Thursday, 23 January 2014

Vibram Hong Kong 100 2014

The Hong Kong 100 was a race I had planned on doing since October 2013.  Liz and I were super excited that I was going to be doing an international race and that it fit in so well with our other travel plans for our summer holiday.

The build up to this race was going to be quite similar to the Tarawera 100 last year with plenty of media opportunities including interviews for local newspapers and magazines.

On Wednesday the week of the race I was also fortunate enough to be asked by Eric LaHaie from Hoka One One Hong Kong if I was available to be in a photo shoot with a local Hoka One One runner. Liz and I met up with Ying (the local Hoka runner) and Fai from Hoka HK who is also a photographer. It was a heap of fun working with Fai and Ying and there were definitely a few laughs along the way.  The photo shoot was for the Asia Trail Runner magazine; keep an eye out for me on the cover of the March edition.

The newly formed Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) that the HK100 is now part of planned for media and the elite athletes to attend a press conference and Indian lunch on Thursday. This was a really busy afternoon with interviews, photos and presentations from Janet Ng & Steve Bremmar the Race Directors and Marie Sammons from UTWT. There were also a couple of Q&A interviews with some selected elite athletes. It was a really fun experience and also great to meet some of the other runners and also catch up with some mates who were also doing the race.

After the press conference we all made our way out to Sai Kung which is where the race starts, and where we were staying for the next three nights. Thursday night before the race a few of the runners including good mates Tarmo, Vlad & Vajin and I decided to head out for an easy jog to shake out the legs. It was really nice to get the legs moving and explore one of the trails close by.

Friday was basically a free day to relax and organise any final race preparation. Liz and I ended up catching a taxi back into the city with new mate Jez Bragg from the UK. It was great to hear about his trip last year to NZ where he ran and broke the Te Araroa trail record.  A really top bloke who I look forward to catching up with again soon. We had to go and pick up my new RaceReady singlets that had been temporarily lost in another building in Sheung Wan.  I was pretty stoked to finally get them as I thought they were gone for good.

Friday afternoon involved catching up with Lloyd Belcher, an incredible photographer/videographer from HK. He was putting together a video of the HK100 including interviews and footage from race day. This was a really cool experience that I am very thankful for.

The morning of the race couldn’t have gone any smoother. Fai picked us up right on 7am and we met Caroline from 2XU at the start line. The road to the start line was absolutely jam packed with taxis. There was such an amazing atmosphere at the start line and seeing everyone smiling and looking so happy was a real buzz.

Before long we were making our way to the start line under the big HK100 archway. I’d heard pre-race that I wanted to be near the front as it went onto singletrack after only 400m. If I got stuck behind slower runners it could mean losing valuable time. The start gun went and we were off.

The pace over the first few km was fast but nothing too crazy. We eventually settled into position and I began chatting with HK local Jeremy Ritcey. Jeremy has done the race a few times now and mentioned that despite the international competition this was the slowest start in the years he has done the race. Running along the top of the East Dam was incredible. I had seen photos from last year’s race of this section and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

I’d settled into a second chase pack by the 11km support point and was in about 12th place. I was keeping an eye on the pace early on as it was really flat and fast and I wanted to ensure I wasn’t going out too hard. Leaving the support point I was running just behind Hoka North America runner Dave Mackey and The North Face runner Jez Bragg. We started running on a pipeline heading up the mountain alongside the stairs. It was here I had my first moment where I was second-guessing my ability. Dave and Jez appeared to be moving up the mountain effortlessly and with real intention. I was hoping like anything they didn’t pick the pace up any more than it already was!

Literally 300m later I was in my happy spot. The nerves of running alongside two of the best ultrarunners in the world had worn off and I was going up the first climb just doing my thing. I was now keeping pace effortlessly and was happy again. Between 11km and the first checkpoint all of the frontrunners were brought together. It seemed like the pack would get strung out on the downhill and then pull back together any time we started climbing again.  Dave was definitely the man leading the charge on the downhills, he made things look so easy and had crazy speed going down!!

Passing through the 1st checkpoint was absolutely chaotic. Because we were in a fairly large bunch there seemed to be people everywhere. I managed to refill my water pretty quickly despite this and left the checkpoint soon after. A mere 7km further and we were at the 2nd checkpoint at Wong Shek (28km) which was the first place I was getting to see Liz, Fai & Caroline. All I needed was a new water bottle as I had decided before the start that I wanted to take enough gels and chomps to get me through to the halfway point of the race. I came into the checkpoint in about 6th place and left in 2nd place. A credit to Liz and her super smooth crewing skills, we even managed a quick kiss before I was off on my way again. We have our checkpoints pretty sorted these days ;)

Running through to Hoi Ha (35km) there seemed to be more road than trail, which I wasn’t really keen on. It seemed to be causing me a bit of ITB related pain in my knee again like at the Great Ocean Walk 100km last October. It was the exact same sequence of pain coming on which had me feeling worried that things weren’t going to pan out well. I arrived at Hoi Ha but didn’t say anything to Liz about my knee as I thought by trying to block it out it might help things.

