The Ultra-Trail World Tour’s Vibram Hong Kong 100k offers up a diverse selection of terrain and surface on a course through the New Territories and Kowloon peninsula. The course will feature dirt and paved trails, thousands of stairs, steep ups and downs, the occasional beach, and a course that gets more mountainous as the race proceeds.
iRunFar will be on site at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k and is covering the race live.
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China’s Long-Fei Yan is no stranger to success at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k, as he won in 2015 and took second in 2016. He had a down year in 2017 due to injury, but rebounded in 2018 with a particularly active and successful stretch the past three months, setting a number of course records in Hong Kong along the way. It might just be his race to lose.
That said, Liang Jing, who was the first to cross the finish in last year’s race, but was later disqualified for taking prohibited aid and littering, returns for this year’s race. From mainland China, Jing has extensively raced ultras the past two-and-a-half years, including over 50 races (not necessarily ultras) in 2018 alone. Over the past few years he has numerous wins, including at the 400km Ultra Gobi last autumn. Jing traveled to Europe to run the TDS last year, but faired poorly.
Dylan Bowman (pre-race interview) of the US raced less in 2018 than in previous years, but took full advantage when he did, taking home wins at the Tarawera Ultramarathon and Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji and, later, second at the TDS. Over his career, Bowman’s shown he can be successful across a wide variety of terrain, and that should be useful on the highly varied HK 100 course.
To be honest, going into 2018, I didn’t have a clue who the UK’s Tom Evans (pre-race interview) was. Well, things have certainly changed. Evans had what can only be called a breakout performance when he grabbed third place at the Trail World Championships in Spain in May. He showed that was no fluke when he won the CCC ahead of a stacked field in August. Back in 2017, Evans did take third at the Marathon des Sables and fourth at CCC.
I’m still waiting for Lithuania’s Gediminas Grinius to recapture the magic of 2014-16, a span when he was second (2016) and fifth (2014) at UTMB and fourth at the Western States 100 (2015) as well as many podium finishes at top international races, including a third at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k in 2016. In 2018, Grinius was fifth at the Marathon des Sables, but was 13th at the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail and did not finish UTMB.
Irishman in the US Paddy O’Leary repeated running of The North Face 50 Mile Championships in San Francisco pointed to a consistent upward trajectory from 2015 through 2017, as he placed 13th, 9th, and 5th as the years progressed. With the TNF championships canceled last year and mixed results in 2018, it’s hard to know if that trajectory has continued. On the upside in 2018, O’Leary was third at the Chuckanut 50k and sixth at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail and, on the downside he was 26th at the Trail World Championships.
Be on the lookout for Frenchman living in Canada Mathieu Blanchard. After solid results thought much of 2017, he took a step forward in placing 14th at the TNF 50 Mile Championships in December 2017 and, again, in placing 13th at UTMB last year.
Another runner with recent strong improvement, at least when it comes to this race, is Yun-Hui Yu of China, who was 13th at the Vibram Hong Kong 100 in 2017 before improving to third last year. Yu also finished 11th at CCC last year.
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Although I don’t think she necessarily has the highest potential in this year’s Vibram Hong Kong 100, I would call Russia’s Ekaterina Mityaeva (pre-race interview) the favorite for this year’s race. She just had such a strong 2018, including a win at Ultra Pirineu, a third at Transgrancanaria, and a fifth at Transvulcania. Over the past few years, Mityaeva has translated her earlier success in shorter skyraces into success in ultras and, as a frequent racer, has plenty of examples of ultrarunning sucess.
China’s Fu-Zhao Xiang returns to Vibram Hong Kong 100 having taking third and fourth the past two years is another safe bet for a strong performance. Those results match up with many top ultra results for her in mainland China over the past three years. Last year, she traveled to Europe where she finished 20th at UTMB.
Azara García won’t be racing due to a recent injury. [Updated Jan 14]
Now, on the high-end-potential side, look to Spain’s Azara García. Over the past three years she’s had some amazing highs, including winning the Zegama Marathon in 2015, taking second at the Trail World Championships in 2016, winning at Transgrancaria in 2017, and winning Les Templiers in 2018. On the other hand, she’s DNFed three of her last four highest level races, matching the Les Templiers win with DNFs at the Trails World Championships in both 2017 and 2018 as well as withdrawing from the CCC last year. So, which version of García will show up in Hong Kong?
Jasmin Nunige of Switzerland crushed it in 2015 and 2016, with a pair of wins at both the Vasaloppet 90k and Swiss Alpine Marathon 78k along with a win (2016) and second place (2015) at Les Templiers. While Nunige continued her top-two ways in 2017 and 2018, those performances were largely on smaller stages with the exception of placing fifth at the Comrades Marathon in 2017. She also withdrew from CCC last year. If she’s back to 100%, there’s no reason Nunige can’t challenge for the win.
The US’s Abby Mitchell (pre-race interview) has the 50-mile distance dialed in pretty well. She was seventh at the TNF 50-Mile Championships in 2017 and sixth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in 2018. However, she’s yet to dial in longer races. Mitchell’s run the Leadville 100 Mile the past two years finishing in 29:43 in 2017 and 28:11 in 2018 (there’s a 30-hour cutoff), while she was 32nd at Transgrancanaria last February.
After a few years of strong results, Corrine Malcolm was ascendant in 2018. Last year, the American took seventh at the Way Too Cool 50k, ninth at the Western States 100 mile, and fourth at TDS. It’ll be fun to see what she does in 2019.
Bulgaria’s Mariya Nikolova is a consistent runner and it wouldn’t surprise me if she ended up in the top five or, perhaps, even on the podium. Over the years, she’s worked her way up into the top ten at UTMB, having finished ninth each of the past two years. She’s also won the 110k Cappadocia Ultra-Trail each of the past two years.
A Chinese source points out that while Yangchun Lu of China lacks 100k experience, she’s twice beaten Yiao Miao, the 2018 CCC champion, in 50ks. Lu also races the 3,000m steeplechase on the track. The same source notes that China’s Guangmei Yang is on a similar level to Fu-Zhao Xiang discussed above. Unlike Lu, Yang has 100k experience. Both Lu and Yang are making their racing debuts outside mainland China.
Hong Kong’s Ying-Suet Leung has tallied no fewer than five ultra wins in Hong Kong the past two years. On the biggest stage in her hometown, she took sixth at the 2017 Vibram Hong Kong 100k.
Lou Clifton of Australia’s put up some solid results the past few years, including placing third at Ultra-Trail Australia in 2017, fifth at the Tarawera 100k in 2018, and 11th at Lavaredo last year.
I have little to help put China’s Mei-Ling Xu’s success into international context, but she’s won more than a dozen trail races from 33km to 104km (mostly in the 50km-65km range) since late 2017.
Italy’s Lisa Borzani has two top Vibram Hong Kong 100k finishes, a third place in 2015 and a second place in 2016, while she finished a disappointing 24th last year. In general, Borzani’s results in 2018 did not match up with hers from previous years, as she also took 93rd at the Trail World Championships and withdrew from the Tor des Géants, a race she won in 2017.
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[Author’s Note: Many thanks to Ruiyi Sun, Andre Blumberg, and Koichi Iwasa for providing their insight into this year’s field.]
Results from the 2020 Western States 100 lottery.
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