Race Reports - January 2024
20/01/2024 - Hong Kong 100
Race Report by George Kan-Major
Short version: Maybe my most enjoyable DNF ever
Here’s the long version:
This was always going to be a big ask: I landed on Thursday afternoon and had until Saturday morning to be ready to race.
The local runners were worried about the unusually hot January weather. A cold monsoon front was expected to arrive on Sunday, but for race day the air was hot, humid and stagnant. I was worried about the cumulative 5000m of climbing on the course. I should have been more worried about not having had enough sleep in the days leading up to the race. I hadn’t slept on the plane over, and the night before the race my body-clock was well out of sync, the more anxious I was about not sleeping, the more I struggled to sleep. I probably slept about 3 hours on Friday night.
I should have learnt my lesson in 2019, when I DNFd this race after pulling an all-nighter at work beforehand. My first attempt was in 2018, when I finished in 14h15m with some beginner’s luck. And in 2020 I got my time down to 14h05m. My plan today was to set off at 16-hour pace and to try to see as many old friends from the Hong Kong running community as possible along the way.
The start line is on a wide road, but after 800m there’s a bottleneck as we turn onto the trail. I intentionally don’t race to reach the bottleneck ahead of the main crowd, hoping some traffic will help stop me from going out too quickly. The following 5k feels longer every time I’ve run it. I lose concentration at one point fall on my face only 15 minutes into the race. A sign of things to come as I would struggle with mental tiredness throughout the day. 5k into the race we join a road that crosses a series of dams and islands around High Island Reservoir. Here it’s tempting to push too hard on the rolling hills, but I stick to my plan of socialising with other runners rather than racing them.
AT THE BEACH:
At 10k we reach a water station and we’re back onto a rugged trail which drops down onto the isolated beach at Long Ke Wan. Another steep climb over a headland and we drop down again into the village of Sai Wan, nestled in a sandy bay and accessible only on foot or by boat. From the next hilltop we get one of the most spectacular views along the course: a series of remote beaches and headlands stretch ahead of us; a steep mountain range rises beyond. The temperature is now getting up to 28c in the shade, but there’s no shade on this section. 20k in, at Ham Tin beach, we reach the first proper aid station.
Over some small dunes and into the jungle. This section is hilly, but I’m glad of the shade in the forest. This northeastern area of Hong Kong was once dotted with farms, but when trade was opened with mainland China in the 70s, Hong Kong’s agriculture collapsed. In this forest we pass old farmhouses that were abandoned overnight decades ago, furniture still intact, but trees growing through the roof. The only permanent residents of these villages are the feral descendants of the farms’ water buffaloes. The farmers’ grandchildren return and leave offerings and decorations at these villages’ ancestral halls around Chinese New Year, Tomb Sweeping Day, Hungry Ghost Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival.
Along here, I have the company of a Yorkshireman who is in his second year of living in Hong Kong and is just beginning to get seriously into the trails. It’s nice to chat with someone who is in the same position I was once in. At 28k we hit ‘the first proper climb’ of the course: 452m Ngam Tau Shan. Before a fast descent into checkpoint 2 at 33k.
I’m glad to see an old teammate among the volunteers at CP2, she helps me with Coke and salty rice balls while I mix a new batch of Maurten energy drink. The next section is 9k long and relatively flat with about 300m total climbing. However, the trail is littered with big irregular boulders that make it impossible to get into a rhythm. It’s my least favourite section.
Early on, I’d noticed my right ankle felt unstable and I had been taking care when placing that foot. By now, the mental tiredness is really kicking in: in another lapse of concentration my left foot gets stuck between rocks, and I twist that ankle.
SECTIONS 4 & 5:
Section 4 is short and very runnable. Again, I have the company of a couple of old friends, which is a huge help as I’m really ready for a nap. Soon, I let the other runners go ahead, and I decide that I’ll be hiking most of the rest of the way, with a bit of running thrown in when I can. In a moment of confusion, in an effort to cool-off I pour the whole flask of Maurten over my head. My water was in the other pocket.
50k into the race, I have a supporter meeting me at CP4 where I take a 15-minute lie down. This re-energises me for the next section. It’s 6k long, but climbs and then descends 600m on uneven, rocky ground.
CP5 is crewed by a charity called RUN that I used to volunteer with. They work with refugees who are waiting for asylum applications to be heard, which can take years, and then waiting to find a country that will allow them to settle, which can take years more. During this time, they’re not allowed to work, and they’re not able to leave. Even if they could leave, for many going back home would result in torture or worse. RUN helps the participants with things like exemptions to get paid work – a lot of them were in skilled professions back home – it provides education for their children, and gets the participants involved with sport. Apart from crewing the aid station, playing the drums and cheering runners on, a few of the participants are racing today.
As much as it was great to see familiar faces among the crew, it was sad to see that, nearly four years after I left Hong Kong, so many of the participants are still here waiting to start new lives.
Given how much I’ve been struggling, CP5 would be the logical place to drop out. There are drop bags here, so I could change into fresh clothes, and plenty of people are around to share a ride back into the city. But I have one more bit of the course I want to see. Smooth, runnable trail passes through bamboo groves, then a long set of stone stairs climbs towards the 702m peak of Ma On Shan before traversing a steep-sided ridge, overlooking the sea, dotted with hundreds of islands.
