The inaugural Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT) kicks off this Saturday with the Vibram Hong Kong 100k. True to its promised, global nature, the line-up is proving to be quite an international assembly.
Before looking at who’s descending on the city to hopefully beat Ryan Sandes’s 9:54, 2012 and Claire Price’s 11:58, 2013 course records and gain an early lead in the UTWT ranking table, let’s take a look at what runners will have to contend with in Hong Kong.
Course Preview: A Tale of Two Races
Split the Vibram Hong Kong 100k course down the middle and you have two very, very different races: the first half is relatively flat with a mix of concrete and singletrack, while the second half is packed full of ceaseless hills and myriad stairs. Go out too hard, too early, and as top local runner (and contender this weekend) Jeremy Ritcey would say: “If you don’t save enough juice… it can eat you alive!”
One aspect that remains consistent throughout the race, however, is that it is surprisingly unique and beautiful. The first 40-odd kilometres hug the eastern coastline and take runners over Thailand-esque, white-sand beaches while weaving through sleepy, Chinese fishing villages. It then turns inland through bamboo forests and over dramatic ridgelines. The middle section traverses through the hills overlooking the glowing metropolis–where else in the world can you run on trails while ogling one of the world’s most famous skylines–before finishing with numerous ascents, including Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan, at 957 metres, for a total of 4,500 metres or almost 15,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. Encounters with volunteer boy scouts, buffaloes, and monkeys are also promised along the way.
Hong Kong’s leading lady, Claire Price, perhaps sums it up best in her 2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100k race report.
Dave Mackey (Hoka OneOne) is perhaps the leading male runner representing the Star-Spangled Banner, and he’s bound to not disappoint. The 2011 UltraRunning Magazine Ultra Runner of the Year has shown no signs of slowing down since hitting 40, racking up a number of top-10 finishes throughout 2013. It seems he hasn’t competed in this race distance since the Bandera 100k last January (where he took second place in a speedy 8:53 and was named the USATF 100k Masters Champion), but he’s no doubt a likely podium placer on the day.
After winning five ultras in 2013, the 2011 USATF 100-Mile Champion, Dave James, is also a good bet for the front of the pack. [Update 1/14: Dave James is out with an injury.]
The North Face athlete Jez Bragg is another elite who is sure to be in the lead from the start. After his mammoth 3,054-kilometre, 53-day run across New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail last year, Bragg took some much needed time off before pulling his weary self together for an 11th place (10th male) in the UTMB in August–a race he won in 2010 (albeit on a shortened course). If anything, 100k will be too short for this accomplished athlete.
For the women, rumour is that The North Face’s Lizzy Hawker is still ‘uhming’ and ‘ahhing’ over joining, having recently relocated to Nepal, though she’s still recovering from injury. Watch this space.
Perhaps the best-represented region this year, the Frenchies will be out in force. Leading the charge will no doubt be Antoine “the Metronome” Guillon from the WAA (What an Adventure) Equipment team. This will be his second time in Asia after his seventh-place finish at the Ultra–Trail Mount Fuji (UTMF) in April. A trail running veteran, he has been ranked in the top four of the Diagonale des Fous on Réunion Island six times and is a four-time, top-10 UTMB finisher.
Guillon will be joined by fellow countrymen and WAA teammates: 2010 UTMB fifth-place finisher, Christophe Le Saux (also fifth at the 2012 Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie 105k and ninth overall at the 2013 Marathon des Sables) and Cyril Cointre, who was just minutes behind Guillon at the 2013 UTMF in ninth place.
Another French runner to watch is Hoka OneOne athlete Pascal Blanc, who placed third in the 2013 Diagonale des Fous. He was also 10th in the shortened UTMB course in 2010.
Francesca Canepa (Vibram) from Italy and the 2012 and 2013 Tor de Géants female winner, will be a hard female to beat. She’s impressive on all distances and terrain, having placed fourth in the 2013 UROC 100k in 12:55 and was first woman in the 2012 118k Lavaredo Ultra Trail. She will no doubt relish the hillier back end of the course.
Spain’s Nerea Martinez-Urruzola (Salomon), 2013 Transgrancanaria leading woman and second place to Lizzy Hawker in the 2010 UTMB is another strong runner predicted to be amongst the female race leaders.
