After Run Rabbit Run I took nearly a month off as my recovery was fairly slow. Back running again in mid-October, I was anxious to get in shape for North Face San Fran… too anxious. I started doing weekly tempos starting at 5 miles then up to 7 at about 5:40-50 pace along with a weekly time trial run up the mountains and decent volume on my recovery days. Three weeks into training Jeremy and I did a super steep hike/run in the Mission Mountains East and West Saint Mary’s Peak (5,500ft climbing in less than 4 miles)… this was my breaking point for my left soleous and gastroc. My slight muscle strain quickly irritated my Achilles and with the pressure of the approaching race, I didn’t properly treat the problem and tendonitis set it. Time indoors on the elliptical ensued and confidence in racing was low. Two and a half weeks out, I was debating even heading out to SF for the 50k as a training run… when I got an unbelievable offer.
The Asian ultra-marathon scene continues to boom and more and more races and race directors are reaching out to elite foreigners to attend their races. MSIG, an insurance company, sponsors the Lantau 50K, a race put on by Action Asia Events and through my Julbo sponsorship, I was asked to come out. A trip to Hong Kong was not something I could not pass up and furthermore, it was a great substitution for TNF SF 50 mile considering my less than prepared state. My Achilles was on the mend and I was set to explore this new world of Hong Kong.
I have never been to Asia and I certainly had no clue as to what Hong Kong was “really” like. My perceptions were that it was a ridiculously populated big city. I pictured Hong Kong to not only be massive and populated, but dirty, lacking in terms of modern infrastructure and order. I expected to see a lot of poverty, less access to modern convenience in general and I had my doubts on trail quality and availability. Besides being massively populated, my guess on what Hong Kong was like was way off.
After 19hrs of air travel over 3 flights I arrived and was greeted by my unbelievable host Eric LaHaie, owner of Action X, an awesome trail running store in Hong Kong. Quickly I realized how clean, organized and ridiculously wealthy Hong Kong is. I saw more Bentlys, Ferraris and Lamborghinis in 6 days than I have in my entire life. There was no trash on the streets, I didn’t see a single pan handler the whole trip and no one aggressively approached me to buy something from their little store or stand, all of which I expected before I arrived. I quickly realized that Hong Kong is a massive financial and banking hub of Asia and the world with unbelievable wealth and opportunity. Over the 6 days I ate wonderful and delicious asian food. I totally abandoned my grain free diet to indulge in this once in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy such great food. Szechwan, Ramen, Chinese… fantastic. I took my Flora Probiotics the whole trip and never had any stomach issues or even discomfort, which I am very happy about!
Yes, there is a lot of air pollution in Hong Kong, but I happen to not be sensitive to air quality and I was visiting during a relatively “good” air quality time. From my new friends Rudy and Pav who live in China, Hong Kong is not bad compared to the industrial Chinese cities. The stories from Pav and Rudy about industrial Chinese cities was horrific. The world has some real work with regards to cleaning up China’s pollution problems. It really is crushing to hear what happens in China with regards to pollution, it sort of squashes my spirit to worry about smaller pollution issues we face in North America.
Hong Kong is steep. To walk around parts of Hong Kong is exhausting, just tons of relentless stairs. There are great trails and plenty of forest around Hong Kong. Hong Kong is at an equivalent latitude of Miami, but not quite as warm (I’ve been told). Lots of dense sort of tropical looking trees and foliage. The trails in Hong Kong (and the region) frequently have asphalt and concrete sections, but the most distinguishing characteristic is the total lack of switch backs and the exclusive use of stairs. You couple the impressively steep hills and mountains around Hong Kong with the exclusive use of stairs vice switch backs and you create an Achilles’ worst nightmare.
The race had a number of great runners at the start, Pav (Russian who lives and races in China), Rudy (2013 White River 1st), Will (UK Salomon guy) and a few other pretty awesome runners. A majority of the climbing takes place in the first 20k and I did my best to take it relatively easy considering my recently healed Achilles. I was running just a minute behind Pav, Will and Rudy through the first hour. There was a premium at the top of the first massive climb, but it wasn’t easy to see where the top really was and by the time I realized where it was, it was too late to really make any moves. I do not exaggerate when I say that most all of the climbing was direct and via stairs, which I was loving… at the time. At the top I was less than 30 seconds behind Pav and Rudy running in third. I felt great going up and my Achilles was happy. I was building confidence in a great day on the trails with a good shot at a win. I mixed in my VitargoS2 and my energy levels were feeling great. The next section of the race was awesome. We followed ridge lines and cut through and around beautiful mountains with nice views of the bay and city. I did notice my quads were unhappy on the down hills due to my lack of mountain running over the last few months, but nothing I couldn’t handle over a 50k course.
The course boasts a bit less than 9,000ft of total climbing, which is a lot for a 50k, a 50k with no switchbacks and a majority of the climbing in the first 1/3. On the second major climb I could feel my Achilles. The Achilles wasn’t hurting, but it was unhappy. It didn’t take long for me to realize that unless I want to be set back a good month, I needed to stop racing. It has been a long while since I have had a DNF. Nobody likes to quit, but it really is hard to quit when you can keep going, feel great, traveled around the world for the event and are in the lead or in the hunt to win. I debated for a good half hour and in that half hour I comfortably caught and passed the leaders. At the next aid station just short of 20k I was met by Eric. I stopped, sat down and felt my Achilles as it didn’t hurt on the last descent. Quitting in front of friends is even harder and I decided maybe my Achilles was magically better and ran down the trail. A mile later I knew my Achilles wasn’t better, so I said fair well to my competitors and jogged back to the aid to catch a ferry back to the start.
This DNF was tough, but it was the right choice. In just over a month I travel to Patagonia for a 2 week expedition with my best friend Jeremy and Joel Wolpert to run and film around Torres Del Paine. I have too many people counting on me and too much money invested in the Patagonia project to totally throw it away on the last 30k of a race in Hong Kong. I honestly felt a good 50k run was in the cards for this trip, but I was mistaken. Had Hong Kong not been such a severe climbing course or had been just a week later, I am confident all would have turned out well.
The running in Hong Kong is worth a trip. The MSIG Lantau 50k is awesome and I recommend it. I look forward to returning to Hong Kong and redeeming myself.
Huge thanks is due. This trip was an amazing experience. I got a first class Hong Kong experience on this trip. Not only did I get support from my sponsors, Julbo and Hoka to make things a reality, I also was supported in a huge way by MSIG, Michael andAction Asia Events and by Auberge Hotel, an absolutely fantastic 5 Star Hotel in Discovery Bay which also happens to be the start and finish for the race. Thank you Eric LaHaie and Action X for being my tour guide and host along with your awesome friends Matt and Mary. Lastly, thank you Maggie, my wonderful wife, for making huge sacrifices to accommodate for me being away for this trip… I love you and you are the best.