UTMB CCC: Fuelled by family and friends…and odd socks

The ballot for the UTMB CCC opened on the 6th of January – my bucket list race.

As I logged onto my computer, I remember thinking there was no chance of getting a spot through the ballot process – the race had previously been cancelled due to COVID and there would be heaps of rolled over entries.  I entered my details and clicked submit, something flashed up on my screen.

Automatic entry.


I clicked the back button and refreshed the page.

Automatic entry – I had enough ITRA (International Trail Running Association) points from previous race placings to qualify…as elite.


The same.

I proceeded.

I was in.


100km, 6,100m. At altitude. Across three countries.


And so, the training began.

I felt strong – even through Winter: early mornings, cold mornings, dark mornings. I absolutely loved it. As with any increase in volume though, I picked up some niggles that I needed to work through

Then five weeks out from the race, COVID struck and I lost two weeks of training…- and maybe some lung capacity. But I knew that I’d built a strong enough base to get me through it… right?


The mountains were like nothing I’ve ever seen before – beautiful monsters that look like they’d been painted into the backdrop of the mountain village.

The town itself was alive and buzzing with race vibes, runners, music. Life.

It was magical.

I was there with my mum, sister and brother too, which made it even more magical.

The question kept coming up – did I have a goal? A time?

I was up against probably the toughest terrain of my life and some of the best runners in the world, but I also wanted to enjoy it and have fun. So I would aim for sub-20 and hope for something like 16-18 hours if all went to plan (spoiler alert: it never goes to plan). My main goal was just to finish, which seemed like a feat in itself.

Plenty of opportunity to fall over… which is one of my favourite party tricks in a race like this.

The race itself consisted of five mountains across Italy, Switzerland and France over 100km with 6100m elevation – the first and last mountains were the biggest climbs with some long and technical (and sometimes steep) descents.


It would be hard for sure – but given how much I loved ascents, it was almost my ideal race.

I also had to consider altitude – Chamonix was already 1,000m above sea level and the climbs would take me to above 2,500m, just to make it that little bit harder.  We could already feel it when we arrived.

The night before, we sat down and planned the race. My family would join me at the start line and then chase me through the Alps on shuttle buses to meet me at 54km, 70km and 81km.

Amazing – such an incredible boost to the race.

Suddenly race day was here.

The race didn’t start until 9am – but the start line was in Courmayeur, Italy and our shuttle bus left Chamonix at 5.45am.


So we were up at 4.30am, aiming to leave the house at 5.15am to get to the bus.

Coffee, mobility, laughs with the sleepy family.

Excitement brewed.

I had checked and triple checked the point where the shuttle buses left from, worried about dragging my family out so early already.

We arrived at the location – it was empty.

“You’re looking for race shuttle buses?”

I nodded in horror, waiting for him to confirm I’d taken my family to the wrong location.

He circled on a map where they actually left from.

“About a 15 minute walk.”

It was already 5.35am.

We didn’t have 15 minutes.


My heart sank.

What had I done?

“We better move.”


We started to jog – even my mum was jogging. A beautifully panicked warm up as such.

I went ahead, hoping if I found the buses I could at least stall them.


Seven minutes later and I was there with my brother in tow. I didn’t even know he could run.

But Imogen had stayed with mum, who was already struggling with the altitude, let alone running in it.

God I felt awful. What if she didn’t make it to the bus in time?

I wanted nothing more than to watch the sunrise with them in Italy and share the start of the race.

“We have others coming but we went to the wrong location.” I said to one marshal.

“That is ok, get on any bus, there will be more.”

Some hope.

Please let her make it.

Another two buses arrived.

And then so did my mum.

I think I cried.

We jumped on the bus, all a little exhausted and shell-shocked but all incredibly grateful.

Sunrise in Courmayeur was stunning as we chilled for a few hours before the start of the race – eating our pre-made breakfast, drinking beautiful Italian coffee and, ahem, queuing for the toilets multiple times.

8.40am – we made our way to the start line via a jumping photo next to the race sign.


Hundreds of people – runners, supporters, TV, media, photographers.

I was in the first wave – the first few hundred of the 2,200 racing.

I found where I thought I was supposed to be according to my bib number, chatted to family, tried to relax.

“You.” A race volunteer pointed at me. “You are in the wrong section. You need to be at the front.”

But I liked where I was.

I followed him and he took me literally to the start line.

Oh dear.

The elite wave indeed.

I looked around me and wondered whether I was:

a) the only one with a body fat percentage over 15%

b) the only one wearing odd football socks because they were nice colours

c) the only one carrying enough potatoes to feed a small army even though it made my pack that little bit bulkier.

I felt small in a very big pond of very good athletes.

“Smile Jess, just enjoy this incredible moment.” Imogen must’ve sensed my nerves.

She was right. So right.

Fake it until you make it.

I smiled and waved at the cameras, took a few deep breaths and chatted to a few runners around me.

This wasn’t about the other runners.

This was what the last few months of training – the sacrifices, the dedication, the 100km+ weeks I’d put my body through. 

This was my moment.

My race.

My coach had told me the first half of the race was a warm up to the second half – and who doesn’t love a good 50km warm up? I needed to not go out hard, save energy in the legs for the final three climbs – especially the last steep ascent and final descent back into Chamonix.

I needed to pace myself.

The countdown began and I said my goodbyes to the family.

“See you in Champex-Lac.”

I smiled, the thought made me so happy.

And then we were off, downhill on the road, at pace.


And before I knew it, we’d hit the gradual climb that would take us to the trail, and to the first big climb.

I needed to get ahead a little, to try and avoid the bottleneck I’d been warned about.

God damn it was humid though and I felt the pangs of a headache gnaw at me from the altitude. I was also sweating more than I normally do.

We’d run maybe 2km when the people around me started to get their poles out, still on concrete.

I figured I should get them out while we were gently creeping up and still moving.

Another kilometre or so and we hit a trail and I could see where the climb was going – a zig zag up a mountain. Stunning.

I took a photo, then a selfie – and noticed how beetroot red my face was.

I was overheating.

I stopped, took my layers off (the thermal seemed like a good idea at the time). T-shirt only, drank water.


And the views as we climbed, golly.


Single track, and a queue. But a moving queue. This would form a perfect pacing for me, I wouldn’t go out too hard on the first climb – because I couldn’t.

I chatted to a few people, then realised most people were already in their pain cave on the climb, surely someone loved climbing as much as me?

I managed a few overtakes as we zig zagged up – my legs felt good. The altitude made the breathing that little bit harder as I ascended but I took deep breaths and just kept moving.

Golly what a climb.

I put some music on – motivation. Pushed harder as the pack spread out a little bit.

This was fun.

This was beautiful.

It was actually so beautiful I just wanted to stop and take photos.