Vajin Armstrong (MacPac) leads the pick of runners from down south. He did some serious racing in 2013, taking third at the Tarawera 100k, second at The North Face 100k Australia, second at the Zugspitz Ultratrail, and second to Jonas Buud at the Swiss Alpine Marathon. If he’s in form on race day, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the podium.
From Australia, Hoka OneOne’s Scott Hawker and Vlad Ixel will also likely be in the mix.
The Nepalese dominated the 2013 Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker 100k–they run hard and run with purpose. Having raced in Hong Kong numerous times, they know the trail and, as their Trailwalker performances show, they now have the experience to really excel.
Ram Kumar Khatri and Ram Bhandari from the winning (and course-record-setting) team at the 2013 Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker should not be overlooked. Ram Kumar Katri was third place in the 2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100k, despite working hard for most of the day in support of his teammate Aite Tamang. After Aite pulled up injured, Ram powered up the burners for a speedy finish.
Similarly, Bed Bahadur Sunuwar and Tirtha Bahadur Tamang could also feature, being part of the team that finished just minutes behind the winning Nepalese team in the 2013 Oxfam Trailwalker. Bed was third in the second edition of Vibram Hong Kong 100k behind Ryan Sandes and Aite Tamang.
Rest of Asia
Japan’s Shunsuke Okunomiya (Montrail/Mountain Hardwear) is well known for his five-time, top-10 finishes in the Hasetsune Cup 71k, Japan’s most prestigious trail running event, as well as his fourth place in the 2013 Fuji Mountain Race and 13th place at the 2011 Western States. He’s predicted to be one of the strongest amongst the Asian runners.
Koji Yamaya is another Japanese contender, but is another runner who is probably more comfortable on the longer, 100-mile distance.
From Korea, Sim Jae-Duk is a top ultrarunner who is also likely to be somewhere in the top end of the field, although we’re not sure of the details of his recent achievements.
The locals live and breathe the trails and have all been over the MacLehose Trail, where the course is set, more times than they can count. With intimate course knowledge and local conditioning, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Last year’s second-place finisher and 17th male at the 2013 UTMB, Stone Tsang, is the local favourite. However, after a grueling run and second-place finish at last month’s The North Face 100k Hong Kong, Stone is competing with injury this year and claims he’s just in it for the fun.
Next top local runners are 2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100k fifth-place finisher Jeremy Ritcey (Salomon), who just finished fourth in the 2013 The North Face 100k Hong Kong. And the 2011 Vibram Hong Kong 100k winner, William Davies (Salomon), is also a consistent performer capable of leading the local runners. Thomas Lam, Wong Kam Cheong, and Tsang Chun Kit (Ying Ying) are also experienced and will place in the top of the local field.
Claire Price (Salomon) just seems to be getting stronger. She took the course record from Lizzy Hawker in the 2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100k in 11:58, placed second at the 2013 Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS), and has had string of sterling, local performances since. Her lightning downhill speed, especially over stairs, will allow her to dominate the second half of the race.
Third-place woman at the 2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100, Olya Korzh (Salomon), has been racing hard this year and is hoping to better her performance from last year.
2012 Vibram Hong Kong 100k winner, Nora Senn, is another seasoned, local runner taking part. However she’s also injured post-The North Face 100k Hong Kong and, like Stone, claims just to be taking part for fun.
Other females expected to place among the top of the local field are Tilly Heaton, Chow Pui Yan (Wyan), and Wan Yee Leung (2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100k sixth place).
Ways to follow the race:
- Vibram Hong Kong 100k Twitter feed
- Vibram Hong Kong 100k Facebook page
- Live tracking for computers, iPads, and large tablets
- Live tracking for smartphones
- Koichi Iwasa from DogsorCaravan will be doing coverage in Japanese.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Who will be the top men and women at the end of the day?
- Who will surprise us with a breakout performance?
- With the combination of this being one of Asia’s most competitive ultramarathons along with the first year of the event being a part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, this is probably the most international competition Hong Kong has seen. Locals, what are your thoughts on some of the top international runners coming to town?