Most people would start the year with goals or aspirations for themselves. For us trail runners, it would probably be running another race. That was the case as I returned to Hong Kong for the 2017 Vibram Hong Kong 100. My second attempt at the race after DNF’ing last year due to the extreme weather as well as inadequate gear.
It was an early morning flight, which wasn’t that bad, but I wished I had more sleep. Still, I dragged myself out of bed and cabbed to the airport. Wei Chong joined me in a bit and and we grabbed a hot drink before making our way to the gate.
After checking into our AirBNB, we waited for William to arrive before heading over to Racing The Planet to visit Samantha and Riita.
After dinner, we stopped by Gone Running since it was nearby and also because I had stuff to collect. Turns out, we got much more than we bargained. Nuria Picas was in store for an information session and we happened to have walk right in! Even bumped into Arnauld (WAA photographer), Jeri and even Janet and Steve (HK100 RD’s).
Race Pack Shenanigans
I haven’t had a really bad experience with pre-race matters so far. But because this was such a standout incident, I had to make note of it. So here was what happened.
- During race registration, I indicated for my race pack collection venue to be at the Action X Store at Sheung Wan.
- On the week of the race, I received an email saying that there had been ‘a mistake’. I was to collect my race pack at the Regal Riverside Hotel in Sha Tin.
- I replied saying that I wanted to collect in the store, to which they replied that they will take note of that.
- On Thursday after flying in, I went to the store but was told that the pack was at Regal. The store staff then told me to pick it up there instead. I was tired, so I decided to pick it up the next day.
- After lunch on Friday, William and myself traveled up to Regal. My worst fears came true when I was told that the pack was back at the store. The staffs were shocked when I told them I stayed at Wan Chai. But they probably don’t know how tired and furious I was inside.
- The staff then informed me that the race pack would be moved back to Regal. But that would take about 2 hours. I told them firmly to keep it at the store, as I had to head back to Hong Kong Island to meet a friend for dinner and it was getting late.
- And after that long journey back, I finally got it. Met Steve Carr at the shop too.
To sum it up, I spent the afternoon before the race travelling up and down Hong Kong to find my race pack. While it does seem hilarious at first, I assure you, it was physically and emotionally draining. Travelling from Wan Chai to Sha Tin was at least an hour with 3 to 4 train changes!
I was quite tired by the time I arrived back at the apartment. But I had promised a primary school friend based in Hong Kong, that I would meet her for dinner. I was hungry anyway, so I went out again.
After we parted ways, I spent the rest of the night checking gear and contemplating what the next day would bring.
I tried to get some sleep, but ended having a few winks or two for an hour before knocking out. Waking up later at 4am, I immediately got out of bed to make breakfast. As per race day tradition, everyone downed a packet of cup noodles to keep our bellies warm for the cold morning and long day ahead. It was cold and drizzling on the way to the bus pick up at Southorn Playground. Upon reaching the bus pickup point, I was surprised to find that no one was there. Thankfully, we spotted a few runners heading onto the other side of the playground. After waiting for the second bus to come, we were promptly on our way.
Coming off the bus, naturally it was cold, but as not as friggin cold as last year. We deposited our drop bags at the respective counters and proceeded to queue for the loo. Whilst Wei Chong and myself found a quicker lane, William wasn’t that lucky.
While waiting for William to finish his business, Wei Chong and I wandered around to see if we could find anyone else we knew. We bumped into Terence and then Janet, one half of HK100 Race Directors.
Later, we regrouped at the start line to be in the first wave to avoid the bottle neck. Always great to be in a race with friends and other Singaporeans.
After the excitement of flag off died down, we were all on our way. Each running our own race and following a plan that we had set for ourselves. I had only two goals: (1) Not to fall down and (2) To finish the race in one piece. Considering the last 2 race DNF’s and sudden injury issues, finishing was main the priority.
I started the race conservatively, so as not to burden my knee too early or slip and tumble. But I kept my running tidy and made sure I moved quickly through the flatter sections. Knowing that going off too fast would be a disaster, I was happy to let people overtake me through Sheung Yiu Country Trail.
