Tuesday, February 28, 2012

First Run in Nine Days

The trauma of the HK100 race was followed immediately by a long work trip. My feet were swollen on the flight to Canada due to water retention and the soreness from the race. My body was not in the mood for more runs in Ottawa. The sub-zero temperature and early morning conferences reinforced the idea that I should rest and take a break for a week. :)

So here I am, back in hot-wave Singapore. Had my first run in 8-9 days (spent in a blurring mix of flights and airport transits). Headed for the trail this morning in my old Asics shoes. Recently, I had been digging out all my old trail shoes and testing which ones were still usable, at least for short morning runs. Last test of my other Salomon pair gave me arch pain before the HK100 event. Horrors!

This morning, the Asics worked ok, except that its glue was weakening and it might fall apart. Ran my usual 1:20h loop around DF and ZH. Legs were fresh and I was about 2min faster than my typical timing.

Tomorrow morning I will try again, this time with my old North Face shoes. I will need a constant supply of trail shoes if I keep wearing them out on the runs. :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

HK100 - My Virgin 100km Race

On an impulsive moment, I signed up (and convinced Alber to sign up as well) for the HK100 race. It was along the MacLehose Trail in the new territories area of HK, traversing from eastern Sai Kung to western Tsuen Wan. The scenic route would take one over many rolling hills and local favourite trekking spots. ... and so the description went. We had heard that it was a tough route from previous racers. However, blinded by innocence (ie. head-strong wilfulness) and unfamiliarity, the elevation map and checkpoint descriptions made no sense or impression on me. How bad can it get? I would mentally treat it like a long long trek if the going gets tough. Or so I thought.

The start point was a hive of activity and runners greeting friends. Flag off was at 8am from Pak Tam Chung park. There were many Singaporeans and it was comforting to see familiar faces. There was a bottleneck at the initial trail section. Many people were walking right from the start. I tried to run and squeeze through the human traffic. The climbs were not so steep initially, a mix of trail and tarmac and we passed by a scenic geothermal park and dam. Alber and WH reached the first support station shortly after me. Thereafter, we ran together for the next few checkpoints.

I only started timing each checkpoint after that:

Checkpoint (Dist):  Interval time/ Total time
1st water station  (11km): ??
CP1 (21km): 3:27h/ 3:27h
CP2 (28km): 1:29h/ 4:56h
CP3 (36km): 1:27h/ 6:24h
CP4 (45km): 1:45h/ 8:09h
CP5 (52km): 2:01h/ 10:11h
CP6 (65km): 4:17h/ 14:29h
CP7 (73km): 2:59h/ 17:28h
CP8 (83km): 2:43h/ 20:11h
CP9 (90km): 2:28h/ 22:40h
CP10 (100km): 2:06h/ 24:46h

The food and support at all the CPs was ace.The volunteers were all so helpful and eager to make sure we were well-looked after, offering to refill our packs, bring us hot soups/ noodles and drinks. Although I only spotted fried rice and fried udon at CP2, all the other CPs had instant noodles, peanut butter sandwiches, swiss rolls, assorted bread buns and chocolates and snacks. I did not even have to use my own energy bars that I had packed.

At first we thought to stick to a strategy-target of sub-2h per checkpoint interval (averaging 10km). That would bring us close to a completion time of 20h. Ideally. Reality was a lot harsher. The hills were punishing, the steps were endless and the slopes were free. There was a lot more cement and tarmac to cover that I had imagined for a "trail event". The trail parts were not for running (either too steep or too rocky etc), and the parts meant for running were all paved pathways. Amidst the pain (ouch my poor knees!). I silently scolded the organisers for giving the race a misleading title. They should have called it the HK Ultra 100km Cement or something closer to the truth.

I finally whipped out my trekking pole after CP4 and experimented with running with the pole. Pretty good, it certainly helped to relieve the pressure off my knees. I regretted bringing only one stick. Note to self - will not repeat mistakes at Jeju.

After CP5, the sky darkened and we put on our headlamps and warmer clothes. Until then, I was in a micro-fleeced Nike compression long-sleeved and a thick compression pants. I layered on my shell and turned on my light. Alas, I was not one to run in the dark into bedtime. It took me a forever 4h to get through the next 13km. I almost fell asleep, was low on sugar (gobbled up a pack of Gu Chomps) and was so close to giving up. Alber was sweet enough to wait but even he was getting impatient. I felt bad slowing him down.

