The Oxfam Trailwalker is a fundraising event in Hong Kong with over 10,000 participants. Participating in this four-person team running/walking event is not only a superb way to help raise money for Oxfam’s anti-poverty work, but also means to ‘enjoy’ an 100k race situated on the outskirts of this vibrant city.
The hiking and trail running community of Hong Kong is full of keen and eager locals combined with expats from all over the world. The numerous trails that surround the city are in abundance due to the many park lands with their steep and challenging peaks. The race followed the MacLehose Trail from Sai Kung to Yuen Long, taking in over 14,700 feet of positive elevation change. With a 50-50 split of trail and road, the race takes in many spectacular views of the city but, at times, can trick runners into feeling they could be anywhere in the world when deep in the luscious, emerald-green, tree-lined trails and rocky paths.
The energy and excitement I felt at registration from the teams of runners filing into check-in was not only powerful but also inspirational. Everyone was here for the common cause of raising funds and to enjoy the sport we all love. For many teams, this event was eagerly awaited and obviously meticulously planned. There was color coordination, matching team outfits, and the enlarged enthusiasm from numerous members who could hardly contain their excitement before what was probably their first 100k event. The less animated, I’m sure, had either completed a 100k race before or actually had logically thought about what they were about to partake in. The stark contrast of facial expressions in people waiting around for the 9 a.m. start was comical!
I was in Hong Kong to help support Team Nepal, one of two teams with all their members hailing from the Himalayan Mountains. Team Nepal, a newly formed team with three out of their four runners having competed in the race before on other teams, were deemed as one of the favorites. Along with Team Columbia S1 (the other all-Nepalese team) and the two highly fancied 2XU teams, these were the teams with the big chances to take the crown.
From the outset, it was obvious the race was going to be an all-Nepalese battle. Both Team Nepal and Columbia S1 took off at lightning speed, with Team Nepal quickly putting several minutes between themselves and their Nepalese counterparts. Approaching checkpoint one, though, they hit a problem: in protest over a diplomatic matter, locals had barricaded the trail, refusing to allow the runners to pass. This led to confusion but Oxfam changed the route, with all teams now bypassing checkpoint one and the blocked path. Team Nepal surrendered their early lead, having to run back along the trail they just covered before linking up with the revised course.
Team Nepal was led by Samir Tamang, who finished second in last year’s race with Salomon Bonaqua Racing, while Team Columbia S1 was marshaled by Ram Kumar Khatri,
, finishing sixth with Columbia Power Fighters who was also on the Salomon Bonaqua Racing team last year. [Editor’s Note, 11/22: The previous sentence was updated.] Rounding out the rest of Team Nepal was Aite Tamang, Tirtha Bahadur Tamang, and Bed Bahadur Sunuwar and the rest of Team Columbia S1 was Uttam Khatri, Gurung Bhim Bahadur, and Ram Bhandari.
The leading two teams continued to fly along, staying under course-record pace. The current record stood at 11 hours, 12 minutes, set last year by the Salomon France team composed of Julien Chorier, Francois D’Haene, Michel Lanne, and Andy Symonds. Throughout the day, checkpoint after checkpoint, climb after climb, these two teams of Nepalese runners moved together as one, with neither team able to break the other or put more than a few yards between them both. The focus for many who were watching the race, and the thousands of volunteers helping the event run smoothly, turned to if the teams would break the course record and go under 11 hours.
At the halfway point, I was told that the 2XU Hoka Team in third place was 30 to 35 minutes behind. With the front runners not looking like they would be slowing down anytime soon, that gap would only be stretched from here on.
The leading teams arrived at checkpoint seven (70k), which led up to Tai Mo Shan, the race’s biggest climb. I personally thought that, on this steep and arduous climb, one team would create a gap on the other. I couldn’t have been more wrong. With 21k to go at checkpoint eight and on the other side of Tai Mo Shan, the teams remained neck and neck. I was to help pace Team Nepal in the final part of the race, but as they motored past me as I tried to hand out gels and pani (water in Nepalese), I felt like they would be carrying me along the final kilometers.
