About twice a year, a few close college friends and I rekindle our long email chain with a fun questionnaire of sorts. The idea is to get each of us thinking a little, giving each other updates on our respective lives from all corners of the world.
It’s a chance to exchange some stories, mull over questions, and generally reflect a bit more thoughtfully than simply just dashing off a text message or taking a selfie (though those are heartily welcomed, too).
The questions are simple, and there aren’t too many of them.
In the latest edition of the survey, sent out earlier this month, the questions to be answered are as follows: Wisdom gained this year. Innocence lost this year. Something you started doing this year. Something you stopped doing this year. And something you want to do more of next year.
As I tried to think of my answers on a recent early morning run, it occurred to me that the questions would be perfect for meditating on a year of running on Hong Kong’s trails, too.
Wisdom gained on the trails
Golfers have their long game and short game –– their drives and fairway shots, and their chips and putts. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about trail running this year, it’s to take a page from golfers’ books and to think about races over long distances as having both a long game and short game.
The short game of trail running would consist of all the little things in the moment: making sure to hydrate and fuel enough, being efficient with each step, knowing what to do at checkpoints, and the like.
The long game would be the big picture: having a strategy for the race and sticking with it, which also means not being thrown off by runners around me who may be going faster or slower at that particular moment.
Innocence lost on the trails
Back when my weekly long runs were capped around 90 minutes, I took for granted that I could roll out of bed, eat a small handful of dry cereal, take a couple sips of water, and head out the door, running at a good clip and not crash in fatigue, thirst, or hunger. And even if I did at times test those limits, the end of the run would always only be around the corner, and I would find some energy reserve to push through the final 15 or 20 minutes.
Somehow, I eventually convinced myself I would always be able to tap into a hidden energy reserve, and that simply going with the flow, without worrying too much about how to fuel the body during the run, would be the way to go. But of course, you can only go with the flow when there is a flow to speak of. I learned this the hard way over the summer when I first began going on longer runs, pushing myself in the oppressively humid heat for two-and-a-half, three hours often with only a small soft flask of water. The profuse sweating and rapid loss of electrolytes meant that my body often crashed spectacularly at the two-hour mark, and I would spend the rest of the day strewn on the floor at home, flushed and exhausted.
So the innocence (or put another way, naiveté) lost this year is: Going with the flow is all good – but only if I can keep the flow going.
Check out our first episode of “The Adventure Trail” podcast, co-hosted by me & @AdventurerAgnew, where we chat with our guest John Ellis about trail running in Hong Kong, and his love hate relationship with pain. https://t.co/onKzI37Asd pic.twitter.com/rlD8efg6iu— Mary Hui (@maryhui) 13 June 2018
Something I started doing
Power hiking. I used to hate it and actively avoided it. I would plan my runs to minimise stair sections as much as possible, because I felt that power hiking broke the rhythm of my run, and also snobbishly thought that it was not “real running”.
At the back of my mind, I knew that this was never going to be a sustainable course of action in Hong Kong, which probably ranks as the stair capital of the trail running world. But I tried to put off confronting the reality of my terrible stair-climbing abilities for as long as possible. I’m still rubbish at power hiking up stairs, but I’ve come around to embracing it as part of the whole package of trail running. In fact, I now even look forward to power hiking sections, because it means I can take a break from running.
Something I stopped doing
Dreading power hiking.
Something I want to do more of in 2019
Stretch properly. I’ve never been particularly flexible, but all this running is making my hips, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back embarrassingly stiff. Not that this affects my life on a day-to-day basis, and most of the time I can forget about being barely able to touch my toes. But going to the bouldering gym more regularly this year has meant that I am frequently reminded of how my limited mobility puts me at a serious disadvantage. While other climbers manage to dangle upside down on an overhang and effortlessly bring their feet up towards their head to do a heel or toe hook, I find myself kicking and flailing around ungracefully. If I can commit to stretching properly and regularly, perhaps I can one day climb half as elegantly as some of these climbers.