By the time I got to CP6, he decided to go ahead. Cool weather in the dark played to his strengths, not mine. I was two knocks down - weather and sleepiness. He was all alert and gearing to run! So we parted company. Cheryl (Philippines) had also caught up and ran ahead. I sat in the sheltered tent for the longest time (45min to be exact), sipping 3 cups of tea (for caffeine), ate more swiss rolls and bread buns (as I did at every CP), and contemplated whether to proceed or not. There was another guy in the tent dressed in only t-shirt and shorts, and he suffered from Stage 1 hypothermia. I thought by comparison, I was in much better shape. The deciding moment came when I realised that I would have to sit there for a long, long time to wait until the cut-off time for deliverance. That would have been more painful and I would totally lose all the lead time I had gained thus far. Ok, put on an additional thermal top and headed off.

My headlamp was dimming and it was hard to see. I had only that tiny diameter of light in front of every step, so even though some of the slopes were 'run-able', I could not get a clear view. The tea and sugar helped tremendously, I picked up some speed, but only to falter again after 30min. I was all alone, occasionally overtaking or being overtaken by other participants. Otherwise, it was me, myself and I on the race. It took utmost mental tenacity to stay awake and focused on the down-steps (or risk falling off by the sides!).

I got to CP7 and put on my shell pants. It was getting colder. Psychologically, it felt better that there was only 27km more to go. No more thoughts of DNF, just grit and bear with it. For a brief moment, I thought I could still go under 24h and get a bronze trophy (<16h for a gold finisher trophy, <20h silver, and <24h bronze). That target kept me going for a while.

Until the dreaded Needle Hill between CP8 - CP9. The steps were ridiculously long and forever. Never-ending took on a new definition. No wonder it was called Needle Hill. I wondered why the organisers put us through such a route, were they trying to test the runners or prove a point? I think I must have been slightly delusionary by then. A guy caught up with me and asked if there was a CP9. He was very disappointed when he realised that we had not cleared CP9 - which meant not in time for the 24h trophy cut-off.

I saw Loke and Yap at CP9. At that time, Alber called. He and WH had just finished the race. It was about 22h-odd. How nice! So I was one CP behind them. I figured I would require another 2h-ish to complete. And to top off the race, the last 10km involved a consistently upslope trail, very similar to Himalayan terrain - big boulder rocks and winding upwards. I really felt like I was trekking in the lower altitudes of Phakding towards Namche Bazaar! Pressing on...

And finally finally, I saw a directional signage that pointed downslope a winding road. It said "4km to go". For a split second, I felt cheated. It seemed like forever to clear the upslope path and it was only a paltry 6km?? On the other hand, 4km was a relatively short distance on tarmac. I could do that and run all the way back! I did. I ran with my pole, ignoring the burning sensation in my knees (ouch sayang). I overtook a couple of people who were walking. I was impressed that I still had the energy to run.

Alas, that 4km seemed forever down and down, and the end never in sight. It seemed to make a mockery of my effort, arrows pointing, teasing, but still no finishing tents to be seen. I ran past a cleaning lady who cheered me on with "only 10min away". It sounded horrid, another 10min after all that running??!? I was about to either tear or swear in frustration (could not decide which was better) when the coveted finisher tent popped up at the bottom of the slope. I made a dash for it, propelled more by anger than joy, unleashing that frustration. Alber was there at the finishing line, I was glad that it was over.

My first 100km completed! Oh golly, 24:48h of overnight trek and run. It was the longest single race we had ever done. I think the next time I should only sign up for events that end by midnight. .... Or perhaps with hindsight (I now know where I could have done better or improved my strategy), I might even contemplate a re-run next year. For now, I need to rest and sayang my poor knees.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Crazy Week - Breathe!

An absolutely crazy, short week, what with a couple of school and work assignments due, plus a long trip coming up over the weekend and various other odds and ends. I ended up with 4-5h sleep each day, struggled to get out for morning runs, and sit through classes, and finish up my work. Deadlines now count by the hours rather than days.

Managed a short 1.5h trail run on Sat evening, and a long 4h-odd trail run on Sun morning. Plus another two 1:20h runs on the weekdays. Tried to stay sane, but clearly, cortisol and stress levels were going up.

Thursday night before I was due to fly off (on Friday morning), I was still in the office near midnight. Rushed home to pack for two back-to-back trips (craziness!) and still sorting out last minute submissions. Not perfection but could not have cooked them further, so just had to close both eyes and sent them off. :(

Did not sleep the entire night as had only 4h to do all the above. I hope I survive the crazier ultra weekend to come!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Long Run Sunday

Made an effort to pull myself out of bed at 8:30am. I wanted to run about 30km in the trail and needed about 4h for it. Skipped breakfast (not wise) in order to save time (warped logic...), and off I went. Lack of sleep, lingering thoughts about work, assignment and trip, plus low sugar made their effects felt.

I ran from BT, Durian Loop, to MR and completed 1 loop. My plan was to cover two loops inside MR, but was too lethargic to start on the second round. So I headed back. 2:30h running without food. Plodding on...

