Sunday, January 9, 2011

KOTH: Lantau Mountain Marathon 30k


The KOTH races are meant for me as training runs to get used to wearing, running, and stubbing in Vibram Five Fingers Keep Stuff Out shoes. I was able to pick up a new pair of VFF KSO Trek from my HK100 sponsors: Vibram and Escapade Sports the prior week during a media luncheon. The Trek shoe version is designed to be much more stiff in the midsole providing a thicker cleated rubber outsole for traction and protection from stone bruising compared to the VFF KSO which I ran in Sham Tseng. The goal is to be faster and less painful. I was about to find out if this was the case...

The start of this race is very welcoming since it required a fast ferry boat ride in the morning from Central Hong Kong Island to Mui Wo. I was just a little earlier than usual just to make sure I wouldn't have any type of issues with being late. Once we arrived at Mui Wo with 95% of the passengers disembarking for the race, I met up with Vince again outside of the ferry and we decided to go for a light jog up to the starting line as others waited for a bus ride. I found out that the starting line elevation is around 100 meters above sea-level. It appeared that the jog was more than 'light', but a good way to test the new shoes out.

Race Start
I figured that this would be a tortuous event: "The full marathon course, on the other hand, offers some of the most remote sections in the series and the most testing climbs." stated by Keith Noyes. Actually for me personally, it's usually the other way around. I'm not very skillful at descending the downhills and using barefoot shoes adds an extra precaution which exponentially increased my time.

I like the fact that the race had a 15 minute window between the full and half marathoners since it gives more running space from weaving in and out of traffic in the initial stampede. Luckily, Vince had a spot very close to the beginning the starting line as he directed me to a 'reserved' space. I'm personally not one to go to the front and create a backlog, but if I was going to meet the deadline, I had to go out very quickly until I was met up with the littered rocks and stones. They have become my public enemy #1 in trail running. After two KOTH races of legendary criminal feets -- from multiple stone smashing of my little piggy toes -- My abrupt yelping was heard throughout the island. After the clock hit 10:00AM, I bolted out like a greyhound chasing Jeremy Ritcey and Michael Maddess as the course quickly headed for steeper grounds running from one stair step to another. This didn't last long of course, once they ascended ~500m to Sheung Tung Au, I was 5 minutes behind them and 17 runners back. The shoes at this time was going relatively well with a few smacks from a rock here and there. To keep things in perspective, like any difficult mountain/hill training, it's going to hurt.. and wearing VFF KSO trail running shoes there isn't any room for error. You have to constantly be thinking about the next 3 steps in front of you. It's a constant chess play of your foot and the rook. I believe that with shoes like VFF, the runner becomes very in tune with running form and surroundings. And if you aren't in tune, you'll soon be in tune with the a quick whack of a low sleepy sweeping foot driving into a soccer size immovable rock.

Once we started heading back down from ~700m, it became very overgrown and technical. I would recommend wearing gloves and arm warmers for KOTH races. I was able to save a lot of scratches based on my Sham Tseng race experience. There was a lot of grabbing branches preventing any slips or falls. Also, since the weather was quite cool in the morning, it doubled up nicely as a way to keep warm from the blusting wind at the top of Lantau Peak. The weeds became public enemy #2. Quite occassionally in the thicket, I would numerously find myself stumbling as my toe space would find itself caught in a net of weeds. From the last checkpoint, another 18 runners flew past me on the descent. Once out of the thicket, the trail turned into asphalt for around 5km edging the outskirts of Tung Chung following roads and sidewalks to the next ascent. By the time we reached Tung Chung checkpoint, I was able to have a great conversation with Nora Senn who always seems to reach me around 10-12km in whatever shoes I'm wearing in the ultra distant trail racing events.

The climb up to Ngong Ping is probably the most rugged trek I've ever encountered. The climb is very steep which required upper body strength to get up and over the boulders. Luckily, I had company with my trail running buddy, Thorsten, who went to Laos with me and he talked very highly of the walking canes for support. Heading into Ngong Ping, I lost my direction slightly and realized I wasn't heading toward Tea Garden Restuarant but quickly headed toward the Big Buddha which led me to the correct path beginning the Lantau Peak climb. This trail is pretty familiar since there is only one trail up to the top.

The climb up Lantau Peak was the best trek ever for viewing Hong Kong area. The visiblity was high. I wasn't passed by too many peeople going up the hill, but when it came to coming down.. I was in the lower 10% of the participants in terms of time. :(

After passing Tung Chung road, my time wasn't any better. There were a lot of scattered stones preventing me from getting in any decent speed.

So, you might be curious I've noted my position. Is it the fact that I like to talk about how terrible I finished in the end? Well, possibly. But, the real question I have for myself is how much improvement did the sturdier VFF KSO Trek give me versus my VFF KSO. It's difficult to measure this question because the two races are different grade/elevation/distance giving different times. Therefore, I'm just going to take a position of my overall splits between the two races:

Percentage position comparing VFF KSO (Sham Tseng)/ VFF KSO Trek (Lantau)
Position PercentageFinish
CP1Int 1Int 2Int 3Int 4Int 5
Sham Tseng22.6255.9582.1495.2479.7698.8182.14%
*Note: The higher the percentage the farther I am from the front.

In terms of comfort, the VFF KSO Trek are essential when using the Vibram products for littered stones on the trails of Hong Kong. Personally, going forward, I would only use VFF KSO for road races - the time requirement and pain tolerance to become comfortable on asphalt is much lower than trails. Running in 'barefoot' shoes require a lot of practice and patience especially on the trails. I would recommend anyone interested in trying it to go slowly and use practice runs instead of races to get comfortable. I will say, except for a few bruises and soreness in the bottom of my feet, I haven't had any other issues. With cushioned shoes, I sprained my ankle very easily on the same type of terrain 70km into the race and had to 'hobble' the last 20km. Check back again next week the full monty report as I go it again this Saturday for a full 100km wearing VFF KSO Trek. It would be nice to know that this type of training is actually doing me good (in the long run). I feel sometimes as though I am re-learning to run concentrating on my surrounding much more than when I had cushioned shoes.

I have more pictures of 85% of the runners who ran the full marathon course. Because of the cooler temperature at Lantau Peak, some of the pictures have condensation. If you see somebody you know, make sure you tag them. They could win a free pair of VFF's

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