On the coldest day in Hong Kong since 1957 where mountaintops saw frost and snow reportedly fell up north in Hong Kong, about 1,400 people – myself included – set off from Sai Kung at 8am on Saturday Jan 23 to run 100 kilometres through the mountains. The Vibram Hong Kong 100 ended up to be pretty darn eventful for many with race organisers cutting short the event after black ice made it dangerous and impossible to descend the city’s tallest mountain Tai Mo Shan to the finish line some 4-5km below.
Fortunately, in my first 100km race since the 2013 Ultra Trail Mt Fuji and since becoming a mother, the only eventful things that happened to me during the HK100 were getting blown sideways along East Dam and the Ma On Shan ridge, eating my first three servings of cup noodles in three years, and letting a few stinkers rip along the course (apologies to the person behind me). I was more than an hour slower than my first go at the race in 2013 (then 13h 46min, 5th place), but without mileage in my legs and with duties of single motherhood, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be fast. A strong 14h 56min finish for 12th place definitely exceeded my expectations. And on hindsight while snuggled up in bed warm under the covers and reading Facebook updates from the race, I realised how lucky I was to have a smooth race.The start was a squeeze and I took my time, but somehow found myself behind one of the race favourites and local trail running ace Marie McNaughton that I decided to pace her. It was easy enough and we were chatting occasionally along the way till the first checkpoint at East Dam, where she stopped to refuel while I grabbed a handful of nuts and continued running. I felt strong and constantly reminded myself to take it easy, conserving energy for stage 3 around the Hoi Ha coast where the trail gets rocky and technical. In the 2013 race I remembered I disliked this draining stage that seemed to go on forever.
So, into checkpoint 2 at Wong Shek, I was still ahead of Marie and in the top 10.Hoi Ha actually went by very smoothly. I led about four or five guys around the trail – they seemed to be happy with my slow and steady pace. My mind wandered to the last time I did this trail in Oct 2013 during a hike with a friend. Every step of the way I seemed to recall vividly that hike, the beach we stopped at for a picnic, the spots where we stopped to take photos, etc. These memories made the stage pass by very quickly and soon I was at checkpoint 3.
By this point the memories of that Oct 2013 hike was gone – because we hadn’t gone this way. And with that, my legs suddenly tuned in to how my body was actually feeling and went all jelly. I suddenly felt weak and tired. It didn’t help that the next stage was another I disliked – horrible concrete through Pak Sha O, only about 2k of nice trail, and then more boring concrete to Yung Shue O. I slowed a lot. From experience I knew I’d get over this feeling eventually if I just kept eating and drinking. I just had to wait it out.
Checkpoint 4 at Yung Shue O finally arrived and I quickly downed my first cup of cup noodles in three years (the last time was also during an ultratrail). Doing an ultra is the only excuse to have cup noodles – who eats this unnutritious msg-laden crap otherwise? My energy returned after that – thankfully because the next stage would be the first big climb of the day up Kai Kung Shan.
I crawled up the technical trail and descended gingerly (my descending used to be one of my strengths but it’s actually a weakness now) to the race’s halfway point Kei Ling Ha, checkpoint 5, where Rachel was waiting with some hot soup and coffee and a much-needed huge hug for me. In 2014 while pregnant I supported Rachel during her HK100 race and she offered to return the favour this time. I’m so fortunate that she came out. Even if she didn’t have any food or drink for me, just knowing that someone’s waiting for you keeps you going. Rachel would also meet me at Shing Mun Reservoir as well as wait for me at the finish line – I haven’t felt so loved in a long time (Jonathan, you have a keeper).After about five minutes of eating, drinking and chatting I left the checkpoint for the second half of the race. This is when the race officially begins, when the huge climbs start. First up, Ma On Shan.
Once again my mind wandered, this time to one of the hikes I did with a friend over this trail in early 2013. I recalled we’d “cheated” – driving up the concrete till the start of the dirt trail – and that what began as a cloudy day eventually became a spectacular sunny blue-sky day. The memories once again got my tired self up and over Ma On Shan, but then all of a sudden my stomach went empty and I had an insatiable hunger. I stuffed whatever food I had into my mouth but I still felt hungry and weak. This was a long stage and I knew the next aid station would be about two hours away. Help me god, please.
I somehow struggled to checkpoint 6 at Gilwell Campsite, where I downed two servings of cup noodles in quick succession. Then a peanut butter sandwich. Some oranges. More nuts. I finally had my energy back.
From here on – about 36km left – the race actually went smoothly and rather enjoyably. I walked the uphills, something I did little of in the 2013 race, and took it easy on the downhills. As I ran past Lion Rock and over Beacon Hill, I remembered a previous spot we’d stop for a picnic before. After checkpoint 7 at Beacon Hill, dusk arrived and my headlamp came on.
Up Golden Hill Road, for the first time no monkeys in sight – it must have been too cold for them. I took it easy and then onto the trail past the bunkers – more memories here from a previous hike – and down to Shing Mun Reservoir where Rachel was waiting. I grabbed the hiking poles from her and left checkpoint 8 quickly.
Up Needle Hill I counted down the climbs – just three big ones to go. I remembered our hike with little M in the pack last summer – that was way harder than this. Down Needle Hill, boring concrete, up Grassy Hill, then a descend to Lead Mine Pass. Here, a volunteer passed me hot chocolate and then told me that the race course has been changed, instead of the road we’d be descending Tai Mo Shan by the trail. My first reaction was, WTF? Because it’s so much easier running down by the road. I didn’t want to see more steps.
Anyway, I carried on quickly because it was beyond my control. Up and over Tai Mo Shan I pretty much followed two guys in front of me – nobody passed us. There was a strong headwind and sub-zero temperatures, but I felt perfectly fine wrapped up in my baselayer and Goretex jacket. I moved briskly and Tai Mo Shan was conquered quickly enough. Now, just the downhill to go.
There were so many “frost-chasers” on Tai Mo Shan. People, tents, cars. A huge jam. Now I knew why the race route was diverted to the original MacLehose Trail. I was actually thankful I didn’t have to run down Tai Mo Shan in between the stalled cars, bright headlights and crazy frost-chasers. The trail down was peaceful and uneventful, and soon I could hear in the distance the race announcer yelling out names of runners passing the finish line.
“Jeanette Wang from Singapore!” For the time in the day I looked at a watch or clock – race time read 14h 56min. I thought I was on course for 16h+ and I was surprised and overjoyed with my finish. Rachel was there waiting with a big warm hug. She grabbed my drop bags, collected my finisher trophy and hoodie, bought me a hot dog and sent me to the warm tent to change.
After chatting a bit with other runners and warming up, we hitchhiked our way out of Route Twisk down to Tsuen Wan MTR (thanks a million to the kind strangers who gave us the lift!). Then a cab home, a warm shower, four layers of clothing, the heater on, straight into bed, under the covers, with little M fast asleep next to me.