Sunday, December 19, 2010

KOTH - Sham Tseng Mountain Marathon 37k


I will say that I really don't like being late for races. Especially when it can be really unavoided. I was suppose to meet two other runners at Kowloon Station, and one more at Tsuen Wan West. Two of them bailed at the last moment and Vince would meet me at 8:00AM. I was running just a little late, but once I arrived; Vince was no where to be found. I told him to meet at exit A2.

When I called him and he said, "I'm here". To make a long story short, he was at the wrong station, Tsuen Wan (10 minutes away). This is a guy who has lived in Hong Kong for over 12 years. Enough said about that so now by the time he and the cab driver figured out my location, it was already 8:30AM. Now, finding an English speaking taxi cab outside of Hong Kong Island/Kowloon station is *VERY* difficult. So, we had to hop into and out of many cabs and tell them the place, our Cantonese is terrible and it took another 5 minutes to find a guy who said he knew the place. But, he didn't!

He just wanted to look like he did. Finally, he called someone who knew a little English and then we were heading sorta in the right direction. I saw the map before I left, so I knew the proximity. Luckily, my sense of location prevented us from almost missing the turn which prevented a very terrible race start altogether. We even gave a native Hong Kong runner a free lift to the starting line.

With only 4 minutes left, I registered, placed the race number on my shirt and literally with 3 minutes left, the race began. Unfortunatly, I didn't scan my heartbeat monitor or get a lock on the GPX... So, no map. But, at least I did get the Garmin 405CX start on time for splits and cadence. The moral of the story is don't count on anyone knowing the place without knowing yourself. Doing research before the race can really make the run a lot smoother.

I want to give proper credit that most of the following below is a turn by turn direction of the KOTH STM from their website. I've just modified it to make a little more sense as if I wrote it ;( And all this effort, why event the wheel) and added my own comments with pictures for future runners interested in participating in this race. Do yourself a favor and grab a gpx file from garmin connect. Look at the pictures provided here carefully to prevent the same mistakes that other runners had during this race. I believe there is quite a few DNF who looks like a no show on the race results. I guess they have to mark it up as a training run...

Race Start
Start of race

Group of runns waiting for the starting horn
The paved road was quite narrow at the start, especially with the vehicles parked in the way. As usual, I started the race pretty fast and not on "pace".

Low grade incline right off the bat
I whizzed by the running crowd to notice another trailrunner wearing Vibram Five Fingers. We did the quick brotherhood nod and I moved on. He finished the Half Marathon course. Good show mate!

Ranger Post
From the start, the first kilometer had gradual low grade inclines of hills and dips throughout on a paved road heading northward a few kilometers east of Tai Lam Chung Reservoir. Staying on this road, we continued past the ranger post and slightly down hill.

Small Bridge
After about 1 km, we went across a small bridge,

Drainage Ditch
then along a flat road beside a drainage ditch.

Tsing Yi and Ma Wan
For the mortals like me, We had an abrupt change from a run to a hike because of a single narrow lane up some steep stairs overlooking backwards of the Tsing Ma Bridge stretching from Tsing Yi Isle to Ma Wan. I'm sure Michael Maddess from Action Asia Events ran up this with no sweat.

Dirt Trail
After continuing up, it becomes runnable again through a woody dirt trail entering into an open field.

Temple with chinese
We then headed right toward a temple-like building and back to the woods on a single paved track.

Entering Road
Everyone went right past the temple to a road

Then we turn left up the road to another field on
the left.
Get your walking sticks
Taking a paved trail to the left at the upper end of the field by a service shack,

Where the sidewalk ends
 it eventually turns to dirt

and comes to a sign-posted intersection with the pipeline trail. Then we turn right on the pipeline trail  and

continue all the way jumping over a low wooden railing
More tarmac :)
to a paved road.
Another trail? Yikes... I thought this was a road race!
Turning left up the road for several hundred meters, and ignoring the trail off to the right, we met up at a road junction marked by a warden post.

Stairs and dead leaves
This keeps on continuing past the post and down some stairs to an intersection of several trails.