Over an hour of climbing had passed, I’d cooled down, found a good pace, managed a few more overtakes where there were two single tracks side by side, and avoided some falling rocks from runners above.


Then suddenly we were at Tete de la Tronche.

The top?

The top.

The first 10km of climbing was done and I was on track at two hours.

I filled up water and ate a CLIF bar as I moved, not wanting to rest for too long so early on.

“Jessica Short, let’s go get it.” Said one of the volunteers.

I do love having names on bibs.

I smiled, let’s indeed.

The next section was flat and then into downhill – beautiful single track with views over the vast mountains of Italy and Switzerland.

I put my poles away and cruised down, found a running pack at a good pace and we ran through the mountains. Some technical, some just nice.


But then.



I looked ahead and could see the clouds had darkened and were rolling towards us.


The rain was light at first, refreshing – especially after overheating earlier. But I watched as a wall of rain headed our way across the mountain.

This was it.

I continued on, resisting the urge to put on my waterproof (mainly because I hate wearing waterproofs).

Then it turned heavier, so quickly. And almost sideways as the wind that brought the rain to us whipped us too.

Thanks wind.

I stopped – we all did, and put our waterproofs on and I grabbed my poles back out to provide some stability.

It didn’t occur to me to put my waterproof over my pack which proceeded to get soaked through (goodbye powerpack, hello soggy potatoes).

I tried not to think about the thunder, or getting hit by lightning.

The single track quickly turned from dirt to mud to rivers and I tried multiple times to take photos or videos of how crazy it was – but my phone was too wet to even unlock at that point.

In fact, I was too wet, soaked – my feet, my clothes, there was not one dry part of me.


It was harder too, running in the mud and water, balancing. Energy consuming.

I slowed – mostly to prevent a face plant.

There was very little I could do except hope that the rain passed soon and I could dry off during the rest of the run.

I hit the small but steep descent that would take me down to the first proper aid station – with food and energy drinks, and some shelter.

And then just like that the rain stopped, and cleared, as if nothing had happened. Leaving only soaking wet trails and soaking wet runners.

The aid station – Checkpoint 2: Arnouva.

I’d hit 26km in four hours – super happy with the pacing and timing, despite the slog through the rain and wet trails. I was on track for 16 hours.

The aid station was buzzing full of people swapping wet clothes, readjusting soaking packs, and eating.

I looked at the food – a selection of biscuits, cheese and meats. Nothing that was Jess friendly.

Oh dear.

Having suffered through gastro during a race in America – and never wanting to experience that discomfort again, I thought it best to stick with my soggy potatoes.

They were very soggy.

I did a body check – all felt good, if not a little wet. The headache had subsided as I’d adjusted to the altitude.

I left the aid station, still soaking wet, knowing I was heading for the second climb up Grand Col Ferret (the Italian / Swiss border) – approximately 5km of steep-ish ascent followed by 20km of descent.


The climb was steep but switch-backy and more beautiful single trails. With the storm passing over the views were even better – spectacular, in fact. Huge mountains, the biggest I’d seen – we were surrounded by them but also on one of them.

I was in heaven.

The top of Grand Col Ferret did not disappoint – such incredible views of Italy and Switzerland, I wanted to cry. Others around me were also stunned to silence, happy, content. The climb was so worth it.

I knew now was the real challenge for me – the long 20km+ descent into Switzerland.

I had practised my downhill, strengthened my ankles, and was more than happy to take a face plant or too along the way. I just hoped my body would be able to hold up.

I began with a gradual descent at first along a single track with views of mountains for miles. Gradual at first then building speed, but not wanting to completely trash my quads for the rest of the race.

I felt so strong.

I hit a check point a few kilometres later but didn’t stop, continuing on the beautiful single track.

It took my breath away.

The first 10km of down was absolute bliss, and at 40km we hit the beautiful Swiss town of La Fouly – and an aid station.

I knew I could feel the beginnings of what I had self diagnosed as bursitis in my left foot (disclaimer: not bursitis, a neuroma) start to make itself known with the continued impact of the downhill.

I’d expected it, and I knew I could manage that pain. I also knew everything would start hurting a little over the next few hours. Nothing would hurt as much as everything else at some point.


I only stopped briefly, wanting to keep the momentum of feeling good and heading down towards Champex-Lac where my family would (hopefully) be.

I grabbed a cup of coke and headed out, devouring another CLIF bar – berry flavour.

But I could only manage half.


Nausea hit.

Was it the bar…or my body?

I put the bar away and continued onto a forested single track that cut into the mountain edge, quite narrow, and sometimes quite technical. And a very steep cliff to my right.

Don’t fall Jess – or fall left at least.

Just don’t fall.


But then.

Flashes of pain in my knee.


I stopped, gritted my teeth.


More pain, familiar – like someone was axing the side of my knee.


I kicked the dirt in frustration.

I had done everything the physio had told me since my last 100km – the strengthening, the stretching, massage, cupping.


I was close to having a hissy fit right there.

I was coming undone.


“Come on Jess.”

A few deep breaths.

If it was back, I knew it would mostly be on the downhills, and I was most of the part through the largest one.

I also had poles – I could use them to take the pressure off my knee for sure.

I could do this.

I had this.

I continued on as the pain flashed intermittently through my knee whenever I bent it too much.

I focussed on the scenery – and trying not to fall off the side of a cliff or face plant.

At 48km we hit another beautiful Swiss town – Praz de Fort, I shuffled myself down the road and through the streets with people cheering us along.

I love people.

It was a fabulous feeling and it was absolutely beautiful. The foot and knee pain was almost forgotten.

I also knew a climb was coming – the climb to Champex-Lac and to family, and food and a little bit of rest.

I could do this.

The climb did not disappoint – no pain in my foot or my knee.

I was back.

I picked up the pace to make up for the lost time on the downhill.

I’d hit 50km.


Just under eight hours.

I was still on track for 16 hours.

Although I knew in my heart that I might not be able to maintain my current pace with the ITB issues, if I couldn’t run the descents.

I pushed down the frustration and continued the climb.

Then I saw them.

Flashes of orange and black – the other half of the pair of socks I was wearing.


I choked.

I found myself trying to breath and run whilst trying to hold back tears. 


I stopped and took a few breaths.

Then I called her name.


I ran towards her.

I don’t know who was more excited to see the other.

She had a million questions, and we discussed the race, the ITB and foot issues.

“You’re smashing it.”


We turned a corner and suddenly I saw my brother – beer in hand, and my mum – paintbrush in hand, sitting waiting for me.

It was almost too much.

More excitement.

Lots of hugs.



More strength.

I headed into the Champex-Lac aid station. It was one of the larger ones and the first one you were allowed a support crew person in with you, and where supporters could look on…and support.

Imogen met me there.

“What do you need?”

A beer would be good.

I took my pack off and sat down for the first time in over eight hours.

