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Race Review

Dec 11 / 2013

14km MSIG Lantau by Nic Tinworth after a rough few weeks

14km by Nic Tinworth after a rough few weeks

It's been a rough few weeks for my running since the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker (report forthcoming), with the mental and physical exertions of that race taking their toll for longer than I'd hoped. A bit of post-race down time is to be expected but it didn't make the disappointment of not meeting my goals for that race any easier to swallow. Nevertheless it gave me a chance to rest, relax and recharge - run less, eat more the general strategy.

Fast forward almost a month, The North Face 100 Hong Kong looms on the horizon, and only last week did I start to feel my mojo again. A quick blast on one of my old favourites, a solid track session, and exploring new trails with friends was a good way to get the confidence and desire back.
 
I gave last weekends King of The Hills in Sai Kung a miss because of fatigue, but wound up manning checkpoint 4 and really enjoyed an incredible day out in perfect weather, happy to be helping friends and other racers refill water and let them know what was coming up en route to the next stop. That didn't stop me missing the 'buzz' of racing again though and while I'm confident I made the right choice not taking part, it was frustrating not to be running.
 
Rae and I enjoyed a chill running of the 27km race at last years Action Asia MSIG 50 series on Lantau, and I was keen to run it again as a last hurrah before the North Face next weekend, but thought better of potentially tiring myself on the longer courses, choosing the shorter, faster 14km option instead. It's been a while since I ran anything that short (2013 Lantau KOTH) so I was keen to see how much I could push and where it would get me, on trails I know very well indeed. At the very least it would be a good training run.

The Race

The 8am race start meant a hideously early wake up call but I managed to catch the 7am bus from Tung Chung to the Discovery Bay North Plaza, which got me there at 7:20am with plenty of time to spare and enjoy the sunrise. Ran in to a few of the usual suspects but there was definitely a tier of the better runners missing from the 27km and 14km options, most notably many of the Hong Kong Trail Runner boys and girls, who are racing the Care Action this weekend instead, and a lot of faces I didn't recognise, which is cool. Did my usual pre-race ritual of scanning the crowd looking for other 14km bibs to size up the competition and picked out a few I thought would need keeping an eye on.

Beautiful sunrise in Discovery Bay.

 

The start from the plaza led us uphill via the road and a tunnel to the back of some apartment blocks, where the trail starts as a short climb up to Yi Pak Au (160m). It wasn't a particularly fast start and I found myself in the front pack quite early on, passing 4 or 5 people on this first climb who didn't seem to feel comfortable going up single track technical uphill too quickly, or running the short flat sections. As soon as we hit Lau Fa Tung (378m - great shot looking back to DB here) there were only a handful of runners ahead. I felt really strong up this entire section, very light on my feet, controlled breathing and keen to run everything that wasn't steps or too steep - surprisingly effortless. Another beautiful sunny day helped me on - cool in the shade with a great breeze and not too hot in the sun.

 

 

When the climbing was done at Lo Fu Tau (465m) there was a solid 3.5km descent to the Olympic Trail - one of my favourite downhills in Hong Kong. I held myself back here not to go too fast and tried to settle into a steady pace, and still passed a couple more runners and nearly managed to PR the section. Not bad, considering I also performed a spectacular face plant turning a corner and catching my foot on a small rock. Haven't done that for a while, luckily nothing damaged and nobody close enough behind me to take advantage of the fall.

I caught up to a couple more runners arriving at the Olympic Trail at the Lo Fu Tau Country Trail junction, and sat in behind them as we hammered down the 2km concrete path towards Pak Mong at a fairly eager pace. I don't enjoy running that hard on concrete, especially on the steeper inclines, but I was content to bide my time and run them both down without cooking my quads too much before the climb back up. It's a shitty strategy locking in behind a runner in front of you and matching their increase and decrease in speed until they get so annoyed they slow down considerably for you to pass - but it works.

Coming into the only 14km race check point at Ngau Kwu Long, I was now (barely) in second place, stopping briefly to scan my bracelet and fill up my handheld before I sped off towards the firebreak climb back up to Lo Fu Tau - a shiggy uphill climb of 267m over 1 km - where my hashing experience of bushwhacking would serve me well. Seriously, I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you want to get better running up and down KOTH style shiggy, join the Free China and Little Sai Wan Hash House Harriers.

About half way up the climb I snuck a look behind me, my first of the race, and noticed a couple of runners not too far below, which was all the motivation I needed to scramble up a little faster. I try not to look behind me when I'm racing for fear of getting caught up in other people's races and losing focus on my own, but every once in a while it's good to know what's going on around you. As I reached the top and it opened up into lovely flat, wide open and runnable trail, I could see Gary in first place well ahead over the next couple of small hills - no way I was catching up with him so I concentrated on not losing second place. I was starting to feel a slight burn from the first 10km in my legs, but it wasn't anything bad and I still had the energy to run uphill at a controlled and steady pace.

