Monday, February 18, 2019

Race Report: 2019 Hong Kong Marathon

On February 17, I ran the Hong Kong Marathon.  This is a large race.  For 2019, they expanded the field of the marathon to 22,500 runners.  If you include all of the shorter races, there are 74,000 total participants.  Because of its popularity, there’s a lottery to get into this race.  This year, for the first time, you could get automatic entry by running a qualifying time.

The qualifying time for my age group was four hours, which is much easier than the qualifying times for races like New York or Chicago.  There’s just one catch.  You have to qualify in an IAAF Gold Label race.  I knew the Boston Marathon meets that standard, and my time from that race was 3:50:18.  I had a faster time at the Manitoba Marathon, but I wasn’t sure if that was an IAAF Gold Label race.

I submitted my information and scanned my finisher certificate from the Boston Marathon.  A few weeks later, my guaranteed entry was confirmed, and I received a link to pay my entry fee.  I was officially registered.

Hong Kong Island became a British colony in 1842 after the First Opium War.  After the Second Opium War, it was expanded to include the Kowloon peninsula.  In 1898, Britain entered into an agreement that expanded the colony further, to include the New Territories and outlying islands.  Under that agreement, China leased the land to Britain for 99 more years.  That lease expired in 1997.

Hong Kong is now in a 50 year transitionary period, during which it’s considered to be a “Special Administrative Region” of China.  What does that mean?  It means Hong Kong depends on China for things like national defense, but it still has its own government with a large degree of autonomy.  Chinese law does not generally apply in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong also has its own currency and its own passport control.  Citizens of most countries do not need a Chinese visa to visit Hong Kong.

This was my first visit to Hong Kong, and only my third visit to Asia, having visited Tokyo in 2014 and Singapore in 2017.

Monday, February 11

I wasn’t originally scheduled to leave until Tuesday morning, but a major snowstorm was forecast to arrive late Monday night.  The Minneapolis/St. Paul airport generally handles winter storms well, but if my first flight was cancelled, it would cause me to miss all my connections.  If that happened, it would delay me by a full day.  I also wasn’t sure if I would be able to get to the airport if the roads weren’t plowed yet.

I called Delta, and they let me switch to a Monday evening flight, so I could get out of Minneapolis before the snowstorm.  I was flying into Seattle, which was also experiencing a winter storm, so I wasn’t out of the woods yet.  Just after we pulled away from the gate, we learned the Seattle airport had a ground stop.  We waited at the gate for about an hour, and then we had to de-ice, but we eventually got there.

My next flight wasn’t until almost noon on Tuesday, so I had to spend the night at a hotel.  Fortunately, I had enough Hilton points to get a free night at the Hilton convention center, which is close to the airport.

I’m normally early to bed and early to rise.  By the time I got to bed, I had already been fighting to stay awake for the past two or three hours.  Then when I finally went to bed, I couldn’t get to sleep.

Tuesday, February 12

It was a frustrating night.  I was still awake at 3:00 AM.  After that, I slept intermittently.  I sometimes nodded off for 5 or 10 minutes but then woke up again.  I started the day feeling tired, which isn’t good when you have an overseas flight.  My next flight was a 12 hour flight to Seoul, South Korea.  That flight took off with no problems.

Wednesday, February 13

South Korea is 17 hours ahead of Seattle, so by the time I got to Seoul, it was already late afternoon on Wednesday.  I had a three hour layover in the Seoul/Incheon airport.  Then I flew to Hong Kong on Korean Air.

I arrived in Hong Kong after 11 PM.  For my first night in Hong Kong, I stayed at the Hong Kong SkyCity Marriott Hotel, which is close to the airport.  It took a long time to get through passport control.  Then I had to wait for the next hotel shuttle.  By the time I got to the hotel, it was after midnight.  I didn’t sleep on any of my flights, so I was pretty tired.

Thursday, February 14

I didn’t get to bed until 2:00 AM, and it took a while to fall asleep.  I dragged myself out of bed at 8:30.  That was a compromise.  I didn’t get a full night’s sleep, but I needed to adjust to the new time zone.

