2016 OXFAM Trailwalker – The Story of AWOO Team Nepal
Flashback to November 20, 2015. We had high hopes for our first ever AWOO Team Nepal. We believed an interesting battle with the strong XEMPOWER/Compressport team was on cards. Then after the first 3km both front running teams were sent the wrong way by a misguided marshal – it was over before it had begun…
Fast forward 10 months to September 2016. I have just returned from UTMB in Chamonix when it came to my attention that four Nepalese army runners wish to come to run the OXFAM Trailwalker. Once I learned who these four runners are we set the things into motion in our office. Even though we still had ten weeks to go till OXFAM Trailwalker there was no time to be lost. First we had to get the place in the event for the team – this we achieved by taking the plunge and accepting the offer of a pledge team. This late in the game there was no other option.
Then came the challenge of visa applications and later the physical delivery of the visa labels to Kathmandu. Once all the administrative hurdles had been overcome we could confirm the flights, accommodation.
Dinnu was the main person in staying in touch with Purna and his team. In the last few weeks leading up to Trailwalker we tried to get as much advance information as possible on their needs (food, race days nutrition and hydration) as well as – very important – their clothing size information – so we could custom make the race apparel for them.
The 2015 Trailwalker may not have been happy one for AWOO Team Nepal but it was a great source of knowledge and experience for us. We knew that our 2016 AWOO Team Nepal team will likely be the team to beat. But we were very well aware that anything can happen during 100km trail race. We did our best to leave nothing to chance while planning the OXFAM Trailwalker week.
Purna, Tirtha, Bed and Bhim landed in Hong Kong on Monday early in the morning. We were taken by surprise to see so many people from local Nepalese community coming to greet them upon their arrival. Our planned quick breakfast turned into more than an hour long chat, photo takings and first few interviews for Nepalese media.
Next stop was our office for a short rest, quick clothes fitting session, first very brief look at the route maps and then we were on for lunch with Nic for the SCMP interview. Really busy first few hours in Hong Kong.
One of the most important tasks was to make sure the boys do not take any wrong turns. We only had one day to go for a recce – we selected the stages 9 and 10 as half of the team never ran on that part of the OTW route where 2-3 tricky turns can be found. I took them for that recce run myself. For the boys it was easy jog full of chatter and laughs. For me it was my personal best time on Trailwalker section 9 🙂 . We had learned that the markings were not ideal on the last 4km. I promised the boys that I will personally make sure there will be clear directions for them leading them from the road to the finish area even if I have to end up marking it myself.
For Wednesday we had the photoshoot for SCMP planned – we did that at Shing Mun area and followed it by easy warm up jog half way up the Needle Hill – just because we were already there. We also scouted the area and picked the best spot for our support point during the race.
Rest and planning day on Thursday – just some warm up jog on the track for the boys in the morning and final race planning lunch meeting.
Boys asked us for an early pick up to have enough time for proper warm up before the start. They were met by our support team at Pak Tam Chung. I arrived a bit later with Claus – our photographer for the day.
I haven’t spent too much time at the starting line. We took few photos, I wished the boys good luck and then our advance mini support crew was off to our stations. We had one station with water and if needed some Pocari at the end of the East Dam. I was waiting at the place where AWOO Team Nepal was sent the wrong way last year making sure the history does not repeat.
The race started at 8:30am and around 8:45am I saw our team. Only 3-3.5km into the race they already had big lead. They seemed so relaxed – chatting away, smiling. We exchanged greetings and I ran back towards Pak Tam Au to meet with our core support team at CP2. Running against the flow was fun – I had opportunity to say hi to many of my friends doing the Trailwalker this year.
We all made it to CP2 with some time to spare. We could see on the tracker that our team was making good progress and they definitely were right on the 11 hours pace. Our support crew prepared all the food and drinks requested for this CP. In the meantime me and Claus went towards the boys – to find some place for nice photos just before they would reach this checkpoint. Santosh (who joined us on our support team with few other Nepalese friends) ran even further ahead towards the team to check on them.
After 10 or 15 minutes the boys arrived. Once the boys had passed me and I was sure I would not spoil Claus his shot I tried to follow them to the CP2. Their pace seemed so easy and relaxed… until I tried to keep up with them. 200 – 300 meters of uphill running later I was almost out of my breath 🙂 . How can a human being keep up this pace for 100km up and down the hills is beyond me…
Boys refuelled (congee, drinks), cooled down using our last minute idea ice buckets and sponges and rushed on towards CP3. We as the support team were about to face the most stressful moments of our day.
Due to the traffic I was back to our van at Pak Tam Chung faster than the rest of the crew travelling by taxi. The massive jam continued and it took us almost half an hour to get out of the car park. The scary possibility of arriving to CP3 late was becoming very real… At the end we were lucky. We arrived at the Sai Sha Road CP, unloaded all the necessary stuff from the van, barely managed to set up the support point and the boys arrived. This was really close call. Congee, water refills, gels and bars to be picked up, ice water bath again and they were gone.