The trails through to halfway at Kei Ling Ha were really cool. We wound our way through small villages and along the beautiful coastline of the island. I think I was lucky there was such beauty around us as by this stage my knee had gotten much much worse. If it sounds like a repeat of my GOW race report then that’s because it is. Any downhill or running where my knee was flexing more was excruciating. It felt like a knife being stabbed into the side of my knee.

I arrived at Kei Ling Ha in 3rd place in 4hr46min, roughly 2mins down on Ryan Sandes 2012 course record run. Liz pulled me to one side and asked what I wanted. I grabbed more gels and fresh water bottles but then sat down. I had to explain to Liz and Fai that things were really not good. I told them that my knee had been sore since before 35km. The thoughts going through my head from about 45km onwards weren’t positive ones. I thought that this was the end of my ultrarunning career, obviously I don’t have the body to be able to do this kind of running. I was so angry and upset with the situation I was in.

Liz being the incredible support she always is was the logic and composure that I needed. I wasn’t really thinking straight and I needed direction. She told me that it was just my ITB and that I wouldn’t do any permanent damage. She said to stop being soft and keep pushing through. Fai ended up giving me some massage and I had some nurofen to try to reduce the inflammation on the side of my knee. This all took about 6-7minutes and after a quick slap on the butt from Liz I was on my way smiling again.

Making my way to the next checkpoint at 65km was hard. It was a really tough section and I think after the first few km leaving 52km and feeling a bit better I was back in a dark place. The only respite like at GOW was when I was hiking uphill. I arrived at Gilwell Camp (65km) and grabbed a seat straight away. My knee felt like it was throbbing and had that same sharp pain again. I sat here for another 5mins or so and had about 3 cups of coke, 2 oranges and a jam sandwich. The medic at the checkpoint asked me after 5mins whether I wanted any medication or ice. I said I’d just had some anti-inflammatory medication but agreed to the ice. As I sat there I thought that if I do put ice on my knee I was going to be at least another 10 minutes. During the first 5 minutes Stone Tsang a local favourite had passed me. I quickly got up out of the chair and said to the volunteer that I should probably get going and that it would be boring if it was easy. As I left I saw my room mates, French Hoka runner Pascal Blanc and Freddy Thevinin. It was great to see them and made me smile.

I caught Stone at about the 75km point just past Beacon Hill. There were literally hundreds of monkeys everywhere. Not the cute cuddly type you would think either.  After saying hi to Stone he told me to make sure I didn’t eat through this section or make eye contact because the monkeys would attack me. I won’t repeat what I said but I quickly put my sunnies on to reduce the chance of making the dreaded eye contact. Catching Stone gave me a real boost of confidence. I didn’t fly past but was feeling strong as we made our way up the gradual road hill.

It’s amazing how quickly things can change during an ultra. I soon came into CP8 at Shing Mun Dam (83km) feeling awesome. The knee pain had settled down and I soon got word that there were about 3 runners around 10 minutes ahead which put even more wind in my sail. Another quick massage from magic hands Fai and I was on my way in pursuit of the guys ahead. 

I had been out one week earlier with an old school teacher from High School checking out this final 17km so I felt I knew this section well. Mind you, as soon as I left the checkpoint I was left wondering where the hell I was, as it looked unfamiliar. As I started the climb up Needle Hill (532m) and caught glimpse of Hong Kong’s highest peak Tai Mo Shan (957m) I suddenly knew exactly where I was!

I didn’t feel worried or concerned about the peaks above, I felt like I was so in the zone and was ready to work hard to get to the top as fast as I could.  I soon came across Jeanette Wang from one of the local newspapers who mentioned that I looked far stronger than the guys who had gone through only 5 or 6 minutes before me.

After Needle Hill is Grassy Hill (647m). Not too long after descending off Grassy Hill I caught up to Dave. He was walking up a steeper section of the road and I soon passed him. A quick few words and I was then in pursuit of the Nepali runner Ram Kumar Katri who had just passed Dave before me.

I caught Ram quite quickly but he refused to let me go. It was pretty much a yoyo battle for around 6km until we reached the undulating volcanic trail section after the climb out of the 90km CP at Lead Mine Pass. As we were nearing the top of this crazy stair section I made a bit of a gap on Ram and as I looked up I could now see Japanese runner Shunsuke Okunomiya not far ahead.