The SkyCity Marriott has an excellent breakfast buffet.  It wasn’t included in my room rate, but I was able to get a discount by paying for it when I checked in.  They had both western and Asian entrees.  I focused mainly on the Dim Sum selections.

Hong Kong’s transit system includes buses, trains, trams, and ferries.  An Octopus Card can be used on most forms of transit.  It has a base cost of 150 Hong Kong dollars (about $20), and can be recharged at any Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station.  The closest MTR station was at a nearby convention center called the AsiaWorld Expo, which was connected to the Marriott by a skyway.  I bought an Octopus Card there.

For the rest of the trip, I stayed at The Mira Hong Kong in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Kowloon.  This hotel was close to where the race starts.  I was able to get to Tsim Sha Tsui by taking the Airport Express train into the city and then transferring to the subway.  It took a little over an hour to get to The Mira.

Check-in time is 3:00.  When I made the reservation, I requested a 1:00 check-in.  They said they would do their best to accommodate me, but couldn’t make any promises.  I actually got there at 12:20.  They didn’t have a room ready yet, so I checked my bags with them and headed out for the afternoon.

Three days after leaving Minneapolis, I was finally ready to begin sightseeing in Hong Kong.  My first impression of Hong Kong is that it’s really crowded.  The sidewalks especially can get congested.  There are so many signs as you walk down the block that it’s sensory overload.

Because of Hong Kong’s historical ties to both Britain and China, most residents speak both English and Cantonese.  I noticed, however, that even when they speak English, it’s with a Cantonese accent.  I had to pay close attention to understand what people were saying.

The temperature was in the low 70s, with sunny skies.  It was great sightseeing weather if you don’t mind the humidity.

For lunch, I went to a pizzeria a few blocks from my hotel, where I had this garlic prawn & scallop pizza.  For those keeping score at home, I’ve now had pizza in 34 countries.

After lunch, I went to the Hong Kong Museum of History.  The main exhibit is called “The Hong Kong Story.”  It starts with Hong Kong’s natural environment and prehistoric inhabitants.  Then it goes into life in Hong Kong during various Chinese dynasties and Cantonese folk culture.  Next it covers the British colonial period and subsequent growth of the city.  After a section describing the Japanese occupation during World War II, it goes into post-war development, and finally, the return of control to China.

When I was done at the museum, I headed down to the waterfront.  I walked along the East Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade and Avenue of Stars, where I got my first views of Hong Kong Island from across the harbor.

When I got back to The Mira, it was about 3:20.  When I returned to the front desk, I expected to find out my room number and get my room card.  The woman at the front desk typed something at her keyboard.  She kept typing … and typing … and typing.  Then she spoke with another employee.  They were speaking in Cantonese, so I didn’t know what they were saying.  More typing … more conservation in Cantonese.  Finally, she told me they still didn’t have any rooms available, so they upgraded me to a suite.  It’s the nicest hotel room I’ve ever had.  It had a large bedroom, a separate living room, two bathrooms, and a kitchenette.  There were three TVs, one in the bedroom, one in the living room, and one in the larger of the two bathrooms.

A few minutes after I got to the room, I heard the doorbell.  Yes, my room had a doorbell.  They brought up the bags that I checked earlier.

My room also came with a portable wifi device.  By taking this with me when I was on the go, I could have a wifi connection anywhere in Hong Kong.

After unpacking, I took the subway to the Mong Kok neighborhood.  Mong Kok is the busiest neighborhood in Hong Kong.  It may be the busiest neighborhood in the world.  Its narrow streets are lined with small shops and street markets.  I went there more to browse than to shop.

When it got late enough, I headed over to the Temple Street Night Market, which opens at 5:00 PM.  This is another busy shopping neighborhood.  Here, the street vendors sell just about everything.  There are also fortune tellers and food stalls.

I had a light dinner at a taproom a few blocks from the hotel.  Then I made a point of getting back to the waterfront by 8:00 PM, so I could watch a light and music show across the harbor called Symphony of Lights.

I needed to get up early the next three days, so I got to bed much earlier that night.  I slept well for about six hours.  Then I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.

