Last year, I joined this race for the reason to visit Hongkong and at the same time, find out if my training on trail running was making some progress and improvement on my capability to run in ultra mountain trail races. For this year, I joined this race for the purpose of earning “points” for the UTMB with the hope of joining this race in 2017 or year after (if my knees are still intact and strong!). This is my Race Report last year.
I was satisfied with the result of my last year’s finish with a time of 28:50+ hours and I’ve earned 3 points for the UTMB registration. I’ve earned another 2 UTMB points in last year’s Clark-Miyamit 50-Mile Trail Run. So, I still need 4 points to complete 9 points within this year for me to be qualified to join the 2017 UTMB. On second thought, I am now qualified for the UTMF in Japan this year with the 3 points for UTMB I’ve earned in last year’s TransLantau 100 or maybe, join in next year’s CCC 100K which needs only 3 points to register.
The main goal for me in this year’s TransLantau 100 was to finish the race within the cut-off time of 32 hours, without any injury, and be able to earn another 3 UTMB points. Improving my finish time was considered as a “bonus”, knowing what to expect on the terrain, the stairs, location of Checkpoints/Aid Stations, and the weather (where I assumed that the weather last year was the same for this year’s edition). I did not have any jitters or nervousness on the last few days and hours before the event. I was totally relaxed and ready for the challenge.
But along the course before I finished the race, the prevailing weather for the day turned to be very dangerous to the runners (as per the Race Organizer’s view) and the following is my story about it.
The usual ritual that I’ve done last year before the race was done again for this year—the trip from Tsim Shai Tsui to Central’s Pier 6 to Mui Wo via the Boat/Ferry (faster one this time); eating McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Hamburger at the Mui Wo Ferry Port; meeting with other SouthEast Asian runners (from Malaysia); and finally waiting for the race to start with my Pinoy Ultrarunner-Friends—Tess Leono, Myk Dauz, and Mic-mic Flores.
We had more than two hours to spare waiting for the Race to start at the Public Park (with Comfort/Bath Rooms and Concrete Benches with Barbecue Grill Areas) and we just sat in one of the benches covered with a roof. All our bottles and hydration packs were ready and we adhered to the instructions that we had to bring the race’s mandatory gears.
On Mandatory Gears & Nutrition
I brought two jackets with me, a Water Repellant Down Jacket by Uniqlo and Water Repellant Columbia Jacket with a thin Heat Blanket on the inside portion. I was thinking of what to wear for the race as I’ve observed that the prevailing temperature for the race was colder than last year’s. Finally, I decided to wear the Down Jacket by Uniqlo which is very light and easy to stow in my hydration pack. But I decided to bring the Columbia Jacket with me just in case I need to change my jacket. Just in case of extreme weather condition, I still have my Salomon’s Heat Blanket stowed in one of the pockets of my Salomon Hydration Pack.
I brought also an extra handheld flashlight aside from the Petzl (Tikka XP) Headlight that I was already wearing before the start of the race. I have also extra batteries in my pack just in case my new batteries will be drained during the two nights thatI will be on the course. Last year, my headlight became very weak on my last 10K and I’ve learned a lesson from that experience.
One glaring and significant change in my running gear as compared to my last year’s participation is the use of trekking poles. I have trained for almost 3 weeks using the trekking poles and I was glad I made the right decision as I will explain later in my story.
On my nutrition, this is the first time that I have not used a single GU Energy Gel but just the same , I brought 4 pieces just in case of emergency or “bonking” as compared to last year’s 24 pieces of GU stashed in my shorts’ pockets and hydration pack. However, I brought, at least, 12 servings of CarboPro with me which kept me moving forward without a feeling of being hungry and weak.
There is NO Public Address System, an Emcee or the RD talking to the runners and giving last instructions prior to the start of the race and it had been like that last year. Once the Lion Dance and Beating of Drums are seen and heard, it is a signal that the Race is about to start. At this point, the four of us Pinoys entered the chute and comfortably waited at the back portion for the race to start. There were NO Gun Start and Cowbells and we just followed the runners in front of us to clear the Start/Finish Arc. The first 100 meters was running on the sand and finally went up from the beach to the paved area of the park until we reached the streets of Mui Wo.
Except for the brief stop due to traffic of runners entering the trailhead, running was done on a paved trail and almost in a flat terrain. I was at the back of my Pinoy friends (Myk, Tess, and Mic-Mic) at this point and I was running on a steady pace trying to observe when my body would start perspiring. I was thinking of removing my Down Jacket once I started to perspire but I was hard-headed not to stop and remove it. I decided not to remove it until I reached the halfway part of the course (Km 44).
