Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lantau 100 race report

I woke up on Saturday March 16th, feeling fairly ready to run the Lantau 100. On the one hand, I knew I was lacking in base, having done just 159 km in all of February, certainly one of my lowest months of volume in years. One the other hand, I had had a decent prior two weeks, doing quite a few run commutes, and having done a nice Tai O to Mui Wo run with Kevin, going over Sunset Peak.

Thus, it was with a “I can always walk 100K” mind-set that I went to the race. After taking a few pictures with Rhea and Jimmy, and after a wonderfully traditional Dragon dance, the race started.

The race went right by my house in Wang Tong (above), and I waved to Rhea and high-fived Jimmy. 

We then went off on Section 1: up to Tiger’s Head and down towards the DB Reservoir. Going up felt effortless, and I was happy that I ran easy, and didn’t take it out too fast. It was also convenient that this was largely covering a route that I use on a regular basis for my work commutes. One of the first surprises, however, was the way coming down Tiger’s Head, which took a trail off to the right, rather than the one straight down, as I had expected. This trail was technical and steep, as one could imagine. However, in some sections there was no traction on the loose dirt, and I was wearing my old and worn Montrail Rogue Racers, which had limited grip left due to excessive wear. Nonetheless, the trail was enjoyable and we soon got water at the first check point, and started off on Section 2. This section was on “lesser used trails”, going through the thick bushes and briars , and up and down the steep mountainsides on the valley between Tiger’s Head and Pak Mong. These trails were treacherous and steep, with unsure footing. Quite frankly, although I mentally tried to enjoy this section, I’ll admit that these sections are really not my cup of tea. Coming in to the second check point at roughly 2:30 in, I was feeling that my quads were already fading, probably from excessive braking on steep surfaces and my lack of recent prep for this specific terrain.

Going up Sunset was nice, and I was careful to run easy. I was enjoying the day and having fun, but I noticed that my body didn’t seem to be performing terribly well, and I was burning through water, as it was fairly hot. Going down from Sunset Peak to the valley in Pak Kung Au, it was clear that my quads were in serious trouble, and I’d have to rely on my poles as crutches.

This came to be the story of the race: I was ok on flats and climbs, but a miserable hobbling old man coming down steps and steep ascents.

After Pak Kung Au I set off on the next trail and tried to call Rhea, who was planning to meet me at the Big Buddha. Cell phone reception is patchy in the mountains of Lantau, and much of it is covered by China Mobile, rather than HK’s PCCW. Finally, I got though, but had to stand in order to get reception. After the three minute call, I noticed that a bit of pep was back in my legs. I got down to the catchwater feeling ok, and then ran fairly fast, relatively speaking, down the catchwater. My spirits started to pick up, and I thought that perhaps my main rough patch was over. I soon got to the entrance to the Shek Pik Trail. The beautiful forest trails, and views of the Shek Pik reservoir and Big Buddha lifted my spirits, and I arrived at the Ngong Ping aid station feeling good. I soon grabbed a bag Rhea had left for me, filled up with water and food, and headed down to meet Rhea and Jimmy. 

After that, I ran down the road to the next section, which went around the southwest corner of Lantau, below Tai O. This area has beautiful, grassy rolling hills, and would make one think of perhaps Scotland. In fact, as darkness came over this section, and we inevitably started to use headlamps, I think running on these trails, with the headlamp eliminating the bright white hard dirt surfaces, was my favorite section of the race.

In order to boost my mood and stay motivated, I had also strategically planned to start listening to podcasts right around the time the sun went down. Thus, I spent the rest of the race listening to some of my favourite running related podcasts: Dirt Dawg’s rambling Diatribe, Talk Ultra. 100 Mile Ultra Running Podcast, and Endurance Planet’s Ask the Coaches.

