Saturday, July 2, 2011

Race Report - 2011 Hong Kong Trail 50K (Self-Supported)

Initially, I had planned to run the entire 50 kilometers of the Hong Kong Trail, but things turned out quite differently. The trail chewed me up and spat me out, in short, it kicked my Arsch. In the end, I was only able to complete the first half of this magnificent trail. Since I had placed this run on my personal race calendar as a self-supported 50K, I am calling this one a DNF.

The Hong Kong Trailhead at the top of "The Peak"

After getting a fantastic "pre-race meal" at the Ruth Chris Steakhouse (filet and red wine) here in Hong Kong on Friday evening, I had set my alarm for 6AM on Saturday morning. After getting up, getting dressed and making myself a quick cup of instant coffee, I headed out of the hotel and waved down a taxi. 40 Hong Kong dollars later, I arrived at Victoria Peak (or "the Peak", as it is locally referred to), Hong Kong Island's highest mountain peak at 1811 feet. The first thing I saw was the "rice bowl", a large building who's architecture resembles a rice bowl. The next thing I needed to do is get my bearings with the assistance of a little hand-drawn map. I had visited the local running shop of "Racing The Planet" who's headquarters are located in Hong Kong and an extremely helpful employee and fellow runner at the shop had provided me with some very helpful trail info before I picked up some energy gels for my run.

The aptly named "Rice Bowl" as seen from the trail

I quickly located the trailhead and started with a slow jog. Barely a minute later I stopped to take in the breathtaking views of the highrise buildings of Hong Kong from the trail. This would continue throughout the run as there were strategically placed viewpoints along the trail, inviting you to stop and take pictures.

Large sections of the Hong Kong Trail are paved

No matter where I was on the trail, I would either have a view of the city and the surrounding islands or I would be surrounded by the beautiful nature of the local mountains. When you first arrive in Hong Kong, it is hard to believe that such a beautiful and extensive trail could exist within sight of the hustle and bustle of the city. Not only that, but this trail crosses the entire island of Hong Kong, leading runners along the side of the mountain range. Furthermore, I was constantly climbing or descending for most of the run. This run was way more challenging than I initially anticipated.

Views like this greet runners all along the Hong Kong Trail
Skyscrapers as far as the eye can see

I continued to stop along the side of the trail to take in the views and take pictures. The entire trail was identified with markers in 500m intervals, which ensured that I would always know if I was still on the proper main trail and that was absolutely necessary as there were numerous trail arms and intersections that were quite confusing, causing me to double and triple check if I was still on the Hong Kong Trail.

Hong Kong Trail and Distance Markers

As I continued to run on section 1 of the trail (The Peak - Pok Fu Lam Reservoir Road 7.0 km), I noticed lots of locals out for a morning walk or stretching, exercising or meditating at small picnic areas along the trail. Maybe I should have followed their lead instead of trying to run this trail. I had barely been running for 30 minutes when I started to struggle with the heat and humidity. I did not expect that the weather would be such a huge factor this early in the day. Apparently, the weather does not cool down over night. After an hour, I was completely soaked from head to toe and the little creeks running down from the mountain and feeding the numerous water reservoirs around Hong Kong looked more and more appealing to me.

Bridge crossing one of the many creeks along the trail

 Two hours into my run, I finally stopped at one of those creeks to cool down my head and face. I started to consider cutting the original goal of 50K down to a shorter distance and as the run progressed and I continuously had to ascend and descend, I decided that I would only go half the distance. I also became more and more worried about getting lost, because the trail would widely vary in terrain, going from a wide and paved trail to single track dirt trail to concrete sections to stone stairs. It was often hard to tell if I had taken a wrong turn, but as I continued to pay attention to the signs and markers, I started to figure out how things worked.

One of the may trail intersections

Since I started my run at the trailhead on top of the Peak, I figured my run would just be an easy breezy downhill trail run for most of the first half of the trail....wrong. This trail had more climbs than I could have ever expected. Unfortunately, I never did get my hands on an elevation profile of the trail before I attempted the run. As a result, I moved a lot slower than I had planned. I expected to be slow because I wanted to take lots of pictures, but the climbing made it much worse. I could use a lot of excuses, like just having completed the 150 mile desert race two weeks ago, or not having had a lot of sleep during my trip or... Instead, I blame myself for not being in better condition to run the entire trail and underestimating the weather conditions and trail difficulty.