I felt more at home as soon as we hit the trails along the volcanic section and soon caught Shunsuke. I made a gap quite quickly which took me into 5th place. The only problem with this situation was that Ram had got his second wind and caught me again before we hit the super steep road heading up Tai Mo Shan. Again we locked horns and battled our way up the hill. About 300m from the top Ram made a burst and gapped me by about 50m. I let him go as I felt I had the speed to catch him on the downhill. My plan worked out as after a couple of switchbacks on the downhill I had caught Ram as I was cruising along at about 3:20min/km pace. He hung on for a bit but I wasn’t planning on staying around.

This crazy race wasn’t done yet though, even though there was only 3km to go. As I looked down the mountain I could see fellow Kiwi Vajin Armstrong ahead. As ridiculous as it sounded in my head I thought I might as well give it a crack and try to catch up to him. I had visions of catching him and being the first Kiwi home. I absolutely hammered it down the road leaving nothing in the tank and with about 1.2km to go I caught Vajin. He had headphones in so I figured I had one shot to take him by surprise. I got a jump on him by about 30m before he realized it was me. He then cranked up the pace to 2:55min/km and made a decisive move. My legs had nothing else to give as I watched him pull away. I remember laughing out loud and thinking at least I gave it a shot.

I crossed the line in 10:18:56 for 5th place overall. I ended up crossing a mere 27sec behind Vajin who had a cracking race also. I was absolutely over the moon at what I had achieved and I was so happy to see Liz waiting there for me at the finish line. Because I was a fair bit behind Vajin at CP8 they had no idea I was going to come in so quickly. I soon got word of the other placings and was absolutely stoked to hear my good mate Vlad managed to take 3rd place behind two Nepali runners.

I can’t thank everyone enough for your kind words and love Liz was passing on to me during the race. It was so incredible knowing I had so much support behind me. Thank you to Fai, you kept me going mate, quite literally. Without the massage I don’t think my legs would have got going again.

Thank you to Eric from Hoka One One Hong Kong, and again to Fai (and Carol) for being the most amazing hosts. You welcomed Liz and I and we are so appreciative of that. Also thanks to Caroline for your support on the day of the race.

Steve and Janet, you have a truly world class event here. The course is phenomenal and the whole event ran so smoothly and is a true testament to your hard work.

As always, Liz. You are truly my shining light whenever I am down during a race. You know me better than I know myself sometimes and always have my best interests at heart. You are caring and loving when I need but also the kick in the backside (quite literally) that I need during races too. I can’t wait for our next adventure together and seeing you at the checkpoints along the way.

Hong Kong is a fascinating and incredible place that we have both thoroughly enjoyed. The race itself, but also the culture, attractions and all of the friendships we have made over the past couple of weeks. I can definitely see us heading back to Hon Kong soon; let’s make this happen Eric ;)

Until next time J

To be able to get to do what I love on the trail and then see who I love at the finish is what it's all about for me.
Photo: HK100

Photo: Lex Axe

After the day I'd had, I was pretty stoked to see the finish line.

Fellow Hoka Team mate Pascal Blanc & Freddy Thevinen from France. My roommates, stoked to see them come in together!
Photo: HK100

The atmosphere at the start line was buzzing!!
Photo: HK100

Me, Francesca Canepa, Vajin Armstrong. Crazy to be rubbing shoulders with some of the world's best!
Photo: HK100

It's concrete but it's still good :)
Photo: HK100

Photo: Lex Axe

Vajin and I chatting to Steve the R.D after the epic finish!
Photo: HK100
Heading up more stairs on my way up to Needle Hill.
Photo: Jeanette Wang

Me, Dave Mackey, Pascal Blanc - Team Hoka
Photo: HK100

Early on, fun times coming down more stairs.
Photo: Daniel Chung

Me followed by Ram & Shinsuke.
Photo: Bernie Kwok

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Looking back... 2013

2013 has been epic!!

When I think about how 2013 has unfolded from a racing perspective, in all honesty it feels like something that was meant to be. 

Early on in the year my big 'A' race for the year being the Tarawera 100k Ultra came around super fast. I had a nice build up to Tarawera with a handy 76min Half Marathon tempo effort race in Busselton which was a timely confidence boost.

Tarawera didn't pan out at all how I'd hoped but I learnt so much from this race and the whole experience of what unravelled that day. 

Next up was the Mt Helena 40miler which in hindsight was a big mistake as I was purely after redemption only 2 weeks after Tarawera. The race or more precisely my health fell apart early on and I was left with quite literally an uphill battle to the finish. Best part of the day was definitely the beers after!

Three weeks on and after some solid hours in the hills was the Truth or Consequences 50km. This was an absolute cracker of a race and amongst some stiff competition I managed the win in 3:50.