Finally, I arrived in Tai O. After fuelling up, I left the station, and got a bit lost, losing around 10 minutes. Finally, I started along the right way, but I found that I had become a bit tight, and fast walking was the best I could do. I just tried to get some food in, and prepare for what I believed to be one of the most brutal sections of the race: the way up from the Tai O- Tung Chong path towards Ngong Ping. Sure enough, this trail was another “barely there” trails, going practically straight up through big brushes with sliding dirt underfoot. This is one section where I really regretted that I had worn the rogue Racers (not because they’re a bad shoe, but because almost all the forefoot tread had worn off). Also, it was difficult to use poles in this section because after pushing off from the poles, it was hard to bring them back up in front of the body, due to the thickness of the bushes. Due to my slipping around, I got in a bit of a mental bad state, and started to feel negative, even though I felt ok physically. Eventually I got to the top, and we connect to the Nei Lak trail, which leads over to the Ngong Ping checkpoint. Most of the time, I love doing this little section of trail. When fresh, it probably doesn’t take more than 10-15 minutes, but by this time, I was walking a very runnable section, and I was passed by probably 10 people, which was a bit disheartening. However, I got through the CP quickly and began the assent up Lantau Peak. From the checkpoint to the top took around 45 minutes, and it takes around 30 when fresh, so overall I felt happy with my climbing ability. However, once at the top, it was time to begin a slow near-950 meter descent, which was painful and pathetic, as I hobbled my way first down to Pak Kung Au then along the contour trail. To give some context, in 2012’s 2 Peaks I did the Lantau Peak to Pak Kung Au in 23 minutes, my PR on the countor trail is around 45 minutes. However, I did these two sections in roughly 50 minutes and two hours, respectively. Thus, I was going around 30-50% slower than usual on hills, but probably twice as slow or more on descents. In fact, once at Nam Shan, I was feeling tired and sleepy, and the thought entered my head of just dropping and going home. I kept calculating how much longer the rest of the race might take. I figured it might take 45 minutes to go from Nam Shan to the next CP, antoher 45 mintes to Lo Yan Shan, an hour and a half to do the Chi Ma Wan loop, and another hour and a half home. So close to the finish, and yet another 4 hours left!

However, after hitting the CP and drinking some coffee, I felt good again, and climbed up Lo Yan Shan fairly fast, and was extremely relived that there wasn’t the 5K Chi Ma Wan loop on the course. By the time I hit the Chi Ma Wan reservoir, the sun was coming up. It was a quick 45 minutes or so back, and I was able to run (ie. plod along) to the finish, where I was met by Rhea and Jimmy!

I finished in 22:29, which didn't feel like a very fast time, especially because I walked so much of the race. Nonetheless, it was good enough for 66th out of 181 finishers. I certainly know I can do considerably faster given better training.


I used Montrail Rogue Racers. Overall, a wonderful shoe for ultras: light, with good grip, good cushioning, and protection. I normally don’t like running in shoes with more than 4mm drop (RR have 10mm, I believe , but I think that after 5-6 hours into a race, once you get into the “ultra shuffle”, it becomes (arguably) more efficient to heal drop rather than to forefoot/mid-foot land. Thus, I’d strongly recommend these shoes, or some future modification of them.

Black Diamond poles. These were a life saver, and saved energy going up hills, but they especially saved me going down hills.

Petzl MYO RXP Headlamp. A bit like having a car headlight on the head.  


As in the past two HK 100, I found a food pattern that works pretty well: a mixture of bread/crackers and oranges as the primary fuel, with some bananas and bars also thrown into the mix. In fact, I probably took two oranges per CP, and ate one an hour. I would open one, eat half, then put the remaining parts in my Brooks shorts, where there are pockets for gels. (Why take nasty gels when one could have a watery, food with sugar and minerals/vitamins in a natural state?). Anyway, the mix of bread/crackers and organs/bananas is very easy to digest, and I never had stomach issues.

Overall impressions of the Lantau 100

This is a stunningly beautiful course on some of the most technical trails in Lantau, or all of Hong Kong for that matter. The ascent up to Tiger’s Head, the way up to Sunset Peak from Pak mong, the Shek Pik trail to the Big Buddha and the rolling hills around Tai O are all some of my favorites  Personally, I love elevation gain, so this race suited me well. With that said, I’m not a huge fan of the unmaintained trail section, such as in the second section or in the climb up to Ngong Ping, however, I realize that there are people out there who particularly love these parts. I think people would be well advised to do some training on these sections.

The race coordination and check points were all very well done, the course was well marked and easy to follow, and the race directors Clement and Sabrina deserve a tremendous respect for pulling off such a good 100k race at the first attempt.

