Thursday, January 29, 2015

Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race 2015...

Event: Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race 2015
Venue: Pak Tam Chung, Hong Kong
Date: 17 January 2015
Time: 8.00AM
Distance: 100KM
Shoe: Saucony Peregrine 4
By Frank

My first blog post for the year almost took a month to be published and coincidentally, it is also a report on my first ever 100KM trail run.

I personally thought to myself that I've come a long way in long distance road running. Having accomplished what's on my bucket list there, it's about time I move on seeking my next challenge. A 100KM trail run is next and after seeing my friends running it over the past 4 years and hearing stories from them, I thought the Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race (HK100) will fit my bill in my first ever attempt. It's after all, one of the milder trail race out there so not knowing what to expect, I guess this is a good call for me. The only downside for this edition is the introduction of the balloting system due to over flowing numbers of participants.

The race route profile.

Ballot was done in early September 2014 and by the end of the same month, the results were out and I was lucky enough to secure a spot. And thus, I was in. Much has been said about the number of stairs and steps in Hong Kong trails. However, till race day, I did not train any at all. In fact, I just carried on maintaining my fitness level and also used 2 trail races at Scotland to gain some trail and also cold weather experience.

Breakfast at McDonald's KLIA2.

Fast forwarding to my travel day on Thursday, I set off from 1 Utama taking the SkyBus to the new KLIA2 as early as 5AM. I bumped into Foo and Vivien there and it was certainly good to have travel companions together. I found myself at the airport an hour later and proceeded to do the necessary before Yik Yee, Gan and Kevin and many others joined in. Breakfast at McDonalds before we boarded our flight scheduled to take off at 8.45AM. However, it was delayed for a while to missing travel documents, not from the passengers but from the plane itself. Anyway, the flight was smooth and close to 4 hours later, we found ourselves at Hong Kong. Checked into our hotel at AhShan Hostel at Mong Kok where I shared the tiny room with Yik Yee.

Malaysia contingent arriving safely at Hong Kong.

Eating, walking a bit while trying to rest the legs was all we could do at Hong Kong together with Hong Lan, Hazel, Hansen, Wind,Wilson and Alan who joined the group. Race pack was picked up from Racing The Planet at Sheung Wan. Quiet a fast process but it was a tad messy and could be improve. By the way, things weren't exactly cheap here and thus resisted buying some rather tempting stuff. Dinner was simple back at Mong Kok at the nearby market before calling it a day as we all deserved some rest.

Dim sum breakfast.

Next morning started easily. Having rest up, breakfast was simple but awfully delicious at a dim sum place. Price was dirt cheap too! We then continued with shopping while making food stops in between. And of all the food I had, I just have to mention the Yi Shun milk pudding. It was rather rich and am not sure if this was the cause for things to come at the race. Anyway, dinner was early at 6PM at the same market place again as yesterday. And by 9PM, we were all back at the hotel to have some final gear check before calling it a night as a long day and night awaits the next day.

Pre-race dinner.

By the way, my gears was simple. I wanted to go as light as possible hence I started lightly with 2 X 500ML bottle on my chest, 2 X 200ML water on my waist, few small packs of nuts, 2 slices of dried meat, a jacket, phone, headlamp and emergency blanket. What I wore for the start was the CompresSport On/Off Tank as the base layer with the Trail Tank the outer layer, and also the trail short and R2 calf guard. The rest including my trekking pole and super bright LED Lenser was at my drop bag at Check Point 5 located 52KM away from the start.

My gears.

I was up early. Took some bread and a can of coffee before my normal pre-race rituals started. Everything went well and by the time I was ready, Yik Yee was awake too. I skipped breakfast with the others though hoping to get in some last minute rest as it's going to be a long night later. And by 5AM, everyone was already downstairs and some cabs were already waiting. Myself together with Gan, Kevin and Yik Yee shared a cab together and just before an hour later, we arrived at the start venue at Pak Tam Chung at Sai Kung and the place was already filled with runners and supporters.