Friday, February 15

My room rate at The Mira included breakfast.  Their breakfast buffet was the best I’ve ever seen.  I made a point of trying different things each day.   It would probably take me a week or more to try everything.  A few selections changed each day.  For example, besides orange and kiwi juices, they had a juice of the day.  My favorite juice of the day was mango ginger.

After breakfast, I walked down to the ferry terminal to take the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island.  I could have taken the subway, but I wanted to get the views from the ferry. Sadly, it was cloudy, so I couldn’t see Victoria Peak from the ferry.

I spent most of the day doing sightseeing on Hong Kong Island.  I was planning to go to Victoria Peak first, but since it was cloudy, I started with the Man Mo Temple in the Sheung Wan neighborhood.

Walking through the Central district, I followed a series of elevated walkways.  It’s the only way to get across all the busy streets.

Hong Kong Island is not flat.  As I got away from the waterfront, I entered a neighborhood called the Mid-Levels.  There are lots of steps.  In some places, they have escalators.

In Cantonese, Man refers to the god of literature and Mo refers to the god of war.  This Taoist temple is the oldest temple in Hong Kong.  It was built in 1847 by a wealthy Chinese family.

There’s a funicular called the Peak Tram that takes you to the top of the Victoria Peak.  It was still cloudy, but I wanted to take the tram before it got too late in the morning.  Later in the day, the line for the tram can be two hours long.  I went ahead and took the tram while there was no line.  On the way up, I occasionally got views of Hong Kong Central through the trees.

When I got to the top, it was still cloudy.  There’s a multi-story building called the Sky Terrace. On a clear day, that’s where you get the best views.  Since I was in the clouds, I didn’t think it would be worth the cost of a ticket.  Instead, I settled for the views from the viewing points at ground level.

I could see the tall buildings on Hong Kong Island, but I couldn’t see much of Kowloon.  I waited a while to see if the clouds would clear up, but eventually, I took the tram back down.

Next, I spent about an hour touring Hong Kong park, which is right next to the tram station.  My favorite part of the park was the aviary.

I also strolled through the conservatory.

By the time I left the park, the sun was coming out.  Now I could see Victoria Peak.  I should have waited longer at the peak.  Oh well.

Next, I went to the Wan Chai district.  I followed a walking route called the Heritage Trail.  The Heritage Trail took me to five cultural sites and ten building which showcase the historic architecture of the district.  I was a bit disappointed with the architectural sites.  Some I couldn’t even recognize.  The easiest to spot was the “Blue Building.”

The cultural sites were more interesting, included temples and street markets

Along the way, I also passed a few other interesting sights.

By now, I was getting hungry.  There are lots of good restaurants in Wan Chai.  You can find whatever type of food you like.  I kept walking around until I found something that struck my fancy.  It ended up being a Belgian gastropub.

Packet Pickup was in Victoria Park.  I got there at 1:45, not realizing that packet pickup didn’t start until 3:00.  By now, I had already walked almost 10 miles, so I wanted to get off my feet.  I went to a taproom a few blocks away, where I was able to sample some Hong Kong beers while I waited.

When I got back to Victoria Park, there was a long line for packet pickup.  While I was waiting in line, I bumped into my friends Jane and Cheryl, who traveled from Australia.

By the time I got back to the hotel, my phone, my watch, and my wifi buddy all needed to be recharged.  I relaxed at the hotel while all my devices were recharging.  Later, I had dinner with Jane and Cheryl at in Irish pub in Kowloon.

I got to bed early again and slept well all night.

Saturday, February 16

For the first time, I didn’t wake up outrageously early.  I dragged myself out of bed at 5:00, even though I could have slept later.

After breakfast, I took the MTR to Lantau Island, where I rode the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car.  The ride took 25 minutes and gave me great views of the north side of Lantau Island.

Looking back, I could see Tung Chung and the airport.  Looking to my right, I could see the bridge/tunnel that connects Hong Kong to Macau.  As we got close to Ngong Ping Village, the Tian Tan Buddha came into sight.

From the cable car station, it was a short walk to reach the steps leading up to the Tian Tan Buddha.  Also known simple as “Big Buddha,” this bronze statue is 34 meters tall and weighs 250 metric tons.  I had to climb 268 steps to reach the base of the statue.

