Jcy Ho is one of Hong Kong’s top ultra runners. She won VMM 70km and was the HK50 Series winner 2018/19. However, back in 2016 she came last in a 50k race. Here she talks to VTS about her running history, training and why she loves mountain running.
What led you to trail running, and when did you start?
I came back to Hong Kong in 2012 after studying and working in the UK for 22 years. I didn’t do many sports in the UK, I just commuted by bike. Back in Hong Kong, I wanted to carry on with my commute riding and because of this, I met lots of new friends and which got me into doing all sorts of different sports: field hockey; crazy long-distance bike rides; bike polo and dragon boat.
After a hockey injury on my hand I thought to myself, why not start running – I hated running before, but I had no choice. On 5th Feb 2015 I did my first 2.1km commute run after dinner – I had so much muscle pain literally for 3 days that I can’t even walk properly!
A few days later, I got tempted by my boyfriend back then (Axel) into running on the trail in Lamma island where I used to live for four years. It was love at first sight! I just could not get enough of it ever since! And a few weeks later, I was running for my first 24km trail race! Then the rest is history.
We know you have finished races very emotional and in tears. What emotions are being stirred when you run and cross the line?
Haha… yes… but only a few and I have reasons! I started running when I was 35 years old, kind of liked it because of the freedom of only needing to take a pair of running shoes and off you go. Started to enter races purely because I got more into running than Axel and since didn’t know many other runners at that time. Race was the only option for me to run without having to worry about food and water or worst of all, getting lost being alone! What I didn’t realize was how much I actually enjoy nature, and I wasn’t doing too bad either.
My very first 50km was in 2016 (Sai Kung 50) to celebrate my first year of running. Between last CP to the finish, Axel and my parents came to look for me, as soon as I saw them, I just couldn’t stop crying, I was in so much pain, and I didn’t want to give up so they walked with me.
When I arrived, the organizer had almost finished packing away! I came last in 237th and finished in 12 hours and 5 mins. I was traumatized by this 50km for over a year!
I rebuilt my distance from 13-30km, then it was only a year later that I felt I was ready for my second 50km (Korea50). To add to this, I did the same race this year in Feb. I came 2nd and shaved off 4 hours.
My first solo 100km was in 2018 (Garmin100). I was just 10 km away from the finishing line. Axel walked towards me, and as soon as I saw him, I just couldn’t stop crying! When I reached the finish line I was again flooded with tears. I promised myself that I will not do another 100km unless I was ready. I don’t want to suffer the same way ever again. I didn’t race for 6 months and only focused on training with my trail walker team “The nutters 2018.”
I then cried at the 9 dragons finishing line. I had 24 hours to think about my whole life during that race. It was only a few years ago, I said one day I wish I could do this race and now not only I can finish the race and I did it in such a time that I could only dream of! (She came second – Ed) My parents, my sister’s family & my best friend’s family all came to the finishing line! I can still get so emotional even today about this one. It’s the accomplishment and something that I wanted to prove to everyone – nothing is too late to start, and no one can stop you! If you want it, then do it!
When training for an ultra race, what is a typical week of training for you?
Never ever push yourself to do something you do not enjoy, the same rule applies when you were young, your mum made you learn piano or ballet. Honestly, how many of you still play and dance? It’s mind-blowing how you can change your mindset in a matter of seconds.
Since the end of August 2019, Andy Dubois agreed to coach me. (I was crazy happy when he said “Yes”) I now run roughly 70-90km a week. Some intervals, easy and back to back long runs on the weekend. I wanted that extra mile to push me further and to see how far I can go as an amateur. And I signed up my first 100 miles at the end of this year.
Before that, I only run 10-35km a week and ride on my bike once or twice a week. I was quite lazy then, so instead of running flats which might take longer to see the impact, I choose all my route with climbs or uphill to shorten my training time and have the same effect.
You had a great result at Vietnam Mountain Marathon. What did you think of the course?
The course was fantastic, maybe not the super slippery bit for me! But overall I love the climbs and being able to see the highest mountains around was the biggest highlight!
What’s your favourite part?
The finishing. The flags flying along the course, the sun that hit the mountain, it was just beautiful.
Did you have a low/hard moment on course? How did you overcome it?
Yes, of course! Luckily, I only had a brief moment on one very steep hill, I did struggle. I look down on the ground and start imagining this is just flats. It worked. Strange how your mind thinks!
You looked fresh and often smiling along the trail. How did you keep your energy up during the race?
I don’t need to keep my energy, nature gave me all these. I cannot stop to think how lucky I am to be able to run! After all my failure before, I promised myself that I want to enjoy every single race, and how do you do this? Train hard and race easy. When you feel like this, it’s just hard to be sad, right?
What is your nutrition strategy for an ultra?
Solid food, tailwind and some feel-good food. In long-distance like 100km, I will need rice or noodles for my lunch and dinner, dried mangoes and almonds during the race, and some comfort food like crisps, sour-sweet towards the end. I do not like to disrupt my digestive system if I can, I prefer to keep my eating time habit unchanged.
So it’s crucial that if you are thinking of doing your first 100km or ultra, do try and go out and run/hike for more than 10 hours. Don’t worry about the speed, focus on what you can eat and digest in that time. For long-distance, 30% physical, 70% mental. So get the food right, and you will run happy!
You are very active on Strava – do you think it helps your running and why?
I have been using Strava since 2009, I love challenges, especially if I see myself only a few minutes or even just a few seconds away from top 10 or QOM, I will train harder and tackle the segment again! But sometimes, on a very popular segment, it triggered me to think if I can ever do that time. So yes, it helps tremendously for people who love challenges as much as I do!
Lastly, who is your biggest influence and/or inspiration?
Myself! Be your own inspiration! Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and we will never be the same! Try to focus only on things that are slightly out of your comfort zone first, gain confidence from this and slowly build from the foundation. Then you can be generous with your ambitious! Be unrealistic and realistic about your goal! Learn from your failure, not someone else’s success!