Twist and Turn
By taking the right-hand trail
Bam! Boo!
 which soon enters a bamboo grove;

Undulating trails
we soon continue along this undulating contour trail for several kilometers.
Steep descent
By staying on the main trail and ignore all turns until a stepped descent to Tai Lam Chung Reservoir by Kat Hing Bridge,

Step into the road
 we would then turn right when hitting the road

Elderly walkers
and continue to the intersection of sections 9 and 10 of the Maclehose.

Aqua Senior
Water Stop.

VFF KSO and 2XU Compression Tights
At this point, the pace was very fast for me. Except for some minor elevation and the small hike, the course was smooth on the feet with Vibram's Five Fingers KSO. Concrete or packed dirt trails work well with Vibram FFV KSO, but as you will notice my times exponentially get worse with the terrain. I will say that Vibram Five Fingers KSO work well under conditions which have flat, cleared trails and paved roads around 10km. For those who are new to using them, you might want to ramp up slowly and stick with the track because it still takes time to develop a toe-heel strike versus heel-toe. I would say for any trail running, try Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek as it has more cushioning on the feet to help absorb the rocky pebbles which should help you prevent from slowing down to a snail's pace. I would also suggest picking up some great pair of 2XU compression tights. Really awesome for overgrown bushes and keeping the calves in good blood circulating condition! If you are in Hong Kong, grab a pair over at Escapade Sports; their service is exceptional. Tell them that JoggerJoel sent you... It'll be your way to give back for my free race report :)

On with the race directions, we continue through this intersection on the road toward Ho Pui. After about 1 km on this road,

 the route went right down some stairs,

across a bridge
 and then left and up the hillside.

Continuing to the intersection above Ho Pui Reservoir and then descending to Ho Pui Reservoir. 

Once we crossed the main dam
and turn immediately left up the mountain biking trail, we would gain another contour trail. I had a splash on the trail, most likely stubbling over a tree root. The fall seemed coordinated as I didn't scrape any skin. It could be the fact that I have been falling a lot and I don't have any more skin. Once I got up, I finally trekked left and continue for several kilometers to a marked turn to the right that climbs consistently to intersect with the Maclehose.

At the first water stop, there was no need to stop since I only drank half of the water in my camel back.
Then the descent took us directly down the other side to a clearing.
The arrows pointed us to turn left down a short hill and then bear right on the trail down to Chuen Long.

After cross Route Twisk carefully and continue up the road to the turn off to Chuen Long by the minibus stop, I had my first and only leg spasm. I took a dose of salt pills and kept on moving.

Entering right through the village,
crossing a bridge and turning left toward some homes on the hillside, a few of us had our first moments of being lost.

This is definately not part of the course!
The event coordinator did his best to mark the trail, but sometimes it was very difficult to notice and without keeping a good eye on things and dealing with the run, it is *VERY* highly likely to find yourself being off course. I think it would be best to have a volunteer or pay someone who doesn't know the course to mark roads which aren't part of the race with a big X-STM-X. I think there are just a few locations where it isn't so obvious. This being one of them.

Once we found our bearings, we continue up a concrete path past the village homes and after a couple of twists and turns, bear left steeply up a dirt path. Being heavily marked, I continued up this path across one road and turn right along the road at the second crossing.

At the first bend in the road, I followed the arrows pointing left through a gap in the vegetation and then turn steeply left up hill.

The next climb would require bush wacking as we went up hill on the overgrown weed-fest, ignoring the major trail that breaks off to the right. I managed to get a lot of thorns and scratches in this area. So, gloves would be recommended for the next vegetation run.

After a very steep bit,

passing the Tai Mo Shan Fire Lookout

and bear left slightly down hill to a major trail intersection,

the water stop was near.

This part of the path was quite difficult for me because the vegetation was high and the rocks (sharp and little) were all over the place. I had several occurences of stubbing my pinky toe. As I followed the less defined trail diagonally off to the right across a very small stream, it continued along this undulating trail down to another stream and then pay particular attention to the correct route through a series of alpine meadows. Each time the trail appears to split, the correct route was to the left.

