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!

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