The Maclehose Trail – Its hard to believe that just 45 minutes away from the concrete jungle that HK is, lies this 100km long hiking trail that runs through some rugged peaks, some beautiful valleys, ocean coastlines and valley reservoirs. The trail itself is well marked and sign-posted, divided into 10 sections and connects eight country parks. This event instead of starting from Section 1 of the trail ended at Section 1, which basically meant that for participants of this event, the two big peaks on the trail came in the first 35km of the race. Not sure if this was good or bad – those rugged, rocky and steep peaks killed my legs right at the beginning but then if they were in the later part, I would have totally missed the views from top of the Needle Hill in the dark, maybe my ascent on those peaks was better with fresh leg but I anyways would have walked only, irrespective. In the end, does it matter – a 100km is a 100km from whichever direction !!
But that’s not the tough part of the event, it’s the many steps – some cemented and perfect, some cemented but broken, some just rocky slabs; and then the missing steps – where all we had were uneven rocky patches and hard tree roots!! See the pic on the right and you would know. We did get some road running, in the first 25km odd and the last 10 odd km, some running on muddy track in the forest below Eagles Nest, a good well lighted cemented track for about 6-7km beyond CP 8 and maybe some more soft track interspersed with the rocky climbs, but the trail is for someone who can manage the never ending steps and the technical patches.
The Plan – With the various niggles I had prior to this run and some serious knee pain, I had planned to take it easy, enjoy the trail, take it more as a run to practice some learnings from my last ultra – especially on night running, nutrition etc. There was nervousness on landing up for an event where I knew no one and on managing the night leg alone – but knowing that there are about 1000 of us, eased my nerves.
The Run (or The Walk) – I started easy with a plan to finish the run in about 21-22 hours. I had decided to not waste time at the aid stations, walk up and run down the inclines, continue to fuel myself well from the stuff I was carrying (wasn’t sure about the aid station food). The first 10 odd km was a “mild” and “soft” trail and then came the first big climb – thankfully all road and tree lined. A steep descent from there and we were climbing up to the next one through some beautiful grassy highlands onto the Grassy Hill and then the real race began – up the many steps to the Needle Hill!!! And that’s when I realized and understood what I had signed up for – the never ending steps and the rocky patches both on the ascent and descent from there on. It was a challenge to climb up anyways, but the usual “making up” on the descent didn’t happen as I had to ensure there was no mis-step, had to learn to break my speed covering those rocky patches or trails with big and huge tree roots on them. I still did manage to slip and land on my bum a couple of times – thankfully no wounds and scratches, just some blue bruises which are healing. And this continued all through the night – Heart beat going up as I would climb up - climb some steps and then take rest and start again; the descent didn’t bring any smile for the challenges it brought and finishing each such stretch on real wobbly legs !!!
It took me 26hr and 20mins to finish my 100k and so you can imagine what happened in those last 15km or the 4hrs 20mins. I just couldn’t climb up those damn steps – 5 steps, rest, 5 steps rest and so on. Maybe a 30-35 runners passed me on this incline. I would look up frustratingly for the hill to end and then put my head down to continue climbing up. The trial finally ended with the descent taking us to a beach, a few more inclines to hit the reservoir and the final stretch to the Finish.
What worked and what didn’t –
- I did not do race specific training. Infact, my training sucked but I should have added some step climbing in the little training that I did.
- I am now quite comfortable with my gear and comfortable carrying my stuff through the run. This event didn’t have any mid race drop bag facility and so all my “during the race” stuff went in my back pack.
- Niggles / Injuries are serious stuff. While I didn’t experience any knee pain but the back pain has flared up again. I have said this before and say it again – its important to reach the start line with no injuries and niggles.
- Gear check – Major Fail !!!