By running two very different races, China’s Min Qi and Miao Yao won the 2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k.
In the men’s race, a battle between two runners and the ultimate disqualification of one of them resulted in Min Qi’s victory. For the women, Miao Yao ran from start to finish way ahead of the rest of the field.
As the Vibram Hong Kong 100k was the first stop of the 2018 Ultra-Trail World Tour, Qi and Yao are the at-the-moment series leaders.
Thank you to Vibram for sponsoring our coverage of the Vibram Hong Kong 100k.
2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Women’s Race
China’s Miao Yao (post-race interview) took the race out fast, running ahead of men’s course-record pace for the first half of the race and running unchallenged by any other woman in the field. To be frank, it was not even close, not even at the beginning. Her finishing time of 10:40:52 broke Núria Picas’s course record, which she set at last year’s race in 11:18:57, by a margin of just under 40 minutes.
Yao’s had a little over a year of success in trail ultramarathons in China, and said post-race that she has road-running experience as well. In her post-race interview, she expressed interest in taking her running international, to participate in internationally competitive ultras. One should expect her as a force to be reckoned with if she does.
Second-place Mira Rai (post-race interview), of Nepal, showed that she is back in form after a lengthy knee injury, surgery, and rehabilitation. She ran in second position as early as about eight kilometers into the race, and I don’t believe she ever deviated from that position. Generally, she was several minutes in front of the women behind her, though that gap decreased in the race’s final quarter until Mira hammered hard for the race’s final few kilometers to finish more than five minutes ahead of third place.
China’s Fu-Zhao Xiang keeps getting steadily better at this race! Last year, she finished fourth in about 13 hours. At the pre-race press conference, she stated her goal was to improve her 2017 finishing time. Looks like she did… by 90 minutes. Fu-Zhao started the race out easily, running in sixth place when we saw her first at 12k. By 36k into the race, Fu-Zhao had moved up into her ultimate third-place position. From there, the gap between her and the women behind her only increased as she maintained her speed and strength even during the course’s hardest terrain.
From New Zealand originally, Hong Kong transplant Marie McNaughton (pre-race interview) represented the ‘home team’ well in taking fourth. Though she was ill earlier in the week and thought she might not even be able to start the race, Marie worked the race course steadily to finish for the fourth time–in her fastest time. Not bad for being under the weather!
After a couple years of competing in shorter ultra-distance races, fifth-place Hong-Fen Zhang, of China, moved up in distance with this strong performance.
England’s Sarah Morwood practiced perfect pacing, running outside the top 10 early and moving up later into sixth place. China’s Yan-Xing Ma ran as high as third place before slowing later to finish seventh. Iceland’s Elisabet Margeirsdottir and the USA’s Nicole Kalogeropoulos both ran in the back half of the women’s top 10 for most of the race. Stephanie Roland, who is from Namibia but who lives in Hong Kong, pushed late to occupy the final top-10 spot.
2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Women’s Results
- Miao Yao (The North Face) — 10:40:52 (post-race interview)
- Mira Rai (Salomon Running) — 11:30:49 (post-race interview)
- Fu-Zhao Xiang (TOREAD) — 11:36:11
- Marie McNaughton (Gone Running) — 12:15:30 (pre-race interview)
- Hong-Fen Zhang (TOREAD) — 12:32:30
- Sarah Morwood (La Sportiva) — 13:02:38
- Yan-Xing Ma — 13:12:53
- Elisabet Margeirsdottir (66 North) — 13:14:17
- Nicole Kalogeropoulos (Altra) — 13:28:51
- Stephanie Roland — 13:39:45
2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Men’s Race
Well, I’ll remember this race for quite some time… but not necessarily for all the right reasons. I was told ahead of the race to be prepared to be surprised by the speed and strength of Chinese runners who I’d never heard of, and this was precisely how this race went down. At 12k into the race, the first five runners were Chinese and I’d never seen any of them race before. Within this lead pack, which ran into the 12k aid station more than six minutes ahead of course-record pace already, three of the five men would ‘stick it’ and finish at the front of the race.
At the 28k point, Min Qi (post-race interview) emerged as the leader but with Jing Liang right behind him, only a few seconds back. The pair, both of China, ran close together and flip-flopping the lead until beyond the 52k aid station, where Liang broke from Qi and gained at least seven minutes of space. When we saw the pair next at about 76k, both runners looked tired but were still moving well. The gap between them reduced, however, to the point that Liang and Qi would finish within one second of each other at the finish line, with Liang breaking the tape.
All was not well in this competition, however, as rumors (and social media) had been circulating for hours that a hiker was accusing Liang of cheating, and had presented evidence of it to the race directors. This all came to a head when, a minute or two before the pair finished, Vibram Hong Kong 100k race director Steve Brammar made an announcement at the finish line that, while race leader Liang was about to finish, his result was likely to not count due to inappropriate behavior. Brammar also said that the race organization would hear him out after finishing before making their ultimate decision, however.
There was no usual celebration at the finish, as the two runners, it seemed, were already aware of what was happening. Much was lost in translation to me here, as the runners were speaking in Chinese and a lot of what they said wasn’t translated into English. Eventually they disappeared, and the media was informed that after the runners had time to recover, the race organization would speak with Liang. About 75 minutes later, news was circulated around the finish line that Liang’s disqualification was now official. The race made a statement on their website a few minutes later that said:
“Runner Liang Jing (bib #34) crossed the finish line in 9:28:35 and in first position, but has been disqualified for receiving support outside the checkpoints, which is not permitted by the race rules. Liang Jing explained that he asked for water from a hiker and understood that he had permission to swap his empty bottle with her full one, as he pushed himself to the limits. He expressed regret at this misunderstanding, apologised for his behaviour, and stated that there would never be a repeat.”