My performance

Am I satisfied with my own race performance? Quite frankly, I know there is a lot of room for improvement. I given 3-4 months of solid training, I could do a 14-16 hour HK 100 and a 17-20 hour Lantau 100. However, I have to also be realistic, and note that this is probably not a possibility for the next year or two, given that a new kid will arrive in June and work is fairly stressful. Nonetheless, I find that ultras are still fun even if one is in 70-80% shape, since there's really no shame in just hiking and enjoying the day. On the other hand, road races are maddeningly frustrating to run when out of shape, since most of the race enjoyment comes from reaching performance goals. Therefore, over the next year or two, I might focus more on trail running and building hill strength, until I find the time to do the training needed to hit other goals. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hong Kong 100

Rather than write down a blow-by-blow race recap, I'll just jot down a few of my thoughts and emotions regarding this year's HK 100 (km).

Last year I signed up for the race early, sometime in the fall of 2011, when I was consistently running 50-70 miles per week. At that time, I was quite capable of sub-5 hour King of the Hills finishes, and I was in 3:15-3:30 marathon shape (having run a 3:25 in Phoenix in January 2012). I later did the 65km Round the Island in 7:10, and overall felt like I was getting in great running shape.

However, around October 2012 I started to develop symptoms of over training  I also suffered severe hip pain, which was most likely caused by running downhills on concrete too fast. I battled injury for most of October and November 2012, and then my son Jimmy was born on Dec. 7th, 2012. While of course I love Jimmy more than anything, he was a terribly colic-y baby, screaming all night long. To make matters more stressful, we had to fire our helper at that time. In other words, in the course of three months or so, my trianing went from 50-70 miles a week down to close to zero. I almost decided not to do the HK100, but then figured "what the hell": I had paid the money and could always walk it.

So, to make a long story short, in last year's race  I tried to run most of the first half, which is relatively flat, and then hike the second. The strategy worked out pretty well, and I ended up with a 18:47. Not great, sure, but good for my fitness at the time. After that race, my key take away was that I walked many of the runnable sections, due to my lack of fitness, and that running those would make up the biggest gains in time.

Fast forward to this year. My training in 2012 was consistent, but my volume was certainly down, at roughly 55km per week. Also, I went to the Philipines in mid-December, doing only a few short, quick runs. Overall, I was in decent shape, and could maybe even PR in a 5K. But, I certainly lacked endurance, and training runs in the 3-6 hour range. Thus, I decided to gamble, break the sacred (and usually wise) 10% rule, and do a lot of volume in early January. I did a few key trial runs, a the Sham Tseng KOTH, and then a back-to-back on the weekend before the race. A few days before the race, I was on the verge of injury, but I rested, and my legs healed up ok.

On race day, I met friends Clement Dumont and Sabrina De Nadai, and we took the bus to Tung Chong, and later a taxi to the race. After dropping off bags and the whatnot, the race started, and my main goal was to run easy for the first third, making sure that I could run the runnable sections in the second half. The strategy partly worked, but I still slowed down way too much from 30-44k, going to an easy jog/ultra shuffle. From Check Point 4 to CP5 was my worst section of the race, since I was tired from running, and didn't have my hiking poles. To make matters worse, I cut I had on my had had opened up. (Quite randomly, however, I found a glove on the course, and then had my hand bandaged up, and then covered it with the random glove. Quite an odd experience, since i was thinking, "where in the world can i get a glove?" when not just 5 minutes later did I find a random glove on the course).

Once at Check Point 5, which is roughly the halfway mark at 53k and where you can pick up a drop bag, I changed out of my zero-drop Altra Lone Peaks and into my old Montrail Rogue Racers, which I decided to take on a whim, just in case running in zero drop became too difficult. this proved to be a great decision, since the pathetic ultra shuffle involves obvious heel striking, and this is a lot easier to do in a shoe with decent cushioning and drop (ie. 10mm).

The rest of the race went well, as I used my arms to power my with the poles. Perhaps the strangest thing about this race is that, contrary to my main ultra assumption -- which is that there will be major physical and emotional highs and lows -- I felt pretty good the whole race. Even more than that, I'd say that I was having fun, and felt like I could keep on going, much as I would feel on a two hour hike. The only time when I started to really hope to see the finish line was in the last downhill section off Tai Mao Shan towards the finish, where I clocked in at 17:40.

