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  • Writer's pictureChris Toepker

The Challenge is dead, long live the challenge.

It is with a heavy heart that I had to give up the qualification for the 2020 Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge. However, with the newfound learning, a lighter heart looks forward to a future qualification. There are other reasons that drove the decision, for example, the new job, and the trip to Hong Kong for Master Lam’s birthday celebration. I simply didn’t feel right asking for more time off in January. It would have had to been a long stretch too. Time to get there, time to acclimate, then time to run and at least start recovery. The HK4TUC is not something you can just whip into a weekend. Well, I can't anyway.

If I’m honest though, Michael and I probably weren’t ready for 2020 anyway. The lessons from the November recce of just the MacLehose trail were hard won, and applied properly, told us that we should prepare more. Indeed, that is just the first of four trails, and we ran into challenge-ending troubles over basics like water!

So, the challenge is dead – long live the challenge! Let the preparations begin.

The most important thing for me in 2020 is to find some way to get elevation! The new location, in Florida, means there simply aren’t any hills! At home in the grand pacific northwest, just heading around the neighborhood for a few miles got me 100s of feet in elevation gain.

Now, running up local route “Needle,” I get maybe 100 feet…over 10 miles! To be sure, I take the stairs a lot at the office, and I work on the sixth floor. So, it is indeed a lot. But not enough. I guess I’ll have to be heading to Georgia and the southern tip of the Appalachians

Stay tuned!

At the same time, we learned not to count on “established” resources. What a joke that the things I *knew* would be there…weren’t. The mind reels and the heart aches when you know you have the solution, just not with you. I mean, I have an excellent water filter in my bug-out bag. It’s not heavy and works great to filter out just about every bacteria and virus. If only I had brought it with me! So, that’s added to the running pack now.

Likewise, food. Mostly the energy bars proved OK. Still, I wanted some “quick energy” sources. I hate paying through the nose, and so after looking around realized products like “Goo” can be made easily. My basic formula is to start with plain gelatin and cherry Kool Aid. I add Morton’s “Salt Lite,” which is half sodium salt and half potassium salt – reasonable electrolyte provider. I take the set jelly and put it in re-usable squeeze tubes I got from REI, made for taking peanut butter, jelly, honey and such on backpacking trips. It worked great! It was easy to pull out of my belt pouch and suck in a mouthful while keeping pace. It also clearly worked to keep me going. I could feel the energy wax and wane. I’m planning on attempting with some other sweeteners, like honey or maple syrup, and maybe some form of more complex carbs so that the waning comes on a little slower. Otherwise, I have to rely on those energy bars. I haven’t gotten around to home-made replacements for those yet. It’s on my mind, though. Just need some muffin tins!

I’ve also taken the distance and times required to successfully complete the HK4TUC to heart. I already began upping my daily distances, angling for seven miles (10K) instead of just three (five km) at least three days a week, and aiming for four. When I do run a short jaunt, I am pushing for speed. What I’ve found is that, right now, I can run a good 10-minute mile pace for about two hours. Again, that is without any real elevation! The heart rate stays a pretty stead 135-140 bpm, and that is pretty aerobically sustainable. (If I understand what I’ve been reading, that is!) Then, on the shorter runs, I push for 8:30-minutes per mile, or faster. The heartrate tends to be around 150 for that, and, well, it’s hard! Still, it’s a good way to shake things up and get the intensity in.

Speaking of that, I’ve been turning attention to heart rate variability (HRV). In short, hearts, while rhythmic are not metronomes. When you’re relaxed, there is a pretty large variability in between each beat. When you’re stressed, the beats are very regularly timed. The relaxed-ness is a combination of both mental and physical states and can be a very good indicator of recovery. After Andre, the organizer of the HK4TUC turned us on to it, I read up and have been using Elite HRV* app with a Polar* heart monitor strap. I’ve found it super useful! The app really does a great job of reflecting my overall state, and let’s me know with more precision when my boundaries are being pushed, and track more closely how much I should be recovering. And, as you might have heard: recovery is when you’re actually making the gains!

I have to say, the Elite HRV* app is really quite good. It’s free, has a variety of easy-to-use prompts and tracking options, and has regular yet unobtrusive follow ups in-app and through email (optional!) that provide more, and very useful, information. There is a terrific user guide that also outlines the science of HRV, how to understand and make use of it. Give it a try!

Indeed, let us know what you think, join us and follow along: @GoProFun on Twitter and China.Gamer.Guy on Insta.

*Not endorsers, just what I use!

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