for me. But still, the same sharp pain even worse than after East Dam went all the way through my body and the already painful ribs. I thought I was going to faint.

Here I had to set my brain straight.Once the adrenaline kicks in it so easy to forget that 2-3 hours  ago I was not even sure if I can last few km… I perhaps  still had some lingering hope of making a decent time.  At this stage I was only about 15-20 minutes behind my last year pace. I had to make a decision though – either take risks and push or make it clear to myself that finishing the race is my only goal today and behave accordingly. I decided to behave. From this point on the policy was to run only when the path is smooth, otherwise fast hike only, to push on all the climbs and of course to ignore the relative pace of people around me. I would do my best to stick to this for the rest of the race.

I reached Wong Shek (28-29km) in just under 4 hours. I had enough water with me as I was not drinking that much. If I remember well I only ate some bananas and piece of orange and went on towards Hoi Ha.

Wong Shek

Wong Shek – After getting here I started to believe

It was getting quite warm by now. I thought I was quite lucky that during the hottest hours of the day I was on the sections that were very uneven and rocky so I could only hike there. Not much worth mentioning happened between Wong Shek and Hoi Ha. I was in good spirits when I reached the Hoi Ha CP.

Hoi Ha

Hoi Ha – Ready to take a pic of the monkey – Photo by Sunny Leung

I paused there for few minutes, refilled the water, ate some bananas and chocolates and continued up the road before turning to the trail/path towards Yung Shue O. Here is where I met the first and for long hours the last monkey of the day.

monkey hong kong

One of the spectators around Hoi Ha

The large sections of the path towards Yung Shue O were smooth for me to run so I tried. It was not easy though to find again the right posture and pace and rhythm that did not hurt. So yes, I managed some running on the way to next CP but not as much as I hoped I could.

Yung Shue O

Yung Shue O

I refilled water at Yung Shue O and ate pretty much the same stuff I ate at Hoi Ha CP. Last year it was after this CP where my troubles started. This year I was keen to hit the climbs. I enjoyed this section a lot. I found the climbs easy. Only just before the final climb to Rooster Hill begins I took a very short break, long enough to kick one gel in. I passed many people between Yung Shue O and the summit of Rooster Hill. The next bit – the downhill to Kei Ling Ha – was the tough one for me. It is so much harder to walk it down than to run it down. And there was no way I could run that downhill. This was one big mental challenge seeing all those people I overtook since last CP flying by me so easily. But there was nothing I could do about it. I was hurting on the way down even without hitting hard those steps and rocks.

I decided to take a longer break at Kei Ling Ha. I got my drop bag and prepared the gear for the second half of the race (headlamp, poles, windbreaker + few extra gels). I had some bananas, some chocolate and a bit of coffee. I refilled the water and after about 20 minutes I was ready to go again. I believed that by now I mastered the art of nursing those ribs through the day. Leaving this CP I was confident that bar some unfortunate incident I can make it to the finish.

Kei Ling Ha

Leaving Kei Ling Ha – confidence growing

Happy that I don’t have to go downhill I started passing people right after the checkpoint. Few people re-passed me again on the short downhill bit but once the Ma On Shan climb proper begun I was on the roll. I kept my poles-aided steady pace. I found the climb surprisingly easy. Soon I made it up on that beautiful ridge.

Ma On Shan

Poles aided steady climb up – Photo by Daniel Chung

It was the no run territory for me so I just power hiked as fast as I could. The steep steps down slowed me a lot as the rib management mode kicked in again. But overall I pulled through this section with relative ease. I made a short pit stop at the pavilion by the “Gilwell Camp 7km” sign – it was getting dark quickly and the headlamp had to go on. I was tempted to start running but I knew that was too risky, especially as it was getting dark. I pushed on in steady power hiking pace managing to overtake few more people before reaching the Gilwell Camp CP. As I found out later I gained about 35 places on this section.

Gilwell Camp

Gilwell Camp

I took some rest at the checkpoint while refilling the water and eating some bananas and chocolates. The next climb up to Tate’s Cairn can be quite nasty . But I still felt good climbing and without any issue after overtaking few people I quickly made it to the Shatin Pass road. This was one of the rare opportunities to run for me. I started jogging carefully and slowly picked up a manageable pace. I eased into a fast walk as I approached the beginning of the Lion Rock section in order to spare my leg muscles the sudden pace change shock. I was lucky not to experience any cramping all day (thanks to my slow pace I guess) and I did not want to induce them now.

The initial climb went without issues. I passed few more people but some of them only temporary. Once the climb was over the others could run and I could not. But by now I was getting used to being constantly overtaken by the same people.

One minor stumble reminded me that I need to keep focused if I want to finish this race but other than that it was an uneventful ride to Beacon Hill. It seemed to take forever though.

All the CPs were well managed and handled but the Beacon Hill one is simply the coolest one of all. I perhaps stayed a bit longer than I should but at least I left well fed with soup, pasta and enough fluids to get me to Shing Mun.

Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill – The coolest checkpoint

The bad thing about this CP is that it is on a top of the hill. And while I totally enjoyed climbing up there getting down was a suffer fest for me. I crawled down all the steps while many people passed me again. Nothing I could do. But once I got down on the flattish trail leading to Tai Po Road I settled into a good and steady pace and powered on. The temptation to switch to running came here and then again but I managed to resist it.

I crossed the bridge over the road and could not wait for the climbs to start again. I thought about running a bit but at the end I decided to keep on the steady pace and use the energy for faster hike up the Golden Hill Road instead. This looked like good strategy as all the people who passed me running between the bridge and reservoirs were back behind me quickly after the climb begun.

