And so it has come to pass, my first trail race for the year; the UTMT TTF 2019. I’ve been savouring the moments since the race, hence the delay in writing this race report.
Since the events of the UTMB last year, my mood and outlook towards running became somewhat negative. I guess it was because UTMB was my dream race; really the catalyst for me starting trail-running. Having qualified for it over a long time and then the opportunity to run at the first chance and failing, it felt like a big setback.
In the months after, I wasn’t that keen with the idea of racing again, with that sombre mood bleeding over to my personal life. But I continued training and eventually, thought about racing again. After consulting my group, I learnt that some of them had signed up for the UTMT TTF. In which case I figured, why not? Didn’t get into Hong Kong 100 and I definitely didn’t want to come back for Translantau again. Something new then.
We arrived in Hong Kong on a Thursday evening. Since the race started on Saturday afternoon, it gave us a day or two to relax, explore and pack our gear for the race. We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott at Sha Tin, which wasn’t too far away from the finish line.
It must be mentioned that for the UTMT, it didn’t have as much mandatory gear requirements as compared to some other races. Which was great, but of course, bringing some optional extras were for precaution. My gear was pretty much the same as with all my other races. So that wasn’t much of a concern to me.
I did spend more time planning nutrition for the race. Based on previous races, I was fine with taking gels for the first half, but would lose appetite for it towards the second half. With some guidance from Coach Andy, I decided to pack enough calories for a per hour intake, as opposed to figuring out how much I will actually eat at one time. So in this instance, I would have my watch lap alarm at 1 hour; to remind me to take some nutrition. If I were to be at a checkpoint before or after that mark, then I wouldn’t need to take any calories till the next checkpoint. Though this varied as the race goes on.
First Half: Overstim Gels, Tailwind, Probar Bolt and Snickers
Second Half: Overstim Gels, Coke and Snickers
Participants interested in taking part in future editions of this race, please bring your own drawstring bag or dry bag. It was mentioned on the race website that drop bags ‘will be given to you’ during the race pack collection. However, only luggage tags (as seen in the orange tag above) will be given to runners, and the bags itself will have to be sourced by you. A bit misleading at best. I repurposed my packable travel bag as my drop bag and it managed to work just fine.
I didn’t sleep well the night before the race, so I spent what little time I had after brunch to catch a power nap. I was a bit worried about my lack of sleep and if it would affect my race, but my concerns were put to rest later on. The four of us took a taxi down to the start line. Hong Kong taxi’s were pretty nauseating to travel in, so it was a miracle none of us didn’t throw up when we alighted the cab.
We managed to join the Singaporean contingent who had gathered for a photograph. It was a good showing for a relatively small race.
With the clock hitting 4 pm, us runners were sent on our way. Looking around, it was welcoming to see that there weren’t many runners at this race; only 226 for the TTF category based on the official results. I reckon it’s because I’ve been in so many races that are so oversubscribed that even at the start, there’s pressure to surge ahead so as to get caught in a bottleneck. But there weren’t at this one, everyone’s feeling relaxed and running at a reasonable pace.
Start Point to CP2
To be honest, the first parts of the race were a blur. There were paved roads at the start, followed by some trails, climbs and some flat paved sections on the trail. Nothing technical and everyone moved quickly.
By the time I reached CP2, it was dark and I had caught up with a few other the guys; Fred, Lem Chee (whom I just met) and Bee Leng.
I now understood why they served roast duck at this CP; it was located just next to a restaurant who probably have close ties with the organizers to provide the delicacy for the race. After having a nice cup of coffee and some bananas, I moved off with Bee Leng and Lem Chee.
CP2 to CP3
We made progress from CP2 to CP3. The trails were still manageable and we eventually came out of the trails into Tai Lum Chung road. It was at this point that I began to count the distance between the trail exit and the CP, which was about 2km on average at every CP. I could be wrong, though.
We reached CP3 in good spirits. I was as usual, behind the two. But reached nevertheless. Fred would come in just behind me but
CP3 to CP4
Nothing much to note from this section. It was already dark and the trails were still manageable bar one climb at Kum Um Shan (297m). Another exit from the trails into the road, and we were halfway through the race!
