While preparing for the Hong Kong Marathon, I read websites and blogs to get an overview of the race. One of the comments that struck me is that the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon is probably the most difficult in Asia. I should have known that before signing up to run the full marathon.
What makes it extra challenging is the weather and the elevation. It’s cooler in Hong Kong compared to the Philippines. A few weeks before the race, Patrick aka Running Shield, texted me that it was about 10-15C. The elevation was tricky with the bridges, overpass and underground tunnels.
The Hong Kong Marathon was not in my race list this year. I was lucky to have been invited by New Balance who is the sponsor of the event to join them in the Regional Running Event in Hong Kong. Runners from China, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and Hong Kong gathered together to have the Total Fit New Balance Experience. Jaymie aka BullRunner and I were the two runners from the Philippines.
Originally, I was preparing for the Condura Run but I missed it to recover from an injury after running the Cebu City Marathon. With a knee injury, I was careful not to run too much and only had a 21K as my maximum long run prior to the race. It is recommended to run a 32K a month before a full marathon. I was not able to do that so I don’t feel that prepared.
Instead of a long run, I had long prayers instead. One song that keeps on playing in my head days before the run was In His Hands by Hillsong.
So close I believe
He’s holding me know
In His Hands I belong
You’ll never let me go
The starting line
We left the hotel with other marathoners of New Balance. The 42K runners are the last to start. Gun start is at 7:15. We arrived at the venue at around 6:30. The starting line was a small street in Kowloon. It didn’t look grand at all. But the atmosphere is exciting. I met a few Filipino runners. We wished each other good luck.
I borrowed a Garmin 305 to track my speed and mileage. Since we were under tall buildings at the starting line, it had a hard time getting a satellite signal. Jaymie was using a Garmin 410XT. It was able to get a good reception. But both models won’t work in the tunnels which is part of the route.
I printed out a pace band to monitor my progress. I have to meet the cut off time of 5:30 to called a qualified finisher. My pace band was for a 5:16 finish time or a 7:30 pace. If I follow the target times per kilometer, I would be confident that I can finish it ahead of 5:30. My plan was to do the Galloway method which is a run-walk interval. I will run for 6 mins at 7:00 pace and walk for 1 minute.
And here we go (KM0-5)
The race started on time at 7:15 in the morning. Unlike races in the Philippines where the 42km runners were first to start, in the Hong Kong Marathon, the 42km runners were the last to start.
The first part of the race was on the streets of Kowloon going to the Tsing Ma Bridge. It was already a hilly aproach to the bridge. It was crowded race. I about 7,000 runners joined the full marathon and the entire event was attended by 60,000 runners. The biggest in the region so far.
It was hard to maintain a Galloway method. I can’t stop and walk abruptly since there are runners behind me. It is not a good idea to stop all of a sudden as it can cause an accident when the person behind you would lose his rhythm and bump into you. I have to carefully move to the sides and run slowly before stopping to walk.
Killer Beauty (KM5-15)
One of the highlights of the route is running at the colossal bridges of Hong Kong that connects the islands together. I got to see them when I took the taxi from the airport to the hotel. They were grand and beautiful. But running on them is a different story.
First, the bridge was going up hill. A long up hill run. And it starts early in the race at KM7. My plan to run at a 7:00 pace was not followed, I was force to run slower to conserve energy. What I also noticed was I was running with an effort higher than my target zone. I got easily tired early in the race.
Second, the road is banked to a certain angle. It wasn’t flat but it is bent. This helps the cars make the turn when running at a fast speed. But to a runner, this is difficult since it disrupts your balance. You tend to lean too much on one side of your feet and you put extra effort to maintain your balance.
And there are three bridges to tackle. You pass by them twice since they are the turn around points. So it’s like running six bridges in all.
The first turn around point is at KM15. This was the first check point also. I can’t remember my time but reached this point six minutes ahead of the cut-off time. Great. I am still within my target time and doing well with the Galloway method.
Getting tired (KM15-25)
While I did well at the first 15 kilometers, the next part was getting difficult. I felt tired already at 15K. The first bridge was exhausting and another bridge, Ting Kau Bridge, is coming up. I still maintain my 6-1 run-walk plan. The next check point is at KM20 which is at one end of another bridge. It was tiring but I was able to maintain my pace and time. I reached the second checkpoint six minutes ahead of time. I was still ok.
