I hadn’t spoken with anyone for a long time. I did have one more conversation though. I think it was pretty soon after CP9. It was a local guy with poles walking up a concrete road in a steady pace. I asked him how he was feeling. He said he was feeling great. It was his fourth time doing the race and he had always finished below 16 hours. Since I hadn’t been paying attention to the clock, I asked him if he thought he would succeed this time as well. Of that he was certain. In fact, this was his best race so far. He said he had purposely begun slower than before and eaten a lot more at the CPs than before. As a result he felt much better and he was certain he would improve his time. I thanked him for the chat and left him behind.
With less than 10 km left, I was feeling confident I would not only finish, but finish below 16 hours, earning the famous golden trophy. This was very encouraging and kept me going at a pretty good pace. The last part is the highest point in the race and therefore there were hardly any trees. So far, the trees usually blocked the view except on the mountain tops but now you could see far ahead of you. Because of the darkness, everything was shadowy but you could still see the mountain tops in front of you.
This had a postitive and a not so positive aspect to it. I enjoyed the vastness. It reminded a lot of the trails in the Icelandic mountains. There we don´t have a lot of trees and therefore you can always see far. The trails themselves were also different. These were dirt trails with rocks here and there. Again, a lot like the Icelandic trails and a welcomed change from the endless concrete stairs we had been climbing and descending in the woods. So I felt right at home and enjoyed this part even though my body was aching and I was longing for the finish.
The negative aspect of seeing so far was that you could see what was left and it seemed so far away. For the longest time, I thought the little peak between Grassy Hill and Tai Mo Shan was actually Tai Mo Shan. I knew there was a 4 km downhill part in the end, going down Tai Mo Shan so with this little left, surely it couldn’t be that mountain far away. What made me nervous, however, was that the mountain far away was obviously the highest point and I knew Tai Mo Shan was the highest mountain in Hong Kong. When I was approaching the point I thought was Tai Mo Shan, it became clear the big mountain far away was indeed Tai Mo Shan much to my dismay.
Well, there is no help in whining, so I just continued and tried to push my pace. Sure, my legs were aching but I wasn’t feeling bad. I geared up from my „just enjoy the experience“ mode to my competitive mode and decided I would finish hard and well to get the best time possible. My hamstrings had not given me any problems and I knew I would finish so there was no reason to hold back! What seemed to be far away actually did not take so long and before I knew it I was on top of Tai Mo Shan! It had probably been a blessing that most of the race, I couldn’t see very far ahead of me. Mentally, it would have been harder to see how far away the end was.
We climbed Tai Mo Shan on a concrete road built for cars only to descend on the other side on another concrete road. On the very top, the concrete was covered with a thin layer of ice. But this was just on the top, so maybe 20 meters or so, then the ice disappeared. The time was 11:15 PM (I had been running 15:15 hours) and I heard that later into the night, the ice increased and gave participants trouble. They had to close the race 24 hours into it! It was supposed to be open 30 hours. First time in the history of the race, I believe.
Now the descend started and I heard a participant call to his friend: „Go, go!“ as he charged down the hill, obviously determined to give all he had these last 4 km. I was encouraged as well and let the hill have its way as I rolled down without trying to slow down. I passed several people and soon I also past the guy who had charged down. I was delighted and a little surprised that my quads weren’t totally blown. Sure, I could feel the soreness, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from running pretty fast downhill!
All of the sudden the road was blocked with cars. We had to zig zag past cars and walking people. And it was obvious that they were not here to cheer, because they didn’t seem to know or care what these runners were doing here and were not necessarily staying out of the all ready crowded road. I was a little surprised because the run had been so well organised so far. Soon, however, we were lead down a trail and got rid of the chaos. I was not very happy when more stairs presented themselves, I thought I wouldn’t see any more stairs and they slowed me down considerably.
Later, I heard that this last trail wasn’t part of the official route, they changed it because of the unexpected trafic in the middle of the night. Someone had posted on Facebook that there was snow on top of Tai Mo Shan and what do you know: Half the inhabitants of Hong Kong drove up there in the middle of the night! So in hindsight, those who organized the race could not be blamed for this. It had never been a problem before and they did change the route slightly to minimize the zig zaging we had to do.
In spite of the stairs, I kept going as fast as I could and kept passing people. Before I knew it, I heard the cheering and crossed the line! I had made it and my time was better than I had expected: 15:41 hours and 183. place over all. What an adventure!
The Icelandic Group
There were four of us running from Iceland. I don´t think anyone from our country has run the HK100 before. All us were in top 200. Elisabet, who is General Manager of Arctic Running, finished in 5th place of the women. We were all very happy with the race and I´m sure there will someone from Iceland participating every year from now on :)
So what did I learn from this race? What stands out? What helpful information would I share with somebody who has never done the HK100 before? There are a few things:
When looking at the official elevation chart, it looks like it´s pretty smooth the first half and most of the elevation is the second half. While it´s true that there is more elevation during the second half, the difference is not as much as I thought. According to my Garmin Fenix, the elevation gain was 4841 m. and elevation loss 4388 m. At C5 (52 km) the elevation gain was 1990 m and elevation loss 1927 m. So even though the difference is considerable (861 m. more ascending and 534 m. more descending), the first half is not just flat!
Before the race I had the feeling that most of the concrete was during the first half and that over all, perhaps 30 % of the race would be concrete. It turns out there is just as much concrete the second half. We run roads once in a while and then there all those cemented steps in the mountains! So at the end of the day, my guess is that about 60-70% of the route is hard surface.
I was certain I would dream steps the night after the race! Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Nonetheless, there is a lot of cemented steps. They come all sizes and shapes and they dictate how you step down. Going up, I didn’t mind, but I found it a little bothersome running down. Then again, it made it a different kind of challenge. In training for the HK100, try to do steps! It´s easy training going up but harder going down, especially since the stairs are so different in size and shape.
Start in the front
Looking back there were two things I could have done to improve my time. The first thing being starting closer to the starting point to avoid getting stuck. That way I wouldn’t have to walk the first 5 km or so. If you´re a fast, competitive runner, make sure you start close to the beginning point. Likewise, if you´re a slower runner, please find a place closer to the back.
Stop shorter at the CPs
The second thing I could have done to improve my time is to stop less/shorter at the CP. At least at CP 5 when I stopped 20 min. I could have organised things so that it wouldn’t be necessary to even get my drop bag unless something was wrong. Besides CP5, however, I’m content that I spent some time at the CPs because I think that way I enjoyed the run more. Since I will never quite be an elite runner, enjoying the runs is always my primary object even though I also like to achieve good times when I´m racing.
Meeting new people
Meeting people and chatting with them is always one of the most memorable aspects of an ultra race to me. I really enjoyed talking to the people I chatted with. Sharing the same challenging experience makes it easy to get to know people and bonds people in a special way. And if anyone of them is reading this, please find me on Facebook :)
Awesome race and volunteers
Last but not least. The race is really fun, incredibly well organised and the volunteers are amazing!
If you’re doing the HK100 for the first time and have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. That way others will benefit from your inquiries. If it suits you better, however, you can also contact me directly. Also if you have any questions about running in Iceland.
Iceland really is the trail runner´s dream come true. Spring, summer and fall is recommended even though you can also run there during winter time. If you want to run with me in Iceland, check out www.arcticrunning.is, like us on Facebook and/or Instagram to see some amazing pictures from there or contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org And have an awesome race!!!!!
- Do you have any questions concerning the race?
- Did you participate in the run? Was stood out to you? What would you advice someone who is doing the run for the first time?
- Any other comments? Feel free :)