Read on as Gone Running previews arguably the strongest ultra-trail field to ever race in Hong Kong and remember to tune into grTV at http://rebrand.ly/HK100Live from 7:30am (UTC+8) on Saturday for our live stream coverage of the race.
After a short break, the Ultra Trail World Tour kicks off for 2018 with the Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race on Saturday 27 January. Despite being effectively downgraded in importance with its PRO classification in the new tour format, it remains one of the most competitive events on the calendar, with over 1,800 runners from 60 countries competing on Saturday.
This year’s edition features the best and deepest women’s field to hit Hong Kong – and the men’s field is ain’t shabby either. A showdown of epic proportions awaits and, with a long range weather forecast of 17C and cloudy, fans are set for some rapid times too. For the course records to come into play (Francois d’Haene 9:32 in 2016 and Nuria Picas 11:18 in 2017), the weather gods will have to play nice.
The race largely follows the famous Maclehose Trail and boasts 4,500m D+ over 96K. The first half takes runners on a circuitous loop around the Sai Kung coastline and, with no hills over 400m, will suit the fast flat runners. From CP5 Kei Ling Ha at 52K, the quad burning starts with consecutive climbs over Ma On Shan (580m), Tate’s Cairn (577m), Beacon Hill (457m), Needle Hill (532m), Grassy Hill (647m) and Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan (957m), before a 4km downhill finish. As demonstrated by last year’s winner, Yan Yunqiao, who put 25 minutes on the leading pack over the back half, it is all about finishing strong.
The course features single track, paved footpaths, road, beaches, some magnificent mountain and cityscape views, gel-grabbing monkeys but, most of all, stairs aplenty. Runners who have not been working on their stair technique, both up and down, start at a big disadvantage.
So let’s start with the favourites in a star studded women’s field with arguably over 15 runners capable of claiming a podium spot come Saturday!
It’s hard to go past the reigning UTWT champion, Andrea Huser (HOKA-Mammut), after a phenomenal year in which she won Madeira, Eiger and Grand Raid De La Reunion. Despite this being her first attempt at HK100, she knows how to race Hong Kong with two previous wins at Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan (160K) in 2016 and 2017.
Local favourite and New Zealand-born super mum, Marie McNaughton (Gone Running-Joint Dynamics), is also coming off a stellar 12 months where she’s been virtually unbeaten in Hong Kong. Last month’s three-peat at The North Face 100 Hong Kong, in a new race record of 14:18, was particularly impressive. She’ll have a big home ground advantage, despite her trusty support crew, Carl Chambers, being MIA (also running HK100 this year).
This will be Mira Rai’s (Salomon) first attempt at the 100K distance and National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year 2017 is still coming back from a long term knee injury. However, recent wins at the Ben Nevis Ultra SkyRace 120K and Asian Skyrunning Ultra Champs 50K show she’s a genuine title shot on Saturday.
Melanie Rousset (WAA) claimed fourth place on the UTWT last year, on the back of third at Transgrancanaria, fifth at MDS and sixth at TDS. She had a prolific 2017, also bagging wins at Ultra Sierra Nevada Trail, Restonica and UT du Puy Mary Aurillac, and a podium finish would not surprise at all.
Italy’s Lisa Borzani (Tecnica) is another runner coming off a big 2017 UTWT performance, finishing ninth last year. She bagged podiums at Madeira and her hometown race at Lavaredo, as well as winning Tor De Geants, Ronda dels Cims and Ultra Trail 4 Massifs. She’s also a proven performer at HK100, with second in 2015 and third in 2016, beating Marie McNaughton in a sprint finish, so knows the course well.
American 100 miler record holder, Nicole Kalogeropoulous (Altra), has also had a strong year with a win at Black Canyon Trail 100K plus sixth at Western States. There’s no questioning Nicole’s quality but it will be interesting to see how she handles the stairs as world class US runners have sometimes struggled in Hong Kong.
Japan’s Kaori Niwa (Salomon-Suunto) looks a decent chance and can do long, “short” and Hong Kong, as evidenced by 2017 highlights of fourth at UTMB and more recently third at the Asian Skyrunning Ultra Championship (MSIG Lantau 50K) in Hong Kong.
Just toeing the start line on Saturday is an inspirational accomplishment for the UK’s Sarah Morwood (La Sportiva) after fracturing her patella in a bike accident and being told she’d never run again in 2015. However, she looks primed for a big finish after winning the South Downs Way 100M and the Oslo EcoTrail last year, plus 8th place at Spartathlon.