At 15k to go, a member of Team Nepal began to cramp. The blistering pace was taking its toll. Team Columbia S1 took full advantage of their opponents having to stop and help out their teammate and put at least a minute between the two teams. Now, with head torches on and uneven trail to contend with, Team Nepal rallied, kept their pace, and never gave up hope to catch their countrymen. I did my best to increase the pace of the team, but at times I wasn’t sure if the energy and increased enthusiasm I brought to the team was doing anything. The stern looks on all the faces of Team Nepal said one thing: win!
With 11k to go and coming around a long, sweeping bend in the trail, we caught the headlights of Team Columbia S1. Their lead was no more. What happened next I couldn’t believe, Samir Tamang not only went past each member of his opposition with the rest of his team following, but he and the team continued to surge.
These guys had just run 90k and were now running 4:10 minute-kilometer pace consistently. Team Nepal’s sudden increase in tempo couldn’t be matched, and they created a lead of 100, 200, then 300 yards before I could not see the lights of Team Colombia S1 behind us. Only after several kilometers did the pace slow slightly. Then disaster hit once more, a cramp again for one of Team Nepal’s members.
Laying flat on his back along the trail, Aite Tamang was being stretched and urged to get up and run. Slowly getting to his feet, the 13th-place finisher in this year’s UTMB was helped to get moving once again. The lights of the opposition were now upon us. Team Nepal rallied and ran together with Team Columbia S1 again. Like for the majority of the race, the two teams were deadlocked and moving as one.
Negotiating through the final checkpoint, all eight runners attempting to be validated simultaneously and with less than 10k to run, I felt this race might end in a sprint finish. But with three kilometers to go and as the course led out onto a wider road, Team Colombia S1 overtook Team Nepal and then shot off into the distance. Aite, noticeably struggling with the sub-five-minute-kilometer pace, was unable to stay with his team in pursuit of the eventual victors.
Team Columbia S1 crossed the line together in a staggering time of 10 hours, 58 minutes, not only to be crowned the 2013 Oxfam Trailwalker Hong Kong champions, but also to break the previous record by 13 minutes. Three minutes later, Team Nepal crossed the line in second, also in a record-breaking time.
This was a tremendous day not only for the deserved winners, Team Columbia S1, and Nepalese ultrarunning, but also for the organizers of the event. For the first time in its 27-year history, a team had gone under 11 hours. The sparkling grape juice was flowing at the finishing line, with celebrations leading into the night for the victors. The 2XU Hoka Team finished third in 12:35, only four minutes ahead of Team 2XU.
Throughout the following day, teams continued to make their way across the finish line, laughing and rejoicing that their 100k journeys were now complete. A special mention must go to Team Fearless Dragon, totally composed of visually-impaired and hearing-impaired athletes. This inspirational team finished the 100k in 32:19. Kim Mok and Galant Ng, visually-impaired walkers on the team said, “We believe that a loss of sight is not a loss of view, and a loss of hearing is not a loss of perseverance. We will take the grueling trail as a demonstration of our own strength and as a challenge against our physical limitation, with a view to promote the integration of people with and without disabilities.”
And to signify the end of the event, the final team crossed the finish line in Yuen Long 47 hours and 47 minutes after beginning their adventure. Now that’s impressive!
Official 2013 Oxfam Trailwalker Results
1. Team Columbia S1 – 10:58
2. Team Nepal – 11:01
3. 2XU Hoka Team – 12:35
4. Team 2XU – 12:39
5. Team AMO – 13:01
6. Convoy Cosmoboys Team I – 13:04
7. Fire Services – 13:16
8. Asia Trail – 13:58
9. Convoy Cosmoboys Team II – 14:27
10. Convoy Cosmoboys Team III – 14:34 (Mixed Team)
Team HKUST MBAAA Speed Ladies won the women’s race in 17:06.