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 out....it 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.
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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.


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