Although my goal was 15-17 hours, I can't be too disappointed, since I thoroughly enjoyed the whole race experience, and I took off 1:07 from last year. The weather was perfect. The volunteers were amazingly friendly and helpful, and the check point food was fantastic (fresh oranges, ripe bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches...etc). The only downside of the race was that I lost a 500 HKD note that took off with the wind while I bought a bag of chips at the finish. Nonetheless, Clement (who ran a strong 13 hour something, good for having suffered quad cramps), Sabrina (who ran a strong 18:100 and I headed home by taxi, and I got home around 4am, which wasn't too bad.

My biggest take-aways from this year:

1) I definitely need more volume and long runs in order to do better. At least in my experience, doing well in ultras often comes down to volume and long runs, plain and simple.
2) Although I am a big proponent of zero drop shoes in general, it may be wise to use cushioned standard drop shoes for runs over three hours, when one's form inevitably fades.
3) The value of doing vertical training with poles can't be underestimated. (I was passed a lot from 30-53k, but not too much from then on, when the hiking began, in part due to my hill preparation). Poles can absolutely be invaluable once your legs are fried. (On a side note: I also feel that they can make running a bit more of a full body workout, and give people who are tall/more muscular a bit of boost, since normally super skinny and/or short people tend to have the advantage in most running races, due to their lower caloric needs and higher VO2).

Anyway, I loved this race, and will probably try to do it as long as I live in HK. In non-fit years I'll be happy with around a 17-19 hour finish, and in fit years, i'd love to get down to sub 14 or 15. Since my next son/daughter will be born in June, i'm expecting more the former next year around!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Macau Marathon

I'm too lazy to re-cap this race in full, so let me just describe some of the most important aspects.

After gathering at 4:30am onwards at the track in the Macau stadium, we finally set off at 5:00am. It took almost 30 seconds for me to reach the official start, at which point I started my Garmin. the next few minutes were still slow, and we seemed to be running very slowly through fairly crowded streets. I was trying to balance the two thoughts in my mind of "getting caught in a crowd in the first few minutes is a blessing in disguise" with the thought of just wanting to get running at a decent pace. After about three or four minutes, it seemed possible to settle into my target pace of around 4:30-4:40ish K pace. (In hindsight, this was really too fast, and I should have targeted 4:40-4:50).

Anyway, I was shocked to see that at the official 1K marker, my Garmin said 2.2K and there was about 10:30 on the watch!  Sure enough, at the official 2K marker my Garmin was at 3.2K...and so on. My mind couldn't help thinking that any time goal was nearly impossible when I was delayed by around two minutes by the crowded start, and another 5 minutes and an extra kilometers for some unforeseen reasons. Sure enough, after the race it was found out that the whole crowd took a wrong turn out of the stadium, and the race organization (staff/barriers) failed to prevent this. While I would say that much of the race organization was pretty good, this mistake was fairly costly and certainly preventable.

Besides this, I was feeling fairly ok at a 4:35-40ish pace, despite the fact that it was raining. However, soon we reached the first bridge, and just in time, the rain increased, and the winds were blowing really hard. the bridge was stepper than I had imagined.

If I had finished 5-10 minutes slower than goal pace, I could have simply just chalked it down to weather and poor race management. However, by around 30K, I was almost reduced to walking, and indeed, I did walk/run/jog most of the last third. With my eye on the watch, trying to salvage a sub-4 from this embarrassing outing, I ended up finishing in a slow 3:57:59 (albiet over 27.2 miles). This failure is more my fault only, and was caused by a few factors:

1) Lack of specific long-runs. Unlike past my last major marathon build up, I hadn't been doing my weekly 30K efforts (out and back to Shek Pik). Although i'm in better shape in general, I noticed the lack of long runs in my legs.

2) Lack of volume.

3) Insufficient calories.

4) Bad pacing (ie. went faster than I should have, and I probably should have even adjusted more due to weather).