God that felt good.

I grabbed coke and bananas, and tried to eat more potatoes. Anything, but I could feel the nausea creep in.

Then I knew why.

My period had arrived.



Luckily, I had packed provisions.

But now I knew the real battle was on.

I wouldn’t be able to curl up in a ball and take some painkillers to stop the cramps or lie down to deal with the nausea and lethargy I knew so well every month.

Would my muscles suffer? Is that why my ITB has started hurting? Would it affect my joints? I knew it had already affected my appetite.

46km left.

“Jess, you can totally do it. You’re strong.”

My voice of semi-reason (except when Processco is involved), Imogen.

I could, and I bloody well would.

I was ok.

And suddenly we were laughing at it all.

What else could the world throw at me?

I re-strapped my ankle and stretched my legs as she told me about their day, a welcome distraction.

We left the crew section to find my brother and mum – who happened to have a plate of hot chips.

The world was good again.

We hugged and laughed some more.

Imogen and Duncan headed out with me as I left the aid station and ran along the lake, knowing it would remain flat for a while before we headed up again.

I could do flat, and I could do up.

“I’ll see you in Trient.” Imogen said as I left them.

I was beyond happy knowing that.

We said our goodbyes and it was all I could do not to cry again, just to make running that little bit harder.

And so I began, slow at first, finding my rhythm again after sitting down.

The next aid station was in 12km – almost at the top of the climb. My focus was to get there.

The flat was beautiful – along the river, then we climbed into beautiful countryside and I could feel the sun beginning to set.

I saw signs on the trail, warning us of herds of cattle and I had to laugh.

I pushed down the waves of cramps and nausea, put some music on and just kept moving.


Then I saw them – literally herds of cattle.

All wearing cowbells that sounded in the wind or with movement.

I wasn’t sure whether it was eerie or comforting.

Welcome distractions.

Suddenly I had reached the top of the climb – La Giete, another aid station with the tunes blaring.

I tried another bar, managed half, and a gel and block. My appetite was gone with my stomach in knots, but I knew I needed calories. I tried my potatoes, less soggy now. No good, it might have been the first time in my life I did not want to eat potatoes. More gels and blocks it was.

I stopped briefly to chat to the volunteers, all so happy and encouraging, then left to begin the 5km of descent down to Trient.

Oh, the descent.

We were on a single track again, narrow, interspersed with roots and rocks that made it quite technical.

The flashes of pain were back – less flashy in fact and more constant.

Almost unbearable, but not quite.

I leaned on my poles, used them as much as I could to take the weight of my right knee, almost to the detriment of the pain in my left foot which now started to throb.

I laughed.

Because what else could I do?

I tried various different techniques – probably much to the amusement of other runners.

Straight legged seemed to work the best but be the least effective at actually moving forward.

Stop it Jess.

So I just ran, gently, through the pain. And focussed on the trails, and getting to Trient, to Imogen.

And the beginnings of sunset, oh the sunset.

Darkness began to creep and the stubbornness in me refused to put on a head torch until it literally became too dangerous to continue – I had found a rhythm and didn’t want to disrupt it.

But the light from my head torch was amazing, lighting up the forest and the trails in such a beautiful way, highlighting the features I would be navigating even more clearly than in the daytime.


My god the descent, which should’ve been fast (or faster) felt so slow. Was I being too cautious?

Every now and then I would pick up speed and be reminded why I was slowing.


Race stopping, breath taking pain.

I remembered why I was going slower.

I hit 70km, I knew I was close.

I crossed a bridge and saw the familiar socks.






We talked about the various ailments of my body as we headed towards the aid station tent.

We laughed as I realised I might have strained my right tricep from using the poles so much to take the pressure off my knee – that would surely be a first in ultrarunning.

And golly the aid station.

Music and dancing and food and laughter.

It was all you could ask for at an aid station.

Except prosecco of course.

I filled my water, drank coke, stretched.

“Have you eaten?”

Sort of?

We tried bananas and that seemed to be ok – although even the 8-10 pieces I managed probably only really made up one whole banana. It would do.

I gave myself ten more minutes at the station. I wasn’t sure whether I needed that time physically or mentally, more.

My legs were restless, my knee hurt and my foot was in full flare up. But what else do you expect at 70km and 4600m elevation?

The stomach cramps and nausea had become less regular, which I was super grateful for.

Mentally I was in a good place, I was happy despite everything. My body, despite its shortcomings, felt strong,

And I was so grateful for Imogen and the volunteers and vibes.

The pain was all manageable.

The ten minutes was bliss – relaxing with Imogen as she told me about the shuttle bus chaos and her dinner and wine.

Oh wine.

We looked at the remaining profile of the race.

Two more climbs to go, 30km. I knew the last climb was one of them was the steepest and considered the hardest.

But climbs were good – I could do them, no pain and fast. It would just be the descent down into Chamonix that would hurt, like a bitch.

We discussed painkillers – a somewhat sensitive topic in ultrarunning due to the dehydration your body is already facing and the extra strain the painkillers would be placing on your kidneys.

If I needed too, we reasoned, I would take some prior to the last descent.

My ten minutes was up and I gathered my pack and water and we headed outside.

My sister watched as I began to move my body out of its stiffness, slowly warming into a jog.


She sounded serious.

“You know you can stop if you need to, if it hurts too much.”

There was never any doubt in my mind that I would stop. And she knew that too – but I also knew she had to ask.

I’d thought about this a lot before the race, and I don’t know what it would’ve taken to stop me – maybe a broken bone? But I knew I’d run through that before and it hadn’t stopped me.

This was my dream race.

Maybe nothing.

And maybe we knew that.

I wanted to finish strong, the way I’d started, the way I felt.

We laughed as my shuffle turned into a more acceptable form of running.

“I’m ok.”

“See you at Vallorcine in a few hours.”

My heart almost exploded.

I headed off into the darkness – the next climb out of Switzerland and into France.

It was very similar to the first climb – a zig zag up a mountain.

I think I was the only one running up it at that point. And lunging. Moving, fast.

I felt good.

I was revived.

Almost home.

I moved past a few people, trying to encourage them, everyone in their own pain cave.

We hit the top – a mini station.

“You’re at the top, well done! Enjoy the down.”

I cringed and wished there was more up.

This was my first descent in the dark as I entered back into France.

Reduced again to walking and not sure whether the pain in my knee or foot was now greater. Maybe they were equal. I reminded myself to take on some more gels and blocks.

I felt slow.

I was slow.

It was almost disheartening as those I’d pass on the way up, skipped past me on the way down.

I reasoned with myself that, in the dark, I probably wouldn’t be going much faster for fear of face planting anyway.

I gritted my teeth and continued, occasionally catching my breath as my knee flexed a little too much and the nauseating pain shook me.