The check points have plenty of marshals and about 4 two-decker buses. This will be the bus that will take those runners who doesn’t make it at the cut off. They also have barricades and a green net to close the road to the runners who doesn’t make it. There’s a big sign of the cut off time. I was very observant to these details so that I will know what will happen to me if in case I don’t make the next cut offs.
Checkpoints have time limit markers. This one is at 20.3KM which is at the Ting Kau Bridge
turnaround point. You can see the hill we have to tackle to get here. Photo from Danny’s Site.
Getting Worried (KM25-32)
The next check point at KM24 was after a tunnel. At this point, I started taking longer walk breaks. I am sure that the walk breaks will affect my finish time but I thought that I still have allowance so it was still safe to walk.
The longer walk breaks is a sign of fatigue. I was getting tired that I need to walk more often. The route was getting worst. Starting at KM25, it was uphill again. Another long up hill and banked road.
I kept running on the hills but when I felt cramps on my left leg, I wasn’t able to stick to my plan. I was happy that my right knee was still ok. But this time, I am getting another problem. Cramps. It was only KM29. The next cut off is at KM34.
It up, up, up and up. I got legs cramps at this point. Photo from Danny’s Site.
I was scared. I am now tired. The route was still uphill. And I have cramps. Can I still meet the next cut off at KM34? Can I even finish the entire race at 5 hours and 30 minutes?
I was having a lot of negative thoughts. Seeing the other participants walking was fueling the idea that I will not finish the race. Then, the buses that were picking up runners who didn’t make the cut off at the previous checkpoints were passing by at the other lane. The runners were inside the bus really look sad. Looking at them makes me worried even more.
A Badly Broken Spirit (KM32-34)
Did they move the kilometer markers? Why is it taking me too long to reach the next one. There is a marker every kilometer so I can check my time against my pace band. At this point, the next kilometer takes a longer time to reach. Especially at KM30-32, the uphill was too much. I was walking even longer. My time is greatly affected.
Instead of a 7:30 pace, there were a couple of times that my time to cover one kilometer was already more than 10 minutes because of walking longer than planned. That is a bad pace considering that I have to meet a cut off time. I was losing previous minutes.
I even reached a water station that has stopped giving out water and isotonic drinks. They were supplies available but they are starting to pack up and are not opening the boxes or the water containers to give them to the runners. It was sending a strong message that its over and we are not going to make it. It was discouraging. And the next checkpoint was still two kilometers away.
From KM32 to KM34, more runners are walking. Some runners are on the side of the road stretching their tight muscles. Medical Aid Stations have runners who are sitting on the road. They have given up and are waiting for the bus to pick them up.
I kept running but it was more of walking. My fate will be decided at the next checkpoint if I am still in the race or not.
A New Start (KM34)
I was getting worried as I get close to KM34 which is the next check point.
I have two scenarios. First, I won’t make it. Probably the road is closed already with the net spread across to stop the runners. I was visualizing myself riding the the bus back to the finish area. My first DNF.
Or probably, I will reach it and get past the check point. But I will reach it with a 1-2 minutes margin that might not be enough for me to reach the next checkpoint at KM37.
KM34 was within sight. I see a lot of marshals. It was my first time to see the net too. The net is a green platic mesh similar to the ones we use back in Negros to close the perimeter for the chickens. In here, the net is used to close the road to prevent runners from going past the checkpoint.
They are ready with the net. It has covered half of the road already. But I was able to get past the net. I met the cut off at KM34. But how much time do I have for the next cut off?
I looked around for the marker. I can’t remember my time but I had a good margin. Yes! I am five minutes ahead of the cut off. Five minutes is not much. But it is enough to give me hope that I can finish the race.
KM34 at last. This is the start of theWest Harbour Tunnel.
8 kilometers to go. Photo from Danny’s Site.
Light at the end of the tunnel (KM34-37)
Past the KM34 is the West Harbour Tunnel. The tunnel is a long downhill run at the start and it will go gradually uphill at the other end. It was cool inside the tunnel as ventilation fans are strong.
It was an ideal part of the race. I was able to get back to my rhythm. I was running straight for 6 minutes and will be walking for
1 minute and run back again. This was a breather. I was hopeful again.
The Going Gets Tough (KM37-39)
Next checkpoint is at 37KM. It was just after the tunnel. Since it was in a favorable condition and I was able to reach it at a desired time. I gave myself a pad on the back.
This is right after the West Harbour Tunnel. A uphill treat for the runners.
