If there was one word to describe the Hong Kong 100 is: EPIC. Sure, there’s plenty of other ultras that have more hills, more elevation or just more harder (but I sincerely doubt better volunteers, because those guys were AMAZING!!! No, seriously, they were world class). But this was my very first international run. It’s funny, I always thought that my first international run would be a marathon but I’m glad with a little coercing (let’s face it, a sneaky midnight registration while I was sleeping by Russ) that I committed mentally and physically for it.
We landed in Hong Kong on the Thursday just before race weekend, giving us plenty of time to put our feet up and work our way through a couple of kilograms of noodles. Russ and I left early on Saturday morning and arrived at Pak Tam Chung in less than an hour to a buzzing race start area.When it was time to huddle in to our estimated time waves, it was great when the count down finally happened, everyone was screaming out from number 10 down to GO! in different languages. It was a relief to finally start running after having some time off for tapering. The race began with some nice little undulations for about 1KM until you hit the congestion line on single technical track going up. And for the rest of the race, going up was all I seemed to be doing!
Russ and I ran together for about the first 20KM until he fell twice and twisted an ankle coming down Sai Wan Shan. Although he was not injured, his confidence levels were low so I was running by myself for much of the race. The scenery was absolutely stunning, with views that will forever be etched in to my mind. I was having such a good, strong run for much of the first half – consistent on the flats, strong on the flats and utilised gravity on the downs. Russ and I kept bumping in to each other for brief moments along the beach sections and at checkpoints – just as I was leaving, he was coming in. It was a great mix of single and technical track, pavement and stairs that were not too uneven. I even had the pleasure of seeing a couple of monkeys along the way!
All was going well up until the 45KM mark where the real race begins. The first climb up Kai Kung Shan really put doubts in to my mind. My legs were screaming at me and my head started to fatigue. And then the downs started to inflict pain on my poor quads! When I finally reached the 52KM checkpoint, it was bliss to sit down. Russ found me and I was so happy to see him. He was all patched up after having a significant fall that left him quite bloodied! After I got some food in to my system from the wonderful volunteers, Russ and I left the checkpoint and started our journey together. He kept me going, trying to cheer me up and keep me distracted but I seemed to go through major ups and downs. I had some good hours but wow, I had some bad hours. One of the most memorable moments was running along one of the ridge tops and watching the sun set. It was pure magic!
Once the sun set after 8:30 hours, it was time to try and knuckle down. It’s funny, when I checked the time, I realised that even though I was about 9 hours in to this run, I still had about 10 hours to go – what a realisation that was!!! Russ and I really appreciated the open track when it finally came along so that we could stride out and not have to pay so much attention to our foot fall. We started up a conversation with a lovely lady who was born in Hong Kong, spent most of her life in Canada and then moved back to Hong Kong. She told us that she was going through a mid-life crisis – the reason why she took up running ultras! A lovely and funny lady, she had a lot of good advice about climbing up the last 3 major peaks. After she ran off, we did not see her again. I’m not entirely sure where it was on the course, but heading along a road section, we were startled by a group of wild dogs. They were quite scary but thankfully they kept their distance and we kept ours.
By the time we reached Beacon Hill, I was mentally broken. Not even the loud music and festival-like atmosphere could cheer me up. And the poor volunteer, who was asking me what I wanted, all I could do was apologise as I didn’t know! Probably best that she helped someone who did know! Russ was doing so much better than me mentally and was patiently waiting for me. We were sitting next to the bonfire, shivering from the cold and I desperately wanted to pull out at this point. Why? Because I knew I had so much more climbing to do and I was beyond exhausted. So after a 15min chair and food break, I stood up and grumpily said to Russ, “I’m ready now”. And on we trudged.
Through the single track bushes, it was such a sight to see Kowloon and the rest of Hong Kong lit up. It was like you could almost reach out and touch the buildings! But I was pulled back to reality once the climb began up Needle Hill. On the last hill climb before you descend down to make the ascent up Needle Hill, you could see it right in front of you in the clearing. All of these headlights going vertically upwards. My heart sank so heavily – we weren’t even close to starting the climb. Again, we trudged on. As we were making our way down, there were people and cars everywhere. Russ and I were quite confused until we came upon a marquee. I had to look twice. Did we really just cover the 10KM and are at 83km???? “That’s right, you have 17KM to go, SO GO!!!” said a volunteer. I have never been so happy before in my life! And just like a switch, I went from a death marcher to a happy runner! And here is where the roles were reversed between Russ and I.
Needle Hill was just awful. The stairs went on and on and on. I don’t remember anything else but climbing up stairs. Russ and I had a small rest break at the peak before heading along to Grassy Hill. I was greatly impressed with my sudden mood change and how strong I felt in my legs. I was happily powering along until I realised Russ was getting slower and slower. While going up felt completely normal and natural for me, going down hills or stairs was murderous. I really slowed on the descents. I took small sit-down breaks while waiting Russ to catch up. He kept urging me on, but I was happy to welcome these small breaks. It was quite the experience when I was running along by myself along the upward road sections with fog everywhere. It really did feel as though I was in the world all by myself.
When Russ did catch up, I stood up and came in to the last checkpoint at 90KM. I grabbed a sandwich, sat down to eat it and when Russ sat down next to me, he told me to go on without him. I looked at him and saw that he was not in good shape and so I kissed him, said good luck and good byes and on I went. I couldn’t sit down for more than a few minutes as the temperature was really dropping and I get incredibly cold within a short amount of time.
Immediately when I left the last checkpoint, it was the final ascent up to Tai Mo Shan. I was with a group of three local guys and on we climbed. Up and up and up. We finally reached what I thought was the top as it was an exposed ridge line surrounded by heavy fog and wind. It flattened out and I managed a small jog along this section. All of a sudden I hit a road section which continued going up. Disappointed by not yet reaching the peak, I kept at it. I was here by myself, with the others having already run off. Looking ahead and behind me, there was not a headlamp I could spot. Alone again!
I finally reached the peak, going through a wind tunnel and passing the orange glow of the military base. As soon as I passed this building, the final 4KM descent began. WOW it hurt to run downhill but I kept looking at my watch and if I kept an OK pace, I would make it under 20 hours. As the meters ticked over, I could hear the finish line, but I could not see it. It was a major psych-out but I picked up the pace. I was getting overtaken by a couple of guys, one was yelling out to me in Mandarin/Cantonese that I couldn’t understand, but I gathered he was saying: “Keep going, we can make it under 20 hours!!!” I pushed hard until I saw the finish line let go of everything mentally and physically. I was so incredibly happy to have reached the finish line. And relieved that I could stop moving! I finished this brutal run in 19 HOURS 45 MINUTES.
An hour later, Russ crossed the line, 20 HOURS 40 MINUTES.