A week later we were on our journey to the USA and the day after we landed Liz and I were lining up in the Santa Monica Coast to Coast Marathon & 1/2 Marathon. This was a truly cool experience for us both as our first race on US soil.

After some time in Vegas, San Fran and San Diego we were off to my 2nd most favourite place (after NZ of course) in the world being Alaska. I feel so lucky that Liz and I were able to take part in one of the coolest/gnarliest races we have ever done. It was the Turnagain Arm 8mile Trail Race. In a fast battle up front I was schooled on how to run downhill in the final mile by good friend Matias who took the win - I managed to hold onto 2nd place. 

Despite 2 races in the US there was very little running done outside of this mainly due to doing the tourist thing and finding it difficult finding where to run.

A week after getting back to Perth I had the Hoka One One Kep 100k Ultra. Although this was a race that I had wanted to do for a couple of years I was pretty close to pulling the pin due to a lack of preparation. I decided to run and I'm glad I did. I ran 8:17 for the win and was really surprised with how things went considering my build up.

A misdiagnosis of an injury plagued the next 10 weeks of the running calendar which also meant missing out on running in Tasmania when we were there on holiday and not being able to compete in the You Yangs 50 Miler which wasn't great. 

After a slow build up and some great treatment and advice from my Physio and a new Doctor I was back running pain free again. I decided to run the Perth City to Surf Marathon as an entry had been passed on through a friend of a friend. I decided that if I turned up in a singlet and shorts I would likely push too hard too soon after very little training. I was soon at the costume shop picking out my outfit to force me to treat it as a training run. Running through the closed streets of Perth as Mr Incredible was one of the highlights of my running year. I had so much fun giving the kids lining the streets high fives and seeing the looks on people's faces as I ran by.

The next race on the cards was the Great Ocean Walk 100km. The race started well but fizzled out after a mere 30km after some soft sandy sections appeared to aggravate the old injury. I battled through and was stoked to get my buckle for finishing.

After a couple of weeks taking things really easy I was once again back into pain free running. The next race was the Moon Shadow 12km night race. I had an absolute blast, despite missing a turn, and managed first place which was a nice way to help forget the less than ideal run I had at GOW.

The last race for the year was the 6 Inch Trail Marathon a few weeks ago. It was a real up and down build up to this race. I ended up having a great hit out amongst arguably the most competitive field for a trail race in WA this year. I felt strong for the majority of the race and was stoked with my time of 3:20. I was super pumped about pulling up injury free and feeling good post race.

Amongst a year that feels like it failed to fire there are some races and results mixed in that I'm really happy with. Despite my 'A' races not ending the way I'd have liked I had some truly amazing experiences out on the trails in 2013.

To say I'm pumped about 2014 and racing is a crazy understatement. The year is starting off with the Hong Kong 100k in January, the Tarawera 100k in New Zealand in March and the TNF100 Australia in the Blue Mountains in May. 

Thank you to all my running friends who joined me in training and racing throughout the year. I've made some great new friendships through running in 2013 which is a big part of what it's all about.

A massive thankyou to Hoka One One Australia, RaceReady, Ryders Eyewear and Darryn at Peak Podiatry, your continued support is helping me achieve my goals. Thanks also to Ali from Ascend Physio and Nathan from Massage Works HQ, it has been a busy year of recovery and rehab and I really appreciate your help getting me back on the trails!

As I've mentioned a few times in race reports and other posts, I couldn't have had the year I've had or the one that's coming without the never ending support and love from my amazing wife Liz. Until a few weeks ago I've always said I hadn't ever had a coach, but in so many ways Liz has been the person I have always turned to. A massive motivation kicking me out of the house on cold rainy days and 40deg scorchers, a phenomenal chef and her constant love and support of me chasing my trail ultra running dreams. I love that we are sharing this adventure together and I can't wait to see her when I'm coming into the next aid station.

2014 LET'S DO THIS!!!

Pretty much sums up the two loves in my life, Liz and trail running. Photo: Ron Mcglinn

A highlight at the City to Surf Marathon

Awesome to meet some crazy trail runners in Chiang Mai, Tarmo, Ryan and Brian

During a run in Chiang Mai

I really enjoyed running with Mick early on in the Kep 100 Ultra. Photo: Steve Fraser

Liz's first 'real' trail run at Serpentine Falls N.P

Taken on our local run around the river

Santa Monica Coast to Coast Marathon, USA

The race didn't go well but the scenery and trails were amazing! Photo: Marceau Photography

Turnagain Arm Trail Run..... EPIC!!

Truth or Consequences 50km

Absolutely knackered and finally at the finish at the GOW100

Finishing the 6 Inch Trail Marathon. Photo: Ron Mcglinn

Insane mountain running in Alaska with Matias