My fifth edition of the popular Vibram HK100 event – I had managed to run every year except for its inaugural run. This year, the weather forecast was wet and cold. Indeed, if last weekend’s HK marathon was any indication, it would be a lot more chilly and miserable up in the mountains. Especially in the night and exposed on the peaks.
We decided to stay at Tsuen Wan this year (near the end-point) instead of at the hostel at Pak Tam Chung (start point). On hindsight, it was an apt decision given the lousy weather. On race morning, we shared a cab to the start. It was very windy but thankfully the rain had stopped. I made a last toilet stop and contemplated puttig on my rain/ wind pants right from the start. Hearing the winds howling outside made the decision easier. However, in doing so, I started slightly after the countdown flag-off, and was right at the back of the pack.
The first section into the trails was always a huge bottleneck. Coupled with the heavy winds that threatened to blow runners off the exposed ridge of the water dam, I took 30min more than usual to reach the first support point at 12km. Somehow I felt out of shape (literally and figuratively) for the run and not as agile as I had imagined. I looked out for fellow Singaporean runners and it was only after CP3 that I spotted Louis, and caught up with Kenny and company at CP4. I also managed to snap a photo with Cheryl (Philippines) along the way.
Despite the wind, the weather on Saturday was actually pleasant for runners who were used to colder climates. I saw many elites in T-shirts and short tights, and this year’s top male set a new race record of 9:32h. So I guess it was still a good course for the fast runners.
This year, I reached the half-mark CP5 just under 10h, almost an hour slower than last year. It then took me 40min to change into a fresh set of clothes. For my top, I had on a heavy-weight Columbia baselayer, a micro-fleece, a Nike synthetic down running vest, and a TNF rain/wind shell. For my bottom, I already had a CWX insulated compression tights and a Montane rain/wind shell. I added a mid-weight Columbia baselayer. I have a low tolerance for cold, and this combination kept me 'unfeeling' when the wind blasted into me.
Surprisingly, the section between CP5 to CP6 was not as windy as expected although I had begun to sleepwalk a little. Downing two bottles of caffeinated 5h-energy kept me alert through CP7 and CP8. There was a slight drizzle but bearable. It was about 20h when I reached the Lead Mine Pass CP9, where it would normally be a homerun thereafter. I had given up notions of a silver finisher trophy but thought that the bronze one (sub-24h) was still attainable. However, 人算不如天算。 It started raining again, and I was jolted out of my complacency when faced with the semi-icy slippery rocks on Tai Mo Shan. The skies pelted ice at us and it was painful when the strong winds blew those ice bits on to my face. After an hour, I could hear a sound crackling each time I turned my head - my jacket hood was frozen! The hours of rain in the close-to-zero temperature resulted in a very slippery terrain. I had to deliberately walk into puddles because where there was water, there would not be ice. It was there that runners really looked out for one another, shouting out warnings, tips and words of encouragement. Looking down and focusing on my steps, we finally made it up and out of the trails.
Unfortunately, that elation was short-lived, for the tarmac road up to the Observatory had a layer of black ice, and some runners started skidding backwards from a lack of shoe grip. Just as I thought things could not get worse, it was time to head down the winding road – which was impossible given the black ice. Everyone was skidding, sliding, butt-sliding and falling spectacularly. One guy shouted for everyone to keep a safe distance from the person in front, because we could all really roll over like bowling pins. It was all I could to try not to fall – well, I still did a couple of times. It was so slippery that if I sat on the road, I could not really control my slide direction or brake. My trusty trekking poles were immensely useful - and thankfully I use the carbide tips (instead of plastic) - they saved me from a few tumbles.
It was extremely cold after more than 3h out there, due to the unprotected exposure to strong winds and a reduced level of aerobic activity. I was purely in survival mode, because there was no alternative to backtrack. As runners were trying hard to make our way down, many HongKongers were trudging up to catch a rare glimpse of the ice and frost! After an eternity, I finally got to a part of the road where there was slightly more traction. I happily went down the road, only to realise that it led to a dead end, and that I had missed a directional sign! Oh bummer, I reckoned it was about 1km down and I had to trek back up to the missed fork. In a bid to divert runners away from the curious crowd, the organisers had re-directed the last 2km back into the trails – which was not great for me because there were more steps and descent.
Finally, finally, I finished the HK100 at 24:41h, missed that bronze trophy and picked up a finisher medal. By then my hydration pack and jacket was already frozen over with a thin layer of ice crackling up. Only after the race did I learn that the organisers had stopped the run, leaving only those of us who had passed CP9 to continue on to the finish point (well, there was no other way out anyway). It was a good call, because the roads would only have gotten more slippery with more black ice.
What an eventful HK100! With every race, I learn something about myself and gain new experiences for subsequent events. This was truly an eye-opener, kudos to the organisers and volunteers who worked tirelessly in the cold to account for all runners and ensure that everyone was safe and warm. Hopefully better weather would prevail next year.