Malaysian contingent ready to rock the trails of Hong Kong,

With Siaw Hua and Yik Yee, the 2015 Comrades bound.

The morning chill was there but it was manageable. Guess my experience at Scotland is proving to be working. Caught with some friends, took some photos and we were off to deposit our drop and finish bags. And while warming up and performing my stretch, a familiar face stood in front of me. It was my Comrades pal, Dr. Wong and we chatted till the race started at slightly passed 8AM.

With Dr. Wong at the start.

And as seen from the video, the start was a little narrow along the road. And starting from almost the back of the pack, I waited about 3 minutes before I officially cross the start gantry with Dr. Wong, Hong Lan and Warren. It was a short run along the road before all the runners were concentrated at the entrance to the Maclehose Trail, It was a very narrow single track entrance and it was pretty frustrating as I was not able to run due to the number of runners around. And this continued on for about 4KM or so before I found some space and broke free.

Upon breaking free, like a bird free from its cage, I settled soon into my race pace, a comfy one of course. I was having fun along the trails here as it's very much like the Rover Trail found in FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia). Out from the trails for a certain stretch was the magnificent view of the oceans and beaches Hong Kong has to offer. The scenery was captivating and soon, I arrived at the support station at East Dam, some 11KM into the run. I needed to pee, but as the toilet queue was rather long, I held on and moved on. I didn't take in any refreshment or snacks here as my backpack was still filled from the start. Besides, other runners was rushing to get some snacks.

Running across the dam.

A wide road and an uphill was all I need to pass as many runners as possible to make up for time lost at the start. And this climb brought us to Sai Wan Shan, another place with awesome view. Ran passed some beautiful beaches too and that caused sand to get into my shoe despite having gaiters on. But with the beautiful scenery, distance and time seems to pass by quickly as I soon arrive at Check Point 1 at Ham Tin. Found a spot to squeeze in among the runners to grab a handful of almonds and cashew nuts before I finally had the opportunity to relieve myself at the toilet here before continuing.

Ermm... My first attempt at GoPro selfie. Can't believe I am doing this!

I was having lots of fun here. So much fun that I actually passed a very prominent runner who actually took note of me and increased his pace. Nothing to care of, I let him go and enjoy my very own moment. The scenery and weather was good, and trail running is really exciting. I felt strong too with the exception of my backpack. I felt I was over packed and my left trapezius felt a little sore. A common problem though but I thought I could be lighter. Passed more beaches and some pretty steep steps as I made my way to Check Point 2 at Wong Shek which was 28KM into the race along the seaside. Beautiful place but I though the checkpoint to be a little messy. I took in quite a lot of oranges and rice ball here and thought I overate.

Not sure where is this though?

Heading out of the check point was a little slope. As my tummy was a little heavy, I took the opportunity to walk it up and at the same time to rest the legs. But despite that, I was still really feeling good. I resume my run once I got to the top and back into the trails. Most of the terrain was still manageable with some mild to tougher ascends and descends. On the rocky descends, I took it easy as knowing the clumsy me will just slip if I was too adventurous. I even let faster runners pass me. Pass a few small villages and at one of them, I stop by to clear my shoes and socks of sand that entered earlier.

Soon enough, it was Check Point 3 at Hoi Ha, 36KM into the race which was rather special where it was partially manned by visually impaired people where they cheered and served us. I skipped the rice ball here but took in again a lot of oranges. Hansen checked in as I was about to leave and he caught up when I was clearing my shoes of sand again shortly in front.

Getting ready to leave Check Point 3, Hoi Ha.

I can't really remember the route here with the exception of running along the coastal part. Passed a few small villages and farm too as I remember clearly a family of expats was having breakfast or tea at their garden and cheered the runners on. And also while on the coastal trail, despite concentrating, I still managed to knock my right knee on a boulder. It was painful as blood started oozing out. I stopped to massaged it and stop the bleeding before I carried on.  And at the end, I know I was just glad to arrive at Check Point 4 at Yung Shue O, 45KM into the race. It was within a pretty decently sized hut with tables and chairs. And seeing runners eating cup noodles, I thought that this will be a good time for me to eat something solid too. I ordered one and while waiting for it to cool down, I text my friends. It was nice to have chatted with them, at least a little time off from all the running.