I could hear Vallorcine, could see the lights.

Almost there.

I yawned.

Midnight – well past my bedtime.

A tunnel.





“I wasn’t expecting you so soon.”

Well, that was a good sign at least.

The aid station was electric – but there was a moodiness about it as it was clear people were struggling. The dark, the tiredness, the pain?

I felt nothing but hope and excitement.

I sat on the floor to rest my legs and ate what I could of bananas and gels as Imogen told me about her evening – and how she’d randomly assembled everything she needed to get a 45-minute nap on the floor in the corner of the aid station, with a sleep meditation for full ambience (and an alarm to make sure she got up before I arrived).

So much laughter.

“One more climb Jess. One more descent.”

I nodded.

An 8km climb, some flat at the top then down 6km into Chamonix.

It would be hell on my knee. And my foot. Well, on everything really. 

But that finish line was getting closer and closer.

I could taste the Prosecco.

We said our goodbyes as she walked me out onto the trail, then turned to get her final shuttle bus to the finish.

Headtorch on.

I was suddenly hit by another wave of nausea and cramps, and crouched and waited a few minutes until it passed.

I laughed – it was some effort to get back up from the crouching position.


Come on legs.

I had this.

My shuffle turned into a march, and I grew strength as I climbed – a gentle slope at first along a grassed trail.

I could see the mountain ahead – golly it was big.

1860m big – 5 x Emily Spur climbs.

I crossed a road, and the climb began.

Steep and rocky.

Almost too steep and rocky for poles.


I passed a few people, careful not to go too hard.

I looked up and wondered whether the lights I could see far up ahead were people’s head torches or stars.

They moved.

Head torches.


Head down.


Get up there.

Climb climb climb.

I climbed sections that had to physically be climbed, rock climbing with no ropes or harness.

Bit of a kicker after 85km.

But it was so fun.

I think I was the only person at that point having fun and enjoying the climb.

But golly it was never ending.

I put my music on and just kept moving.

Almost there.

It was maybe an hour? Maybe two.

Then undulating for 3km – not so fun.

I slowed.

I tried not to get frustrated with myself, with my body.

The pain.

You’re fine Jess.

My head torch blinked three times.



Complete. Darkness.

I took a moment just to look around me – the stars, the lights of Vallorcine, other head torches.



That was all the goodness I needed, the reflection.

I took out my other head torch – not quite so strong but I knew from here my speed would be somewhat limited anyway.

My stomach rumbled.


That was a good sign – my body was working; had overcome the cramps.

Maybe some normality.

I hit La Flegere – the peak.

All the climbing had been done.

This was the final aid station before the descent into Chamonix.

The finish line.

I took the painkillers and a caffeine gel.



I hit the down.

Well, in a slow and calm fashion.

But I definitely picked up speed as the lights of Chamonix came into view.

I slowed only really on the technical sections to pick a path of least resistance and least impact on my knee and foot. But it was such a long descent and there were moments I had to stop to catch my breath to overcome the pain as the painkillers started to kick in.

Almost there Jess.

It didn’t feel like I had run 95km.

Issues aside, my legs and lungs felt strong.

It was so bittersweet.

But I would get in under 20 hours – the ultimate aim. Despite everything my body had thrown at me.

Soon the steep descents and switchbacks flattened and my heart fluttered.



One last climb – over a bridge.



A friend from Bright.

She was there, I wasn’t hallucinating.



“I can’t stop, otherwise I won’t start again.”

And so she ran with me onto the flat, towards the finish. I had never seen her run.


1km to go.

99km down, 1km to go.

I packed my poles away.

There were people there, in the early hours of the morning.

Still out, still cheering.

The town was still alive.


My brother.

And Imogen.

Their smiles.


Now, that was overwhelming.

I was so so proud of them. Of us.

They ran with me, videoing my final kilometre.

“Mum’s at the finish line.”

I wanted to cry again.

Pure happiness.

Pure gratitude.

I picked up the pace.


The finish.



The line.

We’d done it.


I stopped my watch – 99.96km. Erm.

Nothing in me wanted to do the final 40m.


I saw my mum.

More hugs.


A finish line jumping photo, then we moved away from the finish line to the big screen.

More hugs.

And Prosecco.

Hells yes.

Finally, I took my shoes and socks off – the pressure was too much.

My feet looked mummified.

More laughing.

I finally succumbed to some finish line salami, knowing I needed to eat something (although I do believe Prosecco is a food group…).

And we hung around to watch a few more runners come in, with our Prosecco. Together.

No more running.

Just the matter of a 1km walk home.

The Prosecco would help with that.


I was blown away.

The most stunning of all races.

The most technical.

Maybe the most painful.

But the most fun.

The most love and laughter.

The most humbling.

Definitely the best.

I owed everything to the people who supported me in person and from far and wide across the world, (THANK YOU).

The race belonged to them.

And then the serious discussion…I was dirty as hell, but exhausted.

Did I really need to shower before I slept?

The looks from my family confirmed my fears.

I would have to stay on my feet a little longer…

And next? Rest?


Or maybe the multi-day 4 Peaks Challenge in November…


GSER: The Reckless Ragdoll

I hadn’t originally signed up for the Great Southern Endurance Run – which took the 28km runners up it. I’d told everyone how beautiful it was because I’d hiked it a few weeks before.

But then FOMO crept in, why wasn’t I running it if it was so good?


Because I had the Surf Coast Century 100km in three weeks, because my breathing still wasn’t right and I was relying on a daily preventer inhaler, because I was still carrying some winter (ahem, Prosecco) weight.

Because of a million reasons…

But none that could stop the pull of wanting to race again. After so many months.

I pondered (stared into space a lot – which is actually no change from my normal self), entries had closed the Sunday before.

So I emailed the Directors on the Tuesday – if they let me enter late, I’d do it.

They replied within five minutes.

I was in.



Holy moly.

I didn’t tell my coach.

What was my plan? Was I racing or just running?

A combination of both, maybe. Push myself but not kill myself. No injuries.

No injuries, Jess.

I did things a little differently leading up to the race: I’d already told myself I’d give up wine until after the 100km (don’t worry there will be a glass bottle of prosecco waiting on the finish line…), and so why not just give up drink completely in the lead up to this race? And why not rest a few days before too? So that’s what happened.

Golly, that was hard.

Race day was upon me, and I woke to a clear head. I ate sweet potato, beets and eggs. And coffe-ed, all the coffee. Mobilised, journaled and meditated.

All before 5.30am.

We got to the start line around 6.15am – nervous excitement hung in the air, everyone was clearly excited to be back racing, regardless of the fact that it had rained all day Friday and was supposed to rain all day Saturday. There were still smiles all round.

I did something else I don’t usually do – a warm up jog. Slowly, trying to get my legs working and breathing under control. I did some skips, some jigs. Realised how silly I looked and headed to get ready. Feeling ready.

