As RMA we try to seek out the adventure. Well, Ambassador Ana Croger did just that when she decided to embark on her first ultra. This one, in Hong Kong. Although she trained hard, nothing would prepare her for what this race would entail…and so, she lived out the adventure, and learned a fair bit along the way. This is her story -Nicole.

Usually after a race I’m so pumped that I’m awake all night writing my race recap for RMA. After The North Face Hong Kong I didn’t feel that way and it’s taken me days to process and put the journey into writing probably more because I didn’t feel elated or accomplished at the end of the race like I do with most other runs I’ve done.

When I started running nearly 5 years ago, it was simply a weight loss journey and something to help with my post natal depression. One thing lead to another and 10km became a half marathon became a marathon. At the start of this year I wanted more. So I set out to give trails a go along with my other marathon goals of Canberra and Berlin. I did my first trail run at SEQ trail series in February and UTA pace 22 in May but I wanted more. Longer, harder and more of it.

When I got a lottery spot in TNF HK I was so surprised but never thought they would accept my marathon qualifier- they did. So the journey began… Berlin marathon quickly became a B race with all my focus on surviving what is the toughest trail race in Hong Kong- a city famous for trails and mountains.

Jodie prepared me mentally and physically. She reminded me this was going to be the toughest race I’d done. She spent hours pushing me up and down the biggest steepest hills we could find. I thought it was overkill but I completely trusted her. She was right in the end- of course.

The morning of the race I kissed my husband and kids good bye and my Dad joined me in the hour cab ride to the start. We walked around with Dad commenting on how crazy all the ultra runners looked. I stayed right at the back of the pack at the start line. The gun went off and TNF Hong Kong began.

As we headed to the first section I realised starting at the back was going to mean the first two sections were snail pace, but I was also grateful that I hadn’t been pushed over. It was all single trails and all rock. It was unrunable. Even when the crowds thinned out I couldn’t run on the slippery steep technical cliff faces of rocks. It was slow. I fell over got back up and kept moving. The views were spectacular but I was starting to realise it was going to be a very long day. In my mind I’d told my self the first two sections were merely a warm, up but the relentlessness of the mountains and the technical trails, and really just the inability to run was already playing games with my head. I was getting worried I may not make the cut offs. I was slow and I was out of my element. I know some of my friends would have smashed these technical trails but I’m just too scared so I battled on so slow, a snail could have caught me. As Dad ran a little with me from section 2 I complained to him but he just smiled and said I’ll see you at checkpoint 3 and off I went.

Section 3 was my favourite. I could run, I smiled and ran my little heart out. I made up lost time. I relished running through the fishing villages. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I ran through ruined villages and the historical village of Lau Chi Wo which was a course highlight for me but I knew, inevitably I’d hit section 4 and 5, the most difficult part of the course.

Coming through checkpoint 3 Dad was there again. He refilled my water while I readjusted my pack with fuel, headlamp and my RMA jumper. The top of the mountains were cold and I knew heading into the dark I’d need everything in reach. I also knew that this was also the last time I’d see Dad before the finish. He ran with me until the trail became more dense and told me again I was crazy and off I went.

I’ll be honest section 4 is a bit of a blur because the trauma of section 5. From memory it was quite steep with lots of steps. My watch was 3km over by this time so I just remember thinking “is this ever going to end?”. It did and checkpoint 4 offered sandwiches, bananas and a gear check which I did robotically and kept going.

As I left the remoteness of checkpoint 4 I was surrounded by mountains. The only way out was over them. The next 12-13km was going to get me home but was also going to scare me so much I’d be left with two days of nightmares.

Up and up and up. Higher and higher. Sheer cliff drops on either side in some sections. Colder and colder. Darker and darker. When I thought I’d reached the top, the ridge gave me 5 metres of running then up and up again. Then some steep descents then up again. The 8 immortals. 8 mountain peaks. I couldn’t run it. The wind kept blowing me over. Some sections it was more like a ladder with my arms and legs pulling me up. I’m scared of heights so I couldn’t look around at the lights twinkling in the distance. Just one foot in front of another. It went on and on and on… I honestly thought I’d never get off those mountains. The finish line seemed forever away but what choice did I have? I couldn’t go anywhere but forward. My watch died and still no end. No phone reception, no watch and no one around.

Finally I finished. My dad forced me to have a photo – “if I’ve had to hang out here for 13 hours I’m at least going to get a photo”. He joked that everyone else took selfies at the finish line for as long as they ran- except me. I didn’t wanted hang around, I didn’t want a shower and I didn’t want dinner, I just wanted to get back to my family. I wasn’t exhausted like after a marathon because I didn’t work that hard, it was more a mental battle and a whole lot of rock climbing and hiking. It was not like running a race for me. It rattled my confidence. I was so slow. Yes I finished but would I call myself a trail runner? No I don’t think so. I can certainly endure and I think I could go much further but there was very little running involved. It’s been a year where I haven’t quite reached my goals time wise. Not because I haven’t worked hard but because it just hasn’t quite come together on the day. Would I do it again? Yes I’ll definitely run more ultras and hopefully more runable trails but I’ll absolutely be readjusting my expectations.

2017 has been just shy of 2700km of adventure, friendship and dreams. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else and sharing it with anyone else than RMA. Thank you for being on this crazy adventure with me and Merry Christmas ❤️