I ran into Ben at this checkpoint, who then told me that Duwei and Wei Chong had pulled out from the race. I was pretty shocked to hear that Wei Chong had pulled out, and more shocking when Ben himself said he as going to withdraw. Both had knee issues running the descents, while Duwei already had a muscle problem a few days prior to the race.
This was also where we could collect our drop-bags. So after packing in some new nutrition, a change of running top and a hot meal, the three of us got ready to head into the night again.
CP4 to CP5
In summary; the hardest part of the race. It may not have the highest peaks, but the series of undulating trails and multiple ascents of peaks in the darkness of the night and morning was mental.
At that point, I was still holding up but was frustrated at the series of repeated climbs and the labour of bushwhacking the descents. Eventually, I was disoriented enough fumbling through the bush, that one of my legs fell through a gap in the ground. I managed to break the fall with the bushes on the side. After pulling myself out, a slight turn to straighten myself caused my right leg to cramp, which forced myself to sit down on the narrow trail.
Several runners passed me while I took a breather and gargled a shot of Crampfix (thank god I had it with me). With the cramps sorted out, I pulled myself back together to finish this section of the trail.
Exiting the trail at the break of dawn, I walk/ran the pavement section together with a fellow runner to the next CP. As before, I was relieved to see Lem Chee and Bee Leng there. They didn’t reach that long either. Surprisingly, we bumped into Wendy, who was crewing for Jeric.
CP5 to SCP6
We’ve gotten this far by then, so we had to push on, one mountain at a time. The first mountain was quite straight forward, and the most scenic.
SCP6 was one of the intermittent CP’s which had a water point. After checking in and a mandatory gear check for our mobile phones, we sat and rest for a moment to fuel up before the grind of the second of the mountain.
SCP6 to CP6
The second mountain, Tai To Yan, was definitely the toughest out of the four. While the lowest in terms of height (at 565m), the trail was flanked with high bushes and trees, making it tricky to navigate and felt warmer to run through, as the heat of the day kicked in. Similar to section CP4 to CP5 before, it had lots of repeated climbs before reaching the main summit.
The three of us struggle at different points of the climb, and we all took turns to rest. We were in this together, so, taking care of each other came naturally. After grinding it out, we reached the top, sharing the summit with local hikers. While standing there to take a breather, I heard a voice shout out to my name from a distance.
It was Eric! One of my WAA Experts. I was really surprised to see him there. He told me that he was helping some of the other runners there and that he lived near that trail. He offered me a drink some hot tea he was carrying (how does one even do that?!) and gave us advise on how to proceed further. His guidance was valuable as what he told on was dead on.
I thanked Eric and the three of us gingerly made our way down to the next CP.
CP6 to CP7
Despite being the highest climbing mountain at 780m, it was a relatively straightforward climb. There was a section where we had to descend into down to 600m, before making the last push to the summit. But it was all worth it. The third mountain done.
As Eric had advised us earlier, the descend down the third mountain was steep and also very technical. It was difficult to run down without tripping on something and it required stern concentration not to fall down. The bamboo sections were equally difficult as well.
Once we exit to the streets, we hooked up with the rest of the Singaporean and Malaysian runners. Once again, we rested and filled our bellies with noodles, rice and fish ball among others, before the final climb up the last mountain. The light was fading fast, so we had to complete it in darkness. Michele, whom I just met, joined us on the last climb.
CP7 to the Finish
Thankfully, last climb was quite straightforward including the descends. With a maximum climb of 640m, we knew we could push it. As we climbed, I called out the current elevation at intervals to chart our progress, as the altimeter for the Suunto 9 had been spot on during the race.
Once the climb was done, it was time to switch to descent mode. While most of the trails were on steps and the final lunge to the finish line was all road, most of our quads were already quite busted after being on our feet for so long. Still, with a final surge of adrenaline, we ran that last bit to the finish.
And so after 27 hours and 46 mins of crossing through 115km of trails (GPS logged 109km), the four of us crossed the finish line. It was a joyous moment, witnessed by Wei Chong and the guys who were there to see us finish. The picture below was definitely something to treasure.
It feels good to be able to finish a race, after an entire year of not finishing any trail race. It gave me the confidence that I was sorely missing. I had dinner with the guys before retreating back to the hotel for a hot shower and packed my dirty gear before knocking out.
I had a lot of fun through the race, running with my peers, meeting new runners, and being able to meet the challenges that