The course would take us out 5km along the rail trail to the trout farm, then the climb – the wall: 4km of pure steep up. I think I was the only one excited about that. We would then traverse across to Mount Feathertop – not summiting due to the inclement weather, before dropping down a gradual (but rocky) descent along Bungalow Spur back to the start where we would run a short out-and-back.

The perfect course. Steep up, gradual down. Trails, mountains, adventure.

I took a Gu gel – the only ones I could get hold of before the race. Crickey, it was like drinking a warm milkshake. Kinda nice though.

And suddenly we were off, my heartbeat pounding in my ears, adrenaline running through my body.

A race.

I tried not to get excited, to hold back on the flat, pick a pace.

But golly.

A race.

I looked at my watch – 4.10min/km.


But I felt good, my breathing felt good. Finally.

I dropped back, remembering I had the 100km in a few weeks. I would need my legs for that. 4.30min/km.


The 5km seemed quite endless, until finally we hit grass and 2km of undulating trails that would take us to the wall and the climb.

We were guided across a log that I had previously bum-shuffled across over a wide river – grateful for a rope that was able to provide balance to shuffle across…on my feet.

And then the climb.


4km of steep up to the MUMC hut. Through the trees, through the clouds.

I began.

I was soon behind two girls.

“Let me know if you want to pass.” said the leader.

We both wanted to, so she stepped aside and the girl ahead of me passed her.

I was just about to do the same, literally right behind the girl who had stepped aside. Right there. 

She hopped back onto the trail in front of me.

“You have to be right on my back if you want to pass, otherwise we’ll be in synergy.”

I was so confused.

I don’t think I could’ve been any closer to her.

And what if I wanted to be in synergy? That sounded fun.

I stayed silent, let five minutes pass, then tried again – making sure I was almost hugging her before I asked again.

Then I was off, on my mission: the mountain.

I lunged, pushed myself off my knees, climbed, sang, swore. There was a lot of talking to myself.

I loved every second.

I passed the 100-mile sweepers. 100 miles, six loops of what I was doing. That took my breath away.

More climbing and passing a few more people, remembering at certain points to stop and enjoy the view – even though the cloud obscured most of it. Still so beautiful.

It was about an hour in that I had some potatoes. As per previous efforts during races, I nearly choked on the potatoes as I tried to inhale air into my lungs and eat at the same time.


I took a gel too, which wasn’t any more successful.

I laughed at myself.

We had been advised that when we arrived at the MUMC hut, we would need to stop and put our layers on, that there was wind and rain and coldness.

And I could feel it.

The temperature was dropping, faster, with every step. And the wind picking up.


I arrived at the hut to the wind which literally took my breath away.

2.5km of this.

I put my gloves and buff on…which seemed silly given I was still in my shorts.


The beauty of the single track along the side of the mountain took my mind off the weather, the views were still magical.

I was grateful – even when the wind whipped at my bare legs and forced the air out of my lungs.

The mountains were alive that was for sure.

I continued on, picking up the pace after the steep climb, kind of happy to be on the flat undulating trails.

I could see Federation Hut.

And now the downhill.

Oh, the downhill. My nemesis.

I had watched a YouTube video on how to run technical downhill the night before. The tips?

Fast feet – which I knew and had been practising (if on the spot counts…).

Be reckless.

Oh dear.

Like a rag doll.

Double oh dear.

I watched in awe of these people literally throwing themselves down steep technical rocky trails – and smiling whilst they did it.


If they can do it then so can I, right?

And the reckless ragdoll was born, so to speak.

I took a caffeine gel, a little more successfully than last time.

The first part of Bungalow Spur down I find quite rocky and rutty, hard to navigate at speed.

But I figured I’d try and loosen my body, took smaller steps and just leant forward and went…just like that.

And it worked, I picked up pace and found some sort of weird rhythm, flailing my arms around (yes, like a ragdoll).

And just like that I survived the first part of the descent. Granted not the fastest, but fast for me and that was enough.

I passed more 100km people that I knew “fourth girl Jess!”

Did that matter? Was I chasing?

Golly gosh, no. I was surviving (this bit anyway), and I wasn’t pushing myself.

I’d thought about what I wanted to achieve prior to the race. A good time? Top 5? I had seen the other competitors at the start line and knew that would be tough.

I had decided: happiness with my running. Comfortable going into my first 100km. And maybe under 4 hours would be nice.

No racing, no chasing.

Just run strong.

I continued as the descent flattened out and I was able to go faster and actually began to enjoy it.

But I kept getting caught in the beauty of the mountains and my surroundings.

Focus Jess, be a reckless ragdoll.

It was at that moment that my foot decided to kick a rather large rock.

There was literally no time between me being upright and me hurtling towards the ground. I didn’t even have time to swear.

My right knee took the brunt of the fall, catching on other rocks. And then in really fast slow motion, my body just automatically tucked, and suddenly I was rolling.

The ninja had returned.

Before I knew it, I was standing up again – in the ready stance.

Ready for what?

I did a body check, ankles were fine, shoulders were fine.

I was fine.

I looked around to see whether anyone had witnessed such an incredible….dance?

No, no one.

I laughed out loud.

My knee suddenly started throbbing and I looked down.

Bright red blood.


I looked closer.

Just superficial holes, worse than it looked.

I continued, stretching out my body just to check I was ok.

A girl flew by me at an incredible speed. Just dancing down the trail.

“Follow me!”

Well, why not?

So I tried, picked up the pace again, flailed my arms and became reckless.

I must’ve kept her in my sight for all of five minutes before I lost her – I had a lot of work to do to get to that speed.

But I continued down, the reckless ragdoll.

Kilometres passed and I wondered how my quads would feel tomorrow, wondered how long I could keep focussed and not fall again.

And a part of me waited for more people to overtake.

But it never happened, and that to me was a small win.

Then I recognised where I was – the end of the trail, and onto the road.

Holy cow. Only one fall and some decent speed. No real injuries.

So happy.

I continued down the road, knowing we were running past the finish line to complete a 1.5km out- and-back, back towards the trout farm.

I could hear the finish, see the finish. And maybe my body felt that we should be finishing, as it tired, ached.

Oh dear.

And it wasn’t just me.

Runners on the out-and-back had started to walk – we had climbed the mountain, and the real wall we faced was the concrete.

I pushed on, almost there.

I looked at my watch: 3 hours and 10 minutes. Yikes.

Third and fourth girl passed me coming the other way – on their way to the finish. And a small part of me, tiny, wondered whether I could push myself and catch them.

That feeling quickly went.

No Jess, no chasing, no racing.

I got to the turn around point, where the photographer seemed more intent on photographing my knee than me running.

So I jumped for the photo.

Sorry legs.

Last push back, last 1km.

