I came, I ran, (I suffered), I conquered!

It has been 3 years since I crossed the finish line of my last triathlon, the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. I used to be a pretty serious long distance triathlete/runner; getting up at 6am every morning, training 7 days a week, racing every month. It was my passion, my life. I put that lifestyle on standby when I decided to live abroad. However, my inner competitive athlete recently surfaced, eager to face a new challenge, to cross a new finish line. This is when the idea of running my first ultra-marathon came up. Without thinking too much, I signed up for the Lantau 50, a 54km trail run on the beautiful Lantau island in Hong Kong. I had 2 months to prepare for a running course that is renowned to be one of the most difficult in Asia (something I was thankfully not aware of before the race!). Go big or go home..

Before my 24km trail run on Victoria Peak (Hong Kong)

Dongguan is unfortunately not the best city to train for an ultra-marathon. It’s a “normal” Chinese size city of 8 millions, where the pollution, the traffic and mostly the lack of trails made it difficult to prepare properly for this kind of race. I did the best I could with what I got: a few 40km+ runs (mostly on roads), one 24km trail running race in HK and lots of stairs repeat (living on the 25th floor of my building helped!). I still felt good leading up to the race.

The course consists of a 54km run along the very scenic Lantau trail, combining a variety of terrains (uphill, downhill, natural trails, stone steps, wooden stairs, roads) and going over the island’s highest peaks, Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak, for a total elevation gain of 3,500m. To put it briefly, Lantau 50 was NOT what I expected! It was much hillier, much longer and much harder than what I have imagined! Regardless, I crossed the finish line in 9h06, completely exhausted, but extremely proud of myself. Since it was my first ultra, I didn’t have much expectations except to finish. I learned a lot from that race, and one thing I surely know: it definitely won’t be the last one!

What I nailed:

-Pacing: This is one of my strength in training and races. I knew it would be a long day so I hold back for the first half of the race, I took it easy on the uphill, ran the downhills and still managed to ‘sprint’ the last km’s of the race!

-Nutrition: I ate and drank constantly, making sure I was well hydrated and that I kept that sugar level up! And I saved my favourite treat (a Snickers bar) for that last endless hour!

-Positive attitude: Just like an Ironman, an ultra-marathon requires as much physical than mental strength. I knew I would go through a rollercoaster of emotions. In those moments of doubts and weakness, my plan was to slow down if needed (but never dare to stop!), find a positive distraction (listen to music, chat with another runner, enjoy the scenery), look ahead and keep on running and running until that finish line.

What I could have done better:

-Train by time and not by distance (my longest training run of 4h didn’t help much for my 9h race!)

-There is no such thing as doing too much hill or stair repeats! (Especially for races in Hong Kong!)

-Get proper trail running shoes! (I not only destroyed my poor little running shoes but my feet were blistered and sore for over a week!)

-Duct tape does not fix everything! (I had to get a new camelback after mine fell apart…)

So, what’s next? A 100km 3 day ultra-marathon in Lijiang (Yunnan province in China) in April! Time to hit the trails!

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

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