I did not finish my noodles as it was pretty "rich" and hence I though it will be good to stay as clean as possible. Grabbed a few nuts and off I went again. Really looking forward to the next check point which was just 7KM away. A steep climb towards Kai Kung Shan (Cockrel Mountain) awaits but I though that it will be fun, at least for me. And when the climb came, I started attacking. Despite a tough climb, all I can say is I enjoy climbing. And out of a sudden, I heard my name being called. I looked back and it was Foo dressed up like a commando, and a very macho one too. However, it was sad and painful to see both his knee strapped up and himself struggling. I slowed down to have a chat with him and found out that his ITB flared up. What a shame indeed.

Photo-bombed at Kai Kong Shan!

I continued with my climb and successfully arrived at the peak of Kai Kong Shan. Kinda over rated though but I still took out my GoPro for a selfie. Hahaha... Leaving the top wasn't so fun as it's a steep descend with loose rocks along the way. But I told myself to at least arrive at Check Point 5 before sunset and thus I pushed on. Slowly but surely, I started hearing noises from vehicles and soon people talking. I was near and finally, an open area where the check point is at Kei Ling Ha, 52K into the race. I made it before sunset too in 9:33 hours! Not bad I told myself.

Check Point 5 was rather small and in a mess. I did not know where to go to retrieve my drop bag and had to ask around. But as the first tent was some snacks, I took the opportunity to eat some oranges first before finally manage to locate where the drop bags are. I stood there hoping to flag down one of the volunteers to help locate my bag albeit to no avail. However shortly later, a very kind local Indian volunteer spotted me and quickly retrieve my drop bag for me. I thank her for her efficiency.  I found a spot, sat down and quickly unloaded my extra gears from the bag which includes my second high powered head lamp and also my trekking pole. Loaded more snacks as I gulp down the can of Red Bull I inserted in earlier. And once everything done where I've spent almost half an hour here, I continued on.

The journey to Check Point 6 at Gilwell Camp will be a long and tough one, as of what I heard. It's 13KM in distance which is the furthest and longest of all check points. And after crossing the road with the help of traffic marshals, the journey started where runners were taken through a park of some sort with a mild climb on the road. I did not run as I believe I've stopped too long earlier which cause my legs to stiffen up. I needed to loosen up a bit through walking and as the sky grew darker, I put on my headlamp. I restarted my run when we re-entered the trails and as I powered on my 300 Lumens LED Lenser, the whole area brighten up. I could actually run, I told myself, and so I did.

Despite a drop in pace, I was glad I was still running. But the running had to stop when the trail got a bit too technical and the surroundings got too dark. Even with my very bright headlamp on, I didn't had the confidence to tackle the trails here. Besides, it was an uphill struggle to Ma On Shan (Horse Saddle Mountain). Things got nasty halfway through my journey here when I felt a sensation I've never felt for years. The hammering on the back of my head and my left eyeball. My migraine which I've managed to keep it at bay decided to return and I wonder if it was the very rich milk pudding I mentioned earlier that have caused this. The pain became very bad and I had to stop halfway into the journey at at open area to rest up. I threw up twice in the process and a very kind Chow Kean Fatt came to my assistance. Knowing nothing much he can do, I told him to carry on. I was really grateful to him though. Thanks Kean Fatt! I had a CoEnzyme10 tablet with me and I took it hoping it will help. It was a mild dosage though but I guess it's better than not having it.

Many fearless runners shouldered on as I was still resting there trying to get my pieces together. The pain was not getting any better soon but I knew I had to move on. I was in the middle of no where, in the darkness and in pain. All I had was myself, my strength and the thoughts which comes into me. I picked up my trekking pole, used it to support my already weaken body and carried on. Sounds dramatic but heck that was what happened!