To be clear, the race’s rules state that support outside of aid stations isn’t permitted except in cases of emergency or if a runner purchases supplies from a hawker, restaurant, vending machine, or the like on the course. The rules also state that penalties and disqualifications may be applied at the organization’s discretion and are final.
This made Min Qi the race champion. His finish time of 9:28:36 broke François D’haene’s 2016 course record of 9:32:26.
[Editor’ Note: We spoke with race director Steve Brammar on Monday and he confirmed some facts. He indicated that at the 36k point of the race, a hiker lodged a complaint with the race’s other RD Janet Ng, saying that the runner wearing bib #34 ran up to her and asked for water, took a water bottle from her without permission, and then left a bottle behind. After consideration, the RDs decided to allow the runner to finish, hear his side of the story, and, then, make a decision. The RDs also warned Jing Liang a short distance from the finish that they were addressing this incident. After Liang’s arrival and after some recovery time, the RDs spoke with Liang and he recalled the story similarly except that he thought the hiker was offering him water and that there must have been a miscommunication. Liang was ultimately disqualified because he confirmed that he took aid outside of support points in a way disallowed by the rules. The RDs indicated that Liang clearly felt badly for what had happened and said that he wouldn’t do it again.]
That’s the end of my objective reporting on this incident, and here are a few words of authorial subjectivity, which I offer in light of this incident and several recent confirmed cheating reports in trail running and ultrarunning. Sports are essentially a game, and games have rules. In our sport of trail ultrarunning, the rules vary from race to race, but are put in place to attempt to level the game to a match of mind and body. It’s the responsibility of every ‘player’ to know the rules before they start the game, and to abide by them from start to finish. I applaud the race organization for its decision to act on an incident which not only was incongruent with the rules, but gave Liang an advantage over the rest of the runners. Tough action and reaction in circumstances like this aren’t easy, but upholding a high ethic so as to maintain the values of our sport is crucial. I hope all the sport’s participants choose this path going forward, as well.
Let’s talk about the rest of the race. The USA’s Alex Nichols (pre-race and post-race interviews) was somewhere around 20th place at 12k into the race–not a disconcerting number of men in such a competitive race as Alex usually let’s the gunners fire things out. The disconcerting number, however, was that he was seven minutes back of the lead already. He would say after the race that he thought he was already running pretty fast at this point, and indeed he was. Twentieth place was just temporary, however, as another 10k later he was already in 10th. It went on like this, Alex picking off fast starters and those runners who excel less in technical terrain, until a little over 80k into the race where he’d moved into third place. Alex would also say after the race that, though he suffered a lull in the middle of the race, he was able to recover it and close strong. He crossed the finish as the third runner home, but was shortly upgraded to second place.
China’s Yun-Hui Yu was fun to watch race. He whooped and hollered with joy several times when we saw him, quite obviously enjoying himself. Yun-Hui went out hard, running with or near to the lead pack for the first 20k or so. After that, he’d lapse back, playing chase for the rest of the race. Last year, he finished 13th in 10:53, and this year his effort of running some 49 minutes faster earned him the third spot on the podium.
The best way to describe the performance of Nepal’s Purna Tamang is to say that he stuck it. He started out the race running in sixth place some 12k in, and finished in fourth place when it was all over. Though a few men came and went, moving ahead or lapsing behind him, he stayed steady–and smiling–all day. A member of the winning men’s Oxfam Trailwalker Hong Kong team for the last two years, he’s now found solo success on Hong Kong’s trails with fourth place here.
Both Harry Jones, from Wales but living in Thailand, and John Ellis, an Australian who lives in Hong Kong, paced themselves expertly, running strong from start to finish and picking off carnage along the way. Ellis is a finisher of each of the race’s eight editions, but this is his fastest. With his 10:35 finish, he improves his HK100 PR by some 55 minutes. Jones and Ellis went fifth and sixth.
Nepal’s Suman Kulung took seventh place in a strong start-to-finish effort. Hong Kong’s Ho-Chung Wong ran across the finish line as applause and cheers roared through the crowd, he a clear hometown favorite. Brian McFlynn, an Irish runner living in Hong Kong, moved up in the second half of the race to finish ninth. Justin Andrews, an American living in China, also ran smart to take 10th.
2018 Vibram Hong Kong 100k Men’s Results
- Min Qi — 9:28:36 (post-race interview)
- Alex Nichols (Scott) — 9:44:17 (pre-race and post-race interviews)
- Yun-Hui Yu — 10:04:52
- Purna Tamang (AWOO) — 10:11:16
- Harry Jones (Hoka One One) — 10:15:49
- John Ellis (Gone Running) — 10:35:55
- Suman Kulung (AWOO) — 10:38:26
- Ho-Chung Wong — 10:39:38
- Brian McFlynn — 10:47:24
- Justin Andrews (WAA) — 10:50:00
Thank you so much to Andre Blumberg, Paper Pongsubkarun, and Koichi Iwasa for their assistance in covering the race!
[Editor’s Note: We realize that Jing Liang’s disqualification is unusual and emotion-inducing, and we welcome discussion about it here. If you are unfamiliar with iRunFar’s comment policy, please have a look at it before you comment. Unfounded accusations and personal insults are not permitted in iRunFar’s comments. You are welcome to debate and disagree with other commenters, but we ask you to do so constructively and according to our comment policy. Thanks.]