Trails and Tribulations
If you look up the word ‘adventure’ in the dictionary, it says ‘an unusual and exciting or daring experience.’ Undertaking some form of sports adventure, is always exciting, that’s why we choose to do it. Despite the nervous anticipation leading up to the event, the rigorous and diligent training to get ourselves ready (which never seems quite enough), and the quiet nights in watching movies as our friends are out and about partying, somehow there is a part of us that craves adventure.
Whether the adventure at hand is a sky dive, a bungee jump, a marathon, or a trip, I’m constantly fascinated by the people I meet, and the adventures they take part in. In some respects, adventurism equals escapism, but is a more socially acceptable term! My most recent quest for adventure took me along the Maclehose Trail in China – as well as a few more scenic diversions – during the Vibram Hong Kong 100, an ultra-endurance race with a cumulative elevation gain of 14763.78 feet. Read on to learn more about my experiences trail running (and racing) in Hong Kong.
Exploring diverse terrain in China
Having moved to Asia four and a half years ago, and having lived in Hong Kong for the last three and a half, I have been continuously surprised by the amount of beautiful terrain there is to run here. One only needs to travel out of the big cities in China (which are the only things,the Western world really gains exposure to through the media), to discover some of the most beautiful scenery known to man. However, this particular adventure took place in Hong Kong, which is frequently referenced as one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
To most people that’s all Hong Kong is, a densely packed city; a game of sardines among skyscrapers that battle to be the tallest, like plants reaching for sunlight. However, Hong Kong has one of the most diverse and beautiful selections of trails and tracks that I’ve ever experienced.
HK 100 – What you need to know about the race
The Vibram HK100 is a race that has been up and running for the last three years and is widely regarded in Hong Kong trail running circles as one of the most beautiful, and well-organized ultra-trail races in Asia. Since the race’s inception, it has gathered increasingly wide recognition as a world class event. Registration sells out in a matter of hours. The 1,600 competitors that lined up at the start on January 18 knew they were in for a slightly unusual day compared to most others.
Training for a 100km race is no easy feat due to the sheer time it takes to run the distances. Having spoken to a number of different people, it seems there isn’t a “one size fits all” training regime, however most agree that one of the most important factors is mileage. Having recently taken part in the Oxfam Trailwalker, which is a 100km team race, I felt I had the ability to last the distance, but I was nervous without the support and pacing of my very seasoned team members in this individual endeavor. Luckily however, I ended up running with a good friend of mine for the entire race, and we paced together and motivated each other!
Racing through Hong Kong – Over mountains and beaches on the Maclehose Trail & more
Race day was beautiful in Hong Kong, although it was slightly warmer than I had expected. The first half of the Vibram HK 100 broadly hugs the coastline of the new territories in Hong Kong, passes through some quaint local villages, and heads past some breathtakingly beautiful beaches, which are only accessible by foot.
It is also considered an easy run (based on the chart detailing the terrain), with a lot of the climbing focused on the back end. This means you have to go 50-plus kilometers before you begin climbing with tired legs! In light of this, we headed out slow and were very cautious about overdoing it and not having any gas in the tank for the second half.
Eating on the run
When running a long, difficult race like this, one of the key things to take into consideration is energy and food consumption along the way. It took me a while to create a plan, and pre-empt hunger and thirst as much as possible. On a training run of 40-50km, I frequently wouldn’t eat to try and test my body so it could get used to the tired feeling.
During the Vibram Hong Kong 100, I started eating shortly after the 10km mark and didn’t stop till the end. Variety in your running diet is key, as your body and mind tend to tire of sweet things and crave salt and protein. So I had potato chips on hand, rice balls with seaweed and even sometime lemon slices that provide the acidity that your body is craving.
A fight to the finish – pushing through the brutal hills on the back half of the Vibram Hong Kong 100
At the first checkpoint we were in 311th place and by 50km we had come to the realization that we had started out too slowly. The benefit of this, was that we were still relatively fresh and could push during the final grueling 50km. As day turned to night, we kept each other’s spirits up over the difficult terrain. We continued to monitor each other’s eating and drinking regime and generally kept each other amused. Our strength was our greatest ally for the last 25km of the HK 100 and our spirits were buoyed by the people we passed as we pushed on into the dark. Generally having a quick chat with them and hearing about their day!
The final mountain (Tai Mo Shan) is a tough climb although once one has reached the top, it’s downhill to the finish line. At the top we cheered and shouted, and then got our heads down, charging down the mountain in 4 minute kilometers’s and then running across the finish line to receive our much-beloved hoodies as a sign of survival.