This year the event went green and runners were required to bring their own cups/bowls/utensils for both CP's and the finish line and called other events in HK to follow suit. Their amazing 1:2 volunteer to runner ratio ensured there were no confusion on course, plenty of traffic control, and people on course to encourage weary runners.
Race demographics saw an increase in the number of women competing (22.8%), the number of elite Mainland Chinese entered and number of countries represented (60).
This race brought elites from the world over including Nepal, Japan, Thailand, UK, Norway, Australia, and USA (including my former college teammate, Zach Bitter, who unfortunately met with a rock mid-course and DNF'ed to let his knee recoup).
I definitely didn't arrive on the finish line any too early, but squeezed my way in. The pre-race commentary emphasized a no-tolerance policy for course-cutting, cheating of any kind, outside support, littering, and yes, don't forget to BYOB. I still had to borrow Zach's at thee end when I realized my crew took mine home earlier in the evening before I was hungry post-race!
The countdown from 10 was a bit out of the blue, seemingly, but the show must start on time! As a mass of runners exploded down the asphalt, Jeremy Ritcey, John Ellis, Henri Lehkonen, and others were all exclaiming how never before have there been so many runners ahead of us when we entered the singletrack.
As we could hear Wave 2 kick-off, Alex Nichols, Bitter and I were running together, enjoying the winding trails and jumping rock to rock as we chatted. I queried Alex on his race plans, Western States and if he'll go back (an interesting response I was given...perhaps it's due its own blog post about ultra races and their organizational differences around the world!), and the three of us shared thoughts on how hot the pace was and how we had a half day of running ahead of us.
Alex took a bit of a lead on us coming into East Dam and then Michael Skobierski and I ran a good while together along the same beaches and stair sections we had shared together last year. He said that if he stuck to our current pace, he would likely blow up somewhere around Ma On Shan...I secretly held the same fear, but at 15km into 96, I couldn't really play host to such a cruel thought. Michael's saving grace was that he wasn't planning on finishing the race, for a good friend of his planned his wedding on the same day!
This edition of HK100 was special in several regards: my older sister, Wendy, had just birthed her first daughter 24 hours before the race started, and her husband, Tad, still was able to take my folks out on the course to crew for me. My parents had flown in from the States to see their new granddaughter and it just so happened that my race was at the right time of January. In addition, Ben Birdwell, himself a rising force on the trail scene, was able to hit up the remaining CP's that Tad et al couldn't cover. Thus, I had crew at every single CP on the course, an arrangement that I'm sure no other runner had. I figured I needed to take advantage of every facet I could in the face of the present competition in order to make it my best race.
Every race, no matter the result, brings a runner the opportunity to study and observe both him/herself and take away lessons from how the trail-filled trial unfolded. Perhaps the reason we runners undertake such masochistic endeavors is to push the boundaries of what we think we are capable of, to enjoy the camaraderie of companions, or to enjoy created beauty. But, on the day, I think there's something that each runner finds inexplicable as to why we take to the trails and undertake the trials. After all, there are other ways to pass a Saturday!
But, two weeks ago on that Saturday, what unfolded at 47km was quite clear. My hamstrings had been quite sore due to some recent workouts and mobility exercises, and then the last straw was that I decided a Thai deep tissue massage was still beneficial to have on Wednesday afternoon, just T-2.5 days. But, as Thursday gave way to Friday, I wasn't sure that that decision was any too wise. I had had a race earlier in the fall where a massage and subsequent 'working out' of a knot left my calf in pain for 5+ days. Though not overly sore on my Friday shake-out run, I had a nagging feeling that some damage was still present deep down in my hamstrings. That surfaced after 4.5 hours of running and then the real race was on.
An ultra is not only a test of cardiovascular endurance and how 'hardened' you've managed to make your legs in the months leading up to your key race. But, it is, by and large, both an eating contest and rolling the dice. First the cramps began, which severely hampered both my climbing speed and my descending ability as many of the downhills were not simply smooth slopes, but rocky and root-filled wash-outs where hamstring contractions were as of equal importance as tough quads. It was pretty funny, I remember, to think that the photographers and passerby on the trail yet said how well I was doing and how fresh I looked when it all seemed a bit forlorn and hopeless to me!
Mark Green has been at Gilwell Camp each of the three years I've raced here; knowing he would have some solid wisdom and encouragement was something I looked forward to as my frame of mind and body were deteriorating. I think my early sweat rate was higher than I realized and though the sun came out for a while, I still didn't feel too thirsty. As a result, I got dehydrated and fell behind on fuel and then was suffering with low energy levels as well as some enduring cramps that had spread to my inner thighs. Once Gilwell Camp was in view, my normal "no sitting in a 100k" rule went out the window. As the cramps had already significantly slowed my pace, I knew sitting down to rest and regroup for a few minutes may actually help me later on. Funny enough, I wasn't the only one who took it easy coming through this CP. A Japanese runner, Takashi Doi, also took a seat and later on, he and I would battle it out from Leadmine Pass to the top of the false summit on Tai Mo Shan.