From the pedestal, I could walk around and see in every direction.  I could even see some of the smaller outlying islands.

After seeing the statue, I walked back down to visit Po Lin Monastery.

After riding the cable car back to Tung Chung, I bumped into Jane and Cheryl just outside of the subway station.  In a place as crowded as Hong Kong, what are the odds of randomly bumping into someone you know, not once, but twice?

When I got back to The Mira, it was lunch time, and I was in a mood for Chinese food.  I knew I wouldn’t have to go far to find a Chinese restaurant.  As it turns out, I didn’t even need to leave the building.  I went to Cuisine Cuisine at The Mira, where I had a nice Dim Sum lunch.

After lunch, I took some time to organize my race clothes and prepare my gear bag.  Then I explored Kowloon Park.

My friend Sandy was also doing this race, but didn’t arrive until Saturday afternoon.  I went with Sandy to pick up her race packet, and then we had dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Sunday, February 17

Sunday was race day.  There were three different start times for the marathon.  Most runners started at either 6:35 or 7:00, but there was an earlier start time for runners who were eligible to compete for prizes.  Because I registered with a qualifying time, I was placed in this earlier wave, which started at 6:10 AM.  From my hotel, I only needed to walk a few blocks to get to the start corrals.  People taking a train or ferry from Hong Kong Island had to leave much earlier.  That’s the main reason I chose to stay in Kowloon.

I set my alarm for 4:00, but I was already awake before that.  I made a last minute decision not to check a gear bag.  It wasn’t as warm as the previous few days, but it still seemed like it was warm enough that I could walk from the finish to the nearest subway station without any extra layers.  The gear check was farther from the hotel, and it seemed too much of a bother for something I probably wouldn’t need.

The temperature was in the upper 60s and looked like it wouldn’t get any warmer during the race.  The humidity, while noticeable, wasn’t as high as it usually is.  Finally, we were supposed to have enough wind to make it feel a few degrees cooler.  All things considered, this seemed like the best weather we could hope for.

I left the hotel wearing shorts and a singlet.  Then I felt some light drizzle.  With the wind, it felt somewhat cold, so I went back to the hotel to get my Tyvek jacket.  In lieu of a gear bag, my plan was to wear the jacket before and after the race, but run with the jacket tied around my waist.  I’ve done that in other races, and it doesn’t seem to slow me down.

I didn’t see any pace groups, and I didn’t see any other guidance of where to line up to run a particular pace.  The corrals filled from the back.  Where you lined up seemed to be determined mostly by when you entered the corrals.  I entered the corral about 30 minutes before the start.

The elite wave of the half marathon started 25 minutes before we did.  After they began running, we started to move forward.  It was only after we moved forward that I could see how far I was from the starting line.  My gut feeling was that I was lined up too far forward.

We initially lined up on only one side of the street.  As we were moving forward, half of the runners moved to the other side of the street.  A few minutes later, I heard a yell from the other side of the street.  Jane and Cheryl were lined up right next to me, but on the other side of the median.
By now the drizzle had stopped.  I tied my jacket around my waist while I waited for the start.

Two weeks ago, I ran the Surf City Marathon in 3:48:02.  Ideally, my goal for this race would be to improve on that time.  The conditions at this race were warmer and more humid, so that didn’t seem realistic.  The next best thing was to break four hours.  Even that seemed ambitious for the conditions, but I figured I should at least try.

As we started running, I did my best to ignore the runners around me and run my own pace.  That’s easier said than done, but I knew this wave had all the fast runners.  The streets were pretty crowded, so it was difficult to look for the kilometer markers.  I missed the first one.

We started out running north along Nathan Road.  My hotel is on this street, so I was pretty familiar with the area.  It was still dark, but the streets in this district are well lit.

At two kilometers, I checked my pace.  It wasn’t as fast as I thought.  I was running about 10 seconds per kilometer slower than I did at my last race, yet it seemed like I was working harder.  My pace didn’t seem as relaxed.

I was on pace to break four hours, but not by much.  I was already feeling sweaty from the humidity, so I had some doubts about being to run that pace for the whole race.