Then on a spur, I decided to detour towards ZhengHua and take the Dairy Farm MTB route home. The weather alternated between blazing sun and dark clouds, but for the most part, it was cool weather for the run. It took a bit of re-orientation to figure out my way back in the reverse DF route. Switchbacks and split paths that were not obvious on my normal runs suddenly demanded decisions. The reverse direction, however, seemed easier (if not for my tired state) as it had more downslopes. Plodding on...

Finally got home. 3:40h. Might not have covered 30km, possibly a few km less.
On 3x 500ml bottles of water and nothing else. Dreaming of my yong-tau-foo-bee-hoon soup and a piping cup of teh-tarik!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Runs for the Week

Did not get to run much since returning from HongKong. Officially in panic mode because of work deadlines and piling assignments. Breathe...

Managed to get through two morning runs on Wed and Thurs in the trails. Short distances, approx 10 - 11km.

Planned for a long run this morning but got up too late and it was blazing hot. So eventually did an evening run. It was nice and cool in the trails. A couple of mountain bikers rode past and I happily eyed their strong quads and butts as they kept spinning up the slopes. I would have barely managed 3 revolutions and fallen off the bike...

Ran 1:37h, that would be about 13 - 14km I guess. Distances do not matter in the trail. It is always a joy to be in there, uplifting of spirits. :)  Having the trails just 1min away from me makes me wonder why I would ever opt for a leisure road run in the day. I think I will have to start buying more trail shoes!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hong Kong Marathon 2012

This was our annual pilgrimage to Hong Kong for the Stanchart Marathon and a weekend of shopping and eating. Being the auspicious Year of the Dragon, the commemorative medal was much coveted and it did not disappoint. It looked every bit the dynamic and prosperous dragon that Chinese believed it stood for. (For those unfamiliar, the HKSCM is held at the end of the Chinese Lunar New Year each year. Every participant gets a commemorative medal based on the horoscope of that year.) 

This was also my first race since Oct 2011. I did not particular train for it except for my regular runs. As always, the official race was to shop, eat, and then run. We had it down to a fixed routine of when to fly, where to stay, and what to do.

We were flagged off on race day (5-Feb-2012) at 7:15am. It was uncharacteristically warm at the start. In past years, the weather was cool and warmed up towards noon. Yesterday, the sun came on fairly early. That, plus the body heat from the mass of runner, plus my long-sleeved shirt and I felt like I was running in Singapore. Right from the start, I needed to use the toilet. There were long queues at each available porta-loos that I waited until the 5km point before joining a line. And wasted 5min in the Q and using it. Grrrrowl. So then I had to make up and recover that 5min. That meant an accelerating pace to catch up on lost time. 

10km point: 1:06h
Ok, was 6min behind time (assuming 6min pace). I managed to keep a 5min pace for the next few kms and brought the time gap down to 3min. 

20km point: 2:03h 

21km point: 2:09h
Still 3min behind schedule. Crap. Bit by bit, I closed the gap down to 2min, then finally back on 6min pace timing. 

30km point: 3:00h

I kept a 6min pace thereafter. It was so consistently 6min, I could have been a metronome! My legs still felt ok, I hope they would not cramp towards the last 5km. 

40km point: 4:00h

Not bad. This year, I managed to run non-stop, over all the slopes, and did not stop other than for water. I still had enough legs to pick up pace over the last 2km, but unfortunately could not hit below 4:10h. I crossed the Finish line at 4:14h. 

Official results: A1816 in race category MR1
Category position: 381/ 4501
Gender position: 20/ ??
Official gun time: 4:16:10
Net time: 4:14:05
Distance times (based on gun time):
10km: 1:07:31
21km: 2:11:23
30km: 3:02:47)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Last Run of the Week

All ready to hit Hong Kong this weekend for a race to the shops and eateries. Oh and by the way, there's a marathon 42km too. Ha.

We are going on our annual shopping spree in HK, with the run as a bonus secondary event. This morning I tried my road shoes (having been mostly in the trails the past runs). I went on the 13km loop around the Clementi park canal. The Mizunos started off light, then felt like they did not have enough cushioning. Not sure if it was because the shoes were rather old, or I was not used to running on the tarmac. By comparison, my Salomon trail shoes had much more support.

Conclusion: will stick my faithful Asics for the race. :)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Another Morning First - Trail!

Rested a day on Monday, and managed to haul myself out of bed today for a run. Decided to try the trails on a weekday instead of road-chokeful-of-morning-traffic. I went on the MTB route which I did last Sat.

I explored the Wallace Trail, which was a wonderfully compact 1km. It had every obstacle imaginable packed in little distance - rocks, sand, stumps, roots, mini-stream, wooden planks and steps, and undulating terrain. There was no space to open up my stride. It took me 8 - 9min to clear that trail. But it was fun!

Ah the joys of early morning trails. The only bugbear was running face-in into invisible cobwebs... Yucks.