I was moving slow enough  and every step was a torture. The weather was getting cold especially when the wind blows but I was lucky I already had my third layer on, the water proof and wind proof Saucony Razor Jacket. And when In finally got to the top of Ma On Shan, I could clearly see both side of Hong Kong, Sha Tin and Tai Po. It was a very open area and I can't stop due to the wind factor. I had to carry on hoping I will make it to an enclose area to shield me from the wind. Soon I did along the descend and while the pain from the migraine got better, my body has weakened.  There were a few more unnamed hills to climb, and climb I did before I finally heard some noise. The check point was near!

The path slowly cleared up and trails became tarmac. A few steps and soon Check Point 6 at Gilwell Camp, Tate's Cairn was in sight. It was pretty dark and cold. I found a spot along the railing, rested my pole there and went to refill my bottles. And while doing so, the inexperience young scout overdid it with the water pump causing overfilling of my bottle and hence my gloves was icy wet. Took some rice ball here, before I heard that the scouts did make a camp fire nearby. Pick my stuff up and headed there which was nearby along the race course. I took a long 15 minutes break here and while doing so, try to dry up my gloves. A few other skinny runners like me came by as the fire did help a little in keeping us warm in this cold night. I tore my first pack of hand warmers and stuff it into my gloves for the extra warmth.

And when I thought that rest was sufficient, I resume my journey. My head got better but my legs got worse. The muscles has stiffen up and the journey next was downhills on the road. I walk at first hoping to shake the stiffness off and I was glad a familiar face came about. It was Ping whom I met at the Craze Ultra last year. While I was tired, he was sleepy and chatting away did help us, well at least till we got to the bottom of the hill where he zoomed off into the trails. My legs was kind of glad to be back into the trails as it was easier for it. However, the darkness prevented me from running and besides, the journey to Beacon Hill was a single track pretty technical trail with loose rocks. I had to be careful for one wrong step, I will roll into the unknown. To make things worse, my headlamp gave out the low battery warning by flashing every 30 seconds halfway into my journey. I hope it will last till I get to the check point but it did not and everything just went BLACK!

I had my spare batteries with me but as the surroundings was just too dark to change into them, I took out my spare headlamp instead but the strength was just 100 Lumens. Indeed a huge difference but at least I could see the route ahead, at least a little. I just kept moving and apparently, I thought the journey was so long. I was getting a bit impatient to get to the check point, probably because of my lighting. But I finally found a spot, like a picnic spot where I sat down with a few other runners and finally changed my headlamp into new batteries. I asked one of the runners there on the distance to the check point and was delighted to know that it was about 800M above only. Yes, I said above as it was a uphill climb to it. As I continued on, I kept reminding myself that it was near. Just keep climbing and going!

Finally, I got my sorry self to Beacon Hill, some 73 KM into the race. And to welcome the runners, the scouts places light sticks all over the ground together with some motivational quotes. Certainly a nice touch from them. A young lass also gave me an "ang pau" with the Happy New Year message on it. It made my race truly more meaningful. Made my way to the camp fire and sat around it with a blanket provided by the scouts wrapped over me. Took some hot coffee and tomato pasta too to keep myself warm and filled.

And when I thought I was ready, I moved on. I felt much better as I resumed my journey though the technical downhill here was rather tricky. Was a pretty long journey down the trails but eventually I got there. The view at the bottom was familiar, it was the road towards the Golden Hill Road where the monkeys were as seen on the official video. Feeling much better on the legs, I ran crossed the road via the pedestrian bridge and slowly up the road. No monkeys around though as it was still dark here though I can here some noises from them.

Twist and bends but on tarmac, I slowly grew tired again. Looks like sleep time is almost on me but I was glad that this place was covered and there was no wind blowing around. I took a short break halfway up the climb as there was a platform to sit on which was too much to resist. Took off my shoes and massage my legs before resuming. And fast forwarding to 83KM, I arrive finally at Check Point 8, Shing Mun Dam.