After about two kilometers, we turned left onto Jordan Road.  Eventually, we merged onto a highway.  By now, it was starting to get light out.  We were starting to run through neighborhoods I had not explored yet.

At around 4K, we made a U-turn and began running north again.  Farther to my left, I saw some other runners going south.  I knew we would come back this way eventually, but not until much later in the race.  The elite wave of the half marathon started 25 minutes before we did.  These evidently were the fastest half marathon runners.

It was 5K before we reached an aid station.  I drank some water without looking to see if they also had sports drink.  I was long overdue to start drinking something, and water was fine.  I could take in calories later.

I continued to check my pace at each kilometer marker.  My pace was a little bit erratic, but I was still ahead of a four hour pace.  I still had doubts about keeping that up for the whole race.  I worried about how much I was sweating.

After the first one, the aid stations became more frequent.  At the second one I drank water again, but then I noticed a sports drink at the later tables.  After that, I always drank the sports drink.

At around 8K we began climbing a long ramp up to a bridge.  This was Stonecutter’s Bridge, which would take us onto Tsing Yi Island.  To my right, I could see dozens of large cranes used to load cargo containers onto ships.

The first time I had sports drink at an aid station, I noticed it was in squeezable packages with drinking spouts that had already been opened by the volunteers.  It was easy to drink on the run.  That’s the only thing that allowed me to resist the temptation of walking through this aid station.

When I reached the 9K mark, it occurred to me that we had been climbing for at least a kilometer, and we still were nowhere close to the main span yet.  We rounded a bend in the ramp, and I saw dozens and dozens of those cargo loading cranes.  I guess that’s no surprise.  During the colonial period, Hong Kong and Macau were the two main points for trade between China and Europe.

When I got to the 10K mark, I was finally onto the main span of the bridge, but I still wasn’t to the top of the climb.  This was seriously a long bridge.

I was surprised to see I didn’t slow down on the long climb.  I held a consistent pace, but the effort really wore me down.  As I began descending, I initially avoided speeding up.  Instead, I used the downhill to recover from the effort of the climb.

The bridge was tiring, but it was also exposed to the wind.  It was the first time I really felt any wind since the start of the race.  It helped me cool off.

Shortly after we got off the bridge, we entered a tunnel.  Tsing Yi Island isn’t flat.  It’s like a small mountain poking out of the sea.  Instead of going over the mountain, the highway goes through it.

Inside the tunnel, I didn’t have enough perspective to see if we were going up or down.  It felt like we were still on a slight downgrade all the way through the tunnel.  I felt like I was speeding up.

About halfway through the tunnel, I started to get hot and sweaty again.  The complete absence of wind inside the tunnel reminded me that we were running in high humidity.

After leaving the tunnel, I noticed the road was turning uphill again.  Crossing Tsing Yi Island, there were some long gradual ramps that started to wear me down.

We followed a ramp that led to Tsing Ma Bridge.  This is the bridge to Lantau Island.  We went right up to the edge of the bridge, and then turned around.  In the past, the course included this bridge.  They had to change the course, because it was disrupting traffic too much.  Tsing Ma Bridge is the only route motorists can take to get to the airport.

After backtracking a bit, we turned onto a different highway that took us to Ting Kau Bridge.  This bridge connects Tsing Yi Island to the Ting Kau district on the mainland.  Ting Kau Bridge was also a hill, but not nearly as high as Stonecutter’s Bridge.

As we crossed Ting Kau Bridge, the wind was strong.  I could hear everyone’s race bibs rattling in the wind.  I was worried a gust of wind would rip my race bib right off my shirt, so used one hand to hold it in place as I crossed the bridge.

Ting Kau is part of what’s now called the New Territories.  It wasn’t part of Hong Kong until Britain began leasing the land from China in 1898.

We weren’t in Ting Kau very long before we turned around to cross the bridge again.  What seemed like a cross wind before now seemed more like a headwind.  I was still worried about my race bib ripping off, but now I also had to worry about losing my hat.  I pulled it on as snugly as it would fit, but I still sometimes had to hold it in place.  I was running out of hands, since I also had to hold my race bib in place.