Golly it was hard.

The concrete was so hard on my already tired body.

Come on Jess.


Somewhere I found the energy and picked up the pace.

The finish.

3 hours 18 minutes.

Happy, so happy.

High fives and hugs and a jumping photo.

I washed my legs in the cold water of the nearby river before we watched and cheered on the other runners coming in.

God, it felt good to be back.

And next?

I run my first 100km in 5 days…


Running Hong Kong’s big four trails (298km)

Running Hong Kong’s big four trails has been a goal of mine for a while now, so I’ve loved having the opportunity to explore them over the last couple of months. An adventure of epic proportions… but not without a few hiccups (boars, monkeys, snakes, stupidity, humidity, dehydration, more stupidity that led to more dehydration etc). Even in 80-90% humidity, it was the most fun ever.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Wilson Trail (78km, 3,800m elevation, South to North)
  • Maclehose Trail (100km, 4,500m elevation, East to West)
  • Hong Kong Trail (50km, 1,200m elevation, top to bottom)
  • Lantau Trail (70km, 3,700m elevation, loop on Lantau island)

Wilson (78km, 3,800m elevation, from South to North)

Sections 1 + 2 (11km)

Because The Twins 👯‍♀️ are the beasts of the first section, you kind of forget that there’s another (bigger) hill after them, right up until it’s towering over you at Tze Kong Bridge. But it’s not as bad. And once you get to Parkview you know you’re half-way. And hopefully the shaking in your thighs will get better, right?

The Twins

Jardine’s Lookout is a more gradual incline with amazing views of the city, until you turn left onto Braemar Hill Peak and then your knees really do start trembling (physically and emotionally). Just focus on the views, because they really just get better and better. The descent to Mount Parker Road is pretty straight forward (for people with fully functioning knees, not me) and then you turn right into The Tree Walk which, despite my reservations, is a fun single trail.

The trail spits you out somewhere random in Taikoo and you have to keep running until you get to the MTR, because otherwise you haven’t really done the whole trail, have you? Cold drinks and snacks at Circle K have never tasted so good.

Sections 3 + 4 (17km)

It was only a matter of time before I fell on my backside on this adventure, and this was the day for it. It was also a day for testing my navigation skills because I struggled to find the beginning of the Wilson 3. Luckily for me, Yau Tong’s shouty village dogs kept me on the straight and narrow by barking every time I went wrong. Fear is a great incentive to navigate, it turns out.

The first part of the trail is also a fitness trail with amazing views back across Hong Kong Island, and a Tai Chi fitness group rocking out to hip hop.

It got hotter and higher as I went up Devil’s Peak – beautiful views and lots of steps, and then colder and lower during the descent until it was really just a tiny road… which got so narrow and obscure that I had to stop to consult the map (aka become easy prey for mosquitos).

After a few wrong turns and a lot of greenhouses, I reached Section 4, which throws you straight into a wonderful kind of jungle. It’s as far away from Hong Kong’s cityscape as you can imagine 😍. There are also a lot tree trunks, which are snakes until proven otherwise, in my opinion.

A light rain made everything slippery, which I learnt the hard way – losing focus for a moment only to find myself in a heap on the rocks. Elbows and knees everywhere. Even though I hadn’t seen another person in ages, I still looked around to see if anyone had seen me 😂

The massive ascent up towards Tates Cairn is supposed to be rewarded with amazing views of Hebe Haven and then Kowloon, but the rolling fog had become so bad that I could barely see my own feet. So, to keep myself entertained on the concrete descent to Shatin Pass, I took a jumping selfie (as you do), just as an entire family turned the corner to watch me.

A classic jumping photo, with a full audience.

By the end of the trail, my entire right leg (hip, hamstring, knee, ankle) was calling for an Epsom bath. And I was starving. But it’s okay to eat lunch in the bath, right?

Sections 5 + 6 (13km)

I was ready for the snakes (football socks pulled to knees) and spiders (stick in hand), but not for monkeys. Never for the monkeys.

And in my defence, they lured me into a false sense of security for the first 5km. They were quite cute and mostly ignored me. And the trail itself was wonderful – a massive catchwater through Lion Rock Country Park.

Good monkey.
Bad monkey (top right hand corner)

But when I got to section 6, things got bad. I could see a gang of about twenty monkeys in the distance in some kind of feeding frenzy. I attempted to walk through the group but had to turn back when a couple of big ones bared their teeth at me (see photo above). I tried to remember some basic rules of survival: do not run, do not look scared etc etc. But these MFs were pretty scary and I really wanted to leg it.

There was no way around them if I wanted to continue the trail, so my only option was to go through the monkey gauntlet or give up completely. And then a bus arrived on the road next to me as if to say, here you go. Just give up. But that wasn’t the plan. A kind man got off and offered to walk through the monkeys with me. Yes, you read that right.

He was cool as a cucumber, even when a monkey hissed from the floor and then darted to a branch overhead to hiss closer to our faces (I’m not even going to describe the noise I made as I grabbed the kind stranger’s shoulders and marched him through the rest of the monkeys). I couldn’t thank him enough, but I think he found the whole thing amusing.

For the next few kms I was questioning my decision to carry on. The monkeys were still everywhere, albeit mostly ignoring me again. But the fear was still there. Until I passed a friendly group of hikers, one of whom yelled that I looked like Wonder Woman. That made me smile, even though I’m pretty sure I looked like a hot mess. But Wonder Woman can fight off monkeys, right?

I was super glad that I’d decided to continue because the rest of the trail was stunning 😍. I took a wrong turn down a very big hill which took me a while to forgive myself for, but we’ll just call that part of the adventure.

At last, Shing Mun reservoir came into sight, my departure point from the trail. For now. Back home to Epsom salt, heaps of water (I ran out at 12km) and an amazing amount of calories.

Sections 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 (37km)

I wasn’t really planning on doing a marathon over a mountain range, but that’s just kind of how this part of the trail went. It started back at Shing Mun reservoir on a beautiful single trail next to the water. Breath-taking. And the best part? Not a monkey in sight.

There was quite a bit of concrete after the reservoir and then a lot of navigating through Yuen Tun Ha village to get to section 8, which is where the real work starts. Up and up and up. The reward is stunning – Plover Cove on one side and Shenzhen on the other – views for miles and miles. That is, until you get so high you’re in the clouds.

Up and up and up.

Section 8 finishes at Cloudy Hill, which I thought might be a cute little village with a snack shop and a road with a taxi… but which is in fact, just a cloudy hill. In the middle of nowhere.

Faced with the decision to try to leave the trail here (20km in) or just carry on (16km to go), I made the questionable decision to keep going. My legs felt good. I had enough food. What could go wrong, right?

Well. I perhaps didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of the mountain range ahead. Not just one mountain, but several. A total of 1,700m elevation. Oh, and I ran out of water with three hours to go until the end. Yikes.

