What I learnt …

Posted on November 18, 2012

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This weekend I did Hong Kong’s Oxfam Trailwalker Race … a stunning 100km route in one of the world’s greatest cities and where this iconic series all began. Returning home after the race I thought, as I always do, what my top takeaways were … what I learnt and what I should have known.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  • It is not necessarily a hindrance to NOT know the course / route. My team and most others trained often on them.  I opted instead for my usual little sand-based excursions in Dubai, normally pack on back and list of errands in tow … that and my much-loved stair-climbing in Media City’s Twin Towers. I welcomed this and found there was always an element of surprise and wonder. The views from the top of some mountain ridges were nothing short of spectacular … truly stunning … which made me fall even more in love with this place and realise just how big HK is.  There is apparently life beyond The Peak?!
  • Support crews are complete legends … Roger, Fi, Pete … you were quietly efficient, super supportive, über motivating, helpful, kind, encouraging and just total rockstars. I find it hard to think of a single thing you might have done better.
  • Ditto with Rob and Jimmy (whose company, Runnermuck, sponsored our team) and who ran with us later on. The jokes may have been horrendous but the company was marvellous!
  • The volunteers at checkpoints were also great, plying us with hot drinks when needing some warmth and shelter from the horizontal rain. I never ever want to see another jam sandwich however, made with stodgy white bread and e-number-tastic radioactive jam.
  • Team dynamics are really important.  The four of us had never trained together and in fact we’re sort of two duos.  Rachel is my partner in crime and Claire and Alex are bosom buddies. It worked.  Despite being on the trails, much of which was in the dark, with torrential downpour, strong winds, mammoth and hugely technical ascents and descents for 22 hours, never mind the sleep deprivation this brings AND us being four super strong characters, not once was a bad word spoken. Our team worked a dream … which was largely due to having a phenomenal team leader. Thank you RJ!
  • I guess another advantage here was that we had so much to learn about each other. Claire and Alex got to question me in great detail about my love, life and everything in between … and I, as always, was an open book.
  • You can also never have a too glamorous team. I never understand why so many girls who do these races suddenly forget that they too should have regular mani / pedi’s, a lash of mascara and a swipe of gloss on their lips. Honestly!  On arrival at the start line, I was delighted to see not only myself in my signature pearls but Alex wearing her Cartier love bangle and Claire in a rock big enough to buy us a rescue if needed. And RJ?  Well, she shines enough already.
  • Remember always that it gets better when the sun comes up. No matter how wet, cold or tired you might get during the night, everything feels better when the sun rises … remember my post, After darkness comes dawn? Yet another reason why long distance running is the best metaphor for life.
  • Bungee rope is THE best thing to support team members in need of a bit of a tow … of course, my back might disagree after doing it for so long as thanks to the carabiner attached to my pack putting pressure on my back, I look like I’ve been beaten up.
  • In terms of Trailwalker itself, I had long wondered why it takes so long to cover just 100km?  Why, bar the top pros who dedicate their lives to this sport, are teams commonly taking 24 hours to complete it? The name, I guess, says it all.  There are few runnable sections … technical ascents and descents prevail and much of these on crazy steep concrete steps etched into the mountainside. Of course, weather conditions as well as the 12-hour stint of darkness didn’t help. So should you find yourself signing next year, get an early start and not a charity start like we had … this way you minimise the hours in darkness and avoid crazy long queues on single track trails.
  • Have a strategy re who decides who is off the race.  If working in a foursome, things might go wrong for one individual which could end the race for the entire team.  The thing is, when sick / tired / delusional / exhausted, it becomes difficult to be rational. So our strategy was that the team could pull you out of the race if they felt that was the best decision. And if that were to happen, there was to be no arguments / tears nor tantrums.
  • Too much compression is a bad thing. I’m still never quite sure where exactly I sit on the compression fence but I type this wearing some pants now so clearly, I have some belief! Alex, in our team, complained of no feeling in her leg within the first hour of the race.  Not good … but after much analysis and debate combined with her normally slim ankle starting to burst out between her sock and calf guard, resembling a gourmet sausage, we realised, the compression was perhaps too tight!
  • Never forget tums.  GI issues will always affect at least one of the four, especially in an event this long.
  • Do not listen to marshalls when they tell you how many kilometres remain.  I swear we must have covered 105km. And the look on the faces of my team when I ran back to say, ‘here’s the finish guys’, only to realise that the flags denoted ‘last 700m’ will remain forever etched.
  • Finally, have someone send you motivational text messages … this lifts you up no end.  Better still, have them send motivational messages combined with words that make your heart melt. I loved mine … thank you x

I write this the morning after the day before, excited to be in HK and delighted at the prospect of a day of post-race retail therapy … the perfect complement to my pre-race retail therapy. In fact, when in a shopping haven like this, one has to wonder, why bother with the race full stop?!

Till the next

x

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