While I'm disappointed, I'm not going to beat myself up about this too much. I feel I learned something through the race, and know I have valuable feedback for next time. Also, I'm excited to start training for the two 100K's coming up: the HK and Lantau 100s! These will require, more stamina, more trial training, more vertical, and more pole work. All things I'm excited about. Also, I'm excited at doing more real speed work, and after the 100's, my focus will move to training for the 1500m-5K for a while.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Week ending Nov 25, 2012 (taper week 1)

55k in 5:10 over 5 runs. Around 3,000ft in elevation. Overall, a surprisingly good week. I felt fresh and fast. I did a mini-Vo2 session, and hit the kilometer repeats at 3:47 fairly easily.I did a nice run with Kevin, in which hitting 4:50-5:00k pace felt easy and relaxed. This week will be 2-4 easy 5K's, with a few strides thrown in. Then Sunday it's the Macau Marathon!

After that, I'll rest a bit, and then switch focus to training for the HK and Lantau 100's, with a focus on ubber-long runs and lots of stairs.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week ending November 18th

49K over 4 runs in 5:57 in time. Roughly 5,000 ft in elevation (two run commutes, one going over the cemetery  plus a TC to Shek Pik via Nei Lak).  One solid VO2 session.

Not a bad week of training, but as the last week before taper, I would have liked to have hit 80-110K. However, I was too sore to run on Mon/Tuesday, and had family obligations on Sunday.  Oh well!

On a side note, I've also considered more and more the thought of training for the mile/3000 from April to August next year, in order to gain better leg turn over, form, running economy and VO2. 

Week ending November 11th

62.6km over 5:48 in time in 6 workouts. Main race was Gold Coast. Also did a quality on Tuesday.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New Balance Gold Coast 15K Race Report (Updated)

My main "A" race is the Macau Marathon on December 2nd, and as such, I was hoping to find a nice road 10K to use to predict my marathon finishing time, and thus my pace. After a bit of thought on the subject, I chose the Gold Coast 15K, which I though might be more accurate since it is longer, obviously.

This race is relatively flat, since it mainly goes along the side of a mountain on a catchwater. However, as with most catchwaters in HK, there are actually quite a few turns, slight undulations, and unevenness to the surface, which make it a bit slower than a purely flat surface.

My friend Kevin told me that I could get caught in traffic going up the first hill, and thus to avoid this, I showed up early, and after a brief warm up, and got a fairly good starting spot, only 5-6 rows back.  My pre-race plan was to go up the first hill easy (about the same as I would in training) then slip into a comfortable pace on the flats, hopefully hitting between 4:10-4:20k pace. Kevin told me that due to the crowds, it might be best to simply use the final 10K as a prediction tool.

Race day felt a bit "chilly" by HK standards (ie. 22 C/ 72F, with 72% humidity), ie. not cold in the North American sense whatsoever, but relatively cold. The wind was also blowing around 10-20MPH.

As the race started, it looked like my strategy would pay off. I went up the first hill hard, but not too fast, doing a 6:01 first K after gaining 270ft, and I was able to get into a comfortable groove on the flats, hitting 4:19 pace, which I thought was on the conservative side.

However, I quickly found that running sub-4:20 was getting hard. My legs would not turn over fast enough, and soon my mind was filled with negativity  I though about my tight hips, from Friday's 16.5K to Tung Chong via Pak Au Gou. I thought about Tuesday's hard workout, with 5 relatively fast miles. I thought about my lack of VO2 sessions, and how that was slowing me down.  I thought about how my targets for a 3:05 or 3:10, would have to be replaced with 3:20-3:30's.

I went through the first 5K in 23:15, and sooner after, the 4:20's dipped to the 4:30's in the last few K. I was able to go a bit faster towards the end (4:27), and in the final downhill (3:54), finishing in 1:08:02.

Overall, I was fairly disappointed.

However, later I mentioned how it went to Kevin, and he remarked that he ran this race in 1:09 and a few weeks later did a 3:12. Also, due to the first hill, the final result is more like a 1:06 on a normal course. If that is the case, then I'd be in for around a 3:17 marathon, according to Daniel's Running Formula. If you take the fact that I didn't taper and was a bit sore and tired and that it was windy, then I'd probably be even a bit faster.

In a nutshell, I gained that feedback that a 3:05 (4:22) -- ie. a BQ --  is unrealistic right now. I'll probably aim for a 3:15, and maybe even try to do a negative split, 1:40/1:35 marathon. To some extent this depends on how this last week of hard training goes before a two week taper. We'll see.

Update: 92nd out of 1245, 85th out of 1046 in gender, 28 and out of 318 in category.