Report: The 2011 Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker 100K
By: Sara Montgomery
This was a transitional year for me, not
only because I turned 40, but also because it marked a return to racing after a
long, nagging injury. I wanted to tackle some races that brought me out of my
comfort zone, provided unique challenges, and could teach me some things. I
wanted to make up for lost time.
As a warm-up, I started the year with a
snowshoe race and a muddy 25k. Then I upped the ante with the 6-day Transrockies
Run in Colorado, followed two weeks later by my first 50 Miler. TransRockies
was a study in red-line, uphill pain, and the Haliburton 50 was where I learned
I could hurt for a very long time. Just as I was recovering from these two long
races, I was getting set to travel to Hong Kong for something different yet
By this time, I had few toenails left to
The Oxfam Trailwalker 100K takes place each
November in Hong Kong. Teams of four hike and run the MacLehose Trail through
the mountains of the New Territories to raise money for Oxfam’s poverty
alleviation programs. The Hong Kong race celebrated its 30th
anniversary this year, but there are now Oxfam Trailwalker races worldwide:
Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Spain,
Germany, Belgium, and two in Canada (Ontario’s Ganaraska Trail and Quebec’s
The participants don’t run the race as a
relay, they have to move together. Our
team, “Little Debbie and the Snack Cakes” is comprised of Deb Lawless and
Kristina Kurcinka, both living in Taichung, Taiwan); Kim Ames who lives in Ho
Chi Minh City, Viet Nam; and me. Back in the spring, Deb had asked me to do the
event in celebration of her birthday – she was also turning 40 this year. She
and Dan are from Portland, Oregon, but have been living in Taiwan for the last
eight years, so I was long overdue for a visit. Before the race I spent four
days with them exploring a bit of Taiwan, a beautiful country.
We had decided to mostly hike this race,
with some running on the flatter sections – the approach the majority of teams
here take given the steepness of the terrain. The amount of hiking set me
outside of my comfort zone; the distance didn’t faze me as much as the
anticipated time on the feet and unknowns of how my body would structurally
hold up to the differences between hiking and running. My plan was to ignore my
watch, stay in the moment, and enjoy the experience. Going through the night
was something I had been looking forward to, and with our start time of 2 pm,
we would hit nightfall early in the race.
the regular tourist attractions. The scenery along
the MacLehose Trail is spectacular, with the first section traversing several
beautiful beaches and ocean views. Herds of cattle hoofed along with us on the
road sections, which I loved. As we entered the more mountainous sections, the
trail was very rugged, and stairs were often built into the hillside. As
darkness fell, we could look back along the exposed ridges and see long lines
of headlamps meandering behind us as far as we could see. Below, the lights of
the city occasionally came into view. As dawn broke we were crossing a section
where monkeys roamed around with us (and where I drove my teammates crazy
insisting how cool that was). Later in the morning, Needle Hill and Tai-Mo Shan
were dominant peaks with wild trails up to the highest points on the trail. On
a clear day the views would be eye-popping from this section, but today I was
happy enough that the cloud cover kept things cooler.
careful what you wish for. Coming from Canada, the
climate in Hong Kong was a lot hotter than I was used to, and extremely humid.
I had tried to hold onto summer by adding layers while training in the fall
weather at home, which helped bridge the gap a little. Early in the race the
heat felt okay until we started steeply climbing and the breeze subsided. I
felt it was much harder than it should be as my body was dealing with the heat
as well as the exertion. At one point I removed my visor and sweat started
pouring into my eyes. It was crazy how much water I drank during this race, and
even crazier how much I sweat.
Given the heat, as night fell I was
thrilled when a cooling rain started to fall. However, this left the trails a
slick mess, which made the footing very treacherous, especially on the steep downhills.
Everyone had to be very careful as we were on the hardest part of the course,
and large bottlenecks were forming. I was relieved I had borrowed Dan’s hiking
After having some plantar fascia issues
this summer, I had been worried about sore feet, but structurally they made out
very well. However the long time in the wet conditions gave my usually fairly
trail-toughened feet a whole lot of discomfort in the last quarter of the race.
I felt like the bottoms of my feet were completely raw, but when I finally took
a look, they were simply water-logged and wrinkled which left them with an
itchy, tingling pain and easily blistered. Wanting the security of my trusty Quantums,
I hadn’t wanted to change into another shoe, and by the time I finally did the
dryness was too late to be of much help.
no ‘I’ in Team. With our late start time, the
increasingly tough, wet footing hit us in the gnarliest sections of trail. This
probably played a part in Kim having a rough time. She hung in until the half-way
point, where she dropped; a tough situation for everyone. The remaining three
of us continued on and the trail eased a bit so we could run more sections.
Soon the sky was getting light and we started to feel closer to the finish with
As the day wore on, Deb and I found our
rhythm climbing alongside each other. It felt like in high school where we
played basketball and volleyball together every year, working away and
comfortable being teammates. Kristina led the charge up the hills, and I marvelled
how specifically and well these two had trained through a brutally hot Taiwanese
summer. During the race Deb barely needed to eat, Kristina needed no rest, and
neither of them had significant low points. Very impressive.
As for me, well, with 6.5 km to go I fully
realized how lucky I got with the weather, despite its leading to sore feet. As
the day was heating up, the sun came out on an exposed section of trail and I
started to wither rapidly. I drank frantically, trying to ward off the effects
of the sun and heat, but I could feel my skin start to tingle with the first
signs of trouble. Deb talked me down from my dread that I wouldn’t be able to
finish if I couldn’t get out of the sun. Thankfully, just around the next
corner we were safely under trees, and some haze started to fill the sky. Foot
pain didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore after that scare.
I followed Kristina and Deb across the
finish line after being out there for 25 hours and 45 minutes. We were all thrilled
to be done, and happy that despite Kim’s disappointment, she rallied to meet us
enthusiastically. It was great for all four of us to celebrate with our amazing
crew of Dan and Mons Johnson and John Mucha who looked after us the entire race.
They were most definitely happy to be done as well.
Cake down." We'd been saying it all week, in good fun whenever a teammate had
any kind of minor mishap. This time it wasn't funny: Kristina plastered to the
floor of the hotel lobby, white as a ghost, unconscious. Thankfully she revived
quickly, sipping orange juice that was brought to her. Beside me, Dan whispered,
"This is the first sign of being human she has shown all weekend."
It’s true; Kristina was rock solid the entire race even while fighting a
lingering cold. Still going strong after the race, she shuffled luggage around
the hotel for her teammates. Now her body empathically declared, "Enough”
and it was our turn to look after our Energizer Rabbit. We all felt like we had
been through a time warp out on the trail, and clearly we all needed some rest.
In the end I had a lot of fun, soaked up
the experience of touring a diverse and beautiful trail through Hong Kong, and
learned some valuable things: I thought it would be harder to not run more, but
it was a wonderful experience; I learned that I absolutely love hiking poles; I
learned I am ready for a 100 miler sooner than I thought, as the time on my
feet allowed me to wrap my head around the idea; As expected but now confirmed,
I loved being on the trail through the night; I learned that it is easy to stay
in the moment when things are going well, but once something starts to really
hurt, time slows down to a crawl; I learned that wet feet aren’t a big deal...
until they are; I learned that moving as a team adds an interesting twist to
racing – one that is fun but sometimes challenging; And finally, that a team
race is a great way to get to know new people, and a memorable way to spend
time with a lifelong friend.