I reached the 1st Checkpoint at Chi Ma Wan (Km 7) in 1:09:21 hours with a ranking of #608 out of about 1,000+ starters. I stopped to refill my Simple Hydration Bottle with a CarboPro in it and I was on the go again. Knowing that it was the start of the ascending portions of the route, I immediately removed the trekking poles that were tied on the back of my Salomon Hydration Park and it was time to apply what I’ve trained for using these trekking poles.
After 10 kilometers of relentless and non-stop ascents on rock-stairs using my trekking poles, I reached the 2nd Checkpoint at Pak Hung Au (Km 17) in 3:21:57 hours with an overall ranking of #577. The Aid Station is located beside a Highway and the building structure is a big circular shade/hut with all the foods and drinks in front of it. I refilled my Simple Hydration Bottle and grabbed some bite foods and I was eating and drinking while leaving the Aid Station. I took the opportunity to pass most of the runners who were still eating in the Aid Stations and it was the start to tackle the highest elevation of the course, the Mt Lantau Peak.
The Lantau Peak is the highest elevation in the island and the second highest peak in Hongkong with an elevation of 934 meters above sea level (masl) or (3,083+ feet). In last year’s race, Lantau Peak was Km #70 and this year was made as Km #20. The Race Organizer placed the hardest part of the course in last year’s event on the first half of the race and I felt good with it because my legs and knees were not yet spent and exhausted after reaching the Lantau Peak. The approach to the peak on this side of the route was more forgiving as there are less steeper stairs to step on.
I reached the Lantau Peak in 4:32+ hours and it was starting to be foggy and windy. I was not tempted to take a picture using my iPhone at the peak because I’ve promised myself to refrain from taking any “selfies” along the course and be able to improve my finish time. It was time to go down from the peak but if you think it was an easy one, you are wrong! This is where you can see the steepest rock stairs made in the whole of Hongkong that you have to be slow and deliberate in taking the next lower step. For the 2 kilometers of descending stairs, it took me 35 minutes! Finally, I reached the 3rd Checkpoint at Ngong Ping (Km 22) in 5:08:47 hours with an overall ranking of #522. As a result, I was able to gain a buffer time of 1 hour & 52 minutes (almost 2 hours) and I’ve passed 55 runners within the said section of the course! From Checkpoint #1 up to Checkpoint #3, I gained and improved in 86 positions/rankings! Not bad!!!
I did not stay long in Ngong Ping #1 Aid Station after I refilled my Simple Hydration Bottle and grabbed some bite foods and walked away while eating and drinking. From the Aid Station, it was a Road Running event for about 2 kilometres as we went down along the Highway before going back to the trails. This is where I passed the younger runners and somebody challenged me to a faster pace but I left him behind me as he stopped to walk.
At the Checkpoint #4 in Kau Ling Chung which is located along the Drainage Facility/Canal (a big one!), I did not notice the Marshal to have taken my time as I joined a group of runners reaching the said Aid Station. Anyway, I remember this place where I stayed longer in last year’s event as I was already exhausted and tired that I had to eat a lot here with the help of Filipina volunteers manning the Aid Station. As compared this year, I was still strong and fresh! I just grabbed some Nutella Sandwich and a fistful of raisins and walked away from the Aid Station eating my foods!
After one kilometre away from the Aid Station, it was time to go back to the trails and this part made some runners to pass and miss the said entry. The entry to trail from the Canal/Drainage Facility is a quick and sharp left turn where the ribbons on each side of the trail are tied and located. It was time again to go to the ascending trails towards the next peak which was the Keung Shan that has an elevation of 459 meters (1,515+ feet). This time there are less stairs to tackle before reaching the peak. However, from the peak, it was a mix of trail and rock stairs. At a vantage point, one can see the beautiful mountains and town of Tai O. I knew that I will be running along a pedestrian bridge (where a photographer was located last year) before reaching the town and the next Aid Station.
I reached the 5th Checkpoint at the Tai O School in 10:53:55 hours gaining 3 hours as buffer from the cut-off time of 14 hours at this point. I improved my ranking with only one spot (#521). At this Aid Station, I ate Hot Noodles mixed with Salami slices; drank Coke; refilled my bottles with Water and CarboPro; and then changed my wet Down Jacket with the Columbia Jacket with Heat Shield on the inside portion. I think I spent at least 15 minutes in this station. I knew I was faster in my “pit stop” than last year’s time because I left the place leaving those runners who was ahead of me in reaching this place.
