My Life at Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong 2011-2013

62 Miles and Runnin’

Maxim Moshnyakov, 18, my Finnish co-year, is possibly the icon of endurance running at Li Po Chun United World College. Since he’s in Hong Kong he has participated in several marathons with fascinating motivation and admirable ease. Just recently he completed a marathon of 100 kilometers over the hills and mountains of Lantau Island, the Lantau100 – a mesmerizing achievement considering that Maxim only really got the kick of running when he came to Hong Kong one and a half years ago.

Before high school, Maxim’s physical activities included swimming and aikido, later he  also started casual cycling. He started doing triathlons in secondary school and ran his first half-marathon at the age of 14, with three more following later. However, in the year before coming to LPCUWC, he nearly completely abandoned all kinds of sports and focused on other extracurriculars, like the Finnish broadcast, national television and debating. Maxim explains that a main reason for him to start sports again was a promise to my co-year at the UWC in Swaziland: “I pledged that I would not debate and argue with people anymore and rather, whenever I felt the urge to, do sports instead. At first I was a bit skeptical about that idea, but it worked out very well.” Following their agreement, Maxim soon discovered his passion for sports again in Hong Kong, deciding that “running seemed most natural”. After all, he was also involved in both the Athletics and Youth Endurance Network Quan Cais and greatly inspired by his Finnish secondyear, and Hong Kong athlete Mary Hui, who also graduated from LPC last year and “always knew which races would be ideal to join, like the Green Power Hike” where the LPC team broke the twelve year record.376343_10152505142130244_1541485078_n

Soon Maxim was at the start of not only small races of 5 or 10k, but also competed in larger events, many in both years of his time at LPC. These included a 50k race, the 24-hour-race, organized by Chris Schrader’s Youth Endurance Network and fundraising for the battle against human trafficking in Nepal, the Sedan Chair Race – and now finally his first ever 100k ultra-marathon two weeks ago as youngest participant. When asking Maxim, how he himself would describe his attitude to running, he grins: “Hardcore.”

When hearing of an 18-year old, who has not even finished high-school yet, running one marathon or race after the other, one particular question lies near: Why? Maxim’s answer is short and simple: “Ultra-marathons are like an adventure. They actually challenge you! When you train for a 5 or 10k race, you just do the same thing over and over again. In my eyes there is no difference between running 5k in fifteen minutes or fifteen minutes and ten seconds. Of course, you also train for ultra-marathons, but it’s more demanding and requires more from your mental capability, too. You end up making yourself go forward, no matter what – even though it hurts like hell. I really have to encourage myself during an ultra-marathon; there is a voice in my head telling me to continue. Additionally, I let everything in life go through my head. It’s a very good opportunity for reflection, because you have the time to simply think.”546427_4598751369180_1028492424_n

On Lantau, Maxim surely had lots of time for reflection, spending no less than twenty-five hours one the track, taking seven hours alone for the last 20k: “On the last part of the marathon, I ran out of salt tablets.  If I would have had one or two more of those, I could have saved up to three hours.” Lack of salt tables was not the only inconvenience Maxim faced during the marathon. The Lantau100 runs on most un-even terrain, including the highest peak of Hong Kong that one can climb (920 meters) after 70 kilometers of the race. Maxim agrees that his unawareness of the route heavily influenced his performance: Though he trained for the 100k, he couldn’t prepare specifically for the Lantau landscape, like many other of the runners did. Instead, he got into shape by doing the 50k race five weeks before and undertaking general runs with a backpack filled with rice packs. Of course, this training was not flawless: “I knew that I hadn’t prepared like I should have. I had Project Week, Coral Monitoring, the week right before the race; my muscles were sore from diving and I had caught a cough on the plane. But I didn’t let that matter. During my training, I should have done more up-hill running, though. What I was missing out most in my routine were height variants. In the Ma On Shan Country Park I run uphill for half of the path and downhill for the rest. In the Lantau100 I had to alternate running up and down a lot, so if I would do it again, I would go there and check the route beforehand.”

His lacking knowledge of the path further challenged him mentally on the way: “I didn’t know what to expect in particular, I just knew it was going to be hard. Especially since I was going to run at night. With time it became really annoying: You don’t know where the next checkpoint is, so you are in the dark and think ‘maybe it’s behind the next hill, the next corner, the next tree’. The uncertainty keeps you running, but from the very start I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to pace myself in the right way as I didn’t know the track. I wanted to avoid stupid mistakes as much as possible, such as running to fast or taking too much or too little rest at the checkpoints.”

Maxim started the marathon together with around a thousand other runners, 310 aiming for the 100k, 700 for the 50k. Both “teams” ran together for the first 25k, so “it was heavily packed and there was no space for anyone”. As soon as they separated, the 100k runners started to break apart, too: “Already after 30k, there were maybe three or four people in my sight, after 50k not more than one or two. For the last 20k I was basically alone. I saw other runners one in a while, but only for a brief moment; either when they passed me, or the other way around.” Eventually, after a whole day and night, Maxim was one of the 60% of runners who finished the ultra-marathon. The rest dropped out earlier due to injuries or exhaustion.

This oneNow what did Maxim gain from this experience, apart from sore legs and a medal that says ‘finished’? “Now I know, that I’m able to do it”, he says. “I know that 100k on flat ground will be a lot easier and I’m already planning to register for a 100k in Finland this June. It is one of three 100k races in Finland that serve as championship for marathon runners. In fact, I’m aiming at participating in all three, which might give me the possibility to later on get assistance for European championships etc.” The 100k Maxim is going to run this summer is the second oldest in the world, with no point higher than 10 meters – a gigantic difference to his first ultra-marathon. The world-wide record for running 100k lies at six hours and ten minutes; the winner of this year’s Lantau100 finished the route in twice that time. Taking this into consideration, Maxim is expecting to spend only around nine hours on the 100k in June.

When it comes to his future aspirations in terms of ultra-marathons, Maxim’s enthusiasm is clear: “My next great challenge could take place in September 2014, when I hope to join the Sparthatlon: 245 kilometers in 36 hours…” It sounds impossible for such a young athlete to achieve. But Maxim is full of energy and motivation: “I would go for a 200k, a 500k; pretty much as far as it goes. This is just the very beginning.”

Photos © Mary Hui, Quentin Becheau and Leila Denniston

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