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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Conquering Lantau Vertical - 21 September 2014 - 7km (+ 4km)

There is something to be said about blind optimism and having a Pollyanna outlook on life.  This trait has served me well for the most part; otherwise, I wouldn't have done even half of the crazy stunts I've dreamed of and pulled in the past.

Case in point: Signing up for the inaugural and strenuously grueling 7km trail race - the Lantau Vertical - up a peak of nearly a kilometer into the sky.  In the hot Hong Kong summer.  With pretty much zero training beforehand.

Now a lot of people may not know this, but Hong Kong is teeming with fantastic marked trails throughout its mountainous territory.  This particular one starting from Shek Pik Reservoir near Tung Chung on Lantau Island, goes upwards gradually for about five kilometers and, for the last two, consists of steep, knee-high rocky steps to Lantau Peak, a lofty 934 meters in total.

I HAD to take a photo of my shoe (guess which one's mine?), my colleague Chris', and his hardcore trail racing buddy Sean's wafer thin sandal.

Now the first five kilometers were sneakily deceptive.  The slope was so gradual that I almost didn't even realize I was going higher and farther up the range; the trail was broad, shaded, flat and for the most part, decorated with artfully fallen twigs, leaves and the occasional trickling stream.  The view of the mountain range, reservoir and the sea beyond was a welcome plus, and as were the slightly cooler temperature and breeze.  It was such a pleasant hike/run that I contemplated adding it to my little repertoire of easy-trails-to-revisit and later introducing it to my friends and family in the cooler months.

But right after I hit that five-kilometer checkpoint - in the immortal words of Abe Lincoln - the shit suddenly got real.

Note the broad canopied trail on the left going up Lantau Peak, and the open, narrow, rocky one going down.

The last two kilometers up to the summit of Lantau Peak was, to put it simply, brutal.

I didn't even have the physical or mental energy to take photos of those narrow yet two-feet high steps that seemed to stretch to the heavens above.  And those steps? There weren't even enough space for two people to stand together, which made the whole exercise of letting people pass me by (forwards and backwards) a stressful chore.  I'm in no way embarrassed to admit that it took me a little over an hour to cover those two kilometers, and that for the very, very first time, I gave serious consideration to quitting.  But this was not like one of my other city marathons...there was no Starbucks to duck into or a cab I could hail back to the hotel.  Due to the fact that I was stuck committed to finishing the race, I trudged onwards and upwards, pausing and grabbing at overgrown weeds for support, and taking deep gulps of breath after every 10 steps.  And finally, yes I blessedly made it to the top - much to the obvious relief of the three race organizers/volunteers who had to hang around to check me in - the last racer - before they could pack up and scurry down the mountain.

Which brings me to, oh yes, the descent.

That's the beaming smile of one who has no inkling of the world of (more) pain that lay ahead

My colleague Chris (who'd scaled the summit a good 90 minutes ahead of me) text-ed to say that, a) he had also seriously thought about quitting on those steps up to the top, and that b) no matter what a killer experience it was to get to the peak, that was nothing compared to what I'll experience coming down.

And even with that ominous warning, I clung to the feeble hope that he was just pulling my aching leg with some warped, post-race, psych-out humour.  I mean, it couldn't be that much harder than heaving myself up a mountain for the past few hours.  Could it?

It turned so could.

To put it in the best possible terms, going down Lantau Peak was an agonizing and interminable four kilometer crawl which took another long, drawn out hour and 45 minutes.  To add insult to injury, I was frequently overtaken by hikers who must have centaur blood from the way they bounced from one dangerously, uneven rocky step to another.  I, on the other hand, moved gingerly at sloth-like pace, using my outstretched arms for balance, and tested each step and rock before putting my considerable weight on them.  At several points, I even had to step down sideways to alleviate the growing soreness in my knees.  And also in my calves, ankles, toes, upper thighs and lower back.

Suffice to say, I made it back to relatively flat land to tell this tale of woe, physical ineptitude, unbridled positivity and blinkered determination.  Pardon the pun, but the organizers had created this amazing trailblazing race with the Lantau Vertical, but now that I know my limitations, I'll stick to "regular" road races and avoid these manic trail runs in the future.  To paraphrase my cousin Evelyn, my knees will thank me for it.

Now although I said I didn't take photos of that steep climb, I did however manage to shoot enough little video snippets to put together this mini-video.  Enjoy.


Monday, September 22, 2014

SAFRA Singapore Bay Run - 31 August 2014 - 10K

I must admit that I was initially intimidated by the fact that this race was jointly organized by the Singapore Armed Forces and SAFRA - which meant that it would be filled with tens of thousands of their able-bodied, testosterone-filled enlisted and reservist soldiers.  Now, it's not like I harboured any grand illusions that I was going to sprint miles ahead of them, but dear God, I didn't want to be dead last either - staggering to the finish line only to find everyone long gone including the volunteers and ubiquitous road sweepers.

It turned out, however, to be so nothing like that.  In fact, it was one of those rare races where the majority of participants walked almost the entire way, and at selected points, even took shortcuts as if they were not in a race at all.  Heck, I even finished ahead of more than 1000 racers...a pretty good result especially considering I'm used to being routinely overtaken by septuagenarians (Okinawa was an especially humbling experience in this regard.) But of all this I had no idea when I got to the starting point on the Esplanade bridge at the crack of dawn (with my visiting parents in tow as cheerleaders.)


I did, however, have an inkling that things were going to be little off, even before the start time of 7 a.m.  For the very first time in my short racing history, we were flagged off about 10 minutes after our designated time because of the startling fact that the local politician who was to do the honours, was tardy.  Yes, he was late.  As in, not on time.  This is especially galling since we're talking about Singapore here; I mean, not once in the other races in which I've participated have had this happen before.  And this was not just some neighbourhood fun run either; this race was organized by the nation's army and SAFRA.  And the guy flagging us off had an issue with punctuality. 