I was quite surprised that I haven’t seen any monkeys since the one I met in Hoi Ha. And there we none to be seen for most of the monkey road climb. I thought may be it is past their bed time already when bunch of them appeared. Someone dropped a whole case of oranges on the road and monkeys had their general assembly there…

Monkeys or no monkeys I kept on climbing up the road without any problem. I tried to jog down the road once I got over the crest but this time it did not really work. So I hiked it down the hill with my poles helping to absorb the impacts and protect the ribs. Once I hit the trail and started to climb I felt much better again. I knew that after I get to Shing Mun there will be only three hills left – almost home. New trouble though – on the descent down to CP I started to feel the back of right knee – probably the result of trying to protect and nurse my left side for most of the day…

I made only very brief stop at Shing Mun CP and went on towards Needle Hill. Last time I climbed it I was as an OTW mule with Vince as my company. Now I had no one talking non stop next to me on the way up so I at least  tried to recall what was it Vince kept on going about those 2 months ago.  All I could recall was that it was some podcast. In the meantime I kept on passing people. For some reason Needle Hill did not feel evil at all.

It was much harder again on the way down but surprisingly this time there weren’t too many people flying by me. The right knee area started to worry me a bit and I was glad I had the poles. Nevertheless I survived all the downhill steps and was ready for the Grassy Hill climb. This climb is easier as it is rather steady road climb but it drags on forever. I had enough strength left to push up but the nature of this climb is simply boring. I kept overtaking people on the way up but then let few pass me on the way down to Leadmine Pass. This was more less the last dangerous-for-me downhill section of the race. Other than my injury I felt strong but by know I really had to watch my right knee too. I was sure that if I make it to Leadmine Pass in one piece I will make the finish line. I was very careful on the run down and I survived. As I found out after the race, even with people passing me on the descent to Leadmine Pass I still gained around 45 places since Shing Mun.

Leadmine Pass

Leadmine Pass – Almost home

I decided to change the battery in my headlamp as a precaution before heading up to Tai Mo Shan. I wanted to avoid seeing the polar bears all around me like a year ago… So I spent a bit more time at the final checkpoint. I was not too hungry so I only took a piece of chocolate and drank a bit of Pocari, some coffee and tea to warm up and was ready to go. I still had a banana and some chocolate energy bar from some previous CPs with me as a back up just in case. I was also sure I would be able to dig out some gel from the backpack if I needed.

Tai Mo Shan was good to me. I had no issues, I was climbing with ease. Thanks to not being able to run when I normally would I had lots of energy left. And as the ribs did not ache on climbs I could give it all. The visibility however was very bad the higher I climbed. At places I could not see further than 4-5 meters ahead. I was glad that I am quite familiar with that area.

I could not run the flattish and downhill sections and I had to be very careful on the final technical downhill before reaching the final road climb to the top. But all went without incident. Now my final big question was how my ribs and by now rather painful and unstable right knee will handle the long road descent to the finish.

I though that I would be super excited once I reach the top of Tai Mo Shan. I surely was last year. But this year for some reason it was just job-done-now-get-quickly-down feeling. I did not bother folding my poles. I just reminded myself to be careful and not to turn them into weapons like some people around me did earlier in the race.

I carefully started jogging on the downhill testing how the body would react. There were no complains from the ribs and the knee seemed to be happy enough so I carefully gradually increased the pace. There were few people flying by me on the way down running too fast even for a fully fit version of me. But I also caught up and passed quite a number of runners too. After the race I found out I gained another 38 places between Leadmine Pass and finish. The hills were very kind to me.

The first kilometer or kilometer and half was still in a thick fog (or a cloud) with very poor visibility and I had to use the white line on the road as my guideline. But once it cleared it was smooth sailing all the way. Thanks to gravity I picked up the pace a bit more and soon I could hear the loudspeakers at the finish line.

Tired but happy to have made it.

Tired but happy to have made it.

I crossed the line in 18:50.36, about 2h15 mins slower than a year ago. My target for this year was the golden dude (sub 16 hours) at the end I am so grateful for the silver one.

Dude, you may not be golden but you are mine!

Dude, you may not be golden but you are mine!

I am really grateful for all the support from my family, friends and running buddies. The post injury suggestions how to deal with it, the encouragement to try, the reminders that while trying still be sensible and all the messages of support during the race – this was just awesome. This all kept me motivated and willing to try.

Messages like this kept me going... - Photo by Vic So

Messages like this kept me going… – Photo by Vic So

Only 3 weeks ago I decided that this year may be a good year to try to achieve HK grand slam of 100km races. A week ago I thought this would have to wait for another year. Looks like the grand slam attempt is still on. So hopefuly the ribs will heal and Translantau100 can be next. But before that a long break.

3 thoughts on “2015 HK 100 – Against all odds

  1. Such a great report and you are a legend for battling through this. It was hard enough with a few blisters so with a messed up rib cage that is awesome. Well done, man!

  2. Just awesome mate!!! Really proud of you bro. And it’s a much better read than your F1 blog of yester-years… lol…
    Great physical and mental effort to the ultimate “rib management” machine!

  3. Oh man! How painful!! In my eyes, you are everything that the golden dude inspires! I don’t think I could have completed in your shoes!!!

    “I made only very brief stop at Shing Mun CP and went on towards Needle Hill. Last time I climbed it I was as an OTW mule with Vince as my company. Now I had no one talking non stop next to me on the way up so I at least tried to recall what was it Vince kept on going about those 2 months ago. All I could recall was that it was some podcast”

    Dude… I am like the quietest person on the trails! 😉

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