Vertical Gain: 6,900M
Shoes: Asics Fuji Speed 2
Pack: Inov8 race belt
UTMB Index: 888
Recovery from UTMB had gone well. I was really tired and hungry in the first week, but I was able to start easy training after that, and was back into routine after 2 weeks. I think the combination of fuelling and pacing well during the race, and less inflammation (from cutting out dairy) were all factors in a better recovery.
I gradually built the running up to over 200km in the peak week. By using the bike I was able to ramp training back up much quicker than if I had only been running. I kept the gym work pretty consistent at around 2 hours per week, which I find is enough to see gradual improvements in strength.
Two keys sessions for me where 3x 500m of vert (on road) which totalled to 30km, and 3x600m of vert on trail (total 24km). These are hard sessions when you are fresh, but on both occasions they were done mid block when fatigue is already high.
I was just under 3 hours for the 3x v600m, but still 5 mins off my PB for that session from the end 2022. I knew I was in good shape, and could potentially get the win.
I flew out to Hong Kong from the UK, which was far more convenient with a direct flight. I spent a week before the race in an Air B and B near the start and was able to recce 90% of the course. The week before I arrived there had been major storms and flooding, so 10km of the course had been taken out. I was guilty of thinking that this would be a "softer" 100 miler as a result. On paper the course had a number of medium sized, steep climbs with runnable sections in between. The issue was that these climbs were largely all on a mixture of stone, concrete and wooden steps.
The resulting climbs felt steeper than they actually were, and the descents were much slower as you had to "tippy tap" on narrow steps, or carefully drop 2 at a time. Combined with some heat, humidity and Lantau wildlife made for quite a testing course.
My final session before the race was running the first "climb" (1.12km long with 244m of vert, "CMW Full Climb" on Strava) in full race kit, to try and get a feel for race pace. I pushed on the first rep (12:09 @ 159 bpm), and then eased back a bit on the 2nd rep (14:22@155bpm). The first felt like the effort for a 100km race and the 2nd felt more like 100M effort, so Ideally I would be in between. Incidentally
Big Jim Walmsley has the KOM of 8:35 which was part of a "fun run", LOL.
The start was at 10pm. Unfortunately it was probably the warmest and most humid night that week at 28c and 80%. I could see two of the top Chinese athletes (Jiaju Zhao and Yanqiao Yun) at the front but it looked like Ji Duo, who had beaten me at UTMB, and the man to watch, wasn't racing. We set off on road, and then onto a narrow concrete path leading to the first climb. I was at the front for the first few KM, but the Chinese athletes soon surged ahead at around 3:35/km pace. As we approached the first climb, I told Anders (who was my roommate in the race hotel) that the climb was about a 12 minute effort, but not to chase the runners ahead as this was a tactic I had seen before (surging to burn off runners).
Anders pushed on taking the lead on the climb, and I stuck to my rehearsed effort. My heart rate went way over 170bpm as I let runners go ahead of me. Either they were going too hard or they were all exceptional runners. I ran 12:27 for the 1.12km segment, which was perfectly in the range I had planned for. I honestly should have gone a few percent even slower, but thought I was at least limiting my losses. I retook 5th place on the descent and soon caught sight of the Chinese and Anders ahead. A Japanese runner was ahead of me as well, but he took a nasty fall, breaking his arm, and ultimately had to stop. After the others ran an extra 50m leaving the aid station, I was able to bridge up before the biggest climb of the race. Anders and the Chinese runners started screaming as they shot off again up the second climb (Anders later told me there was a massive python on the trail). Again I kept the effort steady and eventually made my way to the front of the race as we summited Sunset peak. The hot humid air had turned into smothering fog, a nice change from the heat but difficult for visibility. Down the other side on steep, stone, steps, up Lantau peak on even bigger stone steps, and down again to the big Buddha statue. This is where Yanqiao and I broke away and ran together to the 54km aid station. He was in and out quickly with crew their to support him. I took a few more minutes to get my drop bag, and grab some noodles. As I left I saw that we were over 35 minutes behind 15 hour pace (which was the prediction for the winner) so realised that this was going to be a longer race than expected, and that I would run out of food! My legs felt awful, but I tried my best to keep moving well to catch back up. It had been light for 2 hours, by the time I saw Yanqiao again, at around 85km. I ran directly behind him so that he wouldn't see me coming, while staring into the back of his head waiting for him to turn.
You can tell a lot as to how someone is feeling when you catch them off guard and see their eyes. Yanqiao's had the look of surrender.
It sounds bad, but you want to crush your opponents spirit at moments like this. As I passed, I patted Yanqiao on the shoulder and gave a thumbs up, as If trying to say "I'll take it from here". He graciously gave me praise of "well done" in return.
Shortly afterwards the sun disappeared behind dark clouds and the heavens opened. The wet conditions in the 2nd half of the race were a blessing for me. It made the going slower but it made it slower for everyone else as well. The difference was that I was now able to run without suffering from the heat. Yanqiao is much smaller than me (and good in the heat) but I knew from UTMB he struggles in the cold (he was running in a down jacket). I was severely dehydrated by this point, but the rain meant I stopped sweating and could catch up on hydration. The race was now mine to lose.
By 100km my running form was starting to look really ugly though, and I was out of my own race nutrition. At 110km I got a split that I was 30 mins ahead of Yanqiao, but the last section in and out of Discovery Bay was treacherous underfoot, so I didn't feel I could relax at all. I kept looking over my shoulder along the final stretch in Silvermine bay, not trusting my lead to be enough.
I ended up beating Yanqiao and Jiaju by over an hour which I never would have expected (Yanqiao and I were only 16 minutes apart at UTMB). I think partly this was down to me being fit, and partly the conditions being tough. Also the Chinese guys had both raced between UTMB and TransLantau! Importantly though I had guaranteed a place on the start line for UTMB 2024.
I actually folded and tucked away my poles when I wasn't on climbs, and think this made a big difference on the runnable sections of the course. Bye bye fixed poles for UTMB 2024.
Heart rate was key early on in the race. The heat and humidity meant it was much higher than I would have guessed. Also knowing what pace to run the first climb stopped me "burning too many matches".
I had splits for the checkpoints for a 15 hours 30 minutes finish time on my arm, to give me an idea of what to aim for. We were on track for this time at 20km, which shows that it was too fast a start. My legs were wrecked after 54km. There are segments on Strava in the 2nd half of the race were I was barely faster than the winning female Fuzhao Xiang (who finished 5th overall, just 1hr 29 mins behind me).
Overall I felt like it was a great performance, and an even better way to finish off an amazing year.