The second year of the Ultra-Trail World Tour kicks off with the Vibram Hong Kong 100k this weekend. The race begins on Saturday, January 17 at 8 a.m. local time in Hong Kong, which is 5 p.m. Mountain Time in the U.S.
2015 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Course Description
Ryan Sandes holds the men’s course record at 9:54:57, set in 2012, and Claire Price’s 11:58:04 women’s course record stands from 2013.
Here’s how Hong Kong local Rachel Jacqueline has previously described the Hong Kong 100k course for iRunFar:
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… 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.
2015 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Men’s Preview
We begin with Nepal because runners from this country, Tirtha Bahadur Tamang and Bed Bahadur Sunuwar, snagged the top-two spots at the 2014 edition and they are back for 2015. Since his win here a year ago, Tirtha has won the 2014 Dali 100k in China and taken second at the 2015 Kathmandu 50k in Nepal, just one second behind the winner. Bed was third here in 2012, and then second last year, just four minutes behind winner Tirtha in 2014. Since last year, Bed has taken second at the 2014 Annapurna 100k in Nepal and won the 2014 Dali 50k in China.
This pair is joined by countrymate Aite Tamang, who is perhaps best known for this 13th place overall at the 2013 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. He’s twice finished the Hong Kong 100k, second place ahead of Bed Sunuwar in 2012 and sixth in 2013. At the 2013 Annapurna 100k, Aite beat Tirtha Tamang by two seconds in a close race to the finish.
A couple more Nepalese runners to watch:
- Suman Kulung
- Arjun Kulung
Norway’s Sondre Amdahl (pre-race interview) had an incredible 2014, finishing sixth at TransGranCanaria and seventh at UTMB, both among top international competition. He ended the year, however, with a 17th at the Diagonale des Fous, way off his potential. If Sondre brings his A game, he should finish in the top five.
The French bring their typical legion of WAA Team athletes in Cyril Cointre, Antoine Guillon, and Christophe Le Saux. The trio all finished this race last year, in a respective 11th, 14th, and 15th. This trio was seen all over UTWT events last year, and Cyril’s best international results from 2014 were an eighth at TransGranCanaria and 13th at the Marathon des Sables. Antoine was fifth at last year’s TransGranCanaria, fourth at the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, and he tied for third with Christophe Le Saux at the Tor des Géants. Additionally, Christophe was 10th at the 2014 Marathon des Sables. From watching these guys race many times, I think Antoine is probably the most talented among the three but they often spend a significant portion of these races running together or nearly together.
France’s Sebastien Nain is not a part of the WAA pack, but we may see him crack the top 10 here. A long-time ultra-trailer, his top results include a 10th at Marathon des Sables in 2010, third at the 2011 Grand Raid des Pyrénées, and 13th at last year’s TDS, a sister race to the UTMB. He finished 20th at this race in 2013, what seems a bit off his potential.
Watch for Jordi Gamito. From Spain, he’s raced well nationally, and he’s also taken fourth at the 2014 El Cruce stage race in Argentina and fifth at the 2014 TDS, a UTMB sister race. [Added 1/13]
I think the chances are good that we will see a Japanese runner in the men’s top five. Yoshikazu Hara easily has the most developed resume and most talent among this group. He’s got a 6:33 PR for 100k, set in 2012, and he just set a Japanase national record by running 177.318 miles in 24 hours at the 2014 Soochow/Taipei 24-Hour Ultramarathon (which is about five miles farther than Mike Morton’s American 24-hour record, for reference). The 24-hour race was just over a month ago, however, so Hara-san can’t be fully recovered. In 2013, he won UTMF, but his 2014 on trails was a bit of a struggle: He DNFed UTMF and finished 38th at the Western States 100.
Shunsuke Okunomiya finished seventh here last year, and 26 minutes off the lead. Shunsuke has a long and successful career at ultra trail running that includes 13th at the 2011 Western States 100, sixth at the 2014 Eiger Ultra Trail amongst a strong Euro crowd, and third at the 2014 Hasetsune Cup, more than 20 minutes ahead of eighth place Max King.
