Adventures, Races, Kit and Life
Sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you are not ( like broken necks ). On this occasion LUCKY ! A change of date to the Moontreker meant that one member of an elite team was no longer able to make it. It just so happened that I was free and eagerly jumped at the opportunity to fill his trail shoes.
For me it was perfect for a number of reasons. As a new dad my wife had imposed understandable restrictions, limiting me to HK based races, and within Hong Kong this was a good, no, a great race to get excited about. It provided the opportunity to run with a team, and a fast team at that and last but not least, the team was sponsored by Teva, which meant a pile of free fancy looking high spec running kit. I was keen as mustard !
As a change from the normal ipod dependent solo slogs, I was really looking forward to running as part of a team. The dynamics are very different and you really do need to work together to succeed, as your positioning is only as good as the last team member to cross the line. This is even more so when you are part of a fast team with high ambitions. Predominantly ex HKFC rugby lads ( now slimmed down to elite endurance form ) the banter also promised to be entertaining. The Mission was simple – to win the team event.
The team was sponsored by Teva, who had generously kitted us out in some bright coloured 2XU kit. It was tight, very, very tight ! ( much of this was due to Wazza, the captains streamlining plan ). It was not something I’d run in as an individual, but there is safety in numbers… Even with that, not something a team would run in, unless they were confident they were contenders for podium ! Bright green ( something to do with South Africa ) cut off shoulders and super tight, I would not be hanging around the public toilets!
Last year the race winner, Jeremy Richie, had dashed over the line in a hybrid gazelle/mountain goat-esque 4.10mins and the fastest team trotted in in about 5.15mins, which gave us an idea of how fast we need to move our lycra clad selves.
“Barclay’s Moontreker” is an organized hike that raises sponsorship money for nominated charities such as Nepalese based “Room to Read”. The event has grown incredibly over the last four years with significant sums being raised as the numbers competing increase and also the racing element becomes much more serious.
The marathon length trail run starts at 9pm, and is run on single track nearly all of the way. The track is pretty treacherous underfoot and punctuated by jagged rocks and hundreds of gnarly roots ( that look like snakes ), all trying to grab onto your toes, and we saw many runners sprawled across the floor, spitting out a mouthful of dirt ! The final challenge that makes it particularly treacherous is the fact that the entire event is run at night.
As well as a Darkness and dubious footing, there is a broad variety of nature lurking too ! We heard reports of snakes and enormous spiders ( like in Lord of the Rings ) that had slowed some runners down, and ourselves encountered some bizarrely huge worms, that seemed to come out to wriggle in our way …. On a positive side, the cool night time conditions would actually be great for running.
Time was short and schedules busy as always, and we managed just 2 training runs sort of as a team, with 2-3 of us. A sort of good base for the race.
Last minute stretches…
The race started
There was a fast 1km section through Mui Wo, which we were careful not to shoot off too fast on, basically to manage the lactic acid levels in the legs. This then led us onto the Chi Mah Wan mountain biking Trail, a 20 km meandering single track route, fast in places and very technical in other’s.
As Dingles, our largest team member, just ahead of me tripped frequently on rocks and roots, I quickly realised that as a team of four, running across this treacherous terrain, it actually meant that there was four times as much chance of any of us getting injured en route. “Snake ! Sorry just a root”. This threat, was balanced by the merits of team running, the combined self control, pacing and witty banter, motivating the team mates.
I was also reminded of the importance of having a high quality head torch, as this could make a significant difference to your visibility of the trail ahead. I remembered thinking of bringing hand torch as well as my head torch, but I’d forgotten it as I rushed to pack. I also cursed myself for not having loaded torch with brand-new batteries that the event. Schoolboy error !
We were cruising at a great pace and eating up the trail. Wazza employed mature team management tactics and skillfully led from the back, ensuring that we did not get sucked into the initial adrenaline fuelled excitement and charge off too quickly. We needed to save enough energy for the trials of the steep 600m climb up the huge Lantau peak, in about three hours time. The teamwork was fantastic, and we cruised along at a really comfortable pace. It was very vocal with the point man, mainly Alistair ( who knew the trail like the back of his hand as he’d biked it so many times ) shouting out the various obstacles, “rock, root, gully”, so that the teammates close behind were not caught out.
Having paced ourselves carefully we were soon catching and then overtaking many of the solitary runners, which was very satisfying and added to the already high adrenaline levels and positive energy. All of a sudden out of the darkness we spotted our target team ( well their bright pink socks anyway ). We dropped into stealth mode and the language cunningly switched to Afrikaans ( which was a bit of an issue for myself as the only non Saffer ).
Just as we were about to break stealth mode and pounce, there was crashing noise, quickly followed by some particularly loud language that I won’t repeat ! We turned to see Wazza, who had just gone head over heels on the gravely descent. He pulled various chunks of stone from his leg and had a nasty gash to the knee. It was not good but figured him tough enough and pushed on.
We were still hungry for the lead and as we approached a slight incline, figured we had both the power and a tactical advantage and we shuffled past the other team. Unfortunately we hadn’t appreciated that Wazza was struggling with his knee, now a little isolated at the back and physically forcing himself onwards at the fast pace needed to overtake, but actually stumbling and tripping much more because of it. It was not sustainable and the little pink socked chaps managed to mount a counter attack. We reshuffled our running order to put Wazza at the front and filled him with an array of drugs to keep him rattling along the trail and to scare off any monsters.
The checkpoint and support station at the end of the Sunset Peak contour trail was a very welcome sight ! Our support guys were fantastic and we stocked up with sandwiches, fruit and sweets and were ready to run again.
The next big challenge was the Lantau Peak climb which starts with a long gentle incline, runnable in places and then builds up into a long monotonous plod up the uneven staircase that ascends 500m up to Peak. Despite it being a long slog of a climb, it actually seemed to go by pretty quick. The stars were out and the night time views were great on the few occasions that you managed to raise your eyes from the staircase in front of you. It was a couple of degrees cooler and there was a strong breeze at the top which was refreshing and helped to keep us moving. It was great to reach the top but no time to waste.
The final challenge of Sunset peak, 35km into the race.
I had personally been dreading the descent far more, as it’s much tougher on the knees. All the drugs had long since settled into Wazza’s system and he was off at pace, chirping away as he went. Alistair trotted comfortably after him, leaving Paul and I, the 2 heaviest team mates a little further behind, trying to proactively manage the impact of the descent on our joints. The hardest section for me was the long, steep descent on the concrete road that meandered down towards the finish where I needed to keep the brakes on the whole way.
The descent was soon over and we shuffled over the finish line at 2.18am, having taken 5hours and 18mins. A touch slower than we had hoped ( circa 5 hours ) but still enough to win our team category. Mission accomplished !
It was time to chill, stretch and refuel. The Moontreker finish was incredibly well organized with a variety of different places to get food and even milkshakes, plenty of places to sit, relax and areas to stretch. It was great to catch up with the solo runners and exchange race stories.
It had been a fantastic race ! Definitely more fun for a little adversity !