Jan | 6

A Running Start to 2017 on Hong Kong’s Hills

On New Year’s Eve I toed the start line of the Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan, a 100-mile tour of Hong Kong’s jungled trails. Along with 292 other ultrarunners, I set out to ring in 2017 by climbing 9,032 meters of cumulative elevation and soaking in the majestic mountaintop views.


I love to celebrate each New Year with a big challenge to create momentum for the year ahead. An icy polar bear swim of Turkey’s Sea of Marmara to begin 2012 kicked off a great span of open water swimming including crossing the Thames, Seine, Moskva, Jordan and Huangpu rivers. To start 2013, I attempted a speed solo of Mt. Rainier (aborted after triggering major snow slides) that was solid conditioning for speed ascents in China’s Sichuan and Yunnan province.

I believe it’s essential to push past your comfort zone, to pursue a goal so big you must summon all your strength – mental, physical and spiritual – to reach it.

By doing so, we realize the only limits which can contain us are those we place upon ourselves.

2017 also marks a special personal milestone – five years since my last drink. Alcohol used to be a daily escape for me. For too long booze was how I’d deal with stress, disappointment, and the bumps and bruises of life. Running has become an outlet to process and channel life’s many challenges in a healthier way. This ultra run was to commemorate five years of sobriety and celebrate the path ahead.

Destination Hong Kong

Many Americans rightfully picture Hong Kong as a thriving East-meets-West metropolis with a robust financial sector and glittering skyline, teeming with massive cargo ships, posh shopping malls and a fashionable urban populace. Many forget that Hong Kong (literally “Fragrant Harbor” in Chinese) boasts an incredible natural environment off the coast of China’s Pearl River Delta. Less than a quarter of the territory is developed and most of the land remains near-vertical rainforest and grassland. Hong Kong has a long, jagged coastline with many hidden rivers and bays that foster ecological diversity and countless shades of green.

Welcome to the Jungle

The ultra is named for Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan, standing just 3,140 ft. but protected by a series of deceptive trails and slopes, many composed of loose rock which crumble under foot. The course is designed to test runners through a rolling gauntlet of natural obstacles with overgrown trails of verdant foliage, hidden roots, brambles and spider webs chief among the unrelenting culprits.

I knew the Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan would be a real gut check for me, particularly because I’ve been training in pancake-flat and temperate Shanghai. Four-hour sessions on an inclined treadmill or cardio circuits in the gym sauna are poor imitations for course conditions. Worse, I had to take five weeks off from training this fall to rest a tweaked back and even considered scratching my entry to the race. Remembering that fate favors the bold, I redoubled my resolve.

Hong Kong’s heat, humidity and hills quickly zapped my triumphant attitude. My calves worked overtime to propel me up each hillside but my quads and knees ached with each descending step over tumbling rocks. By mile thirty my overburdened left leg was cramping from fatigue. I re-focused on the next stride but felt the spring in my step vanishing to little more than a power walk.

Famished at a checkpoint around mile sixty I fueled up with bananas. Desperately craving salt to replace lost sodium, I even sampled crab stew and a local energy drink. Big mistake. Within five miles I felt queasy and was unable to keep food or water down.

Hong Kong’s hills attempted the coup de grâce but I resisted and gutted out another twenty miles with a dizzying headache and mounting calorie deficit before timing out at mile eighty-six.

Back at my hotel, I slowly removed my racing gear and unlaced my Brooks Puregrit 5’s. These trusty companions helped me channel every last ounce of energy to the task at hand. Though the finish line remained fourteen miles beyond my stride, I know I left it all out on the course.

I reached for my limit but fell short. I’m back home now to lick my wounds and am already planning a rematch with Hong Kong’s hills. I’ll come back stronger to give the course my best shot!

The Gift of 2017

At the start line on New Years Eve in Hong Kong, 292 of us looked up into the hills and envisioned the quest ahead. Each of us faced unique challenges in the miles before us. Ultrarunning has become a mobile meditation where I worship in a natural cathedral. To rediscover our purpose, sometimes we must push ourselves to the very brink.

You can spend a few moments too reflecting on the challenges on your horizon and planning how you can begin the New Year with a running start.

Here’s to a banner 2017. Let’s make it our best year yet!


About the Author

Greg Nance is the Seattle Seahawks 12Ambassador and works to expand education access as Chairman of Moneythink and CEO of Dyad.com. Learn more and connect at www.gregnance.org.





About Guest Blogger
The Brooks Blog regularly features stories from our athletes, running partners and friends who exemplify Run Happy.
  1. Charlie King

    Great article Greg! Reaching for goals that force to expand our views of what we’re capable and shift the way we view our ourselves are the greatest gift. Thanks for being a leader in this!

  2. Jessica Schumann

    Well said. Since having met you in Gobi I have had nothing but respect for your drive, determination and unbreakable spirit. I look forward to meeting you out on the trails again someday. Until then enjoy the many adventures you will no doubt have along the way.

  3. Ben Blowes

    Sounds like a tough day at the office mate. you know where you went wrong in prep so hopefully you’ll learn from it (something is runners rarely do). Find another 100, train smart and smash it mate. Great effort.

  4. Karis Tsolomitis

    Proud of you for taking this challenge on and pushing yourself to the limit. Tackling each obstacle whether it is personal or professional is something I really admire. You are an incredible individual and inspire me to look at how I can push myself towards my own goals. Let’s not be our own roadblocks but instead each others sheperds.

  5. Smrita Choubey

    What an incredible feat Greg! Your discipline and resilience are awe inspiring…and you may have just inspired me to start training for a full marathon (always thought a half was the most I could do). But you’re right you’re only limited by your own mind and may need to harness all of your mental, physical and spiritual energy to achieve some worthy goals!!

