My International Racing Debut

After Sears I knew I needed a break. I kept seeing the ICC looming on my calendar but decided that a break was more necessary than trying to sharpen up for this race. I gained some weight and only did zone 2 workouts and I simply hoped that it wouldn’t really work against me come 7 December.

He actually went along with my crazy plan

He actually went along with my crazy plan

I left San Francisco Thursday night, slept for awhile, and woke up Saturday morning in Hong Kong. I met Cal and caught up with him before I headed across the harbor for a race briefing and to pick up my race kit.


The building, divided

I met most of the other athletes at the briefing; about half of them had raced here before and knew what questions to ask the organizers. We were brought up to one of the refuge floors to see how the stairwell ended and where we would need to run around the building to get to the next set of stairs.

So much cooler than a low numbered bib

So much cooler than a low numbered bib

After we were finished at the ICC, I headed to a dinner of noodles with David, another newbie racer. We chatted about different races, trying to ignore the pain that we knew we were about to subject ourselves to the next day. Tired, I headed back to Cal’s where I passed out by 8. We had agreed to leave the next morning around 745; I was wide awake well before then, but Cal was a trooper and dragged his tired self off to see me be the idiot who decided to climb the ICC.

Kind of scary

Kind of scary

We arrived at the ICC via minibus. Because I went to the briefing on the MTR, I hadn’t actually seen the exterior from up close. It was so big that it just extended into the sky, seemingly endless. I left my stuff with Cal, did a quick warm up, then waited with the other racers until we were ushered into the starting chute.

All lined up and ready to go

All lined up and ready to go

I divided the race into a prologue followed by three stages. Each stage starts with a run, and the whole thing culminates with a run around the ICC100 sky deck.

The Prologue

I'm on the other side of the column. Photo from

I’m on the other side of the column. Photo from

The five of us line up at the start. The chute is lined with people cheering. The race official counts down, 3,2,1 and the horn blows. The five of us take off to the door, look around a bit as we find the proper way to go, and finally hit the stairs. The flights are short (6-10 steps per flight) and the stairs wrap around a solid central column so you can only see or hear someone if they are within a few strides. I see Suzy and the two Chinese girls take off; I know I can’t hang with them so I follow Cristina for a few floors. I know she’s faster than me but she seemed to start out slowly so I figured I could at least pace off of her for a bit. I quickly found myself in a familiar situation: completely alone, ruing all the terrible training decisions I made in the weeks leading up to this race. I reminded myself that it’s too late to do anything about those extra cookies and late nights so I need to just settle into my happy place and push. 1:50 in I hit the first refuge floor and the Prologue is over.

Stage 1

Finally some flat ground! The 90° turns mean that there’s no place to pause while climbing so while I originally thought that I would hate the long runs punctuating the climb, it was a welcome change. I see a few race officials, and I keep running, wondering where the door is. Finally I see a huge crowd and hear them start to cheer. Who are they? It takes me a second to remember that the relay race hand offs are on the refuge floors and this is the first exchange. I head to the stairwell and climb. I shut the brain off, focus on moving up, and eventually see a giant 47 painted on the wall and I know it’s time for Stage 2.

Stage 2

As I run around the refuge floor I hear footsteps behind me. The first relay team has caught me. I allow the new runner to go in front of me and I trudge back in for the hardest stage. I decide to single step for a floor or two around 60 then decide that’s a dumb idea and get back into double stepping it. I also begin to rethink my rail technique. The rail is low, on the left, and it doesn’t seem worth it to use my right arm. I start to lean forwards a bit more, and as I turn, I place my left hand near the top of the rail and my right hand on a step or the next landing. This works for a bit and I try to keep going until 77.

Stage 3

I’m done. Why did I fly halfway around the world for this? This is the worst vacation ever. I walk out onto the refuge floor and only begin a jog when I remember that there’s a huge crowd of people around the corner who can’t see me slacking off like this. More relay runners come behind me and their fresh new teammates bolt into the stairwell. Damn these runners with their fresh legs and lungs. I decide to be kind and just single step a little away from the rail to let a bunch of them pass; this definitely was not a selfish move, right? After what seemed like an eternity I check the floor number and see something like 80 and realize that this single stepping thing is taking too long. I decide to abide by my racing maxim that pain is a function of time, not distance, so I had better hurry up and get this race done with sooner rather than later. I keep moving, shutting out the pain and just trying to focus on the next flight. I look up and see 97; I’m almost there! I can do this for 3 more floors. I push to the top of the stairs then break into the fastest run I can manage to the finish line.


Cal caught the finish on the TVs near the start


One of the race volunteers tries to place my finisher’s medal around my neck but I’m too off balance to crouch down so I simply fumble for it and take it in my hand as I find someplace out of the way to sit for a bit. I glanced at my watch and saw that I had stopped it under 21 minutes which I was quite happy with considering my conditioning. I mulled around a bit with the other racers, before I realized that there was food. Not like American races where there are a few bananas, but real food like smoked salmon sandwiches, chocolate, apples, cookies, etc. Soon we were lined up for photos, then shuffled off to the stage for the awards presentation.

David, Joe, and me, all dressed for the awards presentation

David, Joe, and me, all dressed for the awards presentation


Overall I came in tenth place. I’m happy with the result; I had wanted to come out here and enjoy myself and that’s exactly what I did. If the timing works out I’d love to really race this sometime, actually training up for it and cut some weight. Surprisingly I recovered quite well; I was very concerned about the combination of pollution and the race on my lungs but I didn’t have a cough at all and I didn’t feel awful while hiking the next few days.

For all my American step sibs, I wholeheartedly recommend going to an international race if you can. The atmosphere was so different, in a good way, from any climb I’ve done in the US.

Next up: Hustle Up the Hancock

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