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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Last Race of the Year: AVOHK Reservoir Series (Tai Lam Chung) - 14 December 2014 - 15km

This was it.

My last race of the year.  And also my last trail race for a very, very, very long time.

I've come to enjoy hiking since I moved to Hong Kong and there are some truly fantastic trails and country parks here.  But racing through them is not for me.  No sir.  Not the mad scrambling up and down on rocks, narrow paths, streams, dodging overhanging branches, stomping on resting butterflies, swatting at mozzies, and punishing my knees and ankles just to see how fast I can finish (which is not all that speedy, but I digress.)  It didn't take much to discover that I'm more of a leisurely hiker - you know, the type that takes frequent "breathers" to gawk at the view, take loads of photos, and explore the flora, fauna and the odd wild boar along the way.  Yeah, I see only flat road races in my future running life.

So this last race of 2014 - which was a relatively "easy" 15km route around the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir - was my swan song in terms of trail racing.  Organized by AVOHK (Athletic Veterans of Hong Kong,) this race was the first of three in its annual Reservoir Series, and it was held on a brilliant blue-sky day at the country park that is just adjacent to the minimum security Tai Lam Correctional Institution, through which the runners had to walk to get to the starting point. 

We took the 7 a.m. shuttle bus provided by AVOHK from Peninsula Hotel to the reservoir.  The entire scenic journey took a little less than an hour.  I managed to take this quick shot of the Tsing Ma suspension bridge (the longest in the world that carries both rail and road traffic) past my dozing bus mate.
This is our course map.  We ran counter-clockwise in a loop starting near the southern tip of the reservoir.
First glimpse of the reservoir in the morning light.  This is also our starting point.

Can never stretch too much or too often before a race.
Slowing down to appreciate the gorgeous bougainvillea at around the 3km mark. Note that there's not a sign of the other runners.  That's because I'm pretty much at the back of the pack - as usual.

At every turn, we got to see the reservoir which was a handy marker.  It was a deliriously happy moment when I'd finished one length of it and could see the distance I had traversed.

This is around the halfway point; walking through a pretty bamboo thicket.

So this is it for my "marathon" year.

I'll write more about my 12-month experiences in my next post once I've sorted through my memory bank, hundreds of photos, and oh yes, those clunky kitschy medals I've amassed.

Watch this space, kawan kawan.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Bite-Size Review: Weekend Brunch at Al Molo Ristorante Italiano

I've dined at Al Molo for more than a half dozen times in the past couple of years.  Not because of the brand association with celeb chef Michael White (I'm a tad embarrassed to say he wasn't high on my culinary radar even though - name dropping alert - I've also brunched at his fine New York Michelin-starred establishment Ai Fiori at my favourite hotel in that city) but because the food and service at this Kowloon outpost have been nothing short of stellar during each and every occasion.  I know - that's a tough claim to make, but as it's not something I'm basing off a one-dine deal, I'm standing by it.

This is not Michael White, by the way.

Now, more often than not, I'm there for their weekend brunches.  For HKD338 (USD43) per person, I can have my fill of a complete antipasti selection of salads, soup, cured meats, cheeses, breads, tea or coffee, and one choice of a hot main dish, prepared a la minute.  Pony up another HKD128 (USD16,) unlimited sparkling, red and white wines are yours for the taking.  If all that is just too much, gastronomically and financially, there's a salad only option (HKD250 / USD32) which has all of the above, minus the beverages and the main dish.  All very good deals, especially considering the quality of the food which cannot be stressed too many times.  

Now that we have the costings and all its permutations out of the way, here are some snaps of the delish things I got to see and eat last weekend at Al Molo:

Fresh out of the oven : the pomodoro fresco pizza - from the main course section of the menu

The chefs keeping up with the insatiable brunchers.
Stuffed tomatoes, arancini (fried rice balls) and masses of olives.

Boards of pancetta and prosciutto, smoked salmon and parmigiano reggiano.

My main course of braciola - a generously sized grilled pork chop just the right side of pink with sauteed sweet corn and fried baby fennel. 

Finishing off with bombolini - a deep-fried, sugar dusted Italian donut filled with cream.  It's the European cousin to the Portuguese malasada (with an aloha shout out to Leonard's Bakery in Honolulu!) and possibly to the Boston cream donut (hey there, Tim Hortons!)  Yeah, these are pretty much my go-to pastries in the western world: all goodness and all decadence.

Al Molo Ristorante Italiano - Shop G63, G/F, Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong.
Telephone: +852 2730 7900.  Suitable for families with small children.
Reservations highly recommended.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Heifer Race To Feed Run - 2 November 2014 - 10K

Just a little of seven weeks ago, I'd signed up for my November run in the one of the northern country parks in Hong Kong's New Territories.  This is a part of Hong Kong that I rarely venture but should do so more often.  It's quiet and idyllic, and completely removed from the frenetic scenes of the city centre in the south.  On the early morning of 2 November, I joined a few hundred fellow runners to cover 10km at the "Race to Feed” event which is Heifer Hong Kong’s annual fundraiser. Since the first event in 2006, this Hong Kong chapter of the US-based organization has raised over HKD40 million (or USD5.1 million) to help thousands of poor farmers in rural China become self-reliant.

Stillness of the morning: Just a few hundred metres from the starting line at Lung Mei Beach.

One of the nice (and very convenient) aspects of this race was that the organizers had arranged for shuttles from various points in Kowloon and Hong Kong up to the country park.  That reduced the number of cars converging at this small area (not to mention time spent getting lost in the back roads) and   was totally in keeping with the organizers' laudable environmental protection theme this year.

The course started at Bradbury Jockey Club Youth Hostel and took us 800m along the Tai Mei Tuk Road, after which we made a sharp right and proceeded along Bride’s Pool Road to the Lion Pavilion at Chung Mei.  The turnaround point was just short of the famed Bride's Pool waterfall (a pity we missed it!) There were relatively steep hills throughout the first 5km of the course but the good news was that steep hills turn to downhill descents so I got to shave a few minutes off my run time and made it my personal best finish ever.

By the way, the calf in the photo above with me is a 3-D cutout.  I was "lucky" enough to get a solo shot prior to the race as that was one popular (and photogenic) cardboard calf that had scores of racers, their supporters and even local TV celebrities lining up to get their own snaps later in the morning. Go figure.

As seen at around the 1km mark heading into the Pat Sin Leng Country Park.

This was at the around the 5km turnaround mark.  This park is dotted with barbeque sites every few hundred metres, some of which have a direct view of the pretty Plover Cove Reservoir.

A total first but I guess it's totally in keeping with the eco-friendly vibe of the race: a volunteer handing our free packets of organic, locally-grown vegetables to racers after crossing the finish line.

My medal and my swag.  The little fan at the bottom right corner is a nice touch.  As were the foldable water bottle, buff and Perskindol therapeutic gels.
Lunching post-race at this packed food centre in neighbouring Tai Po Hui Cooked Food Centre (named one of Hong Kong's top 10 food centres) was an overwhelming experience.  This is the manic scene at just 10.30 a.m. - can't imagine what the lunch hour will look like.

Had to wait 30 minutes for this hearty bowl of vermicelli in soup with fishballs and deep fried fish skins.

Next race on 14 December 2014: AVOHK Reservoir 15km Race at Tai Lam Chung, Hong Kong.
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