On 12 December, trail runners all across Asia will turn their focus towards Hong Kong and the 2015 edition of the North Face 100 and 50 races. This year looks like it will be one the most hotly contested editions yet.
In the men’s line up, one name stands out - a certain French trail superstar called Seb Chaigneau. Seb’s got a world class pedigree including 3rd at UTMB in 2011, 1st and CR at Transgrancanaria in 2012 and 2013, and then 1st and CR at Hardrock 100 in 2013. He’s still in tip top form as demonstrated by his comfortable win at STY in Japan a few months ago, but how will he deal with the steps of Tai Mo Shan and Pat Sing Leng?
Reigning champion Yun Yanqiao (運艷橋) from China is back and will be eyeing back-to-back wins. He blitzed the course in a cracking 12:10 last year, less than 10 minutes off Purna Tamang’s course record. He’s had a terrific year including a third place at the super-competitive but somewhat controversial TNF Australia earlier in 2015 and will take some beating.
Nepalese champ Bed Bahadur Sunuwar has also made the journey across to Hong Kong. He’s super comfortable on the mountainous trails here, claiming runner-up in the inaugural HK100, and recently won the Asian Mountain Racing Challenge in Guizhou. Another international elite in a rich vein of form is Salomon runner Kazufumi Oose from Japan, who ran 6th at UTMF and 23rd at UTMB earlier this year.
Don’t discount Hong Kong-based Aussie runner, Vlad Ixel, despite his lack of a proper taper leading up to the event, racing the MSIG Vertical Kilometre and Lantau 50 last weekend. Vlad’s recovery is nothing short of sensational and he’ll be keen to make amends for his third place at STY behind Seb, showing how it’s done on home turf.
Other runners in the men's race to look out for include Champion Systems runner Daved Simpat and Asia Trail’s Clement Dumont, who just clocked a top 50 finish in the 2015 Ultra Trail World Tour. Both should be well-suited to the 100km / 6,000m D+ course.
The women's race also looks like a doozy. Hometown favourite Marie McNaughton will be looking to do one better than her second place last year (15:33) and already has a number of big races under her belt this year including 4th at HK100, 8th at Laveredo and 25th overall in the Ultra Trail World Tour despite only completing two of the three possible races.
There is a strong international contingent but can they handle Hong Kong’s rugged terrain? Champion Systems adventure racing specialist, Baby Marites Sotto Bitbit, finished third in atrocious conditions in 2013 and then dropped down to win the 50km last year. Another one to watch is Xing Ruling (邢如伶), who has been an icon of Chinese ultra trail running for many years, and comes here on the back of a win at TNF China. Also from China is Sek Hin Sau (石硯秀) who won The North Face 100 Taiwan earlier this year.
Two relative newcomers to the ultra trail scene are Bishnu Maya Budha and Nia Cooper, who should both push for a top 5. Nia pushed Marie all the way for her second place at the recent Lantau 70. Bishnu only started trail running around a year ago, but travelled to Hong Kong with the help of Trail Running Nepal and other sponsors, and smashed the back-to-back MSIG Vertical Kilometre (1st) and Lantau 50 (4th) races. She is an exciting talent but unproven at the longer distances so far.
Race Tips - TNF100 by John Ellis
1. Pace, pace, pace. This course is a Keith Noyes special - not many freebies, plenty of technical trail, and most of the climbing in the back half including a 5km / 800m D+ expedition up Tai Mo Shan and a little jaunt over Cloudy Hill and Pat Sin Leng to finish. There's a bottleneck at the first trail head but you can't really go out too slow.
2. Respect the mandatory kit. It's not worth risking your safety to save a few grams and there will likely be gear checks like last year. A couple years back, heavy fog made a number of sections quite treacherous, while those who skimped on a good rain jacket had a miserable time. With all the climbing and technical trail, a set of more cushioned runners will also be a godsend for otherwise sore feet, while poles could be just the trick if you're worried about the 6,000m D+.
3. Don't forget to enjoy the view. This is a magnificent course, including the Yung Shue Au coastline, a wonderful section up and down Tai To Yan, and a thigh-burning northerly approach up to Hong Kong's highest point up at Tai Mo Shan.
Race Tips - TNF50 by Steven Carr
1. Remember, there is 49 odd km after the sprint that you want to do at the start. So start easily and get into your stride. Get to the halfway point feeling great and then start to pick up the pace. The race isn’t won at the start, it is won at the end, so get there strong. Remember that the back half of the race has some beastly climbs and descents so save the legs for them.
2. Fuel early and fuel often. I use Tailwind so I know that between each CP I need to be drinking around 750ml of Tailwind. This will keep me going and my energy level steady. I’ll probably carry some gels as well for the tough sections and for any emergencies. But without fuel, the motor can’t move SO make sure you eat and drink often.
3. This is seen as a tough race - so make sure that you stay mentally positive. There are going to be hard sections and dark moments - but that is why we run. We wouldn’t run the race if it was easy so take on the battle with a smile. I find that if times get tough, I like to listen to some music. As it is so close to Christmas maybe some good Christmas tunes will be the playlist for the day!
For those unsure of the course, you can find The North Face 100 GPX file in our GPX library here. Of course, nothing beats getting out and actually recceing the course but, for those with a navigation-enabled GPS watch, GPX files are a great way to stay on track on race day. Good luck!!
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