December 11th, it’s 5 am and I’m in the car with Cosmo and Pierre driving to the base of Tai Mo Shan. Even with the heat on in the car we’re all shivering and bundled up as though we’re on our way to a ski chalet, not to the beginning of an adventure race. We arrive at the parking lot and snatch one of the last parking spots – it seems as though the cold hasn’t deterred anyone else either! We get ourselves organized, pick up the maps at 5:30 and huddle in the car until start time.
On the start line we see all the familiar faces and the teams that we know will be tough to beat. Cosmo and I are both still bundled up fairly well, with legs fully covered and sleeves pulled up. We have just enough time to wish the other teams well and the countdown begins. We start with a good technical run in the dark and thankfully this part of the course is marked. Cosmo sets the pace with the two Champion Systems teams right on our heels. At about ½ way through the run on a little climb, we let both teams by us as we walk up a bit of a hill. We discuss the developments briefly and decide to let them go a little bit, but try to keep the gap small. We keep the rest of the run steady, hitting the technical downhill parts hard to keep close. At the end of the run we see the other teams coming out of transition on the bikes and reckon we’re just a minute behind. We’re stoked, this is pretty much where we want to be.
Moving on to the bikes, things start out smoothly and we both seem to have good legs after a fairly punishing run. The concrete part of the ride goes well and we both keep a pretty good pace. We don’t see anyone though and just presume the leading teams are keeping about the same pace. Before long we’re onto the trail. Admittedly, I haven’t been riding enough trail since our last Chiru victory back in September in Koh Samui and I start out a bit rusty. Cosmo is hitting the trail hard and I’m trying to keep his line, but I just can’t seem to get in the groove. Eventually, my trail sense comes back and I ride the last couple of kms pretty well. We come back onto the concrete and hammer hard for the transition, frozen to the bone! As we’re about there we catch a glimpse of Stone and Clayton (CS2) heading for the next section, a technical scramble up a river gorge. We gauge our deficit at about a minute & think we’re about 3 minutes behind the leaders, Ryan and Jay.
We run to the entry of the gully as quickly as we can and the fun begins! Cosmo takes the lead up the gorge and weaves back and forth, finding the lines expertly. I’m happy to put my head down and run along the rocks following his line, not having to think too hard about which rock to leap on next. Luckily, we’ve recce’d this gorge recently and it isn’t altogether unfamiliar. About ½ way up we’ve caught Stone and Clayton, Cosmo passes and I stay behind, unable to find a good space to get by. We end up running up the rest of the gorge together, as a four, all of us gaining on Ryan and Jay, who we just about manage to catch by the top. In the gorge we do two short swims and thankfully they are short; the frigid water literally takes our breath away – I now know why people drown so quickly in cold water. After exiting the gorge, we make our way back to the bikes on foot along a semi-technical trail, mostly downhill. We run this section mostly with Stone and Clayton and, just before the transition, take a small shiggy trail with them into the transition. We transition very quickly & find ourselves out in front – having passed Ryan and Jay as well on the small shortcut into the transition.
This next section is a ride along the well-known Tai Lam mountain bike track. As we are now out in front, we settle into our position and put the pedal down, both confident that we can ride this trail as well as anyone behind us. Just as we manage to put a smidgen of space behind us, our race looks as though it might be over; Cosmo is out in front pushing hard along a fast section of track and SMACK, right into a Sunday rider coming along the trail in the wrong direction. There wasn’t even time to brake and both Cosmo and his Chiru take a brutal beating, with Cosmo flying off the front of the bike and landing hard. Somehow, he drags himself and the bike back up off the trail just as Stone and Clayton come up behind us. Both rider and bike are injured, but manage to push on to the end of the ride out in front. We finish the ride about a minute in front and run towards the Tai Lam dam, where we abseil into thin air just seconds ahead of Stone and Clayton. Fatigue is setting in though, and I struggle with my climbing equipment and hang suspended for a few seconds before sorting myself out and speeding to solid ground below. I hit the ground and sprint towards Cosmo, ready to run back up the hill and along the trail to the bikes. We’re still ahead and are beginning to smell the finish line. Despite the wear and tear on our bodies (especially Cosmo’s from the fall), we run this next section really fast and get back to the bikes for the ride to the beach feeling confident.
After a kamikaze ride to the beach, during which we almost have an even worse collision than the one earlier, we grab a kayak and hit the water. We’re both so exhausted and excited for the win that we neglect to check our kayak properly. As soon as we’re paddling we realise that our kayak isn’t ideal and seems to be carrying around a bit of extra water. We try to keep positive and paddle our best, staying steady and trying to hold on. We head out around a breakwater/bridge to the first kayak checkpoint and can’t really see anyone behind us, suddenly feeling renewed confidence with a seemingly large lead. We reach the first checkpoint and turn to head further towards the second and see another team coming in to the checkpoint – our lead had evaporated. We decided that they must have gone for the breakwater and found a hole to paddle through, there was no other explanation. Again, we just tried to stay positive and keep paddling. We managed to stay in front and keep our small lead. On the way back from the second check point we went for it – paddling straight at the bridge, hoping to find a hole large enough to cut through. We chose the middle hole and just managed to cruise through, with just one little scrape as we exited into the marina. We kept paddling as hard as we could and just managed to hold on all the way to the beach. We pulled off our life jackets and ran to the finish line, exhausted and victorious! Just a minute later, Jay and Ryan came across the line, with Stone and Clayton just another couple of minutes further.
What a phenomenal race! Definitely one of the most beautiful, closest, toughest and coldest we’ve ever done!
Chiru Endurance Asia