Tsutomu Nagata shows strong potential at ultra-distances races with his 6:44 100k PR, which he set in 2013. His most recent go at the road 100k was a good 50 minutes slower, however, in 2014. He raced in the U.S. last year, taking second at the low key Coldwater Rumble 100 Mile in Arizona.
Watch out for Kazufumi Oose also. He was the top-finishing Japanese runner at the 2014 UTMB, in 23rd place. Keita Kobayashi seems to be on a rapid upward trajectory with his running over the last year or so, taking eighth at the 2014 UTMF and seventh at the 2014 Hasetsune Cup. And Koji Yamaya could dent the top 15 or so. He’s been suffering a chronic injury the last couple years, so he hasn’t been running to his potential. This includes a drop at this race last year. He was sixth at the 2012 UTMF, eighth at the 2013 UTMF, and second at the 2014 Ontake 100 Mile in Japan.
Australia’s Vlad Ixel (pre-race interview), who rounded out last year’s podium and who has recently relocated to Hong Kong, is back. Vlad was about 10 minutes off the lead last year, and since then, he’s raced diversely and all over the world. In the last year, he’s raced at least three additional times in Hong Kong, winning two of them. He took 12th at the Ice Trail Tarentaise, and was distant, time-wise, to the podium.
Local Siu-Keung (Stone) Tsang finished ninth here last year, and second the year before. Stone has two years in a row (2013 and 2014) finished 18th at the UTMB. He also took second at the 2014 MSIG Sai Kung 50k in Hong Kong against very strong national competition.
Keep a watch out for John Ellis, and Australian dwelling in Hong Kong. He was 34th here last year, but has had other, strong local results over the last 12 months, including a third place at the 2014 The North Face 100k – Hong Kong last month.
A couple more local runners to keep your eyes on for potential top-20 finishes:
- Kam-Cheong Wong — 19th here last year.
- William Davies — From the U.K. and living in Hong Kong, winner of the 2011 edition of this race, 20th last year.
- Kwok-Lun (Allen) Ng — 22nd here last year, sixth at the 2014 The North Face 100k – Hong Kong last month.
- Matt Moroz — A U.K. runner living in Hong Kong.
- Chor-Kin Law
- Shing-Yip (Thomas) Lam
The U.S.’s Dave James was signed up for this race last year, but had to pull out due to injury, what has become a normal occurrence for him in the last several years. Dave had an incredible couple years of racing when he won the 2011 and 2012 USATF 100-Mile Trail National Championships, but since then he’s had to pull out of a number of high-profile races because of recurrent injury and those he’s finished have been largely regionally competitive. We sure hope he’s gotten past his injury days.
Though Jeremy Ritcey is Canadian and lives again in Canada, he’s previously called Hong Kong home and has four consecutive finishes at the Hong Kong 100k ranging from second in 2011 to 16th last year. The fastest he’s run on the course is 10:47 which would probably put him in the top 10 among this year’s competition. Since last year, he won the TransLantau 100k and had a rough day at the Squamish 50 Mile, finishing in 17th place.
James Roberts, of Australia, has a multi-year string of strong performances in Australia. Among them are a second at the 2013 Kep Track 75k in Australia, about five minutes back of winner Vlad Ixel.
Australia’s Thomas Bakowski is another a name to watch. He has bested James Roberts at least once, in winning the 2013 Lark Hill Dusk to Dawn 50k in Australia. More recently, he took fourth at the 2014 Six Inch Trail Marathon in Australia, about four minutes back of third place James Roberts.
A couple mainland China runners who could crack the top 20:
- Long-Fei Yan — Apparently newer to the trail-ultra scene in Asia, he won both the 2014 MSIG Hong Kong 50k in October and the 2014 MSIG Lantau 50k in December.
- Zi-Chen Wang
- Xiao-Lin Wang
2015 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Women’s Preview
We begin our women’s preview with a nod to the course-record holder Claire Price (pre-race interview), a U.K. citizen residing in Hong Kong. With a record that no woman has gotten within 20 minutes of, including the likes of Lizzy Hawker, a fit Claire will be a challenge to beat. She’s a two-time finisher of this race, second in 2012 and the course record in 2013. She dropped from the race last year as she was dealing with injury issues. We hear Claire is fit, healthy, and ready, and her win of The North Face 100k – Hong Kong last month is evidence. Her specialty is downhills, of which the second half has loads of, so we predict she’ll come on stronger as the race goes on.