After exiting the trail, we continued the first part on the tarmac road overlooking the reservoir. It was still cold with the occasional gusts of wind, so I continued to wear my light vest. It was very tempting to increase the pace on that tarmac road, but I reminded myself there was still a long way.
Support point: East Dam
I skipped this support point and proceeded to have a quick bite of the Runivore Bar as I made my way up the next up hill into Sai Wan Shan. On the way up, I packed away my light vest and moved my buff around my neck to my wrist. It was a strange feeling to be sweating in the chilly weather.
CP1: Ham Tin
After passing through plenty of downhill sections and across the beaches, I reached Ham Tin; a small little check point just up a boardwalk and pavement. I refilled my Tailwind, grabbed a swig of Coke and moved off swiftly into the next section.
CP2: Wong Shek
Coming into Wong Shek, I was greeted by Archer who was there to crew some of the other Singaporean runners. He helped refill my bottle while I took in some food. I thanked him for his help before quickly moving off again.
CP3: Hoi Ha
I don’t recall much between CP2 and CP3, other than I was moving well without much difficulty. Upon reaching CP3, I took a few swigs of hot chocolate as a sore throat that had developed on the morning of the race had started to bother me.
CP4: Yung Shue O
Between CP3 and CP4, the back of my knee started to feel sore; a residual feeling from the injury. On top of that, I started getting minor cramps in my legs in the later part of this section. It was a rough patch, but stopping to stretch and keeping a positive outlook helped for that time. I pushed onwards knowing that the coming CP wasn’t difficult to get to. Eventually, I reached CP4, but was surprised that it was placed further up than it was last year. Nevertheless, I filled my water, grabbed some chocolates and took a few swigs of hot chocolate before moving off.
It was a difficult task climbing Rooster Hill (399m) after running on flatter ground for the last few hours. But I thought I did better this year by keeping a consistent rhythm as I made my way up and over to CP5. I kept telling myself to keep one foot forward, over and over again. Eventually, I made the climb and started the descent, which equally tricky in itself.
CP5: Kei Ling Ha
I felt a sense of elation as I entered CP5, for I was still running well with no major issues. In order to avoid staying at CP5 for too long, I quickly grabbed my drop bag and looked for a spot to change into fresh clothes. It was there that I bumped into Terence, who had arrived before me. We helped each other by looking after our gears as we got changed and he helped me out with a spare plastic bag to keep my dirty clothes. There, I was also assisted by Eric, a Hong Kong based WAA Expert who helped get some soup. I also bumped into PS Sim whom I’ve known from CCC, but didn’t manage to say hi.
After noting the time, I told Terence that I’ll be pushing on ahead. Just up the first slop, runners were stopped for a mandatory gear check. I continued on into the evening and into the darkness that lay ahead.
CP6: Gilwell Camp
Undoubtedly, the journey from CP5 to CP6 was a long one at 13km between the two. Ma On Shan was a tough climb, but the temperatures were manageable and I made it over to the other side without much difficulty. Visibility was poor however, as the night went on due to the rain and mist/fog.
Last year, I came into Gilwell Camp in an absolute frozen state with not much memory of what happened. This year, I comfortably made my way in but felt quite hungry, not eating much from the earlier CP. I grabbed some cup noodles and sat down in a corner, but had to eat quickly as the body started to get cold the moment I stopped. After a quick post to my friends back home, I turned off my phone and continued on.
CP7: Beacon Hill
En-route to Beacon Hill was a descending tarmac road which provided a really cool view of the city. I think most of us runners didn’t have much time to admire the cityscape, as we made haste down the road before entering the next trail for the climb up to Beacon Hill.
Upon arrival at the top of Beacon Hill, we were welcomed by the Scout groups who were manning the CP. They were lively and hospitable, lifting everyone’s spirits up and for a moment, it brought our minds out of the tiredness of our bodies. There was a campfire nearby, but I knew I couldn’t be sitting there. I refilled my bottles, grabbed some food and promptly left.
CP8: Shing Mun
The journey beyond CP7 was the beginning of the unknown to me, for even made it this far last year. It was dark and mostly on tarmac. There were lots more climbing here, but not as bad as the earlier ones.
