My legs hurt. It has been more than 48 hours. I am going to have to do something about it. Possibly go on a long walk or take up yoga.
On Sunday morning at 8 AM, P and I started running. The race started in Tung Chung on Lantau, roughly sea level, and the course proceeded over two of the three tallest mountains in Hong Kong. We jogged the first few kilometers, which were mostly flat, and then at the trail head the first real bottleneck happened. A crowd of people waited to begin the stone steps up the mountain.
We were forced to take the stairs at a slow march, thankfully. Sometimes one at a time, waiting until we could move faster. My legs had not yet begun to hurt. We eventually broke through the tree-line and saw our first target: Sunset Peak. I hadn’t climbed Sunset before, so I was pleased with my first 869 meters. The people around us on this run were fully decked out in day-hike gear: back packs, hiking sticks, hats with shade flaps, cameras. We had our running belts with two bottles, a couple goo packets, and a borrowed GoPro camera (thanks J.F.!). We were surrounded by very athletic looking people of all varieties. They were well prepared for a reason: 1705 m of elevation gain over the 21k course with two water stops.
I made it a point to finish the water on my back before the first water stop, and then again before the last water stop, so I could refill and maintain hydration.
I was a little tired and bruised from tripping on some rocks after the first peak, but ready to go. I got some antiseptic, refilled my water, and psyched myself up for the biggest climb. We climbed it slowly, steadily. Not pushing past people if we didn’t have to. We marched past casual hikers going the other way; they were trying to use the beautiful weather for a peaceful hike away from the crowds. Poor hikers. We said thanks, have a good morning! We passed people taking rests, catching their breath while sitting on the stone steps and downing their Gatorade. The path flattened out, then more steps, then more steps. When we finally reached the peak, officials recorded our numbers as we passed. We sat on a rock outcrop to enjoy the view, to breathe.
The relief was palpable. Now we just had to go downhill. So we began.
We found that we also were running with some acquaintances from South Lantau, and as we ran through the course we occasionally said hello, and even finished with them. We helped motivate each other to actually move our legs. From the peak, it was 1.5 k to Nnong Ping; I was so excited. I clearly had not studied the course map thoroughly. We got to the second and final water stop: 9k to go.
It’s okay, we thought, it’s all downhill!
Oh no. It was not okay. The first section was relatively flat and reasonable, some jogging, some walking. We all went the same pace as the person in the front. Single track trails are made for walking. By the time we got to the cable cars, we were single file and, we thought, ready to run. We turned downhill onto the boardwalk hiking trail that runs under the funicular up the mountain. As we ran down hill or down stairs, the previous climbs and descents clearly took its toll. The faster I ran, the less control I had. I took stairs at a walk; on narrow steps I clung to the railings; on slopes I tried to slow myself down in case I had trouble stopping. It was fine, but it hurt. My hips were screaming, my quads were shacking, my calves were absorbing all the impact. It was at this point that I decided I should have trained more seriously. It is a trail that I have wanted to do ever since I saw it the first time from the cable cars. It is gorgeous. A boardwalk along the side of a mountain through trees. It is also horrible.
We just kept hoping for the end. After one final climb up another interminable staircase, we were informed by a lovely man that it was 2k downhill and 2k flat! We could see the buildings of Tung Chung, the tops were almost at eye level. We just had to get down the equivalent of 40 flights of stairs then run to town.
When the ground flattened out again, at long last, we ran into people we knew, and jogged and walked and panted our way to the finish. Someone told me we had 1k to go, and I despaired, “that is so far.” They claimed I could do it. I walked a little after that. The four of us managed to run our way into town, finishing in just over 5 hours.
I am doing my best to avoid stairs for the time being. Truly, it was incredibly fun. We climbed two mountains, ran a half marathon, did new hiking trails, all in the best October weather imaginable. We went to friends’ after and cooked a leg of lamb to celebrate. We did our best not to move off of a sofa. Even though walking is now difficult, I shall endeavor to do better next time.