The local runners are always a threat, with Wyan Chow (The North Face) seeking to recapture the form that saw her break the tape first at HK100 in 2015 plus runner-up in 2014. She also won The North Face 100 Korea last year.
Ying Suet Leung (2XU) has really started to blossom after transitioning from road running. She finished sixth at HK100 and her 2XU team “Beauty and the Beasts” just recently smoked the mixed CR for Oxfam Trailwalker in 12:51, despite difficult hot weather, and it’s a very similar course to HK100. Ying Hung (Ada) Tsang also looks in fine fettle, coming off two second places at UTMT TTF 115K and The North Face 100 Hong Kong.
Coming across the border, there looks to be another strong Chinese contingent including 26-year old Fu-Zhao Xiang (TOREAD), with four big domestic ultra-trail wins last year including Yangtze River Three Gorges, Dunhuang Yadan, Zhangye Qilian Mountain 100 and XTrail Wulong 100.
She’s joined by another emerging talent in 23-year old Miao Yao (Kailas), with wins at XTrail Wudong 50, Luding Bridge Trail and UT Mt Gongga 100K, as well as Liping Zheng (UTO), who has been dominating the Chinese scene including victories at Columbia 168 UT Chongli, Baturu Trail Mt Guanmen 100, Laoshan 100K UT, XTrail Wulong 100 and UT Mont Song 100.
Coming back from a short break, Iceland’s Elisabet Margeirsdottir (Compressport) fininshed 24th at UTWT in 2016 including fifth at HK100 and 18th at Lavaredo, and, just a few months back, won the Hengill Ultra 100K.
Other ladies that will be pushing for a top 10 finish – and 2017 results – include:
- Yanxing Ma from China – 12th UTMB, 1st Laoshan 50K Ultra, 2nd Yading Kora Ultra
- Anouk Baars from Netherlands - 4th Ultra Trail Drakensburg, 2nd Addo Elephant 76K
- Stephanie Roland (Gone Running-Joint Dynamics) from Namibia but based in Hong Kong – 1st Moontrekker, 2nd The Green Race Ultra, 4th Yading Kora Ultra, 9th Ultra Trail Cape Town
- Lijie QU from China - 3rd Maxi-Race Yangshuo 115K
- Hong Fen Zhang (TOREAD) from China - 2nd XTrail Wulong 50K, 1st Mt Xiwang UT 50
- Nia Cooper from Wales but based in Hong Kong – 2nd The North Face 50 Hong Kong
- Emily Woodland from UK but based in Hong Kong – 3rd TransLantau 50, 4th Lantau 70, 26th UTMB, 17th Ultra Trail Australia
- Sayaka Matsumoto (HKSC) from Hong Kong - 1st 9 Dragons 50M, 4th TransLantau 100, 2nd Lantau 70
- Wing Yee (Flora) Ching - 1st Formosa Trail 65K, 2nd The Beast Trail 50K, 2nd UTMT YTF 50K
- Nicole Lau from Hong Kong - 7th OTW HK, 9th HK100, 8th TransLantau 50
- Natalia Watkins from UK but based in Hong Kong - 3rd Northburn Station 100M
- Samantha Chan (Newline-Alpinamente) from Hong Kong - 3rd Ultra Trail Gobi Race, 13th TDS, 13th HK100
The American and Nepalese contingents are arguably the highlights of the 2018 field, so let’s start there. Team USA is led by Altra’s Zach Bitter, who smashed the American 100M record in 2015 in 11:40. He’s also handy on the trails with recent runner-up finishes at Javelina Jundred and American River 50M last year.
Alex Nichols (Scott) is another serious American podium threat, with a strong 2017 that included second at Western States and third at Templiers, while Chengdu-based Justin Andrews (WAA) finished fifth at Ultra Trail Australia and 14th at HK100 last year, as well as setting a new CR at the MSIG Hong Kong 50K in October.
Hong Kong trails seem to suit the fast and technically gifted Nepalese runners, so look out for a strong showing from Purna Tamang (AWOO), who is the CR holder for The North Face 100 Hong Kong, as well as captaining the winning AWOO Team Nepal team at the past two Hong Kong Trailwalkers.
Trail journeyman Sange “Yeti man” Sherpa (Instinct) must be one of the most prolific ultra-runners globally and never seems to have a bad race. He’ll be aiming to improve on his 12th at last year’s event. He also finished top 20 at Lavaredo, Eiger and Grand Raid De La Reunion. While more inexperienced, Suman Kulung (AWOO) has speed to burn and recently beat Luis Alberto Hernando to win the Everest Trail Race.