But. It was stunning. The clouds rolled over the hills (and me) as I went, shifting the views with it. My legs held on, even if a bit of dehydration kicked in. The series of peaks make you feel like you’re running on the edge of the earth – it’s definitely one of the most stunning trails in Hong Kong.

On the edge of the earth (Pat Sin Leng)

At last, I hit the final peak of the range and began the descent down. And thankfully I was so delirious from the exertion that I didn’t even flinch when a bamboo viper snake (highly venomous) wriggled on the path next to me – I just kept going.

The last few kilometres were a rather ungraceful farmers shuffle with a lot of self-talk and checking maps (how much further?!). When I finally reached Nam Chung, I found a vending machine and emptied out all the sports drinks 😂

And when I finally got home, I sank into an Epsom salt bath that was as much salt as it was water, and sat there for ages.

Best bits: Sections 9 + 10: Pat Sin Leng mountain range. Despite the elevation and complete lack of water, this is beautiful.

Not my favourite: Section 5: Did I mention the monkeys?


Maclehose Trail (100km, 4,500m elevation, from East to West)

Section 1 + 2 (24km)

With weather like we’d been having in HK, it was only a matter of time before I got steamrolled by a thunderstorm. This was the trail for it.

The morning sun over High Land Reservoir was an immense experience – the water was so still that it looked like a mirror. In fact, everything was still. Apart from the cicadas, which were so loud that it felt like being electrocuted.

Section One

Most of Mac’s Section One is on concrete roads, which can be hard on the knees, but the views make up for it. Also, it’s a slalom of cow poo (and sometimes cows) so you have to pay attention to where you’re putting your feet.

Then you hit the coast and it’s a sea views for miles and miles… and also steps for miles and miles. There’s a bit of relief when you descend to Long Ke Wan and then Sai Wan, where you can drink your body weight in cold drinks (which I did, because I’d lost my body weight in sweat).

And then when you hit Ham Tin beach you really are in heaven. White sand and clear water. Breaking waves and blue skies. And not a soul in sight 😍

Ham Tin beach

As I ran the rest of Section 2 through the jungle-like trail (neon fiddler crabs on the floor and frog noises coming from the wetlands), I started to feel the closeness of a changing weather system. And before I could do anything about it, I was suddenly running through sheets of torrential rain. And then before anyone else around me knew it, I was trail running with an umbrella. A classic look.

Nailed the look.

The last few kms to Pak Tam Au felt longer than they were. Probably a combination of subtle gradient and not-so-subtle torrential rain. But it was pretty wonderful to suddenly find myself on the road and in a cab and then in an Epsom salt bath and then eating Thai for lunch, because I needed to replenish 2000 calories.

Sections 3 + 4 + 5 (34km)

“Fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind”.

And that’s exactly where it took refuge during Section 3.

Which is a real shame because I finally felt like I’d got everything else right: extra water and salts, sweet potato wedges in a bag (which turned into mash, of course), neon snake-protecting socks and a giant sense of adventure.

But I started Section 3 with quite a bit of doubt in my mind, not helped by the super claustrophobic fog and the solitude of a jungle ascent.

The reward at the summit was supposed to be amazing views, but the fog was too close. Instead, I came face to face with a large black shape in the path ahead, which made my heart stop. Definitely mammal, but not human. Ah yes, the cows were back. And they refused to budge so I had to tip toe around them on the trail. If you’ve ever been warned not to walk behind an animal with hooves, this really isn’t for you.

Not quite what I was expecting to run into (literally).

The jungle got denser and my sense of existential despair got worse, and then I reached a plateau at Cheung Sheung. Which was harmless but had all the makings of a low budget horror film (abandoned buildings, thick jungle, blinding fog, and me). The fog was closing in. The Fear was closing in.

And I didn’t know which way to go, which was the worst part because I was about to charge into a dead-end trail in thick jungle, armed with a stick to ward off the spiders. Surely this couldn’t be right?

And then I heard a noise from behind me. Voices. People.


I followed them onto the right trail, at last. And then I was so happy to be going the right way and out of the jungle, that I didn’t mind running through sheets of spiderwebs. Kind of.

I was soon distracted from The Fear by exertion as I started the ascent at Section 4 to Ma On Shan (700m), and then stayed along the mountain ridge for the next few kms. The fog returned but it felt lighter, more open.

Section 4 takes you through many different types of trail, which is wonderful. Birdsong, cicadas, crabs, more cows, more spiders. And then it abandons you in the middle of nowhere without a hope of getting a taxi. So, I carried on through Section 5 until I reached Lion’s Rock. And then was very glad to get in an air-conditioned taxi.

Sections 6-10 (37km)

“When you’re going through hell, keep going”.

And to be fair, it wasn’t hell until the last 7km, which was really when everything fell apart.

Needle Hill

The best part of Maclehose Section 7 is Needle Hill, where you’re rewarded for climbing 532m of stony staircase with sweeping views of Sha Tin and Lions Rock. After that, it’s pretty heavy going on a concrete service road, with a subtle gradient that makes you work a little bit harder than you think you are. And then a massive gradient that makes you want to cry 😂

At last you reach the start of Tai Mo Shan, Hong King’s largest peak (957m). It’s not as bad as it sounds and feels a bit like rambling in welsh countryside – rolling green hills, a nice cool breeze in the clouds… and lots of cow poo. The views from the top are epic, and definitely deserve a selfie or two.

Hong Kong’s highest peak (957m)

The descent down is a series of concrete hairpin bends, which can make you feel dizzy after a while. But it’s a nice way to descend from the clouds. Also, you’re now so far north that your phone tries to switch to data roaming in Mainland China.

Section 9 and 10 take you through Tai Lam Country Park and is A LOT of paved concrete running. But the views of the reservoir are stunning 😍.

At 30km my Garmin died. And I think that’s where everything else started to die. Hope, for instance. And muscle elasticity.

And then the sun came out, which on an unshaded stretch of concrete catch water, proved pretty lethal. It was hell.

Quick lie down.

Luckily, there were multiple BBQ sites along the way, which provided much needed shade and an opportunity to lie down every so often… regardless of the families that were picnicking around me.

With 3km to go I ran out of water, which in itself wasn’t too bad because there’s only 3km to go, right? Except as soon as I ran out, all I wanted was water. And for the second time in a month, I wondered how bad drinking a puddle could really be (spoiler alert: pretty f-ing bad).

In dire straits, I rang Jess for moral support and she gave me a pep talk that was a bit like the scene in Airplane! where the Air Traffic Control talks Ted Striker through landing a plane full of passengers, even though it’s falling apart.

