ul·tra·mar·a·thon·er: \ˈʌltrəmarəθ(ə)nnər\ n. – a person who participates in ultramarathons, or footraces that are longer than a standard marathon.
When running comes up in conversation, the same question inevitably arises. Its the crux of running, and yes, all of your running friends are sick of hearing it… “So, you run marathons?”
Well… no. I’ve done races that take more than 5 hours to complete, some training runs that take over 8 hours and climb over massive mountains. But… no. I’ve never actually ran in a marathon. It doesn’t help that everything that has to do with running is called a “marathon” without actually being a 42k course in the way that studying early Greek architecture can earn you a PhD and thus be called a “doctor” even though you’re not quite qualified to tell me I have Lupis.
No, this post isn’t about the merits of signing up for marathons. It’s about my own personal disposition on running over 42.195 km in a race. But I don’t have that disposition anymore. Because I ran it. And it was actually pretty enjoyable. And I did pretty well. So let me introduce…
Translantau 50k. 2300+ meters of vertical climbing in a loop around and through the middle of Lantau Island.
750 runners from 34 nations registered. The bibs even had little flags, so you can see the nationality of each runner.
I signed up back in September after a friend told me how great the race is. He wasn’t wrong, it was a fantastic race. It’s a quick ferry ride from Hong Kong island, with a moderate start time, supportive aid stations, state of the art tracking systems… but that convenience may have lulled me into a false sense of security, because I definitely screwed up.
In my defense, destination races can be tough. You have to get a good meal and a good night’s sleep in a foreign place, perhaps jet-lagged… I worked that afternoon, taught three quick lessons early in the morning with my wonderful Japanese-Taiwanese kindergarten kids, then meticulously packed my bags which were already laid out for me in clean orderly fashions, ticking every box on my mental checklist.
I arrived at the airport early–2 and a half hours early, in fact–to enjoy a nice big healthy meal at the airport before boarding my plane. I stroll past the ticket counters, looking for a drink that I can suck down before the security check, then look at some nice Taiwanese gifts that I could perhaps bring to my Hong Kong friends. Hmm, maybe some chocolate for the flight… Then I mosey back to the ticket counter, get up to the automated check-in and see the passport slot.
That’s when the image of my passport sitting on the bed flashes into my mind. My hand, reaching out to the blanket, tossing it over to ensure there was nothing else on my bed that I might be forgetting, and my precious little blue book trapped underneath, 41.8 kilometers from where I am currently standing.
My stomach drops. My eyes dilate. I look at my watch: 05:03.
The first thing I do is take out cash at the ATM as fast as I can. Then I speed-walk to the taxi stand and tell them I need to go home and come right back here by 6:15, the time in which the ticket counter will be closed.
Racing down the rain-soaked highway at stupidly fast speeds, the cab driver gets me to my house in just over 45 minutes. We hit stop-and-go hit traffic on the way out, but we’d be clear on the way back to hopefully be able to make it in under 30 minutes. I run up the stairs, flip the blanket over, exposing my passport, snatch it, and literally run back out the door, down the stairs and back into the cab.
The entire way back I was watching Google Maps as it calculated my estimated arrival time. The entire way, estimation sat somewhere exactly around 6:15. The fate of this trip hung in the void of seconds, and I was a minute inside or outside of being able to get this flight.
But the rain kept pounding, and the drivers slowed down. I watched as the minutes climbed, and we rolled down to a slower and slower pace. I called Eva Airways in defeat and attempted to change my flight, but they said it would be easier to see if I actually miss it first.
We pull in at 6:22, and after visualizing my exact route to the ticket desk for over a half hour, I give the driver the extremely exorbitant fare of $2200 (fee for entering the airport, distance fee, and tons of time on the clock), rush the door, slam up to the poor clerk and tell her that I need to get on my flight right now. I have no checked baggage, there’s no line at security, I can walk to my flight in under 10 minutes. I can make final boarding and be in my seat 10 minutes before they close the door. But they wouldn’t be having any of that.
“Sir, if we print a boarding pass, the plane will be delayed waiting for you. You will hold up the entire plane.”
Oh yeah, you’re going to send Sherlock and Watson to scour the terminal for clues to find the lost runner-boy who forgot his passport? They’re liars, but they do bump me to the next flight at 9:50 flight for free, so I guess they’re okay liars.
Fast forward to 7:45, I’m enjoying a wonderful vegetarian noodle soup in one of the far corners of the airport.
I hear over the intercom: “Attention passengers on Eva Airways flight BR741 bound to Hong Kong, the flight will continue to be delayed. We will begin boarding at 8:00.” You gotta be kidding. And I checked… Since I did not get a boarding pass printed, I do not have a seat on that flight, and could not board. My name was now registered to the 9:50 flight, and that flight only, despite the fact that the previous plane would be riding to Hong Kong with an empty seat now.
Mine was delayed as well, (so was Rob and Xenia’s, due to the heavy rain) and we weren’t off the ground until well after 10:20. We landed just before midnight in Hong Kong, and after an exhausting game of Uber-driver-hunt, that involved running in and out of Wi-Fi signal and trying to get directions from multiple sources where the pick-up area is (there are 4 at the Hong Kong International Airport) I ended up at my hostel at 2:00. I packed my gear while entertaining the chatty Uber driver so it would be prepared to race as soon as I woke up. The incompetence of the front desk clerk at the hostel make it so all-in-all, I was asleep at 2:35 a.m. on the top bunk of a 6-person room.
Three hours later my alarm goes off. I bet the other 5 people thought it was pretty interesting that some guy came in the room at 2:30, then left again at 5:30. Rob’s room is across the road, and we meet on the road. He mentions how tired he is, and oddly enough, I feel pretty okay. I’m sure the exhaustion will creep in later in the day, but right now, I think my excitement is enough to fuel me into a false sense of consciousness.
That consciousness quickly faded when we sat down on the one-hour ferry ride to Lantau Island. On board were over 500 shivering, scantly-clad runner-folk from every country imaginable, dressed like they were seconds away from crossing the start line… and us: two white dudes and a Taiwanese girl, slumped dramatically over our backpacks, in clothes we look like we slept in (because we did) in a deep sleep. It’s going to be a long day.
Coming up in part 2… THE RACE.