Race Preview Part One: The 9 Dragons Ultra, Hong Kong

The 9 Dragons is a new addition to the Ultra168 Supporters Club and the first race to feature that is outside of Australia and New Zealand. The race is a new and unique addition to the Hong Kong racing scene, and the creation of the Hong Kong-based company RaceBase.

The race consists of back to back efforts of 86 kilometers (4200 meters of elevation gain) on Saturday followed by 53 kilometers (3600 meters of elevation gain) on Sunday, otherwise participants can also choose to race one of the distances either solo or in a team of two.

The 2018 edition is set to be even more exciting than the inaugural year and Ultra168 will not only be on the ground to cover the event but also actively partaking in the festivities. There is an incredible line up taking shape including the likes of Kellie Emmerson and Ben Duffus who will be looking to duke it out with Hong Kong’s finest and other international runners.

Our own Lucy Bartholomew ran to an incredible 2nd place in the inaugural event said, “I found 9 Dragons a challenging and rewarding experience. There are few places in the world where you can drop in and out of the city from a mountain top within minutes and have monkeys chasing you for carrying fruit out of an aid station. The 9 Dragons was a great race to set my 2017 up and I hope to get back one day.”

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Lucy Bartholomew at the inaugural 9 Dragons race

We speak here with the key players behind the show to get the lowdown on what the event is all about, so please welcome to the pages of Ultra168 Steve Carr, Nic Tinworth, Michael Ormiston and Jeremy Ritcey.  A preview of the main contenders in each race follows the interview in tomorrow’s part two of the article.

We also have two free spots to offer Ultra168 readers into the race. The competition is open to any reader, anywhere in the world. The only catch is that you need to get yourself to the race start line i.e. Hong Kong. If you fancy a spot in this race, read through each of the articles and at the bottom of the part two article tomorrow will be a question for you to answer. The first two who reply back to me, get their spots into the race! Now let’s get on with the race preview.

Let’s start with an introduction for our readers about the 9 Dragons race.

Steve: My initial thought was to do something a little out of the norm for Hong Kong, and trail running in general. There are a stack of 100km races in Asia and 100 mile races also. But nothing bridging that gap. That is where The 9 Dragons comes in. All three events are tough and they are meant to be. This isn’t just a race you rock up and run but a focus into your training and you running schedule. I always like the idea of seeing how far I can push my body both physically and mentally – and 9 Dragons is that. Whether you are doing the back to back or the individual events – you are pushing yourself to your limit to meet the cut offs, to climb the hills, to descend also!

Nic: There are a ton of 100km races in HK now, and they all have pretty generous cut off times that mean you could essentially finish simply by fast hiking the course. We wanted to do something that runners really had to train for to finish, and as there were no previous 50/50 back to back events the 9 Dragons was born from that desire to offer up something people might not be able to finish! Even as separate 50mile and 50km courses, they are still very tough profiles with tight cut off times so you can’t faff around at aid stations or amble along the course – you really need to be focused, fit and mentally switched on. It’s not for everyone, but that’s why we designed it the way that we did. The story of the legendary 9th Dragon (https://www.the9dragons.asia/the-9-dragons) seemed a perfect fit seeing as we wanted runners to traverse as much of the Kowloon mountain ranges as possible.

Michael: One of the elements for 9 Dragons was to create a course with some nasty elevation.  I personally love to climb and stay as far away from the concrete paths as possible.  Hard to do in Hong Kong but the 9 Dragons take you through some of the best trails in Hong Kong.  I am also a fan of multi day events, competing in many over the years so this race bring all those elements together – a race that I would want to enter and hopefully next year I can take a back seat and be on the start line!  

Jeremy: Though I’m involved in Racebase for other races, thus far my experience with the 9 Dragons has been as a runner.  I’m getting the chance to run it again this year after finishing 4th in the 50/50 last year.  The idea of this type of back to back race was instantly appealing to me and I was one of the first to sign up for last year’s event.  Indeed, there are a lot of 100km races in Hong Kong, but none of them offer the kind of mental and physical challenge that the 9 Dragons does.

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A view from the race

This is the second year of the race, what has changed compared to last year?

As event organisers it’s really important to listen to and take on board feedback from our participants – it keeps us honest, focused on the end-to-end experience, and allows us to continually improve where we need to.

Edition one was always going to be a proof of concept! Nobody has done a 50/50 event here before and now we know why – it’s a logistical nightmare and incredibly tiring to be race directing for 60 hours straight.

Most of the feedback was centered around the cut off times being too tough and there being a bit too much concrete in some areas, which unfortunately is an unavoidable evil in Hong Kong on long distance races where you have to connect the trails up via catchment systems or access roads. Having said that we spent a lot of time back out on the course adjusting where we could and working with the country parks authorities to make sure we could secure the use of more trails, which we have done for 50 mile event. The 50km stays the same, but both events have had the cut off times increased slightly. We still want runners to have to hustle, but perhaps last year was just a little too tight, so we have tried to find a balance with the times for the second edition.

Our volunteers simply made the event for runners in 2017 – they were amazing and feedback validated this. With both events, we are discussing how the event can be more enjoyable for them also – so there will be some surprises for runners on both days.  We are upping the ante at the check points through support from our amazing volunteers and sponsors who are getting more involved to make the race more exciting and also more unique for runners.

Join us for part two tomorrow and your chance to win a free entry into the race.

David Longo
David is a Canberra-based ultra runner who has also lived in Hong Kong. He races regularly both on the HK and Australian ultra scene.

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