  • Me: “I’ve run out of water”
  • Jess: “You’re doing really well, keep going”
  • Me: “My Garmin died so this part doesn’t even exist”
  • Jess: “You don’t need Garmin, just get to the finish”
  • Me: “ITBs are finished”
  • Jess: “You can crawl if you have to”

And so on…

The last 500m takes you through a residential area and spits you out on a massive main road. There’s a sign to mark your achievement (I celebrated by practicing my yoga Corpse Pose) but you have to walk even further to get to a taxi or a drink, which might have been the slowest steps I’ve ever taken.

An air-conditioned seat on the MTR was a real treat, but probably not for anyone sitting anywhere near me. Sorry.

Best bits: Sections 1 + 2: A coastal run that goes straight over Tai Long Wan, one of the most beautiful beaches in Hong Kong.

Worst bits: Section 10: A catch water that goes on forever. And normal people having picnics while you hallucinate about Gatorade. Also, the puddles start to look drinkable.


Hong Kong Trail (50km, 1,200m elevation, top of HK island to the bottom)

Sections 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 (25.5km)

I’d had a mildly terrifying animal encounter on every single one of the big four trails and the HK Trail was no different.

For the first few kms I was pretty much running around the side of Victoria Peak, so the views were incredible and constantly changing 😍

A couple of country parks later, I was on single track in Aberdeen which was beautiful. The embankment to my left was about head height and the trail dropped off to my right into masses of woods.

I think my peripheral vision had been used up trying to avoid spider webs, so when something started running on the embankment next to my head, I freaked out a little.

And then when the entire embankment of shrubbery started moving, I freaked out a lot. It took me a few seconds to work out what it was, but the grunting gave it away. Wild boars. A massive family of them (it felt like 10,000, but was probably more like 7-8).

And then suddenly they were dropping down from the embankment onto the trail around me, before charging into the jungle.

It was a bit like if Disney made horror films.

And then the strangest part of all. There was a half-naked man in the shrubbery following them.

I ran a bit faster after that 😂

Outrunning a few wild boars.

The rest of Section 4 was a mixture of single trail and paved path. And sunshine. Lots of that too. And no more boars or naked men, which was pretty nice too.

Sections 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 (24.5km)

Section 5 takes you to the top of Mount Butler (456m) and then descends via Jacob’s Ladder (steep steps that feel very much like going down a ladder facing forwards) and tarmac road into Tai Tam. There’s a sharp turn left that takes you through a wonderful single trail until you reach a road, where you take your life in your hands trying to dodge double decker buses veering around the corner.

Yellow orbs.

Section 7 was my least favourite – it’s basically a gauntlet of spider webs along a narrow catch water. The only redeeming feature is the secluded beach you can detour to right at the end, which is quite nice for potato and egg snacks in the sunshine.

Dragon’s Back

It’s good time to get some carbs into your body because section 8 begins with a steep incline until you reach Dragon’s Back, which is one of Hong Kong’s most famous trails. And you can see why. The views either side of the ridge are breath-taking – ocean and islands for miles and miles. And at some point, you spot Big Wave Bay, the end destination, which promises cold drinks (x5,000) and a dip in the sea.

The final section is just stunning and worth doing on its own, again and again. And then comes the beach.

I think I pretty much changed into my bikini while I was sprinting across the beach, and then walked face first into the sea.

Big Wave Bay

Best bits: Section 8: Hong Kong’s famous Dragon’s Back, followed by a dip at Big Wave Bay beach.

Not my favourite: Section 7: Do you like eating spiders? You might enjoy this catch water.


Lantau Trail (70km, 3,700m elevation, circular loop on Lantau island)

Sections 1+ 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 (25km)

I was lucky enough to be joined by a couple of friends for the Lantau Trail, which made the adventure even more fun. And we entered our respective pain caves at different times, so we were able to help each other through… mostly with the promise of cold beers at the end.

The first part of the Lantau Trail is all elevation. Just when you think you’re at the top, you see the next peak. The bigger peak. But it’s amazing.

Sunset Peak

The incredible views took my mind off the fact that my thighs were burning. The ascent up Sunset Peak (869m) was gradual and littered with stone huts that made for nice wind-breakers when the clouds rolled over the ridge.

Lantau Peak (934m) literally loomed in the distance and promised even more thigh-busting-ness. The ascent into the clouds meant that the views disappeared and there was definitely nothing to break the wind, which made me want to crawl on hands and knees at some points 😂

Lantau Peak

The descent down was steep and endless, but the view of the Big Buddha and ocean beyond is worth it. And the knowledge that we’d be able to get our hands on some overpriced cold drinks at one of the souvenir shops at Ngong Ping.

We sat down with cold drinks and watched an elderly man take a selfie with a cow.

Undulating elevation.

Sections 5 and 6 were a huge surprise, both in terms of how beautiful they are and also how much elevation there is… because we kind of assumed that Lantau Peak would be ALL the elevation. The undulating hills (and views) are stunning, but they seem to go on forever, especially when you can see Tai O in the distance (our destination) which didn’t seem to get any closer. We took it in turns to hit our pains caves and had a merry old time trying to cool down in cold springs along the way.

The final descent to Tai O is pretty brutal – a lot of downhill concrete and the threat of yellow orb spiders in your face to keep you on your toes. But it’s worth it once you get there – we ran straight into an air-conditioned restaurant and ordered just about everything on the menu.

The icing on the cake was a sun-filled ferry back to Tung Chung, which was pretty dreamy, even if we did have to sit on the floor to make the throbbing in our legs subside.

Sections 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 (29km)

Rural villages and rice paddies

Section 7 is made up of a beautiful single track that takes you along the coastline and through rural villages and rice paddies. It kind of feels like you’re backpacking in South East Asia.

Section 8 is catchwater, which sucks, but as you carry on through 9 and 10, you can see Lantau Peak looming over you. And you feel very grateful to be running on the flat. We took a Diet Coke break at the end of section nine, which was wonderful. And then we stopped at Cheung Sha beach to have lunch, but it was closed due to Covid, so we jumped in a cab to Mui Wo and had a socially distanced lunch (and beer) there instead.

Sections 11 + 12 (14km)

We thought that the majority of this would be catch water, but we were pleasantly surprised to finish the concrete by the time we got to Pui O where we took a sharp right (missed it completely but found it eventually) onto the beach and then carried on around the coast until we found ourselves on a single track that took us inland.

On account of there being so many spider webs, we took in it turns to run at the front of the pack, which didn’t lessen the amount of screaming and laughing every time someone hit a spider web (or thought they’d hit one).

There’s a final ascent in section 12 but once you’re at the top, you know it’s basically a steeple chase down to the pub at Mui Wo for a well-deserved beer and bite to eat.

Best bits: Sections 2 – 7 are pretty epic, if you don’t mind not being able to feel your legs the next day

Not my favourite: Sections 8 and 10 are mostly catch water, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But at least they’re too wide for spider webs.