I saw Gary again rejoining the Lo Fu Tau trail, still well ahead, disappearing off into the distance, but instead of trying to put a chase on I simply stuck my head down and ran at a speed that felt comfortable. Even though this was a 'training race', I cared enough about it not to want to drop a place, so I stole another glance back after the last climb and saw the closest challenger aways back, on the flats but with two short ascents ahead of him. I knew if I could smash the downhill, put some more distance between us and get back to the start/finish without eating dirt again, second place would be mine. That thought alone fueled my energy levels, and even though the likelihood of catching Gary was in the region of slim to none, I thought 'why not try?' - what if he falls, cramps, or gets lost and loses a minute or two? Then I thought 'ah fuck it' and just ran my own race. Ha.

Technical trail at the beginning/end. (photo credit: Vivien Ringuede)

Attacking the last downhills back to DB with vigour, but careful not to do anything stupid, I remember being incredibly focused and in a near flow-like state. Every step was measured and calculated, every breath matching in time. I heard my breathing, the sound of my feet on the dirt with nature's soundtrack in the background and I was incredibly content. Looking out to the mountains and seas beyond, I felt grateful to be where I was, doing what I was, a feeling of pure connection that's been missing lately. It's so easy to forget to be grateful and focused on the moment when we are running to escape the stresses and distractions of our everyday lives.

The final descent from Lo Fu Tau.

With that in mind, when I hit the road back to the tunnel I didn't push any harder, cruising to the finish line in 1:38:41, a couple of minutes behind Gary, and a couple ahead of Stephen, who finished third. Surprisingly, I felt no soreness or tiredness after the race - energised even - and can only put that down to the race being shorter and less intense than the ones I usually do. Either that or I am finally learning how to read my body better. Worth mentioning that the course markings today were excellent - plenty of ribbons and markers and chalk to guide runners in the right direction for those who didn't know the course too well, but I did hear of some unfortunate runners that went off course by blindly following the people in front of them. If you're not familiar with the course, make sure to look around at junctions and if you haven't seen any markings for a while, backtrack to the last place you remember seeing one to get back on course. Don't just assume that those in front of you are going the right way!

Not so good was the check point management - 4 people standing around when I got there, obviously unprepared for incoming runners, with no water bottles open or ready to be shared and the scanning machine unmanned. A minor grumble and I don't like to complain, but it makes a big difference when you are running into a CP to have everyone prepared and ready to help you.

 Nutrition/Hydration

After a couple of recent failures I was very happy with my eating and drinking discipline again, making sure I drank almost a whole 20oz bottle with a Nuun tab in it before reaching the first check point and refilling with the same again for the journey back. For breakfast I'd had multigrain toast with almond butter and banana slices, and a 350ml pocari, and fifteen minutes before the race start I dropped a Hammer espresso gel. Now that I have kicked coffee, caffeine has a heightened effect on my senses, and that 50mg seemed to help me along the first few km. As I was climbing the firebreak I took advantage of the slower pace to swallow a salt tab and another gel, about an hour in to the race at this point, and didn't need anything else after that. Took my usual Hammer Recoverite after the race along with an orange, a banana and some more plain water.

 Only one holding up his certificate. What a dick.


Final Thoughts

I mentioned 'connection' previously. All too often, we forget that we are a part of nature, and that nature is a part of us. Being physically fit enough to race on trails is only half of the equation - the mental game matters more than you might know. Today I was more aware of my surroundings than usual, more able to be 'in the moment' and not get lost in trains of irrelevant thought. I felt humbled again, and that is a good thing - I need to be humbled more often, be more grateful for opportunities and realise that I am out on the trails by choice - I choose to be there and by virtue of that I choose to embrace whatever happens along the way, including the highs, the lows and everything in between.

When I have raced purely for results and goals, especially ones that require enormous effort, I've often been clouded by the destination and missed out on the journey. It's the journey that matters above all else and I would rather run a slower race and finish further back in the pack having enjoyed it, than push myself so hard to 'do well' that I end up forgetting why I am there in the first place - to smile, to have fun, to be outdoors and to be free. Moreover, to be sharing that with so many other people who are there for the same things - doing the impossible with friends who believe in you.

Sometimes things go according to plan, sometimes they do not. How you act and react to those variables is the difference between winning and losing. When you let your running define who you are as a person, as I am prone to do, and your only sense of personal achievement and self worth comes from meeting arbitrary race times, you start to feel very alone, very quickly. I have come to understand that running and racing are great, but they aren't everything.
 
If you also enjoy the competitive aspects of running, you are bound to meet with disappointments along the way. Don't let them weigh over you - be sad, angry or frustrated and move on - don't dwell. Embrace the failures, take learnings and apply them to the next race. This is how we grow better not just as trail/ultra/endurance runners, but as ordinary people too.
"Winning doesn't always mean getting first place; it means getting the best out of yourself."
- Meb Keflezighi
 
Posted by Nic Tinworth
Location: Hong Kong

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