[Editor’s Note: Writer Rachel Jacqueline would like to thank Martijn Doekes and Nic Tinworth who provided much assistance in writing this report.]
Everybody loves a good underdog story, and the one that was told last Saturday at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k couldn’t have unfolded better. Thanks to the support of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, a few strong runners from around the globe were flown in to compete alongside the usual Asian contingent. But at the end of the day it was two Nepalese runners, Tirtha Bahadur Tamang and Bed Bahadur Sunuwar, and an unsponsored Australian bartender, Vlad Ixel, that walked away with podium placings.
It was not for a lack of trying from Hoka One One’s Dave Mackey, who led the field for most of the day. But cramps saw him settle for eighth place, and The North Face’s Jez Bragg rounded out the top 10. New Zealand’s Vajin Armstrong (MacPac) and Scotty Hawker for Hoka One One (who now resides in Australia) came within seconds of each other for fourth and fifth place.
In the women’s field, Italy’s Queen of the Hills, Francesca Canepa (Vibram/Montura), breezed effortlessly to the finish, a whole hour behind Claire Price’s course record, followed by two local Hong Kong runners Chow Pui Yan and Lo Ching Ling. Lizzy Hawker, Claire Price, and Olya Korzh had all pulled out by the sixth checkpoint.
So how did the race that promised blistering speeds and new course records leave so much carnage? The start line was buzzing before the 8 a.m. kick-off. A combination of the strongest line-up the race has seen, near-perfect conditions, and blue-ish skies signaled it was going to be a good day–only a bit too much pollution could possibly ruin it. People were excited to see what was possible.
2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Men’s Race
The lead pack went out strong, of course. After 11 kilometres of mostly undulating road but including five kilometres of technical trail, the lead group of 18 men blazed through the first checkpoint in just over 50 minutes.
The course continued on trails, going up over hills and down along beaches. One by one, the lead group withered down to only 10 men going into Checkpoint 2. This is where Dave Mackey made his move, slowly pulling away from the chasing pack that still contained six men coming into Checkpoint 4, 45k in.
But as our preview warned, the Vibram Hong Kong 100k is a tale of two races: the front end is relatively flat while the back half is loaded with hills. Initially Mackey took full advantage of the earlier, less brutal hills and widened his lead from the chasing pack, which included eventual winner Tirtha Bahadur Tamang as well as Nepalese runner Ram Bhandari, Scotty Hawker, Japanese hopeful Shunsuke Okunomiya, and Vajin Armstrong.
In the chase group was also Vlad Ixel, a talented, young Aussie runner who won the 2013 Most Beautiful Thing Borneo 100k in September and The North Face 100k Singapore a few weeks after. Ixel had paid his own way to the event, and despite a string of recent successes, has no sponsors. He fits in his 40-hour training week around a bar job and travels an hour to find hills to train on just outside of Perth, Australia, where he lives–a flat city devoid of any hills.
The hardest stage of the race is between Checkpoint 5 (52k) and Checkpoint 6 (65k) with a very hard climb early on. This is where the chasing group was finally breaking apart, with Dave Mackey seemingly cementing his advantage of five minutes over the rest, while Ram Bhandari made a move to get into second place. Vlad Ixel and Vajin Armstrong never lost too much on that stage, though, and Ixel put in a strong move in the next stage to get to within three minutes of Mackey.
Even though January is winter in Hong Kong, with blue skies and the sun arcing its way through the sky, the mercury rose to become an unseasonably hot day. Mackey started to feel the earlier hard efforts taking effect on him. Tirtha Bahadur Tamang made his move, taking almost five minutes off on Mackey’s lead and two minutes on Ixel, and showing signs of having the power to win the day.
After Checkpoint 7, a long downhill starts with stairs, and this is where Mackey started cramping. He narrowly maintained his lead on the flat nature trail that followed, but Ixel and Tamang closed in on him and passed him just before crossing Tai Po Road. The race continued for a while on a road, and here the difference was clear: Mackey had to push hard, his face grimacing, while Ixel and Tamang ran seemingly effortless away from him, under the watchful eye of the monkeys on the fence alongside the road.
Vlad Ixel came blazing into Checkpoint 8 with Tirtha Bahadur Tamang on his side. In the meantime, Bed Bahadur Sunawar started to fire the cylinders and was closing in on the leaders, passing Mackey before Checkpoint 8. The last two stages played in the hands of the two mountain runners from Nepal, with three big climbs in a row. Tamang made a strong move up Needle Hill and never gave the advantage away, and Bed Bahadur Sunawar closed in on Ixel and passed him on the last climb, to Tai Mo Shan, the highest point of Hong Kong. Scott Hawker made a strong move over Tai Mo Shan as well, passing Ram Bhandari and Shunsuke Okunomiya and came within seconds of Vajin Armstrong, who concluded a very steady race in fourth place. Local favourite, (Stone) Tsang Siu Keung, was the first of the Hong Kong runners for ninth place.
[Author’s Note: Vlad Ixel will be spending five months in Europe over summer and is running Transvulcania and Ice Trail Tarentaise. Keep your eye on this young Aussie!]
2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Men’s Results
- Tirtha Bahadur Tamang (Nepal) – 10:02:04
- Bed Bahadur Sunuwar (Nepal) – 10:06:37
- Vlad Ixel (Australia) – 10:11:53
- Vajin Armstrong (MacPac/New Zealand) – 10:18:29
- Scott Hawker (Hoka One One/New Zealand) – 10:18:56
- Ram Bhandari (Columbia Hong Kong/Nepal) – 10:19:35
- Shunsuke Okunomiya (Montrail-Mountain Hardwear/Japan) – 10:28:45
- Dave Mackey (Hoka One One/USA) – 10:36:46
- Tsang Siu Keung (Champion System-The North Face/Hong Kong) – 10:40:08
- Jez Bragg (The North Face/Great Britain) – 10:58:39
2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Women’s Race
In the women’s race, the competitiveness of the field was curtailed after Lizzy Hawker dropped from the race early and Claire Price pulled the pin just after halfway. An injury forced other elite local runner, Olya Korzh, to pull out and made it an easy win for Francesca Canepa, who scraped in under 13 hours. She faced little competition throughout the day, with Nerea Martinez, like Mackey, struggling badly with cramps throughout the afternoon. The result was a good one for local runner, Chow Pui Yan, who won The North Face Hong Kong 50k in December (and was third overall). Lo Ching Ling completed the trio of top women. Martinez settled for fourth.
With Ryan Sandes’s 9:54 course record still safe and Claire Price’s sub-12 hour course record never under threat, next year’s race is sure to bring a hungry pack of runners eager to make their mark on this unique and challenging Asian beast of a race.
2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Women’s Results
- Francesca Canepa (Vibram-Montura/Italy) – 12:59:19
- Chow Pui Yan (Hong Kong) – 13:32:48
- Lo Ching Ling (Hong Kong) – 13:55:34
- Nerea Martinez (Salomon/Spain) – 14:30:16
- Mathilde Heaton (France) – 14:43:21
- Rachel Jacqueline (2xU/Australia) – 14:44:19
- Leung Wan Yee (Hong Kong) – 14:53:58
- Nora Senn (Escapade Sports/Switzerland) – 15:06:39
- Chan Man Ha (Hong Kong) – 15:23:51
- Charlotte Luck (Great Britain) – 15:26:06