I've no idea, but my body felt like shutting down upon arriving here. I felt miserable and just rested by the corner. I took in nothing too, no water, no food. 7KM to the next check point was all I need but I have to get to Needle Hill first before Grassy Hill, 2 very steep peaks to conquer. It's not an easy task.

Picked my pole up and venture off and soon, the entrance to the trails and climbs greeted. It was no doubt steep and technical. And from an enclosed area, it quickly became an open area with wind blowing again. The view from the distance was just a trail of lights in an upward manner. "Just concentrate on the road ahead", I told myself. One step at a time should get me to the top and eventually I got to Needle Hill at 532M above sea level.

The tougher one done, but from Needle Hill, I could see the peak of Grassy Hill. Though not as steep, it was higher and longer in distance to get there. A very technical descend from Needle Hill before climbing again. Oxygen was thin and I stopped a few times to catch my breath before continuing. I couldn't stop long though as it will get too cold and hence needed to push on. I got to the peak of Grassy Hill at 647M from the sea level and was glad to see lights below. It was all down hill now. It was winding but was not too technical as the descend from Needle Hill. I soon heard the sound of generators and I knew the check point was near.

However, I was wrong. Although I could hear noises, it kind of took me long enough to get to the check point at Lead Mine Pass. I needed to get there fast as I needed some hot beverages. I was glad I arrive at the bottom safely and after a few turns, I finally arrived at the 90KM mark, Check Point 9.

I felt sick though upon arriving at Lead Mine Pass. Feeling drowsy, I unloaded my backpack and just sat at one corner. The idea of having a hot beverage was soon forgotten as I just had no appetite. It has since been no intake since the previous check point and though I know it's going to spell trouble, I just didn't put anything in. A familiar voice called to me. It was Hong Lan and she asked if I was ok. Told her I was and we set out together later with her friend Teng Teng.

The last mountain and the highest in Hong Kong, Tai Mo Shan (Big Hat Mountain) is beyond us. Standing at 957M tall, it is the last obstacle that we had to go through. Not too long after resuming my journey, I suddenly had the appetite to take in something sweet like isotonic drinks. I looked back and knew it was too late to make a return to the check point. Therefore, I will only get my drink should I chase down Hong Lan. But she is a very experience and good hiker where she scaled the climbs confidently as she moved swiftly. I was loosing her and soon enough, I can't even see her headlamp. I was on my own.

I was glad despite standing tall, Tai Mo Shan was not as tough as I though it will be. It's a gradual climb and one just need to find the correct easier path.Most were big rocks or boulders, but once that area is cleared, things got easier. Ping came into the scene suddenly as his headlamp was running out of batteries. But he was moving fast while myself still struggling with drowsiness.

I exited the trails safely and it was now all tarmac to the end. But first, a second climb before I hit the top. All I can see is a giant dome there and that was my indicator. The surrounding here is pretty open and the strong winds channeling through can hit runners pretty hard. I took out my last pack of  hand warmers and stuff it into my gloves as I moved on to keep myself warm. And after winding through the road, I finally arrive at the station where the dome is. Not exactly at the top though as there was a gate that prevented us from entering the area.

The final 4KM or so through the zig zag winding road down to the finish is what stands between success and failure. And despite no intake of fluid or food since Check Point 8, I found my strength back as I started running downhill. Each of my steps were loud. But then, the sudden urge to pee came and I just had to do it at Tai Mo Shan. Sorry Hong Kong! After relieving myself, I continued my run and while doing do, started emptying my backpack of any water that may weight me down. I folded my trekking pole too hoping I can run faster. I wanted to finish this race before the sun rises. I push on and "flew" downhill.