As I left the School/Aid Station, I saw Myk, Mic-Mic and Tess approaching the Checkpoint and I assumed that I was 20-25 minutes ahead of them. I was eating some Crackers and Cliff Bloks when I entered the fishing community in Tai O. It was starting to drizzle and I immediately put on the hood of the Columbia Jacket on my head. In anticipation of the draining of my Suunto Watch battery/power, I asked one of the Chinese runners behind me to please get the black wire on the back pocket of my Salomon Hydration Pack and he gladly did it. After “kicking their asses” on the first 50K, I finally asked them to help me. And they did! From here, it was an alternate of jogging and hiking while watching the bridge construction in the middle of the sea which was going on since last year on the left side of the route.
I was surprised that there was the 6th Checkpoint/Aid Station (with water only!) along this part of the course which is a favorite Hiking Area for the locals at Sham Watt (Km 50) where I was timed at 12:13:11 hours and improved my standing to #502. I was thinking that in a short distance from here, it will be the entry to the single-track trail towards Ngong Ping where all the runners “bushwacked” towards the peak and Cable Car Station in last year’s edition. I was wrong as we were made to continue following the paved path all the way to the direction of Tun Chung!!!
After jogging and hiking for about 5 kilometres from the Sham Watt Checkpoint (6th Checkpoint), I noticed that the entry to the Ngo Ping Trail is still far basing it from the Elevation Profile Copy which I brought with me. At this point, I was feeling weak and need to ingest some solid foods before going up to Ngong Ping! I finally decided to drop in one of the stores and asked to buy a can of Coke and later found out that the store serves some sandwiches and hot noodles. The owner and at the same time cook promised me that he can prepare an Egg Sandwich in ONE Minute! And he did! I paid HK$ 14 for the sandwich and HK$ 8 for the Coke In Can. While eating, I noticed lots of taller and younger Chinese runners and European runners would pass in front of the store while I was eating. I was laughing inside my mind how in the hell I was able to run faster than these guys! By the way, I had some HK$ with me because it is part of the event’s mandatory “gear”.
Feeling stronger this time, I continued my run until I reached the intersection of the new race route towards Ngong Ping! Later, I found out that the trail going to the top of Ngong Ping is called “Ngong Ping 360 Emergency Rescue Trail” which is 5.6 kilometres long consisting of footpath, cemented stairs, and wooden stairs and boardwalks! It was not so hard in the beginning as I progressed my way along the stairs as the elevation was going higher and higher. And then I reached the “wooden stairs” going down to a flat portion until it ended quickly! The rock stairs had started again thinking that the wooden stairs/trail that I’ve passed was the only one along the route! I was wrong! There will be more wooden stairs and flat wooden planks along the way, piece by piece, segment by segment, to the point that I was already cursing since the wooden planks were wet due to the drizzle as you go up to the mountain. Aside from the fact that most of these wooden planks do not have hand rails on both sides where one could hold on, the planks are slippery!
One by one, even if it was very foggy, I could see that every peak that I reached was the location of each steel post/Tower of the Cable Car that crosses the island of Lantau. I think I slowed my pace in this section for the fear of sliding on the wooden planks plus the steepness of the route! Finally, I reached the 7th Checkpoint/Ngong Ping #2 with a time of 16:17:36 hours with a ranking of #521. I was passed by 19 runners along this segment of the course, 4 runners at the “wooden stairs/planks” and 15 runners while I was eating my Egg Sandwich! I knew it was a temporary set back on my ranking but I knew very well that I really needed solid foods to arrest my body from “bonking” and I could bounce back in the next segment of the course.
I did not stay long in Ngong Ping after quick hot noodle soup & Ice Cold Coke (I really needed more hot & solid foods & sugar rush after my silent curses before reaching this Aid Station). I knew that it was all downhill up to the Canal/Drainage Facility before going back again to Pak Hung Au and jogged most of the way. I followed a very fast runner and hiker and tried to keep in step with him until we reached the flat Canal Area Road. At the flat Canal/Drainage Road, I simply “power hiked” with a tall European runner in front of me using the grasses and unpaved area beside the road to step on in order to relax the feet from the pounding of the hard paved road. At the entry to Pak Hung Au from the Canal/Drainage Road (small paved bridge across the Canal/Drainage Facility), most of the runners in front and behind me took some rest by sitting on cemented barriers along the road. I went alone on the ascending stairs and on midway, I was already being trailed by the runners I left behind by a few steps.