Mark's advice was to mange my cramps now so that I would be able to finish strong. He may have been thinking what I was hoping for; given the quick front half run by so many guys, perhaps several guys would be hurting even worse than I after Leadmine Pass. And even a 10-minute lead there can quickly evaporate when a chaser catches sight of a headlamp moving slowly up TMS's flank. It's a mountain that isn't so steep parts of it can't be run, especially on the bald top.
As I passed down off the trail to Shatin Pass that then leads up to Beacon Hill, it was with a controlled effort for I was ever aware of my legs whose cramps could be set off with too quick a downhill pace or on the subsequent climbs awaiting me. I had brought one bottle of CrampFix and I rationed it out into four doses...it helped, but I needed more. In hindsight, I think it wasn't until I reached Shing Mun Dam that I actually started to fuel sufficiently. In several ultras I've vomited afterwards, mostly due to hot race temps. And the only race I've vomited during was OTW this past fall where daytime temps peaked at 30C. Nonetheless, it was a fear that I would vomit mid-race again if pushed liquids. Breaking down the pros and cons of a mid-race energy lull, I can seen now that I'd be better off pushing more calories and liquids if I suspect an energy deficit, despite the slightly higher risk of stomach distress. It wasn't so hot during HK100 that vomiting should've been a worry. However, I didn't force things and saw that between several CP's I wasn't drinking much more than 500mL for 50-60 minutes, which was clearly not enough.
It was good motivation to see Tad and my parents and other supporters who cheered me on there. After a caffeinated gel and some Coke, I was on my way again headed to the steeps of Needle Hill. But before that, I took the liberty of stretching on the dam...the below B/W photo says it all very well!
Hiking poles I find to be especially useful powering up a mountain like Tai Mo Shan, and even more so when other runners don't have them. This race mirrored last year in that I passed 1-2 runners on the ascent who were pole-less. I couldn't remember how fast I could descend TMS, but I was confident that I'd break 11. I didn't know how many guys were within reach, nor where Brian was. I kept my headlamp off and had visions of Scott Jurek running the Spartathlon when his nemesis didn't use a headlamp. To catch a guy unsuspecting a chaser at night is good fun! I had passed two on the road section before the summit and then, once atop TMS, I bombed down it sticking close to the the white center line all the way down to where the HK100 resumed on the old Maclehose Trail.
This was a course change instituted two years ago when HK saw its coldest night in 59 years and there was ice accumulation atop TMS; cars blocked the road and basically, mass chaos was the state of affairs. Stranded runners, icy roads, high DNF rate, ice-crampon-clad rescuers sent out, cows sliding down the road unable to stand on the ice, either...stories just short of civil war proportions poured in the next day. But this year, just chilly fog rolled in and no more. I reached the Mac staircase and after I assured the volunteers I actually had a headlamp with me, I turned it on and night became day.
On the road descent before reaching the Mac, I passed 3 guys, all mainland Chinese, including my friends Deng GuoMin and LiKuo included. Only about 10 minutes separated me from the finish, and it couldn't come soon enough. Well, truth be told, I did hope to catch up to Brian, but that wasn't in the cards that night. He ended up crossing the line in 10:47:xx and I heard the announcer welcome him home. I still had a few stairs to descend, some parking lots to cross and the final road descent into Rotary Park. I ran it in Zach Miller-style as if someone was chasing me, but really I was just trying to beat the clock. Funny enough, I finished in 10:50:00...reminds me of my Eiger 101k race where I ran 13:00:00. Couldn't have taken one more second off in half a day's race, huh?
All in all, I was satisfied with my race. I was dealt some cards that weren't desirable, but with a few more hands mid-race, I was able to make use of some better ones and stay on track to chase down my goal of a top-1o finish. The awards ceremony was fun as we received a signed card and bottle of wine from Francois D'Haene who was in HK that weekend to receive his award for winning the 2017 UTWT. Post-race banter, food, friendship, race story swapping, and plans of where we all would meet up next filled a couple hours before I was ready to get off my feet for the night. I rode a taxi home with a Chinese gal and guy who live in Chongqing, just a few hours from me. The gal was none other than the 3rd place female, Xiang FuZhao.
I'd like to thank all my friends and family who've supported my journey into ultra-running. It's been a wild and unexpected journey, and I feel like an infant even though this year marks my 21st year of distance running. I often think of Eric Lidell's quote, ""The Lord made me for China; He also made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure." I love how the Lord has woven me into China and without that, I doubt very much that I would be ultra-running now. I'm thankful for the threads of this tapestry that He continues to weave full of surprises.
I guess before I didn't really know what 'distance running' could be! Next up--Transgrancanaria 125km on Feb. 23/24 in Gran Canaria, Spain. Thanks also to WAA Ultra Team--without them, I'd not have the opportunity to race there and, of course, I'd be lacking some of the best ultra clothing out there! Jeff Campbell and I will leave from HK to represent WAA Ultra and meet up with several other team members who will be on hand to race. Then...the next step up the ultra ladder is in late April after my 34th. I'll travel back to Mt. Fuji for a 3rd time, this time for Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji 100-miler (tho race info specs only 158km or so...maybe short of an official 100 :) Then a down-season and a summer spent in the USA. After that, who knows what the back half of '18 holds!