Shortly after returning to Tsing Yi, I reached the halfway mark.  I got there in 1:56:18.  I was well ahead of a four hour pace, but the first half took a lot out of me.  I fully expected to slow down in the second half.  On the bright side, the strong winds around the Ting Kau Bridge really cooled me down.  I no longer seemed to be sweating at all.

Before the race, I reviewed the elevation profile.  I knew the first half was the tougher half of the race.  That’s where most of the tiring climbs are.  We had already seen the highest elevation on the course.  The second half still had some hills, but it was net downhill.

At about 22K, I started a long gradual downhill section.  We kept descending until we reached the Cheung Tsing Tunnel.  We were taking a different route across Tsing Yi Island, but we still had to go under the mountain.

This tunnel was much longer than the first one, and it seemed to be downhill the whole way.  The long downhill section did a lot to rejuvenate me.

We were out of the wind again, but I didn’t get sweaty inside this tunnel.  I think it helped that I was nice and cool when I entered the tunnel.

After the tunnel, we crossed another bridge that took us back to the mainland.  This bridge was slightly uphill, but not too bad.  I was now more confident that the hills and bridges in the second half wouldn’t wear me down as much.

As we headed south toward Kowloon, I saw lots of big buildings.  These weren’t like the high-rise office buildings near Victoria Harbor.  These seemed more like large apartment complexes.  Each complex had multiple towers with dozens of floors.  I’d guess each complex had at least 10,000 units.  Now I know where all those people live.  Hong Kong has a population density of more than 7,000 people per square kilometer.  That doesn’t tell the whole story though.  About 70% of the land in Hong Kong is green space.  Where they build, they build up instead of out.

There was one more uphill section, but then I started a long downhill section.  At 28K, I was ahead of a four hour pace, and I was gaining in confidence.  Then the road was suddenly invaded by a horde of runners wearing light blue T-shirts.

The blue shirts were the race T-shirts.  It seemed at least half of these runners were racing in them.  The elite wave of the half marathon started before the marathon, but the slower waves started later.  These were all half marathon runners who had been on the other side of the road.  Now they had reached their turnaround point and they merged in with us.

It wasn’t a gentle merge.  They seemed to outnumber us by about ten to one.  I had trouble seeing other marathon runners.  Worse yet, I quickly realized these runners were going at a slower pace, and it was tough to get around them.

I didn’t want to accept a slower pace, so I worked hard to get around the slower runners.  I alternated between speeding around them and getting bottled up.  It was tough to know what my average pace was, because my pacing was no erratic.  I was getting tired, yet I wasn’t confident that I was still going fast enough.

I moved up through the thick pack of runners whenever I got the chance.  My only hope was that I would eventually move through the pack until I reached runners who were going at my pace.  Even then, I wouldn’t know for sure.  I completely lost my sense of pace.

The next several kilometers were psychologically difficult.  I knew we were gradually getting closer to Victoria Harbor but I didn’t recognize any buildings yet.

At one point, I heard spectators shouting to runners and runners shouting back.  We were going under a covered pedestrian bridge.  This may have been the first time I heard a large number of spectators.  When the race started, it was early, and most people weren’t up yet.  From three kilometers on, we had been on highways.  There just weren’t any places where spectators could get to the course.  Fortunately, that would change when we got to Hong Kong Island.

At each kilometer marker, I saw that I was maintaining my pace.  If anything, I was speeding up.  The last few kilometers before the harbor were downhill, as we descended toward the waterfront.

When we got to the harbor, we continued to descend.  The highway we were on goes through a long tunnel under Victoria Harbor.  We kept descending until we were almost halfway across the harbor.  When the tunnel leveled out, we were 30 meters below sea level.

In the tunnel, I saw a pace group ahead of me.  It was the 2:00 pace group for the half marathon.  They started at a different time, but the pace they were going should have been the same pace I needed to sustain to break four hours.  I tried to catch up to them, but it was difficult getting around the runners between us.  When I did, I suddenly found myself running right by the pace group.  I was clearly going faster than a four hour pace, and I saw no reason to slow down.  I only had seven kilometers to go.

