There's definitely some great buzz around the new 9 Dragons Ultra, scheduled for 3 to 5 February 2017, so we caught up with Race Director Steven Carr to get the low down.
GR - The Hong Kong trail racing scene is starting to get a little crowded but here's this new idea of back to back 50 mile and 50 kilometre races. Maybe you can tell us about the concept, Steve.
SC - At RaceBase, we had always talked about adding an ultra to our roster of races. We felt that many Hong Kong races were quite similar and we wanted to offer something a bit different, which is something that we hope all our races offer. From the moment I slipped on my first pair of trail shoes, I have been an avid fan of the Ginger Runner and he always mentions the Squamish 50/50 race in Canada organised by Gary Robbins. In 2015, I headed to STY in Japan and had a nightmare of a race breaking my left arm but, as I consoled myself with copious amounts of beer, I ended up meeting Gary and spent a little amount of time talking about his 50/50 and I ended up asking if I could mirror his event in Hong Kong. He replied "Sure!"
GR - And the birth of 9 Dragons! We have a new race concept now, but what about all the other details?
SC - We then started planning the race and going through everything that we disliked about other races and how we could fix this like less runners on the course and separate start times for different sections of runners. For the course, we wanted more runnable sections, combining hard hills with amazing rewarding views, iconic ridge lines, all of that. It took us around six months to come up with a route that we would want to run.
GR - What has been the response so far from the Hong Kong running community?
SC - I've been quite surprised to be honest. We've been lucky enough to get some amazing sponsors involved in the race, especially considering this is a first edition. The sponsors have really jumped on the idea of a multi-day race and especially one called 9 Dragons.
GR - Tell us a little more about the name.
SC - The course runs is framed against the background of the skyline of Kowloon, which actually translates to 8 Dragons. So what's the other dragon? Well, with the winner of the combined 50/50 race, of course!
GR - What about feedback from runners?
SC - Again we have been quite surprised. The elites that we have coming are beyond our wildest dreams. To have someone like Yoshikazu Hara (原 良和), a former winner of UTMF, is off the charts, plus you have Compressport elite Casey Morgan and Kazufumi Oose from Salomon Japan, plus a young gun like Lucy Bartholomew - seriously cool.
GR - That's a pretty amazing set of elites for a first up race, but what about the Hong Kong contingent?
SC - When we look at the local field, it's also a really amazing line up of runners, which means they either are gluttons for punishment or they trust our races. Either way we are very pleased with how the race is turning out. The community seems to have really taken to this race as it's something just a little bit different, which is something we try and do with all our events.
GR - When we look back, you've really only been doing this for a couple of years, right?
SC - Yes indeed and, from a personal level, going from a non-runner to the Race Director at Hard As Nayls in 2015 and now this, well it's the stuff of dreams!
GR - So with the format for 9 Dragons, we are basically talking back-to-back ultras. A nice RD would give us two easier, more runnable courses... What's your take, and what should runners expect?
SC - Well, you'll definitely earn the medal and the beer. Both courses are tough - with different aspects complicating what could be a nice day out. The 50 mile route finishes with Pat Sing Leng, while the 50 kilometre has the climb from Eagles Nest to Tate's Cairn over the final 10 kilometres. We wanted to create a race which pushed you to the absolute limit in order to finish. I don't think any runner will find this easy.
GR - Tell us a litle more about the courses then.
SC - The 50 mile event starts at the Tai Tong Jockey Club camp where OTW finishes, with a pleasant runnable start via Route Twisk, before a climb over to Leadmine Pass. We then take the Wilson Trail to the start of Tai To Yan then to Hok Tau and onwards to Luk Keng. From here, it's Brides Pool to Pat Sing Leng, Cloudy Hill and the finish in Tai Wo.
GR - What about the 50 kilometre route. Surely, it must be easier!
SC - For continuity, we start in Tai Wo, head back over Cloudy Hill, before dropping into Fanling. Then it's over Tai To Yan to Kadoorie Farm and the biggest climb of the weekend, up Tai Mo Shan waterfalls. Continue past Grassy Hill, Needle Hill - at this point I would hate whoever the RD is - Shing Mun Dam, then over to Smugglers Ridge, my favourite trail in Hong Kong. Finally, head to Eagles Nest before attacking the last section where the 9 Dragons lay, and down Wilson Section 4 to finish.
GR - I think most Hong Kong runners, at some point, will have run parts of these trails in various races.
SC - Yes, most of this route will sound very familiar to people. Sadly, the AFCD has taken away some of the original course we wanted. It is a tough course but if it was easy it would be boring!
GR - One of the key tenets of RaceBase has been to run events and experiences, rather than basic races. We've seen that with the atmosphere, both on and off the course, at The Great Relay and Country of Origin. Can you give us a sneak peek at some of the "extras" to expect at 9 Dragons?
SC - One of the key features at COO and TGR is the idea of community. This is much easier when you have a small race, both in terms of runner numbers, single day distance or locations. However, 9 Dragons has 130 kilometres over two days so it's much harder. We are working on a pre-race get-together for the runners so they can meet other runners including elites, as well as a post-race event for the runners and volunteers so they can compare race wounds and tales ... and probably tell us how much they hate whoever designed the course!
GR - What about at the actual race itself?
SC - Another area that we think is super important is the checkpoints, so we are working hard too. We want high quality food that you actually want and we have some exciting announcements coming. The same applies at the end of the race - good food, recovery drinks and some high quality beer, of course!
GR - I'm afraid to ask, but any other things where runners can expect a bit more?
SC - Many race packs can be pretty useless so we are also planning lots of good loot for runners, as well as a great finishers pack. I won't give the entire game away here but think Salomon race bib holder, rubbish holder that handily connects to your pack, a cool beer glass as well as a dry drop bag...
GR - Thanks Steve, exciting stuff indeed. Limited entries are still available to 9 Dragons. Anyone interested in running this unique and very cool race can get more info here.
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