Lantau 50K, Hong Kong
March 24, 2012
My 2012 race year has started off with the most fun ever! Starting in January, I helped pace my friend Noe on the HURT 100 course in Hawaii, which we ran 35 miles together over the tough technical course. In February, I ran the 2nd annual American Canyon 50K, in Auburn, I attemped to go out too fast, too early and wound up suffering to the finish, with a time of 6h47m. In early March, I was lucky enough to run Way Too Cool 50K and again went out too fast and got really sick stumbling all the way towards the finish. I knew my risks, but I long for another 50K PR. Way Too Cool is such a flat course and such a big hoopla, so I decided to go for it. It was still fun...before I suffered. I finished in 6h41m. All this pain of course is great 100 mile training. It only makes me tougher right?
So when things were'nt tough enough, I signed up for what I thought would be just a slow, hilly 50K in Hong Kong. I was going to China already, for a vacation, so I had to find a race, the timing worked out perfectly and the short trip over to Hong Kong ended up being an amazing experience. As soon as I arrived, I headed over from Lantau insland to Hong Kong island, to make a quick visit to the Racing the Planet - Outdoor Store. My timing again was perfect. That Thursday evening, the French running brand Raidlight (sponsor of the Lantau 50K, that I was there to run), was demoing their new modular trail shoe in the shop. As I browsed the shop, I was treated to the sounds of a French accent talking about cool running gear, while I ate some trail food samples - aid station in a store. Sweet!
My days in Hong Kong progessed and I was eager for the race. I'd decided, since I was a tourist, that I would carry my DSLR camera and huge lens along the course with me - which was also a purposeful attempt to make sure I didn't go out too fast, at all, since I wanted to take pictures and I was carrying some extra weight. Then, I read a final pre-race email from the RD, which stated I needed to carry some more mandatory items during the course with me. Dang! Camera gear, minimum 1.5 liters of fluid, wind/rain jacket, mobile phone and food. Plus of course a flashlight was mandatory, but only if you reached a certain check point after a certain time. Yes, they are called checkpoints in Hong Kong, not aid staions. Sounds like a real race, if it has checkpoints. Since it was a race, then I was not going to worry about a flashlight. Plus its a 50K, how long could that really take? Right?
On Saturday, race morning, I woke up early and rode a city bus packed full of runners, for a 30 minute ride from my hotel area (Tung Chung) to the Discovery Bay race start area. Weather was windy, getting warm and humid, and there was an obvious haze in the sky, of what I can only guess to be from pollution. We were on time for an 8AM race start. I was told there were around 400, 50K race starters, of the 450 that had registered. This consisted of solo runners and two-person team runners. A little more than half of the group were solo runners, me included.
The starting line was in a modern outdoor shopping center/plaza and from there we immediately headed straight for the beach, running across the sand, only for about one-tenth of a mile. Then we met our first hill and a theme-park sized line of runners waiting to walk up the single track trail, towards their favorite ride - Big Mountain #1 of 100.
The crowd of runners, even in Hong Kong, seemed all to familiar. Trail etiquette was great and everyone was super friendly. And no, I was not the tallest runner in the race, there were plenty of expats from around the globe entered in the race, who now call Hong Kong home. As we climbed, I stopped, turned around and was in awe of how much elevation we had gained in just minutes and was smiling as the view of the bay got better and better, with each step. Compared to back home, this first hill climb was just like K2 (or Training HIll as I call it), in Auburn, and it was as I will falsely proclaim, hill #1 of 100.
The hills continued and the views became more and more breathtaking, especially as we met up with the "hazy" sky.
It was realy cool when we bottomed back down one side of a mountain and ran through a small villiage. I never thought I would be running past a bystander holding a pick axe.
Check-point 1 of 5. Water and electrolyte aid station only. Clean water was served out of gravity fed water dispensers and hand pumps - which was rather efficient for filling bottles and hydration packs. Electrolytes were single serving packs, I think about 400ML in size, in a collapsable drink bag, kind of like a Capri-Sun, but with a twist top. It was quick and easy.
The climb out of check-point #1. That is the small village down below.
Participating in the race, truely was an amazing experience. Not only was this my first international ultra, but it had to be the toughtest 50K I will ever run. I'm super happy with tough. But I had no idea it would take me so long to finish this race. As the day progressed, it seriously seemed like I was running a 50 mile race. I could only compare the course on Lantau Island, to a cross between the steps of the Dispea trail in Marin, mixed with the technical hills and humidity of the the HURT 100M in Hawaii. This was by far a very challenging technical course, with what was advertised to be a 51K with approximately 8,200' of vertical gain. I wore no watch and did not keep track of my time or distance as I ran along. I think I consumed calories based on distance and that ended up being my one mistake for the long day.
More hillls and more beautiful views.
Here are some of the impressive race stats: I placed 187 out of 257 finishers of the solo 50K race, with a finishing time of 11:17:27. First place men's was Jeremy Ritcey 5:30:08, second place William James Lloyd Davies 6:01:48, and third was Benoit Laval 6:03:39 (Raidlight CEO, I think he was wearing his new trail shoe design - way too promote!). First place women's was Claire Price 6:17:25, second place Kami Semick 6:25:51, and third place was Olya Korzh 7:05:53.
My full day on the trail was filled with all of the highs and lows of any long ultra-marathon. If only I consumed more calories, this could have been from start to finish my funnest race ever. I ended up slogging very badly for about 2 hours after 8 hours into the race. As I approched the finish and the sun began to set, I decided to save my legs and gut for the final few miles of the race. My feet hit pavement with about two miles left in the race, but I still had alot of decending to do in the dark. I ran, I ran and I ran. Once I hit a short technical trail section, I remembered that I had brought my cellphone and whipped that out to use the decent LED flashlight that's built in. Without that mandatory-for-the-race cellphone, I would've had to slow way down. Quickly the trail led out to about ten flights of stadium sized, steep stairs and they all zigzagged away from each other. My legs never felt fresher and the smell of the finish line had me lunging down multiple steps with each stride. Once my feet landed back on city streets, the moments leading to the finish line felt like some sort of urban scavenger-hunt challenge. I was searching left and right as quickly as I could for pink course ribbons. A trail intersection is one thing, another in the dark, but here I was, in Hong Kong running through odd back streets, through apartment complexes and FINALLY into the shopping plaza where I stood early that same morning. I sprinted to the finish and was immediately greated with much enthusiasm and a big celebratory handshake from the race director, Clement Dumont.
I boarded my bus, went to my hotel and headed home on an international flight the next morning. I don't recommend that. But days later, reflecting back, it was totally worth it!!