We knew we would have a bit more time now as the team had the longest stage ahead of them. We made a decision to split the support into two teams. We sent the Tai Po Road crew with the supplies by taxi directly to Tai Po Road while our main support van made its way to Shatin Pass.
During our pre-race meetings I told the boys that I would go up and meet them at the junction before their final climb on the way to Shatin Pass Road. I remembered that last year that junction was not well marked. I wanted to make sure they would not take the wrong turn there. And so once we reached our support location and Shatin Pass Road near the noodle shop I went up the hill and then cut through the woods to meet them.
At this time their tracker stopped working – it kept showing their current location as somewhere near Buffalo Hill. I had no idea how long I would have to wait for them. It wasn’t too long… After about 15 minutes I heard their voices as they were running up the hill towards me. We exchanged greetings and I pointed them in the right direction.
Then I called Claus to be ready for them with his camera soon. I took the short cut back hoping I can make it back to the rest of the support crew faster than the runners.
My short cut was substantial enough for me to get back to Shatin Pass support area few minutes ahead of the runners. Congee, gels, bars, fruits, water refills and importantly the ice water buckets and sponges – all was ready for them so once they arrived their pit stop was very efficient.
We packed up quickly and moved on to Shing Mun. Our second support crew was awaiting the guys at Tai Po Road, just before the monkey hill. While on the way to Shing Mun we received some photos from the Tai Po Road crew – we could see the boys are doing well, still on their 11 hour pace.
At Shing Mun we prepared our support point at the road side right after the BBQ area. Claus found his perfect spot for a photo and then we waited. Not for long.
Once the boys arrived we guided them to our support place. This was probably their longest stop. Lots of food (still some congee), drinks and of course the ice buckets. It was still hot. We also helped them to pack their backpacks. Until this point only Bhim carried a backpack. But with the Needle Hill – Tai Mo Shan section ahead they went for a backpack each.
Once they were ready me and my son ran with them across the dam. I had again the chance to experience their pace – and same as earlier on the day at CP2 I could not believe how someone can keep this sort of pace for 100km …
Once they started climbing Needle Hill we turned around and went back to help to pack up. Now we could relax little bit for the first time since the morning start. We knew that we have enough time to make it comfortably on time to our next (and final) support point at the Rotary Park by the Route Twisk.
There we re-united with our second crew from Tai Po Road. We also knew that Santosh and his friends went up Tai Mo Shan Road to check on the boys and to let us know once they start their descent. Actually by now their tracker was working again so we had quite a good idea where they are.
We prepared all the remaining supplies for the boys. The Tai Mo Shan Road closed few minutes before we arrived so we had to carry all the stuff up the road. But we had some trolleys on hand so it was not too bad. This was also the place where the runners planned to pick the headlamps. They were the only team to get this far still in daylight.
Once we knew they are running down the road I ran up a hundred meters or so towards the CP8 to cheer them on and also to be able to notify the rest of the crew to be ready for them.
At this support point it was brisk business. They did not eat much here but picked up all the energy bars and gels we had left. We helped them with drinks and water refill. They all picked the headlamps.
At the same time they ditched the backpacks – same as earlier only Bhim carried on with backpack from here on. Purna pushed the rest of his team to hurry up and off they were towards sections 9 and 10.
I ran with them down the road and then those 100 or so meters to the beginning of section 9 making sure they have all they need and that all the headlamps are working well. We knew that the second team only just passed CP7 at Leadmine Pass so there was the entire Tai Mo Shan separating the first 2 teams now. Only some unfortunate mishap could now prevent the AWOO Team Nepal win…
Our expanded support crew could not all fit into our van. So one part took taxi to the finish line, rest of us went in the van. I always forget how long the ride from Rotary Park to Tai Tong is… At places we hit the Friday evening traffic. And it also started to rain. The journey was taking forever. We could see on the tracker that the boys are moving really quickly. For a while I wondered again if we can make it to the finish in car before they cross the finish line… At the end we arrived with some time to spare. The rain was now solid, not heavy but relentless. We carried some stuff from the van to the finish line. From there I immediately ran up towards the road to make sure as promised to the boys that the important final turn is marked well and clearly. In the haste I forgot to take a flashlight with me.
While jogging up I met Clement moving in the same direction. He was planning to follow the boys on their final few hundred meters with his GoPro camera. I was quite relieved as that meant there will be someone who knows the route to the finish out there when the boys arrive. The turn seemed to be marked clearly but one never knows (the second team has a good story to tell…).
Once I was confident that there is no way our guys could go the wrong way I turned back. Most of the path back to finish was well lit but there we few dark sections. Flashlight would be useful …
Back at the finish line the excitement was growing. The timing prediction suggested that even sub 11 hours and new record might be on cards. It was not to be but just a minute over 11 hours mark the boys crossed the finish line at 11h01m10s. It probably will not be recognized as the official race record but it is the fastest time ever on this new and un-altered course. What a champagne moment for the boys and our entire team!
And here is the amazing video by Asia Trail’s Clement Dumont:
Thank you all who helped us during this adventure!
Director and accidental Team Manager