Months before the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon on 20 February 2011, I was told that it's one of the toughest terrains in the region. I have a kind of phobia of slopes because I simply suck big time on undulating terrains. But I've come to realise that I can't possibly limit my scope of marathon venues to only flat routes. So when I signed up for the Hong Kong Marathon, the slope factor has always been a major concern at the back of my mind.
Nevertheless, the marathoner must experience the slopes himself to truly appreciate the punishing terrains. The climbs can last for kilometres each, through several bridges and tunnels across the sea. Not to mention the biting cold, especially when the wind blew.
The weather in Hong Kong at this time of the year is quite cold, ranging between 13C to 17C. That's not terrifyingly cold, really, but for people like me, that is quite enough to make me dislike the place!
On the eve of the race, we went to the race pack collection centre, which was also the finish venue of the race. I've been to several races before Hong Kong, but this was the first time I ran a race where the starting and finishing venues were not in the same place.
Group photo taken just at the final 100m to the finish line. From left to right: Ong Wei Diong, yours truly, Dr Liaw Yun Haw, Dr Helen Lasimbang, Dolly Phan, Teo Chen Lung, Andrew Voon, Dr Joseph Lau.
After we collected our race packs, Teo and Diong, who registered for the half marathon race decided to "upgrade" to the full marathon upon our "encouragement" and "persuasion".
And so, both of them ended up with 2 race packs each—one for the half marathon, and another for the full marathon. Amazing what people can end up doing when their pride is at stake.
On the morning of the race, I finally decided to just wear a running vest and the long 2XU Compression tights that I've worn in several other races before this. We took the train to the race venue on the other side of Hong Kong. On the way there, I had a sweater to protect my body from the cold.
Immediately upon arrival at the race venue, I got separated from my friends. But I found my way to the bag deposit truck where I bumped into CP Tan, a friend from KL. I took off my sweater and deposited my bag, and gradually found my way to the starting line. There I met Kevin Yuen.
Shortly after the flag off, I began to feel my body warming up, but my fingers were still very cold. After the few weeks of tapering, rest and carbo-loading, I felt very strong. The morning before the race, I ran a 4km slow 6min/km on a treadmill in the hotel. So I was very fresh on the morning of the race. I ran the first few kilometres with Kevin, until I realised that I shouldn't be running his pace even though I felt strong enough for it. Amazing how the cold temperature can make the body feel stronger!
I forced myself to slow down, and saw Kevin gradually pulling away. As we were approaching the Stonecutters Bridge, Dr Joseph, coming from behind tapped me on my shoulder. And then shortly after that Dr Liaw, too, overtook me. Apparently, they started from way behind in the crowd. Feeling very strong, I was tempted to run faster, but thinking of the many slopes ahead, I carefully controlled my excitement.
Then the fist climb to the bridge that seemed unending. And then somebody must have switched on the fan. For the wind that blew then made me shiver and my fingers felt numb. And then it began to drizzle. Thankfully, however, the drizzle was only for a few minutes.
Shortly after the bridge, we found ourselves in the tunnel. Emerging on the other side, we made a sharp turn to the Tsing Ma Bridge. Approaching the end of that bridge, I saw Kevin and Dr Joseph running together from the other side. Seeing a drink station ahead, I downed a power gel, just in time to follow with water at the drink station.
I wasn't really paying attention to the time, but as I approached the half way mark, I was fairly alarmed to see 1:56 on my stopwatch. And then I was later shocked to know from the official result that I actually finished the half marathon within 1:52:49, easily my personal best!
Although I was running beyond my intended pace, I maintained that pace anyway since I felt I wasn't really pushing myself too hard. Another power gel and another tunnel later, I emerged at the Tsing Kwai Highway.
I thought I was cruising comfortably as I was approaching the Vitoria Harbour when I suddenly felt a slight twitch on my quads and calves. And I knew that I was in trouble. That was the first sign of the impending "wall". I reduced my pace to perhaps 6min/km for the first time throughout the race in the hope of preventing cramps in my legs. But passing the 30km mark, I noticed about 2:47 on my stopwatch. And then I became greedy again. I had come to Hong Kong seeking to achieve a personal best of 4:30. But now, calculating in my mind, I realised that if I could maintain an average of approximately 6min/km for the rest of the distance, I might just pull a sub-4 hrs! So I increased my pace again, going into the Western Harbour Tunnel.
Emerging on the other side, however, I was devastated to see a sharp climb and slanting loop of the flyover. And then suddenly the dreaded cramps happened just then. I was reduced to a walk, but I tried to fight on. A few more sharp climbs within those last few kilometres, but by then I was averaging 7 to 8 minutes per km. As I was approaching the Wan Chai vicinity, it was clear that the sub-4 dream was not meant to be. This photo below was taken within the last 1km of the finish line. I was probably running at 6min/km pace. People were cheering from the sidelines, cameras clicking frantically, thousands upon thousands of people watching.
And then finally, I saw the finish line ahead. I was so glad to cross the finish line in what must be the toughest marathon I've joined so far.
Official Time: 04:08:08
Net Time: 04:07:30
10km Time: 00:56:14
Half Way (21.1km) Time: 01:52:49
30km Time: 02:47:16
An outrageous personal best time that I've never even imagined of achieving! But now that I have achieved it, I'm beginning to wonder if a sub-4 hrs is doable after all?
The rest all finished, and most of them achieved personal best too. Diong ended up beating Teo, so we're all waiting for Teo to reward Diong. That afternoon, we celebrated with a ridiculous amount of dim sum in a nearby restaurant. Perhaps because of the excitement, we ordered so much that we were unable to finish the food in the end.
And then, if that's not enough, later that night we went for dinner hosted by Diong's brother. Food, food and more food. I think by now we have far over-replenished the 3,500 calories we burned during the race!
So glad to be home again and out of that horrible frozen hell! But now there are talks of going back to Hong Kong again next year in an attempt to improve on our respective performances! Bring it on!