Coming into CP8, I met both Winnie and Archer. I sat down for a quick drink, in which Archer noted that the worst of the climbs was over and there was two small blips (Needle Hill and Grassy Hill) left before taking on Tai Mo Shan. I kinda groaned, but I knew I was this close to finishing. After a trip to the loo, I hastily made my way out. Needle Hill and Grassy Hill was such a pain to get through. Probably because it was two climbs back to back and also because it was getting colder and colder as I went up. After taking on Grassy Hill, it was a quick descent down to CP9.
I can’t remember if it was at this CP or the next was where I bumped into Wei Yong during the climbs. It was nice to have a familiar face out there in the race, it’s… comforting to say the least.
CP9: Lead Mine Pass
I came into CP9 having decided to make the push for a bronze trophy. Having come so far and knowing that I would finish, why not push for a bronze trophy and a sub 24-hour finish? Indeed that was the plan and after 1-2 minutes of rest, I was flying out the CP; my mind and body tired, but just as focused. I kept my head down and followed a group of runners as we made progress up to Tai Mo Shan. Visibility was poor and the rain was pelting us at every turn. I had my rain jacket, a super important gear that key me dry and warm unlike last year. But I had a slight regret of not carrying my rain pants from CP5. Eventually, after a long and merciless climb, I started seeing some silhouettes from the race volunteers; the last climb was done.
The elation of conquering Tai Mo Shan was short-lived, as now I had to run down the long road into the finish. The rain continued to get heavier and visibility was still poor. I couldn’t see beyond a metre of the road stripes! In spite of those conditions, I ran downhill as fast and as hard as I could. Eventually, we were routed back into the trails, where we would spend the last parts of the race. Navigating the steps in the wet was all so tricky, but I used what I had learnt at CCC to scamper the terrain and power to the finish. I crossed the finish line, just shy of sub 23 hours, but enough to get that bronze trophy.
Hobbling around the front to get my finisher hoodie and trophy, I then headed down the slope, tho sore as hell, to get my drop bag. I found a spot under a shelter to quickly change into dry and warm clothes, before making my way down again to the tent to get my bus tickets back to town. I bumped into Terence yet again, who in spite of being ahead earlier on, finished later than me due to an injury. Both of us shivered out in the pouring rain while waiting for the bus to come. I painfully took the MTR back to the apartment, before crashing on the floor.
William would return awhile later, he too having finished the race under 24 hours. Both of us showered before crashing straight into bed, waking up hours later. Too tired to get out, we contemplated calling for a delivery but had no idea how that worked in Hong Kong. William, with some strength left, elected to head out and get dinner.
The first proper meal since 24 hours ago was great, but our bodies still felt hungry, so we hobbled down and across the road for some hot tea.
On Monday, William returned back to Singapore on an earlier flight, while Wei Chong and myself caught a noon flight home. We were joined in for brunch by Kim Lai and Kok Kwang, who were on the same flight as us.
At the end of the day, the 2017 Vibram Hong Kong 100 is another chapter in the path to a longer and harder race. Every race has its defining moment and for this one, I found myself pushing myself harder in times when I would have otherwise thought possible. This race was noteworthy to me, as an injury just weeks before would have prevented me from even making it to the start line. I’m eternally thankful to have finished without any injuries and with an added bonus of a sub-24 hr timing.
I’ve read from an article or book somewhere that a 100 miler was basically your life condensed into a set time (depending on the race). I can probably make the case for 100km’s as well. Or maybe I haven’t gone further than that yet? Who knows.
Thank you to
- My mom for being understanding and supportive of what I do now. She knows full well how happy I’am when it comes to running and knows I’d go places just to do it.
- Physio Reggie from Physio Solutions for fixing me and getting me start-line-ready. It was a miracle that I could be running again in time for the race.
- Coach Andy DuBois of Mile27 for his methodological training plans, patience and understanding when the plans go awry. I think I finally am able to see the fruits of the work I’m doing with Mile27.
- My wonderful bros, William, Wei Chong, as well as those back at home/abroad for supporting us for the trip and for the race.
- The scouts at all the CP’s, Eric Leung, Terence and Archer for their help and hospitality out on the course.
- Janet and Steve for putting up another great race.