Eventually, we had to ascend back above sea level.  That was the last difficult climb of the race.  As soon as I started climbing, I felt salty sweat running into my eyes.  This was by far the longest of the tunnels, and we were sheltered from the wind the whole time.  Inside the tunnel, the humidity was awful.  Now that I was working harder to go uphill, I was getting sweatier than ever.

I looked forward to getting out of the tunnel.  We were still going uphill, but it was a relief to feel the wind again.

At each kilometer marker, I tried to figure out what pace I needed to average for the rest of the race to break four hours.  Even though the climb out of the tunnel was tiring, it was obvious I would easily break four hours.  Soon I wondered if I would break 3:50.

As we worked our way through the Central District, I started to notice familiar landmarks.  I saw the Ferris wheel that’s just past the ferry terminals.  Later, I saw the convention center.  We never got very far above the harbor.  I didn’t remember what the elevation profile of the last few kilometers looked like, but I assumed at some point we would need to climb higher to reach Victoria Park.

At 39K, I realized I had roughly two miles to go.  If I could do it in 20 minutes, I would break 3:50.  It seemed like I would easily do that.  Then I realized I was running negative splits.  I still expected one more hill, but I wondered if I could break 3:48.  At the start of the day, I never imagined I would run this race faster than the Surf City Marathon.

Finally, we turned right and ran up a ramp.  This was the final hill I was anticipating.  It was tough maintaining my effort all the way up the top, but I saw the 41K sign at the top.  That gave me the motivation I needed.  It was getting drizzly now.  If anything, that made conditions more comfortable.

I didn’t see the park until I was almost in it.  Then I immediately saw the finish line.  I finished in 3:45:17.  I couldn’t believe it.  In a race where I thought I would fade in the second half, I actually ran negative splits by seven minutes.

By the time I finished, the drizzle was getting heavier.  As I saw how wet the ground was, I was really glad I didn’t check a gear bag.  The bags were all getting wet.  Once the draw cords get wet, it’s difficult to untie them.  I put on my Tyvek jacket and walked to the subway station as quickly as I could.

The finisher medal has an interesting design, but I’m not really sure how to describe it.  I guess a picture is worth 1,000 words.

I couldn’t be happier about my performance in this race, but I have mixed feelings about the course.  On one hand, I like that it took us to several different parts of Hong Kong.  It was cool to run across Stonecutter’s Bridge and through the tunnel under Victoria Harbor.  That said, we spent most of the race looking at asphalt and concrete.  Running on the freeway doesn’t make for an attractive course.  It also made most of the course inaccessible to spectators.  I have no trouble staying motivated without cheering crowds, but they definitely add something.

After we both got back from the race and had time to get cleaned up, I joined Sandy for beers at a taproom near her hotel.  Then we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant that was nearby.

I usually sleep well the night after a race, and this was no exception.  It was nice to get a full night’s sleep, since Monday was a long travel day.

Monday, February 18

I was able to enjoy the breakfast buffet at The Mira one last time before heading to the airport.  That was nice, since I had to miss the breakfast on Sunday.

For the return trip, I was able to schedule flights with reasonable times.  My first flight didn’t leave until just past noon, so I had plenty of time to pack before leaving for the airport.

I had a three hour layover in Seoul/Incheon right around dinner time.  Sadly, the terminal I was in didn’t have any restaurants that serve pizza.  If I want to eat pizza in South Korea, I’m going to have to make a trip there to run a marathon.

Next, I had a 10 hour flight to Seattle. In a rarity for me, I actually got some sleep on that flight.  It helped that I was in an exit row seat, so I had some extra leg room.  It also helped that there was nobody in the seat next to me.

As I write this, I still need to fly home from Seattle.  In all, I'm spending about 26 hours on flights or in airports, yet it will still be Monday when I get home.  That's a long day.

I still can't get over how good a race I had.  This was my fastest race since June, when I was 12 pounds lighter.  It wasn't as easy race either.  I'm encouraged by this result.

Race Statistics
Distance:  42.2 kilometers
Time:  3:45:17
Average Pace:  5:20 per kilometer (8:36 per mile) 
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  367
Countries:  34