It was already very dark when I reached the 8th Checkpoint Pak Hung Au with most of the runners behind me with a time of 20:02:54 with a ranking of #482, improving my standing by 39 slots! I did not stay long as I only refilled my Simple Hydration Bottle with my CarboPro mix. I left the rest of the runners and I was alone on my way to the Sunset Peak with an elevation of 854 meters (2,820+ feet). It was a very slow and steady climb as I knew this will be the last most challenging part of the before the Finish Line. At the midway of the climb, I became uneasy as I saw nobody coming behind me as I tried to look for light flashes from a distance coming from their headlights! As I got worried that I was the only one going to the peak, the gusty winds started to be stronger as I stepped from one rock stair to a higher one! Just to break my loneliness in the dark, foggy surroundings, and strong gusty winds, I would shout loudly by challenging from the One Above to make the winds stronger!!! And I think He heard my wishes, the winds became stronger! In a short time, I was passed by a couple (lady and a guy, I think they are Locals). I made them as my guide/target for my pace but I ceased from shouting anymore!
I observed that the couple would also be slowed by the strong winds that both of them would sit down in every turn of the rocky stairs and sometime crawl from one rock step stairs to another higher one. For me, instead of my trekking poles landing directly in front of me, both my arms and poles would be landing on the left side of the trail and it was a big effort on my part to maintain my line in front of me instead of going sideways from the trail due to the gusty winds. The trekking poles gave me a BIG help in preventing me from falling down and being swept away by the strong winds! To distract myself from this situation, I would glimpse at my Suunto Watch from time to time and monitor the progress of the elevation data reading on it. I started at 1,500 feet elevation and from there I would know how I progress in my climb as the number of feet gets higher and higher. When I was doing this drill, I could no longer see the couple and their lights even if they are just above me due to the thick fogs as we got higher in the mountain.
I was thinking that my Columbia Jacket’s Hood had been ripped and torn out from my head due to the gusty winds (which has the same intensity with that of Typhoon Lando which I’ve observed in Fort Magsaysay before I cancelled the 5th Fort Magsaysay To Dingalan 65K Run last October of last year). But I was wrong, the Jacket gave me protection from the winds, drizzle, and cold temperature as I trekked towards the peak of the mountain. As I glanced the 2,800 feet reading on my watch, I felt relieved that I would be on the other side of the mountain and being able to escape successfully from the gusty winds. But the winds were relentless even if I was going down the mountain coupled by the zero visibility due to fogs and intermittent drizzle.
On my way down to the 9th and last Checkpoint before the Finish Line at Pak Mong, I peed almost 3 times that some runners would overtake me but in the end I would pass them later because of the slippery trail due to muddy condition and slippery rocks. I was in the company of two other fast downhill runners (one Local and one European) on the last 3 kilometres before the Checkpoint that they finally vanished along the trail after keeping up with them for the 1st kilometer.
Finally, I reached the last Checkpoint in Pak Mong in 23:37:57 hours and I was ranked #482 and I still have 11.5 Kilometers to the Finish Line which I would confidently finish in 3.5 to 4 hours. However, Richard, Marshal of the Event (which I learned the following day that he is the Manager of the Event) was there to inform me that the Race had been stopped two hours earlier because of the prevailing weather conditions in the mountains. He said that all the remaining runners that had been stopped will be declared “Finishers” and we have to get our Finisher’s Medal at the Finish Area in Mui Wo the following day. I found out that I was one of the 35 runners who had passed the last Checkpoint at Pak Hung Au on the time that the Race was declared to be stopped. I can just imagine how many more runners had to be stopped upon their arrival at Pak Hung Au Checkpoint (Km 75). No amount of appealing and arguing to him that I have to reach the Finish Line on foot with my personal knowledge of the route could allow me to continue the race. So, I asked him for directions for the Bus Terminal in Tun Chung and he gave a detailed instruction which I followed. Once I left the Checkpoint, I came into a parked Van that was instructed to bring me to the Bus Terminal.
More runners would join me in the Van to be transported to the MTR & Bus Terminals in Tun Chung. While we were in the Van en route to our destination, a 50-ish age British guy sitting beside me asked if the windy and foggy situations in the mountains scared the hell out of me and I said, “How I wished the winds were stronger and the drizzle turned into rains like in my country’s typhoons. Actually, I was praying hard to make the winds and rains stronger while I was in the mountain!!!” And he said, “You are Hardcore, Man!” and we both laughed! The guy did not know whom he was talking to. But before we parted ways, we called each other, “Buddy”!
Going back to Lantau Island the following day to get our Finisher’s Medal which became a Day Tour, Eating & Shopping Events was another story.
To be continued.