A Swiss national living in Hong Kong, Nora Senn (pre-race interview) should push the women’s field along this weekend. She’s a three-time finisher of this race, second in 2011, the winner in 2012 (where she ran the third-fastest time ever on the course), and eighth last year. Nora is likely to run a bit slower on the flatter first half of the race, and then pick things up through the big climbs and descents of the race’s second half.
Marie McNaughton is new to the ultra scene, a New Zealander living in Hong Kong, but has raced a lot in 2014. Just last month, she was second at The North Face 100k – Hong Kong, about 35 minutes back of Claire Price.
Pui-Yan Wyan Chow should give the lead women a run for the money. She was second here last year, about 33 minutes back from winner Francesca Canepa. Since then, she became the first female to run under 13 hours at the Oxfam Trailwalker event in Hong Kong, a four-person team event. She also came in third at the 2014 The North Face 100k – Hong Kong last month, 50-ish minutes back of winner Claire Price and 18 minutes behind second place Marie McNaughton.
Rachel Jacqueline is an Australian living in Hong Kong who finished sixth at this race last year. She plans not to race competitively, instead running with a friend in their first 100k.
Natalia Sierant, who is from Poland and lives in Hong Kong, could crack the women’s top 10.
Emily Woodland, a Brit living in Hong Kong, was 10th here in 2013. She won the 2014 Atacama Crossing stage race in Chile. [Added 1/13]
Italy’s Francesca Canepa was the 2014 race winner. Since last year, she’s taken second at the 2014 TransGranCanaria, second at the 2014 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, and a win at the 2014 Eiger Ultra Trail. She was also infamously disqualified while leading the 2014 Tor des Géants for missing a required checkpoint. Francesca ran 12:59 here last year, which is 61 minutes back of Claire Price’s course record. By my estimates of her racing style, she’ll go out hard early, and slow a bit in the race’s second half. That said, she’s talented on both the flats and on mountainous terrain.
Liza Borzani, of Italy, had an enormous 2014, podium-ing in at least 13 ultramarathons across Europe. We saw her race to 13th place at the 2014 Transvulcania, and she pulled off an incredible double in late summer, finishing second at both the TDS, a UTMB sister race, and the Tor des Géants in under two weeks’ time. That’s about 280 miles of racing, if you’re counting! By her presence at the first UTWT race of the year, I’m guessing she’s going to give the tour a go in 2015.
Spain’s Silvia Trigueros is likely to finish in the top five. A strong racer in Spain, her top result was a fifth place at the 2013 UTMB.
A couple more Euros to watch out for:
- Rosario (Xari) Adrian Caro — Performs well in her home country of Spain. Top results over the years include fourth at the 2013 TransGranCanaria and fourth at the 2014 Ronda del Cims. She just took second about 30 minutes behind winner Silvia Trigueros at the 2014 TransMallorcaRun stage race in November.
- Mariya Nikolova — From Bulgaria.
- Elisabet Margeirsdottir — From Iceland, 17th at the 2014 UTMB.
Stephanie Case, a Canadian who has lived in multiple countries in the last year, races solidly whenever she turns up. Her best international result was 11th at the 2013 UTMB. She won the 2014 Ice Ultra stage race in Sweden. Stephanie actually ran this race last year, finishing in the women’s top 10, but was DQed for wearing the wrong race number. I expect she’ll have the right bib number this year, and that she’ll be back in the top 10 again.
Here are a couple women from mainland China to keep your eyes on:
- Dong Li — She took the overall win in last month’s MSIG Lantau 88k, and was second in the MSIG Vertical Kilometer on the same weekend, all in Hong Kong.
- Rui-Fang Wang
Watch for Shannon-Leigh Litt. She was 11th here last year.
[Author’s Note: Thanks to Rachel Jacqueline, Koichi Iwasa, and Xiaozhao Zhao for their assistance in researching athletes for this article.]
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?
- Who have we missed on these lists? Let us know who you think could finish in the women’s and men’s top 10.