Another amazing view from the trail

Even though my pace was considerable slower than I had originally planned, I was struggling with the heat and the humidity in particular. I had brought my Salomon XA 10+3 pack with a 2 liter hydration bladder and two bottles of water (compliments of my hotel in Hong Kong) and 2 hours in, I had finished off both bottles and started to dip into the hydration bladder. However, even with the new shortened goal, I still had a long way to go. It wasn't so much the length of the trail as it was the constant up and down and the humidity.

Trail climbing Hong Kong style

Stairs like the ones above were frequent on this trail. To draw an ultra running comparison, this 25 km section of the trail had way more stairs than the 35 mile Laurel Valley Whitewater Run. There were a lot of stairs. After completing section 1 of the Hong Kong Trail, I continued on to section 2 (Pok Fu Lam Reservoir Road - Peel Rise 4.5 km). During this section, I finally encountered some local runners. However, all of them were headed in the opposite direction, which was kind of odd. I did notice that none of them carried any water, which led me to believe that they were running short loops rather than long Hong Kong Trail sections, but I could be wrong.

Trail switchbacks Hong Kong style

The second section went by fairly fast. I continued to count the trail markers to see how far I had to go. Once I reached marker 50, I knew I had reached my new goal. During my run, I also passed two large water reservoirs (Pok Fu Lam Reservoir and Aberdeen Reservoir), adding to the already beautiful countryside.

Aberdeen Reservoir as seen from the trail

I passed the Aberdeen Reservoir during section 3 of the trail (Peel Rise - Wan Chai Gap 6.5 km). This section also seems to be very popular with local runners as they continued to pass me coming from the opposite direction. I can see how this trail is very popular with anyone who's into running. Not only is it beautiful, but it also allows the locals to train in some seriously hot and humid conditions. A great way to get ready for races in other locations and easier conditions.

The views are spectacular from any spot on the trail

As I completed section 3 of the trail and entered section 4 (Wan Chai Gap - Wong Nai Chung Gap 7.5 km), I stopped a couple of local runners to get some details about transportation at my new proposed "finish line" or bail out point at the half way mark of the trail. Thankfully, they confirmed that the end of section 4 connects to a road that would have easy access to a bus or taxi.

Free foot massages along the trail

All along the trail, there were little picnic areas and rest spots for locals to relax. I also noticed a sign stating "Foot Massage". That was really confusing to me. Was there actually someone giving foot massages to weary hikers and runners? What a great concept, I thought, but how would that work in the middle of nowhere?

It didn't make any sense so I decided to further inspect this phenomenon the next time I saw the sign. As soon as I approached one of those areas, it became clear what it meant. It was actually a little area layered with large pebble stones, allowing people to take off their shoes and walk across the pebble stones in a small loop while holding on to a rail. Very inventive and useful at the same time. Who hasn't wished for a foot massage after a long trail run.

One of the many pebble parks along the trail

 While it looked very tempting to take off my shoes and get a free massage, I was ready to complete my run. I came across trail marker 48, indicating that I had only to more markers to go to complete my run.

Self-portrait near the end of my run at marker 48

When I finally reached the end of section 4 of the Hong Kong Trail, it was bittersweet. I really had wanted to run the entire trail, but I was very happy to have had the opportunity to run any section of this trail. The trail dumped me out onto a road atop the "Black's Link" neighborhood, which seemed to be a very, very exclusive neighborhood of Hong Kong. After a short walk down this road and not really knowing were the Hong Kong Trail actually continued (honestly, I would have been in trouble had I wanted to run the entire trail, because I was clueless as to where it continued), I was able to wave down a taxi to get back to the hotel. All I can say is thank goodness for pleather seats in Chinese taxis, because I was soaked and feeling really really bad for the cabby. I paid him almost double my actual fare just to make up for my current state (i.e. being really really sweaty) since the language barrier kept me from even being able to explain and apologize.

Maybe I will get the opportunity in the future to run the second half of the trail. While this report is more of a photo album than an actual race report or training log, the pictures in this blog only scratch the surface of the pictures I took. The entire collection of pictures I took during my run is located here.

The final statistics of this run show 25 kilometers and no less than 8000 feet of elevation gain and 8500 feet of elevation loss for a total elevation change of 16500 feet. That is one serious trail and not at all what I expected when I read that most of this trail was paved. I imagined an easy trail. Instead, I encountered a challenging trail with some serious climbs and amazing views.

No comments:

Post a Comment