Team China was probably the surprise packet at HK100 in 2017, with seven runners in the men’s top 20, including many names that were completely unknown for western followers. The trail scene is coming along in leaps and bounds so expect another strong showing on Saturday.
Expect Min Qi to feature early given his pace. He had a stellar 2017 including wins at XTrail Wulong 100K, Yading Kora Ultra and Devil’s Ridge 60K, though struggled at The North Face 50, his only Hong Kong hit out to date. Runner up to him at the XTrail Wulong 100K was Jiagen Yang (TOREAD), who went one better at KuBuQi Desert 100K as well as finishing top 10 at HK100 last year.
Guangzhou’s Guo Min Deng (Salomon) should improve from last year’s 19th position after a big trail year including third at Tsaigu Tangsi Plus 100K and 14th at the Mt Blanc Marathon 80K. Jing Liang (EPSON) took line honours at Ultra Trail Mont Song 100 and Nanjing Laoshan 100 and should nudge the top 10, while Wei Li (Altra) with a 2:17 marathon PB and last year’s 13th placegetter Yunhui Yu could also be in the mix.
The Japanese charge should be led by Kazufumi Oose (Salomon), who has made Hong Kong a semi-base for racing since taking 7th at this race last year, with wins at TransLantau 50 as well as The 9 Dragons 50M, and narrowly missing the top 10 at TDS. Yoshikazu Hara is always a threat. He famously won UTMF in 2013 and has a 24 hour PB of 285K and won the Hualein Ultra 110 more recently in 2017.
Erik-Sebastian Krogvig (La Sportiva) from Norway only race once on the UTWT last year, but third at Lavaredo shows he can beat anyone on his day, while Australia’s Majell Backhausen (Salomon-Suunto) - despite only deciding to race - won the Two Bays Trail 56K earlier this month, which follows a win at the Australian National Champs and Tarawera 60K last year and sixth at TDS the previous year.
From Thailand, Phairat Varasin (Altra) has gone from strength to strength after last year’s 23rd finish, with several ultra-trail wins in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, while Thai-based but Welsh-born Harry Jones (HOKA, Runivore) will be looking to improve on 8th place in 2017, follow up stunning races at The North Face 100 Hong Kong and the Mozart 100, both times coming second.
Last but certainly not least, there is a strong home contingent led by Hong Kong veteran Siu Keung (Stone) Tsang (The North Face), who beat all comers at last year’s Ultra Trail Monte Rosa and finished runner-up at HK100 in 2013. Being a relative newcomer at this distance hasn’t stopped Austrian-born Michael Skobierski (HKSC) from taking 20th last year as well as winning the Lantau 70, while Wong Ho Chung (The North Face) recently took third at a very competitive The North Face 100 Hong Kong and showed his versatility with tenth at MDS.
Other men to watch on race day – with 2017 race results - include:
- Gregoire Curmer (Salomon) from France - 23rd Madeira Ultra Trail and 16th Le Grand Raid De La Reunion in 2016
- Takashi Doi from Japan – 25th UTMB but 11th in 2015
- Jag Lanante from Thailand – 3rd HK4TUC in 57:44
- Zheng Quan Ji (HOKA) from China - 4th XTrail Wulong 100, but 2nd in 2016
- Zichen Wang (Ultra Gear) from China - 73rd UTWT, 18th HK100, 14th Ultra Trail Australia
- Ching Chou (Salomon) from Taiwan - 1st Ultra Maokong, 1st Tsaigu Tangsi Trail 60, 2nd MSIG Hong Kong
- Baptiste Puyou (Gone Running-Joint Dynamics) from France but based in Hong Kong – 100th UTWT, 1st Trans-Jeju 100
- Jeremy Ritcey (Salomon-HKSC) from Canada but based in Hong Kong – 3rd TransLantau, 6th Asian Skyrunning Ultra Championships, with a best HK100 finish of second in 2011
- Zhenlong Zhang (TOREAD) from China – 1st Haglofs Beijing 100, 24th HK100
- Yen-ching Chiang from Taiwan - 1st Flex Power National 50K, 1st Ultra Trail Yilan; 2016: 1st Yilan Dongshan River 100K
- Henri Lehkonen (Gone Running-Joint Dynamics) from Australia but based in Hong Kong – 97th UTWT, 26th HK100, 26th Eiger
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