So it struck me as rather odd that when my training partner Diego posted on Facebook that he was doing this 7.5 km race up Victoria Peak in Hong Kong that I felt compelled to sign up for it. Not only do I run less than once-per-week on average (probably 30 times in the last year), when I do run, it's always on flat land. On top of that, I have also barely done any running in the last 3 months due to a minor injury in my foot that bothers me quite a bit when I run (or sometimes, walk).
So why the hell did I decide to do an uphill race?
I guess the main reason is that as little as I like it, I am trying to incorporate running a bit more into my life. Joel Jamieson, an MMA strength and conditioning trainer whose book I really enjoyed, has written that "roadwork" is an incredibly under-appreciated part of MMA conditioning. He notes that while both Western boxers and Thai boxers have always incorporated roadwork in their fights, MMA trainers too often feel that only powerful, anaerobic exercise has any place in MMA conditioning. Jamieson argues that there are relevant, MMA-applicable adaptations that long, slow, 130-160 beat-per-minute cardio training enable that anaerobic interval training just won't re-create. And it makes some sense: professional MMA fights are 15 minutes long, and the anaerobic system lasts only a couple minutes.
In short, running is good for me as a combat athlete, so I should learn to like it.
The other reason is that the run is uphill. But I just finished saying that I basically never run uphill. This is true, but one of my favourite activities back in Vancouver is doing the Grouse Grind, a killer trail with a 31% average incline. I can't walk the Grind and everyone I've ever taken up to the Grind thinks they can run up it, but they never can. I think I'm a way below-average runner on flat land, but I thought maybe I'm better adapted to the demands of uphill. I also noticed walking around Hong Kong (which is quite steep in general) that when walking uphill, my foot injury doesn't bother me at all. So when I did a trial run up Victoria Peak and noticed that my foot also didn't hurt very much running uphill, I thought hey, what the hell.
(Click to enlarge.)
After the race, I went into Google Earth and plotted the path, which is what you see above. As you can see, it's up and down, up and down for the first 6 km, and then gets crazy steep at the end.
My game plan for the race was to pace myself slowly. Basically I didn't want to kill myself in the flats and die on the uphills, because that would be pretty embarrassing in addition to killing my time. So I paced myself really slowly for the first four kilometers. As it turns out, I did a good job of it. Way too good.
My 3km time came in at 25:22. My 3km-7.5km time came in at 23:18! So basically, I ran the last 4.5km, which were super-steep, faster than I ran the first 3km which was almost totally flat!
And it was obvious, too. Early on, tons of people were passing me, and I had no problem with it because I was "following the game plan". But after 5km, almost no one was passing me, and I was starting to pass someone new every few seconds. By the 6km mark, absolutely no one was passing me and I was blowing by people by the dozens. I crossed the finish line with way too much gas in the tank.
For comparison, I took the splits from the top ten finishers and those guys did the front 3km on average 1:11 faster than the back 4.5km. I then took the ten guys who finished immediately before and after me, and on average they were 1:58 faster in the front than in the back. But my dumb ass did the front half 2:04 slower than the back half! What a major fail!
For overall results, I finished 351st out of 523 men and 110th out of 165 for males born 1973-1982. Decidedly below average, although not as far below average as I would have predicted going in. I feel like with a some better pacing, I probably could have knocked off 4-5 minutes and gotten myself to about the middle of the pack.
But hey, I'm not a competitive racer and this was not supposed to be an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. And to that end it did cultivate a desire for me to do more uphill roadwork. I have to say, I actually found it kind of fun! I definitely enjoy uphill running a lot more than flat running (especially since flat running is hurting my foot at the moment), and I would be surprised if today were to be my last run up Victoria Peak this week.
So, lame pacing and unimpressive time notwithstanding, mission accomplished!