CONSIDERING HOW FAR TO CARRY ON:
Today, it’s dark by the time I get to the Ma On Shan climb. In 2020, I was at Lion Rock by sunset, 15km ahead of where I am now. Lion Rock is a huge promontory overlooking Kowloon City, it was a highlight of the 2020 race to see the skyscrapers lighting up far below me while the sun set over the Pearl River Estuary, Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island.
Now, I’m thinking that maybe I could get as far as Lion Rock, then it wouldn’t be far to the Beacon Hill checkpoint where there will be a campfire, blankets and tea. Then the next section over Kam Shan isn’t too hard… apart from the monkeys. Kam Shan is also known as Monkey Mountain. After Britain took over the New Territories in the 19th century, a reservoir was built here, but leaves falling into the water gave it a bitter taste. So, the colonial government introduced monkeys that enjoy eating the leaves before they can fall from the trees. Unfortunately, in 1942, Hong Kong’s last tiger was shot, leaving the monkeys with no natural predators, allowing them to multiply out of control. I cannot describe how many monkeys there are here, they have a taste for sugary food stolen from hikers and runners, they’re fast, vicious and sneaky. You’re perfectly safe, as long as the monkeys don’t see your food.
But if I get to the Shing Mun Reservoir checkpoint, then I’ll have to take on Needle Hill, possibly the most brutally steep climb on the course, followed by a treacherous descent that is bad enough in daylight, let along in the state I’m in. And If I commit to climb Needle Hill, I won’t be able to drop out at the Leadmine Pass checkpoint, it’s too remote, so then I’d be committed to the final climb over the 957m peak of Tai Mo Shan to reach the finish line on the other side of the mountain.
Realistically, I’m in no fit state to head up into those mountains. Just concentrating on the trail is getting harder and harder and at my current pace, I’ll have at least another eight hours on the trail, possibly more if I have to slow down further.
My decision not to drop out at CP5 means that I have to complete a long and hilly 13k section to reach the checkpoint at Gilwell Scout Camp. Thanks to my conservative pace, my legs still feel surprisingly good, and I power up the climb into the checkpoint, where I find a marshal and officially DNF.
The camp is quite remote, but there is a road up here and a shuttle bus for drop-outs. Everyone else waiting for the bus is understandably disappointed. But as I sit here, I enjoy the unique atmosphere of an ultramarathon checkpoint: volunteers keeping spirits up, people helping each other out, and I appreciate that I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with so many old friends along the way. I’m genuinely happy with how the day went: visiting the beaches where I used to go on camping trips and have wild barbecues, dipping into mountain streams to cool off, bumping into people I didn’t expect to see, meeting new members of the running community who are exploring the trails for themselves… it makes me appreciate our own Ramsgate running community and look forward to more running adventures in the year ahead.
But now, I’ve got to work out how to get to the finish line to pick up my drop bag, then back to where I’m staying. It’s a journey that takes from 9.30pm until 3.50am and involves two shuttle busses, sharing a taxi with some lost tourists that I don’t share a language with, a second taxi with a lost driver, and a late-night ferry. Anyway, that’s another story.
21/01/2024 - Canterbury 10m
Race Report by Jake Talent-Wing
A handful of Coasties made the trip to Canterbury on Sunday to take part in the Canterbury 10 miler.
Now many Coasties will know its not the most favoured of courses, known for its lumps and bumps shall we say. But nonetheless with a storm on its way we were all ready to go.
For me its the 2nd time I've tackled this race and I have great memories from it. But I was excited to make new memories with this one. A lot has changed in a year and fresh off the Alan Green this was going to be exciting.
Over 1100 people took to the startline at 9am (Well 9.05am once the pre race chatter had finished ). It's a busy start but after the 1st mile me and my running companion found our pace and settled in nicely.
Early on in the race I came across our recent award winning runner Damo who was out there flying the Coasties colours and with his loyal water bottle in hand.
Not long after I got onto the tail of our Men's Captain Daz where we shared a few minutes of chatter before the talking ceased and we climbed what was Bridge Hill. 1 km of pure dread. We all know Nero's but this was its own monster.
I then settled into the race trying to find my stride.
One amazing thing about this race is the turnout. You never seem to be alone and I had plenty of people to push me along.
At 7 miles you come across the next big hill in this challenging course. Not as long as the first but feels it, as you are now 3/4 of the way into the race. We get over that final bump then as Daz says its downhill from there!
He wasn't wrong as he zoomed passed me at the 8 mile mark. From that moment I'll admit I was tired and couldn't catch him but his shout of motivation was enough to make me realise there wasn't long left to the finish.
1 hour 13 minutes and 5 seconds later we were finished. Legs were battered. In a word I was knackered. A brief drink and oat bar later we as coasties followed the typical tradition and ran back for the amazing Amy who's currently training for her marathon.
Amy ran an amazing race and come home in a really impressive time of 1 hour 40 minutes. Great job!
But I have missed some Coasties off the report and they can't go without a mention.
Dave Paramour came home 1st of us Coasties followed by a strong impressive run by Martin Cooper.
Well done to everyone that ran and let's hope there are plenty more races like this in 2024.
Race times and finish places below:
- Dave Paramor - 137 - 1.09.29
- Martin Cooper - 174 - 1.11.42
- Darren Sayer - 194 - 1.12.28
- Jake Tallent-Wing - 212 - 1.13.05
- Damian Carpenter - 287 - 1.15.53
- Dean Smith - 560 - 1.25.33
- Amy Hammond - 961 - 1.40.35