Saturday 17 November 2012

Hong Kong 100km TrailWalker

(aussi en français ICI)

Yesterday, at 9am, I made my first venture into the realm of 100km racing. It's a crazy place, and I've got a feeling I might not be returning into that domain for another year or so... but that's another story...

The TrailWalker, created thirty years ago, originally as an army training exercise, since transformed into a massive charity event in aid of Oxfam, covers the 100km route of the MacLehose trail. The aim is to cover the distance inside 48 hours. But I reckon that as with all these long races, the faster you get them over and done with, the better - don't draw out and turn a very long thing into a even longer very long thing...

The trail is just a few kilometres north of Hong Kong and what's impressive is the marked difference between the grey city and the green forest. Viewed from the hills above, it couldn't be clearer. The skyscrapers stop and the trees commence. There's no in-between. Not a house or even a small building in sight. If you're going to build here - you have to build big and tall.

So we run along this trail just north of the city, with a background buzz of traffic and a wide vista of concrete, steel and glass monstrosities to the south. Reservoirs and sea inlets dominate to the north. Hong Kong residents may not be blessed with the wide open grassy spaces that we find in most European cities, but it has to be said that they are lucky to have such an easily accessible escape option. In the space if a thirty minute taxi ride, which incidentally will set you back the price of a coffee and muffin, you're out in the green, tree-covered zone, and you won't see much in the way of houses and buildings until you return to the built-up madness to the south after your run.

Out on the paths, the forest is dense and the scenery varied, but the trail itself is hard under foot. Very hard. In fact, it couldn't be much harder. There are a few sections of earth and rock, but the vast majority of the trail is either lined with big blocks of rock or simply concreted. Many of the early kilometres are run on top of the concrete aqueducts feeding the fresh-water reservoirs to quench the thirst of the millions of residents below. Yes, you are in nature, there are trees to the left and the right of he path, monkeys cross the trail at times (in the hope that you'll have a few spare banana-flavoured energy gels - it's best not to show them that you really do), but that's where the nature ends. This trail is man-made, big time.

The race then. Well, it was tough. It's the end of the season and we weren't fresh. I came over here to Hong Kong with what is, on paper, an incredible team made up of some of the very best long-distance runners in France, or even the world in fact. The likes of Julien Chorier, a world-beater over a hundred milers (eg Mount Fuji race earlier this year, not to mention past victories in Réunion etc etc.), this year's UTMB winner, François d'Haene and Michel Lanne who having only taken up running two years ago, has already proven his capabilities on the world stage, at races like the Andorra ultra and Kima earlier this year. A solid team on paper, for sure. But it's mid November, and we are bit tired from our respective seasons. With all the miles and vertical meters of racing and training we had in our legs before even lining up at the start, it was always going to be a bit of a survival exercise, rather than a peak of form flat-out race. Internal team management, encouragement and assistance were the order of the day. Elasticated tow ropes were employed regularly and the fight to the very end was tough, for all of us. With the Nepalese team and a local Hong Kong Salomon team laying down the pressure from the gun, we had our work cut out to break the tape before them. We did, but it was darn hard!

After a close encounter with a Cobra (our Chinese friends thankfully told us how dangerous the snake was after), we crawled up the final climb and dropped down the to finish in just over eleven hours. I don't know what you think, but in my books, that's a very long time to run for. We were exhausted. Mitch had been cramping since the fifty km mark and Julien's left calf muscle had caved in after only fifteen kilometres. Needless to say, we were pretty happy to sit down and eat, and eat, and eat...

A big thank you to the all that have made our stay a pleasant one and hats off to Oxfam and the team that put this incredible event on every year and organise it with such slickness. It's been a week to remember. What a shock it will be to return to the peace and quiet of Provence tomorrow... I can't wait...


  1. Thank you for the race-report and congratulation.

  2. Good to read about your adventure and continued success, Andy. Bet its not as much fun as a lunchtime run around Gartmorn Dam ?

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