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..
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!