Eventually the climb proved to be a worthwhile sight of a prominent rock formation. The view was amazing. Once I begin to descend steeply down the southern flank of Tai Mo Shan, I slipped a few times.

The Five Fingers KSO doesn't have enough grip for dry loose dirt, so I tried to be very careful of not slipping which slowed my travel time immensely. (note, if you see my arm in a picture; it's not a good sign). By the way this image has been rotated 90 degrees.

Once I crossed over a major contour trail and continued over a small rise before descending down, it became even more keep heading downhill.

Eventually the major trail intersects, as we turn right the trail went over a couple of streams and hills and eventually join a paved road.

We're so lost. This guy orange shirt surely DNF
(Did Not Finish)

The sign for this turn was amazingly out of place, and once again we became lost. 2 runners headed down the trail and another 2 searched around. Finally we backtracked and was able to find the sign to turn right up hill for a short distance and then left downhill eventually passing an Agriculture and Fisheries Deptartment camp. I managed to get lost once again and had to backtrack,

If you see this garage/dog,
you are no longer participating in the race.

With another runner's help we went left down a road which curved around to the right.

Finally bearing left again on a dirt trail, we past a village house and eventually came to another paved path. A right turn to Chuen Long, left us at the edge of the main village.

There was some big rocks we had to hop over along a stream through agriculture, eventually crossing the stream to the right and joining a more significant trail.

(Where's the rest of the pictures - battery ran out!)
This continued down the trail past a village on the left and eventually along a yellow railing to Route Twisk. Again, crossing the road carefully, we would find our water stop. After the break, I joined up with the catchwater trail heading west. After a couple of kilometers, ignoring the first couple of trails off to the right, we eventually turn right along a stream and then left steeply up hill toward Ha Fa Shan. This would join a major trail with great views of the airport and pass below and to the left of Shek Lung Kung mountain which is recognizable by the radio antennas on its summit. We continue down a partially paved path to a grassy area with a signpost to Sheung Tong to the right and straight ahead to Tsing Fai Tong. Straight ahead on the pipeline trail toward Tsing Fai Tong, it finally rejoined the half marathon course. After cresting a couple of hills, I blindly look for a not-obvious left turn (marked with ribbons) onto an overgrown trail by luck. Then continued through the shiggy for about 30 meters and coming out on a main trail. Turning left, I followed this trail around a hill and down to the base of a very steep hill directly in front. I then turned right just beyond a large, fallen tree down to Tsing Fai Tong.

As I continued along the edge of the field to the small row of houses, I reached another water stop. . Actually by this point, the volunteer at the water stop was clapping A LOT (It was a nice gesture).. I thought it can't be far. It was only 5km away.

I continued bearing left around the edge of the field out of the village, past a thicket of bamboo and up a slight rise to another trail signpost. But, then followed a paved road leading downward. I realized after 2km that I took the wrong turn, then decided to walk back up to where I started. Finally, I found the correct turn which led to the pipeline trail and shortly afterward turn left along the hiking trail (Marked by a danger steep cliffs sign). This trail was the most difficult because the cement wasn't smooth and exposed a lot of sharp rocks making up the broken concrete. It prevent me from running and I had to carefully cross slowly. This trail went on for a couple of kilometers to another sign-posted intersection. With a turn sharply left, I continued up the stairs to a height of land. This continued down the other side on the main trail. Soon, I could hear voice from afar as I descended all the way to Sham Tseng Reservoir, crossing a small bridge and climb the stairs on the other side to the road. Finally the last turn right with 100 meters left to the finish.

I gulped down 2 beers and walked down to Castle Peak Road with Vince who waited over 2 hours for me. Everything from the drive in this morning was forgotten! After a rough race, it's nice to have someone that is willing to wait around.

I have more pictures of this race with lots of individual photos of the runners that day. If you see somebody you know, make sure you tag them. They could win a free pair of VFF's


  1. Congrats. That was a tough race. I was the dude that said hi (with fist bump) coming down the mountain.

    You are brave for doing that race in VFFs.

  2. i would not attempt the Lantau one in VFFs!!