  6. Lonnie Stonitsch

    As usual, Greg, I am stunned by your achievements under extreme circumstances. Would be interested to know what you think about during your “mobile meditations.” I’m sure your readers would love to have a peek inside your mind as you execute so impressively.

  7. Kinsey Peach

    Truly amazing!! Your determination can be a light to many during difficult times. Thank you for sharing your journey and for being proud of yourself for what you’ve accomplished. It’s not all about crossing the finish line. It’s about pushing yourself and being better for it in the end. Hope to see you soon, Greg!

  8. William O'Connor

    Great read Greg! Really appreciate the insight into this particular race and your drive in general. I’m always blown away with what you’re able to accomplish.

  9. Cheryl Marie

    You are the walking embodiment of about a dozen Henry Ford quotes, Greg. “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” (You do things.) “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.” (You believe in yourself.) “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” (You plan out your routes, along mountains or in business endeavors.) “Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” (You get back up on the bicycle after falling.) Etc. My point is that in addition to being a brilliant athlete, you are also a person of wisdom, no small accomplishment for one so young. I am so proud of your 5-year milestone. Keep up the great work!

  10. Mike Nance

    I like the way you’ve turned a monumental but ultimately unsuccessful effort to finish this torturous trail run – one that very few have the boldness to even attempt – into a reflection on human endurance limits and perseverance. You continue to surprise and inspire us and make us proud.

  11. Kerric Knowles

    Great post! Very interesting and inspiring to learn about your battle with the elements down in Hong Kong. Sorry to hear about the crab stew incident, might have to stick with a big mac next time 🙂 Excited to take on some new challenges in 2017!

  12. Isis Smalls

    Wow, awesome read! Greg, you are certainly cut from a special cloth with this knack for polar bear swimming and ultra running! I can appreciate the wisdom and revelation you get from these incredible journeys and will apply a few things to my planning today actually. Lastly, this quote is golden: “[W]e realize the only limits which can contain us are those we place upon ourselves!” Excellent! Keep these coming!

  13. morganhartley

    Love this idea greg. Incorporating it into my own life with a winter five summit challenge here in CO! You’re an amazing and resilient human.

  14. Anh Hoang

    Truly inspiring. I can’t wait to see what other adventures await you in 2017. You’ve got the heart of a champion 🙂

  15. Jessica Michelle

    Wow. Sounds like an epic run in extraordinary countryside! Love the inspirational running message – even if you don’t reach the finish line, pushing yourself to the limits is a worthwhile endeavor.

  16. Michael

    Proud of you, buddy! Keep pushing yourself and good things will happen. Your journey is inspiring and I look forward to reading more in the near future!

  17. gleslie

    Epic as usual Greg! Thanks for the inspiration! No doubt round 2 will successful as you always turn set backs into comebacks!

  18. Luke Jensen

    Greg, loved reading your story. Excellent combination of the event itself and how it fits in with your worldview/past experience. Looking forward to reading the follow-up after your next attempt!

  19. victorjih

    Nice post. It’s actually very inspiring to read stories of challenge rather than just reading stories of achievement. It’s inspiring to know that even crazy athletes like you can hit roadblocks too. Looking forward to hearing about your next adventures.

  20. Ezgi Cubukcu

    What an inspiring story, Greg! Truly impressed by your grit, determination, and perseverance. It’s wonderful how you’ve managed to shed positive light on a story about setbacks and difficulties with the 100-miler in HK. Can’t wait to hear about your next adventure!

  21. Shashin Chokshi

    Greg, fantastic as always. The humidity + terrain seems to really provide new challenges for the new year. It’ll be interesting to see when you go back and tackle this sometime in the future — and what insights you’ll be able to take from this time around! I love that running has become such a productive place of creative inspiration for you!

  22. Theo Hunt

    Greg, what a gutsy race. Running 20 more miles when it sounds like you had already bonked; that’s some hardcore grit and mental toughness. I can remember your face at the end on a 400m in high school, and I am imagining that lasting not for the final 100m but for 20miles (though I’m hoping you didn’t go lactic in an altea too!) Keep rockin’.

  23. Jason D. Rowley

    Wow, I’m not even a runner and this was a seriously good read. Also, you’re a much better writer than you give yourself credit for.

  24. Addis Goldman

    What an epic attempt my friend! Greg, as always, you remain faithful to the conviction that perseverance and sheer imaginative will power in times of great physical and mental strain provoke in us an epic, even mythic strength and sense of wonder at human achievement. My experiences in the high alpine–in the Rockies, Alps, Himilayas, North Cascades–vindicates the sheer power of physical tests and my physical trials with you inspire all the same.

    I also love thinking about the tropically dense forested area that skirts Hong Kong–this beautiful natural counterpoint to the fabled urban density of China’s mega cities.


  25. Daniel Tedesco

    Thanks for sharing, Greg. An engaging read. As for failing, I refer you to Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

  26. Ted Gonder

    Love it Greg! Favorite line: “By doing so, we realize the only limits which can contain us are those we place upon ourselves.”

    Always inspiring and pushing through limits, my man! Onward and upward!

  27. Ryan Vogel

    Greg, I am grateful to witness your regular tenacious actions ~ examples of strength, faith, courage, and a special kind of love… You honor yourself and your community when you dig this deep, again and again. Many bricks are laid via rippling inspiration and learning ~ a new global Rome built of leaders, your friends, grows rapidly. Your struggle and success catalyze evolution for many.

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