Lantau 2 Peaks camaraderie by Jenny Buck
I headed out on 4 October with high expectations of smashing my time from last year, because I am in much better shape this year. I have been training hard all summer, in the heat and humidity of Hong Kong rather than spending a month in the UK as usual, and doing about double weekly mileage on average compared to the same time last year. A number of virtual challenges kept me motivated (including LEJOG in UK, ATG vertical).
But the virtual race day did not go according to plan. The weather was the warmest of the whole 11 days on offer - I thought my heat tolerance had improved over the summer but apparently not so much. There was barely a cloud in the sky and hardly a breath of wind, even at the top of Lantau Peak. And as I was going up the first stairs it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t done much elevation since the ATG Vertical Challenge in August, after which I had given my body a much-deserved break from elevation. To top it off, it was also the worst time of the month in my menstrual cycle. I ended up being 25 minute behind last year’s time, which I mostly attribute to (a) heat (b) lack of recent vertical training (c) not pushing myself enough because no feet to follow like you would get in a race.
But the one bright spot in that run was that at the starting line, I met a group of ladies from the Philippines (all Cathay crew colleagues). One of them saw me trying to take a selfie and offered to take my photo, then I ended up in their group photo behind an actual starting line rope. Most of those women were doing the 15km race and so finished well before me. To my surprise, as I came into the finishing straight, a big cheer went up and they put up a finish line for me to run through! They then insisted that I eat their fruit and join their group photos. This whole experience gave the feeling of the camaraderie of being in a race which I had missed for so long, with the added feeling of being welcomed by a fantastic group of women supporting each other wholeheartedly.
I was so disappointed that I failed to beat my previous time that I decided to go out and do the course again six days later. My recovery from the previous attempt was good because my legs are well used to the elevation, and I eat a plant-based wholefood diet which I believe helps a lot with recovery - no sore legs, just tired legs for a few days. This is one of the perks of a virtual race, the chance to try again if you’re not happy!
I had to start very early, 6am, because I had to go to work in the afternoon on that Saturday and had other plans for Sunday, the last day of the challenge. The weather was so much better than the previous weekend and I felt great - I was half an hour faster even before I got to Ngong Ping. Strava says I scored a “historic relative effort”. I got PRs for almost every Strava segment on the course - except for the ascent of Sunset Peak when it was getting warm and I had to move aside for lots of elite runners doing the descent on some other challenge, which broke my rhythm, and the descent of Sunset Peak which was busy with hikers coming up who did not have the sense to move aside for me running at speed towards them.
Near the finish in Tung Chung, I heard people calling my name and it turned out to be some of the Filipinas I had met the previous week! It turned out they had redone the 15km course because one of them had a GPS error last week. They insisted that I share their breakfast, which happened to a vegan traditional Filipino delicacy, with coconut milk, tapioca, taro, fruit and sesame balls - which was the best post-race food ever! We joked about meeting the next day to do the course one last time.
Lantau 2Peaks is a very tough and beautiful course. If you’d ask me what are the best and worst parts, I would say: Best, descent of Lantau Peak, because of the stunning views and I love a technical downhill. Worst: descent to Tung Chung which just goes on forever - it might be the fastest descent in Hong Kong, 600m elevation drop in 25mins for me today - you think surely you must be near the end, and then get a vantage point of the trees at the bottom of the trail still being a long way off. Best done avoiding peak time for hikers coming in the other direction because the steps are narrow in places.
My final takeaway from the experience of doing this course twice is that self-supported virtual/unofficial races are a lot more enjoyable in cooler weather because (a) less need for water and (b) less sweat causing moisture management problems. On my first attempt, I spent 6 minutes at the top of Lantau Peak taking off my shoes and socks to squeeze the sweat out of my socks, because I knew this would make me enjoy the second half more (and avoid my feet sliding around in my shoes which could cause injury). I carried 2.5 litres of water and stopped 3 times to refill my filter bottle from streams on my first attempt (drank total 4.5L), whereas second time I carried 2 litres and only stopped once (drank total 2.5L). Thankfully we now have many months of nice running weather ahead!
I really hope that real races can resume soon but, in the absence of that happening, virtual races can be an enjoyable alternative and help keep us motivated to push ourselves. Even better if you organise a group of friends to support each other.
Awesome Jenny in providing a real glimpse of inside trail knowledge and the suffering that goes along as big kudos for completing #lantau2peaks
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