The Vibram 100 is on this Saturday January 14 and is one of most competitive ultra races on the calendar. It is also the first stop on the Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) and showcases some of the most scenic and tough trails that Hong Kong has to offer. The race is 100 kilometers with around 4500 metres of elevation gain and takes place mainly on the famous Maclehose Trail, with a little bit of everything including single track, roads, beaches, stairs and monkeys.
I ran the race in 2015 and can personally attest to the challenging yet beautiful nature of the course, just do not forget the stairs. The race has its humble origins in 2011 when it was created by Steve Brammar and Janet Ng, and had just 136 finishers. The race has grown every year to become one the biggest and most exciting ultra races in Asia.
The respective course records are 9 hours 32 minutes for the men set by Francois D’Haene in 2016 and 11 hours 58 minutes for the women set by Claire Price in 2013. It is worth noting that the 10 hour barrier has been broken just six times in the event’s history, but given the calibre of the field this year I think that number may very well increase. The field this year, especially the men’s, is arguably the deepest in the event’s history showcasing both strong local and international contingents.
I will preview the women’s field first and it is largely made up of repeat offenders with some strong first timers. Lisa Borzani from Italy is no stranger to the race and has placed strongly here in the past with 3rd in 2015 and 2nd in 2016. Dong Li from China who many may remember from her winning performance at Ultra Trail Australia 100 (UTA100) in 2015, was 2nd in 2015 and 1st in 2016.
Marie McNaughton is a New Zealander living in Hong Kong who races consistently and strongly both locally and internationally, she was 7th in 2016. However lately she has been dominating the local trail scene with wins at the North Face 100 Hong Kong, Translantau 100 and Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan 115k.
I believe the winner will come from one of these three ladies given their experience, current form and most importantly, course knowledge. The other ladies to look out for include Nuria Picas, who is known for her dominating performances in 2014 and 2015, however seems to have had a rather quiet 2016 and Silvia Trigueros who had a strong 2016 season with 3rd at Vibram 100 and 4th at Transgrancanaria. There are almost always surprises in ultra running, but the women’s podium positions are highly likely to come from this group of ladies.
Other strong female contenders:
- Wyan Chow from China, 1st Vibram 100 2015, 10th UTA100 2015.
- Corinne Williams from America, 4th Vibram 100 2016, 1st Formosa Trail 100k 2016.
- Else Jeandedieu from France, 1st Translantau 50k 2016, 5th MSIG HK50 2016
The men’s field is arguably deeper and makes this probably the most competitive field in the event’s history, so bear with me as we look at one of the most impressive lineups and a cracker field to set off the UTWT.
Firstly, lets start with the local contingent which includes Yan Longfei who was 1st in 2015 and 2nd in 2016 at Vibram 100, and Yanqiao Yun who was 3rd at UTA100 in both 2015 and 2016. Although Yan Longfei has been relatively quiet on the racing front the last 6-12 months, it is important to note his experience on the course and the fact that both times he has raced here he has gone 9.52 and 9.37 respectively.
There are also several strong international runners who reside in Hong Kong. Vlad Ixel who was 3rd at Vibram 100 in 2014 and in 2015 was 1st in the Translantau 100 and North Face 100 Hong Kong, and John Ellis who was 18th at Vibram 100 in 2015, however that same year he was also 2nd at The North Face 100 Hong Kong and 4th at the Translantau 100. They both race often locally and internationally with great success and consistency, and hold a huge amount of local course knowledge.
I will now look at the American and European contingents, both of which have fielded plenty of strong runners for this race. From America there is Sage Canaday who in 2016 was 9th at North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile Championships, 3rd at Transvulcania and 1st at Black Canyon 100k.
There is also Tim Tollefson who was 3rd at Lake Sonoma 50 Mile 2015, 2nd at CCC 2015 and 3rd at UTMB 2016, and Seth Swanson who was 6th at Lake Sonoma 50 Mile 2015, 2nd at Western States Endurance Run (WSER) 2015 and 4th at UTMB 2015.
David Laney has also appeared in other previews of the race, however he is not on the entrants list so am not sure if he is racing or not. If he is there will certainly be even more racing fireworks on the course.
From Europe, firstly there is the ever-present Julien Chorier of France who in 2015 was 8th at UTA 100 and 6th at WSER and in 2016 was 7th at Transgrancanaria and 8th at UTMB. There is also Javier Dominguez of Spain who in 2016 was 5th at UTMB, 3rd at Lavaredo Ultra Trail and 9th at Transgrancanaria. Plus there is Didrik Hermansen of Norway who in 2016 was 1st at Transgrancanaria and 2nd at WSER, and in 2015 was 1st at Lavaredo Ultra Trail. There will of course be surprises on the day and there are many other strong runners, however the male podium positions are highly likely to come from the group of men mentioned above.
Other strong male contenders:
- Jordi Gamito from Spain, 6th Vibram 100 2016, 10th Transgrancanaria 2016.
- Jeremy Ritcey from Canada, 2nd Translantau 100 2016, 17th Vibram 100 2016
- Yoshikazu Hara from Japan, 4th Tarawera Ultra 2016, 1st Translantau 100 2016
- Wataru Iino from Japan, 9th Vibram 100 2016, 1st Sahara Race Namibia
- Kazufumi Oose from Japan, 7th Vibram 100 2016, 11th Vibram 100 2015.
- Sange Sherpa from Nepal, 16th Vibram 100 2016, 18th Transgrancanaria 2016
This race looks to be a real ripper and there is a good chance that the course record will fall in both the men’s and women’s races, and it will be interesting to see how various strategies play out because as many people have said before the Vibram 100 is really a tale of two races. The first half is relatively much more flat and runnable, meaning that much of the elevation comes in the back half of the race and pacing yourself appropriately for this is crucial for success. It is hard to make predictions given the depth of the field, however it is always fun to have a stab in the dark so here are mine:
David’s picks for the podium
Female Podium: 1st Dong Li, 2nd Nuria Picas and 3rd Marie McNaughton
Male Podium: 1st Yan Longfei, 2nd Sage Canaday and 3rd Didrik Hermansen.