Many of you will have seen our Facebook post of Jag Lanante, who recently finished the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra (298kms) in a mammoth 81 hours. Jag has a pretty inspiring story to tell, so we were naturally very interested to hear it when local Hong Kong trail runner and fellow participant, Jeri Chua offered to pen us some thoughts. Thanks to Jeri for pulling together Jag’s story and we wish them both the best with their future running exploits!
“Faith is the daring of the soul to go farther than it can see” – William Newton Clarke
It’s 7.30pm on Friday 2nd January, and Filipino ultrarunner Jag Lanante has been lost for nearly four hours. So far he’s covered 129km and still has 169 km to go, but quitting is not an option. The first time he went off-course, he encountered six angry dogs. He used his poles to poke one in the eye and fend off the rest before retracing his steps. It’s Lanante’s first time on Hong Kong’s trails, participating in the fourth edition of the daunting Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC).
HK4TUC is the brainchild of German ultra-legend Andre Blumberg, and the goal is simple. Complete all four of Hong Kong’s main trails in reverse order within 60 hours. Why? Because it’s there. A simple motivation that has long been the catalyst for some of history’s most epic adventures.
With no entry fees, support stations or finisher medals, the non-stop, fat-ass style 298km, 14,500 D+ challenge is not one that is taken lightly. Having evolved from Blumberg’s solo attempt in 2012, there have only been four finishers in three editions.
Inspired by Blumberg, Lanante first heard about HK4TUC in 2012, and had been dreaming about it ever since. “I really wanted to do this challenge because Andre is my idol.” he explains. “How he balances work and still finishes those tough races blows me away. I wanted to meet him in person and ask for a picture. Then I wanted to see all the trails in Hong Kong in one go, because I could not afford to come and do them one by one.”
Four runners lined up at 8am on Thursday 1st January. Paul Wong, a local trail runner, Singaporean chef Janelle Seet, Pinoy nurse Jag Lanante, and myself. While the rest of us had a small network of friends to assist our attempt (support is allowed at the end of each trail, and transport arrangements between trails are crucial as transit times are included in the 60-hour cut-off), Lanante was solo. He carried everything he needed for the expected 3-day journey (his pack weighed over 8kg), including 20 AA batteries for his headlamp (which required a fresh set every two hours), and over 2kg of gels.
On paper, the Bangkok-based runner had a distinct disadvantage. With virtually no elevation to train on, a much warmer climate and having never been to Hong Kong, let alone run the trails, this would be a steep learning curve in more ways than one. Ultimately, it would be Lanante, the least likely candidate, who would emerge the sole finisher of this gruelling challenge. On unknown terrain, with no prior course knowledge, fighting the cold, fatigue, blisters and dogs, his heroic run took 81 hours and 30 minutes, and sealed his place in the HK4TUC record books.
Having withdrawn due to injury, I offered to support this man who was proving to be a real inspiration. All through his 4-day adventure, he was always smiling, never complained, and asked for nothing.
Before the start, Lanante posted an image of the first trail distance marker on Instagram with the words “Every morning you have 2 choices: continue to sleep with your dreams, or wake up and chase them.” Simple, powerful words that were to reflect the strength, tenacity and courage of this unassuming hero. As his journey unfolded over the next four days, thousands of Facebook followers woke up each morning to track his progress, messages of support pouring in with every milestone reached. When he worried he would have to DNF as he was well behind schedule for the 60-hour cutoff (as were the other two remaining participants), Blumberg’s response was simply: “It’s not a race, so you can’t DNF.” And so Lanante pressed on.
When it was revealed that his scheduled flight home was at 8pm that Sunday, local runners rallied to accompany him on the trails, ensuring he didn’t lose valuable time by getting lost again. Lanante was running strong, fuelled by the camaraderie and support of the trail running community, and an unerring faith.
Eight years ago, his girlfriend (now wife) relocated to Bangkok for work. He said, “I missed her so much that I packed up and left the Philippines whistling que sera sera (what will be), because I didn’t know whether I could get a job.” They now both work in the same hospital and have been married for three years. The Hoka One One shoes he used for the challenge were a birthday gift from his wife, and he wears them proudly “to remind myself that my wife is with me every step of the way.”
As a relative newcomer to the world of ultrarunning, Lanante started running four years ago and completed his first 100km run in 2013. His longest run so far? 115.2km at the Ocean to Ocean Relay in Bangkok earlier this year.
When asked how he dealt with the inevitable blisters and pain, Lanante’s answers were typically modest. “I am lucky I only had 6 blisters and some aches after the race. And happy I had no major injuries. I was in pain and even in tears along the trails because the blisters hurt so much. Especially during the HK trail (third trail in sequence) when I ran as fast as I could to make the ferry and do Lantau, and be able to catch my flight.” From the post-run pictures, the blisters were pretty sizeable ones, and Lanante completed the 50km Hong Kong Trail in a very credible 8 hours, after having already covered 178km and 9,200 D+.
“When I feel the pain and tears, I just wipe my eyes, breath deeply, look around the beautiful view, and whisper a prayer thanking God for keeping me alive at that moment to be able to experience it. Then I move on.” Easier said than done, especially with another 120km and 5,300 D+ left to cover, but to Lanante, it really was as simple as that. Pain killers or NSAIDs don’t figure in any part of this equation.
Mental strength plays a pivotal role in ultrarunning success, something that Lanante is undoubtedly in possession of, and his unorthodox training a testament to the passion and tenacity with which he approaches his goals.
He trains on time rather than distance, with sessions between work shifts as his roster allows. Running at least ten hours a week, workday runs consist of flat 500m (less if car park is full) loops of the hospital car park, and long runs in Suan Rot Fai Park, a flat 2.5km loop, all with a pack weighing 8-10kg. For the past year, he’s been dodging the security guard in order to train on the hospital stairs and simulate the gruelling elevation of the event.
The highlights of his run? “On Lantau when the moon was shining over the ocean. It was a magical view to experience. And the last 2 km away from the finish point where I gave it everything I had. The people who volunteered to help me along the way and cheered me on are the ones who motivated me to finish.”
When asked if he’s learnt anything from his experience, his response is characteristically humble. “I have learned a lot of lessons from this adventure, the most important one being; if you don’t give up and are willing to suffer, God will send good people to help you achieve your dream.” Even the longest journey starts with a single step of faith.