Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Gammon China Coast Marathon Race Report - Azrulhisyam "Deo"

Last weekend, many of Malaysian runners, whom I consider as the toughest ‘weekend warriors’, made their ways to Hong Kong to participate in the Vibram HK100 Ultra Trail Marathon, the first event in the Ultra-Trail World Tour 2014. While I was also a part of the travelling flock of Malaysian runners to Hong Kong, I was not there to participate in the Vibram HK100 but to participate in the Gammon China Coast Marathon instead. The marathon has been in existence for 32 years, although I only knew about this marathon in October last year and right away registered for it. Not much also could I gather from running blogs from previous marathon, making it one of the best kept-secret marathons, perhaps.

From the official website of the Athletic Veteran of Hong Kong (AVOHK), the organizer of this marathon, the race course is set along some of Hong Kong’s most stunning scenery and as it is held in January, it shall give the best chance of good running weather. This gives a more reason for me to sign up as it is always easier to race in cold and low humidity weather. The marathon was also the first AIMS-certified marathon in Hong Kong, ahead from the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, and the organizer also claims that it is a good alternative to the crowded, polluted and impersonal HKAAA’s Standard Chartered Marathon as it is organized by runners for the runners (I sensed some domestic rivalry here).

Knowing the fact that it is an established race with detailed information of the race was provided through AVOHK website, including online registration, I registered as early as in October last year. But there was something that I missed to read carefully from website when it is mentioned that “…It was first held in 1981 and won by Ron Hill in a time of 2:34:35. Ron described it as the toughest marathon he'd run and although the course has changed over the years, it is still a tough challenge. It is not a race at which personal bests are set, but it offers very good racing against some of Hong Kong's hardiest runners…”
Fast forward to the race day, I registered myself for the bus transfer option that took me from Hong Kong Space Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui to the race village in Pak Tam Chung in Sai Kung Peninsula. As my hostel was located some three kilometers away from the bus pick-up location and the MTR was still not in operation at the wee hours, I had to fastwalk and run the last kilometer to arrive on time. It gave me a good warm up on that 13-degree Celcius morning. The journey took about one hour and I had a good nap in the double-decker bus that was fully filled with runners of different categories. After arriving at the Pak Tam Chung, I did the first thing to do which was to collect my race pack containing a race number with timing device embedded behind it and a large a reusable water-proof plastic bag to be used as drop bag. The venue was all so familiar to me as it was the same venue as the start of Vibram HK100 race.

Race pack collection tents, on the race morning itself
As it was too early and too cold to strip down to my racing gear, I decided to walk around the place to keep myself warm as well as joining the long queue to use the toilet. With some 20 minutes to go before the race, I dropped my bag, no hassle there and made myself to the start gantry which was already filled up with runners of all categories – full marathon, half marathon and 10km, which all would be flagged off at once. So, it was quiet crowded there especially when you were placed in the middle and towards the back of the pack and it was a slow march towards the start line after the flag-off and also lots of zig-zagging around the slower starters required in the first couple of kilometers. 
Runners toeing at the start line
The first kilometer of the route was similar to the Vibram HK100 route but runners in Vibram HK100 would take the trail route to Sai Kung Man Yee Road but we took the winding and uphill sealed road, instead. It was an uphill battle right from the start, going from 6m above sea level to 97m in 1.33km. As normally I would feel the strain in my quads going uphill at the fast speed early in a race, I felt stronger this time around, going swiftly to the top. I guess the week in and out visit to Mount Datuk helped to prepare me for this climb and I tried to apply Chan’s (my 2ndSkin team mate) technique of ‘landing under hip’, as much as possible. As we got to the Sai Kung Man Yee Road, it was winding and undulating (mostly downhill) route until we reached KM5 where the climb (with some downhill sections) started, going from 51m to 133m above sea level in 1.33km stretch. I was still going strong, fascinated again by the nice view of High Island Reservoir as we ran on a road across the dam/reservoir. Although the view was nice, the strong and chilly wind that was blowing occasionally especially when you run in an open area (crossing of dams, there were three of them on one stretch) made it very cold to the skin to the already cold 11-degree Celcius morning and made it hard to breathe in an already thin air. I had never run in such a chilly marathon race, not even in Berlin or Auckland. As comparison, I was wearing my running gloves only halfway in Auckland but I was wearing them all the way in the race. We reached East Dam at KM9.7) before making a u-turn towards the other end of the route in Sai Kung Sai Wan Road (KM20.4). 
A runner looking out at the nice view of the High Island Reservoir
While running toward the half-way u-turn mark, I saw some runners making their way on the opposite direction towards East Dam again. When I first saw three runners, I thought they could have started the race late and were on their way for the first ten kilometers. But after a while, and seeing more full marathon runners coming on opposite direction, I told myself in disbelief that it was a two-loop marathon. I wished I would have registered just the half marathon so I don’t have to repeat the whole stretch once again but the reality was, it took me another three dam crossings with chilly wind blowing from all directions and undulating route to get myself to the second u-turn mark, located at 148m above sea level which you need to run up for 72m in 1.23km stretch. 
The route map. It was a two-loop route
…and the elevation
After the u-turn, you run back to the East Dam, repeat all over again, but this time with fewer crowds as the half marathoners would have gone back to the finishing line after completing their one loop race. So, another three dam crossings with chilly wind blowing from all directions, again, towards East Dam and add those jelly legs and strained muscles from going up and down the undulating route to the equation. East Dam reached after some time, and that marked 31km of the race. Although there was just some 11km to the finish, my pace was not any better and nothing much could help to motivate. Even going on downhill sections was not as enjoyable as during the first loop. The nice view of the reservoir no longer enthrall me and I lost track on Chan’s ‘landing under hip’ technique where I just left it to the tired legs to drag me to the final u-turn point at Sai Kung Sai Wan Road (repeating three dam crossings with chilly wind blowing from all directions and undulating route routine) and toward the finish line. As I reached the final u-turn point, it marked another 2.3km towards the finish line in Pak Tam Chung (same place where the race started). I was in the brink of missing the 4-hour mark but thankfully the all-downhill route towards the finish line, helped me to run strong and still finished the race with few seconds under 4-hour mark. I finished the race in 3 hours 59 minutes and 53 seconds (official net time) to complete my 24th full marathon to-date. 
24th full marathon completed!
Runners were handed out with the finisher’s medal and t-shirt after the race together with water and some breakfast foods. Overall, it was a well-organized race with detailed information and clear communications provided by the organizer. The support stations were adequate, fully manned and never short of water and isotonic drink supplies. The volunteers (if there were boys’ Scouts for Vibram HK100, the race has lots of boys’ Cadets) manning the support stations and junctions were helpful, handing out waters as well as providing clear directions and keep encouraging the runners. It was always nice to run in Hong Kong during this time of the year. The weather was great for a race as it was not as cold as during the start of Vibram HK100 in 2013 but the occasional wind made it hard.  To me personally, it was a hard marathon (a great hill workout, though) and the two loops of the route really killed me. Comparatively, although not accurate, it was like running from Bukit Aman car park towards PETRONAS Station in Sri Hartamas, return back to Bukit Aman and do it for another loop. And with the many dam crossings encountered during the two loops, it would not be too much to jokingly dub this marathon as ‘That Damn You Dam Marathon’.

Gears Used:
- Kraftfit compression long bottom
- Wrightsock Coolmesh II socks
Garmin FR910XT watch
- Ultimate Direction Jurek Essential waist pouch

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