There’s another uphill just after the turn. The last 5 kilometers are tough.
Photo from Danny’s Site.
But running to the next checkpoint at KM39 was another uphill. It was going to a flyover this time. It was like running the Skyway Buendia ramp twice and then running a McKinley. That is how steep and long the road to KM39 like. I was walking on the uphill again. I am losing some precious minutes again.
I thought the difficult part of the race was over. It was as if the organizers are playing with the runners by offering them more uphills at the end of the race. It was another heart breaking run. The water station at KM39 was not even giving water anymore.
By the time I reached the cut off, I only have 3 minutes allowance. It means I should maintain my 7:30 pace and allow a 3 minute walk break until the finish line to meet the cut off time. The last three kilometers are critical.
Running to Survive (KM39-41)
If only the route was flat. The last 3 kilometer should have been easy. But it was still full of uphills becuase of the flyovers on which we are running on. I could no longer run on these steep roads. I was walking on the uphill. Even the downhill was too steep. I was careful not to hurt my knees or develop cramps so I decided to walk even on the downhill.
KM40 was now flat. Good. I tried to run a bit faster to make up for the lost time from the flyover.
At KM41, I had my closest encounter with the net. I just took the turn at the corner when behind me I saw the net being used to close the road. There were still a lot of runners behind me and they are prohibited to run farther. I was lucky to have reached it just a few seconds ahead. This was a critical point of the race.
It is one more kilometer before the finish line. I wanted to sprint. But before me is another flyover. It was very steep that I have to walk it. I was afraid that this walk might cost me the medal.
Why did they place a flyover at the last part of the race? @#$%^&!!!
Photo from Danny’s Site.
The Final Kilometer (KM42)
I was close to the finish line. We were running at Causeway Bay Market. It was like the streets of Divisoria with shops, food and lots of people. Many of the bystanders were cheering the runners. Their cheers were very encouraging.
There I am running at Causeway Bay Market. Less than a kilometer to go.
Photo by iou from hkrunner.com
I still can’t see the finish area at Victoria Park. There were several corners to turn before I would see the park.
Am I still within the cut off? How many minutes do I have left?
Finally, I saw the entrance to the park and ahead of me is the word finish arc. Below it was the timer. The timer looked small from where I was. I tried to read the numbers.
Is it 5:26? I wish but No. I kept running.
Is it 5:28? It looks like a 5:28 but I was still far to see the timer clearly. I kept running to get closer.
Is it 5:29? This time it was clear to me. It was 5:29:00. I have one minute more and about 300 meters more to go.
Kenyan for a minute
To run 200 meters in 1 minute, translates to a pace of about 5:00 minutes per kilometer. That is a fast pace I can manage in a 10K. But after running 41kms, do I still have a power and endurance to run that pace and meet the cut off? And I need to run faster than 5:00 to be sure I will reach the finish line.
I don’t know how it happened and where it came from, but I ran as fast as I could. My strides were so wide. My arms were swinging wild. My eyes are stuck on the clock. I can see every tick of it.
5:29:20. My mouth were wide open grasping for breath. The finish looked so near yet so far.
5:29:30. I can hear people counting down. 30.. 29.. 28.. I got tensed. It felt like I was not moving at all so I pushed even harder.
5:29:40. Just a few more meters. I am now confident I made it. I slowed down a little as I am about to cross the finish.
5:29:46. My Official Time. The lady gave me my medal. It was a great feeling. I finished one of the most difficult marathon event at the nick of time. Bing of New Balance was there to congratulate me. Thank you Ms Bing and Anton of New Balance for this wonderful experience. Quennie was there to assist me on my post race needs like water, banana and an ice cream bar.
In Your Hands
A lot of things could have gone wrong. I could have lost steam because of lack of training. My cramps could have gotten worst at the later part of the race. It struck three times between KM25-KM37. And my right knee could have become painful again like druing the Rizal Day Run or during the Cebu City Marathon. I could end up limping early in the race and get caught by the net.
The news the following day was tragic. 55 were hospitalized and 3 were critical due to heat and humidity. It was the toughest conditions for the Hong Kong Marathon.
Good thing I was not alone in that race. It’s like the song. During the most difficult part of the race, the steep uphill, the strong winds, the hot weather, Someone carried me. His Provision is just enough.
Thank you for all your prayers.
So close I believe
He’s holding me know
In His Hands I belong
You’ll never let me go
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