I heard announcements from a far. It's definitely the finish. But like the earlier Lead Mine Pass, I will not let the noises deceive me again. It's an open area and noises travel well here. There should be another couple of Kilometers more I told myself. But eventually after circling around , the view came into sight and what I saw on the video came into reality. The last bend on the grass with the grave on the right was upon me as I zoom onto it, then on to the red carpet and finally crossed the finish in 23:05:08 hours earning the bronze award! My first 100KM trail completed, and one for the bucket list.

Successfully completing my first ever 100KM trail!

I hung area the finish area after collecting my finisher's items as I had to wait for the arrival of my friends, especially Yik Yee, Gan and Kevin. As I waited, had a few chats and photos with friends like Hong Lan, Alan, Hansen and few more while updating my results to my friends back home. Eventually Gan and Yik Yee return safely too, and with close to the 30 hours cut-off time, we found out that Kevin had decided to pull out from the race to help an injured runner at the halfway point. Hats off and well done to Kevin for this unselfish decision. You are a good man!

Feeling tired, sleepy and cold at the finish area.

My splits.

It was a painful journey back to the hotel. With only a single mini bus to ferry the runners from the finish area to the nearest MTR station, we decided to opt for public transport instead. We waited pretty long for the public bus to arrive to drive us to the MTR station before taking the train back. Kevin and Wilson helped a lot with our luggage as myself and Yik Yee was not feeling well. Thanks my friends.  And once back to the hotel, myself and Yik Yee had to drag our luggage to our new room which was a tad little smaller than the previous. Cleaned up and threw up again in the process to clear my air way and it was bed time for me and Yik Yee. I really had no appetite and decided to give dinner a miss while the others did. I woke up around 9PM, message some of my friends back home, had a little gastric pain but eventually fell back to sleep again.

Next day was good as I woke up feeling better though the airway still felt blocked. Had breakfast with Yik Yee before I went to explore the town of Mong Kok myself before joining Kevin for the rest of the noon. I had a great time with Kevin as he shared his stories with me. At dinner, I finally ate some solid food despite not finishing the lovely roast pork and goose rice. Rested early back in the hotel after packing up as the final day at Hong Kong beckons.

Flight was at noon and hence we had sometime to have a very delicious porridge breakfast at the market nearby. Myself, Gan and Kevin explored the city one last time while Yik Yee went to meet up with his relatives. Then an absolutely lovely lunch with Gan's friend at the Regal Hotel before we adjourned to the airport for our flight back. And thus came an end to this trip which despite my migraine, was truly memorable.

Lunch at Regal Hotel with Gan's friend.

All in all, HK100 is a very doable race. I did enjoy it though not really please with how things turn out as little did I expect that my race will be ruin by migraine. Despite not having any target beside just wanting to complete it, I don't deny that the lust for silver came into mind when Foo told me that I had the chance while we met on the way to Kai Kong Shan. At that point of time, I looked at my time and thought it was doable, at least how I felt at that time. I lost some confidence after this race though for I ask myself, how can I achieve my next on my bucket list?

One for the bucket list.

Amway, it's my first 100KM trail and I now know on what to expect from it should I get another shot at it or another event. It's a different game compared to road running as I felt miserable and sick out there. I really had no idea on how one of my friends did it with her ligament injury for 2 years in a row While I ran, walk and limp, I thought of her back then. She was certainly awesome! But thanks to her and my friends especially Roy who had given me many advises for this race for all of it did help me manage better. Else, I will certainly go into this race blindly. My Scottish and South African friends too who had been tracking me, thanks! Not forgetting my travel mates too - Yik Yee, Gan and Kevin for the time together.

Before closing off this entry, I guess there is something worth mentioning here. There were some debates over the past years comparing Comrades Marathon and the HK00. After finally having done both, I guess it's fair enough that I bring this up again. My personal take will be each has their own challenges and difficulties, and that both falls under different categories especially the running surfaces. Both races are doable, but however I guess Comrades Marathon will be tougher due to the strict cut off time at each check points. That's just my 2 cents though.

* All photos here credited to the respective photographers. Thank you.