More waiting

And we're off!

This is the scene just after our 1km mark which was where I saw several groups of young National Service (NS) men taking their first shortcut through the Lau Pa Sat food centre.  Or rather, they tried to, but one of the exits was blocked and they had to do the run of shame back to where they'd cut in.  Unbelievable.

At the 3km mark just in front of Marina Bay Sands looking back at the city skyline bathed in the morning rays.

Slowing down the pace

The route was not ideal as there was a whole lot of bottlenecking going on at various points.  The first was at the steps to the east of Marina Bay Sands heading towards Helix Bridge, and again, under the Nicoll Highway bridge.

The only interesting part of the course was to get to run on part of the same track allocated to the F1 Grand Prix which would be held three weeks later.

This was the section where I saw dozens of young men (and a few young women) blithely shaving off almost two kilometers by cutting across the grass "divider" to join the crowd running back towards the finishing point.  Dishonest, much?

Medics on standby

Glad my jet-lagged parents were there to see Charles and me off at dawn, and to cheer us at the finish line.

The only thing that was above and beyond my other races was the post-event comprehensive stats on how I did in my run - see below pictures.  It's neat to know where I stood in relation to the other segmented runners, and even where I was when the winner was declared (not surprisingly, I was only a third way of the way through when that happened.)  But overall, I gotta say that the race was a bit of a disappointing dud.  A late start combined with severe chokepoints and downright cheating unfortunately made this Singapore Bay Run definitely not one to be recommended or repeated.


My Go-To Pastry Fix

Next to the baked sesame seed red bean bun, this tuna melt danish is my go-to pastry 
at Simply Life (or anywhere else that do them right.) 

Photo taken with my Samsung S5 phone. No filter added.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Adelaide Running Festival - 24 August 2014 - 21K

I've been to Adelaide more times than any other city in Australia, but as I have always been driven around in a car, taking part in their Running Festival last month was my very first time hoofing it around its landmarks.  And, might I add, at an hour way, way before 11 am.

But by the graces of low mileage redemption on Cathay Pacific, a red eye flight and a potentially long weekend, I cobbled together enough points and hours to make it worth my while to fly to the fifth largest city in the continent. Along the way, I managed to persuade my Shiraz-imbibing, uber cool radiologist cousin Evelyn to slog the half marathon with me.  She'd never participated in a marathon before and there she was, ready and raring to go. All 21 kilometers.  Starting at 7.50 a.m.  On a Sunday. gotta love 'em. 

Early morning rays on the Adelaide Oval

I have to say that Evelyn was way more excited than me about starting and ending the race at this new-ish city landmark called the Adelaide Oval.  Apparently, this stadium is the place for football, rugby, and cricket matches.  As if it needed extra street cred, it is also the venue for the postponed Rolling Stones concert, now re-scheduled to give their fans some long-awaited satisfaction on 25 October, 2014. 

So when we started the race, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the birds were chirping (maybe... I wasn't 100% sure as I had Elvis rumbling in my ears.)  But at around the 2k mark, we encountered this dense fog (which we initially thought was whipped-up dust from the hospital construction site along our route) that lasted for the next 6 kilometers or so.  Gave off quite the surreal English countryside Mr. Darcy-marching-through-the-moor vibe too.

Running alongside North Adelaide Golf Course at the 12k mark

The very pretty River Torrens

Aside from one section in the half-marathon route that took us through a well-manicured suburb near the tony North Adelaide Golf Course, we didn't have to double back much which is always a welcome respite.  Like I said, the mist lifted after an hour, and we got to run by the famed River Torrens, past the Rowing Club, Botanic Gardens and of course, my favourite attraction in any city, the zoo (in Adelaide, it's Australia's second oldest and features two relatively active pandas, Wang Wang and Funi.)

Wang Wang (or Funi.)

The only decent running shot of me all year.  Taken around the 19K mark.  My feet were killing me by then.
My running buddy Evelyn

We bought these gels from a pro bike shop, thinking we'd need some extra boost in our energy levels during our run, but they tasted so incredibly foul that we tossed them away.  Not recommended AT ALL.

Overall, the route was good, the weather fantastic, and the organizers peppy.  The only one who wasn't quite up to the race was me, and it showed.  I came in almost dead last amongst my set, and whilst I could blame it on my shoes (I didn't wear the ones I normally raced in, and my toes and arches paid for that oversight dearly,) it had more to do with the fact that I wasn't prepared, physically and mentally.  After running so many 10k races, working through more than twice the distance in Adelaide was, to state the very obvious, damn hard work

But of course, just like in all my previous races, all that teeth-gnashing, profuse sweating, and the semi-delirious walking limp I'd developed for 21 kilometers faded away like ants near a puddle of bleach the moment I crossed the finish line and collected my next pastel-coloured medal.  Heck, I was already looking forward to my next challenge:

The Safra Singapore Bay Run (10K) & Army Half Marathon to be held on the following weekend.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

3 Races in 3 Weeks in 3 Countries

Maybe it was the crazy push-pull combination of the record-shattering Hong Kong heatwave, the lure of low summer airfares and mileage redemptions, and my insatiable desire to amass cheap plastic tokens, but lord help me, I went berserk and signed up for three races (two 10K, one 21K) in three destinations (Siem Reap, Cambodia; Adelaide, Australia; Singapore) in three consecutive weeks in August.

More details of this madness to follow in subsequent posts.
Watch this space.

Three more for the collection: What I got for finishing the races in (from left to right) Siem Reap, Adelaide, and Singapore.

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