A few weeks back Ultra168 was invited to cover the Hong Kong Trailwalker, and we thought what a great way to showcase a high-profile ultra to people around the world that contained some serious quality in its ranks. We got in touch with local trailrunner, photographer and film maker, Lloyd Belcher who very kindly accepted the offer to get his hands dirty with the opportunity to interview and follow the teams out on the course. You’ll have hopefully read the plethora of interviews Lloyd complied for us, and now we have his report all ready to hand re-caping the day (and night for some!). We hope you enjoyed the coverage, and of course, Lloyd’s excellent pictures too. If you’re feel so inclined, go and like Lloyd Facebook page too, which you can find here.
From the moment that the Salomon France team threw their hat into the ring and joined other top local and international teams vying for honours at the Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker, this event stepped up from one that generates regional interest, to a race that was being followed by the global ultra community. The running community waited impatiently to be treated to an ultra feast that was subsequently packed with all the ingredients of superb athleticism, dramatic twists, smiles and disappointment.
The pre-race hype played out to a back drop of rumours and speculation as to whether the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) team would return to defend their crown. This was against the backdrop of the strongest local and international talent to toe the line at what has arguably become the top ultra team event in the Asia Pacific racing calendar.
Creative and humorous team names such as the ‘Blister Sisters’ and Vibram’s ‘Kin Hang Snails’ embody the combination of fun and competitive endurance that mark this event, and which raises millions for charity. Over 5,000 people aimed to successfully complete the 100 kilometre course with 4,500 metres of positive elevation change that follows the MacLehose Trail from Sai Kung to Yuen Long.
So who would claim the title? And would the winning team break the Course Record of 11 hours and 59 minutes set by the PLA? For the men’s race, all eyes were on the Salomon France team, Salomon Bonaqua, Columbia Powerfighters, The North Face Team, Team 2XU Hong Kong, Paris LaFuma and Cosmoboys. Popular women’s local all star team, ‘The Blister Sisters’ were tipped to take the women’s team title and ‘chick’ most of the all-male teams in the process with local women’s team, ‘Team Green’ aiming to push them hard.
Race day weather was favourable and Salomon Bonaqua signaled their intent with a fast start but Salomon France followed closely and kept to their pre-race strategy of not taking too many risks in the early stages. At Pak Tam Au [Checkpoint 2 – 25km] it was shaping up to be an exciting three team race as Salomon Bonaqua and Columbia Powerfighters shared the lead with the Salomon France team only 2 minutes behind. The efficiency of the Salomon France team was evident as all three teams were together only a few minutes later as they climbed the hill overlooking the checkpoint. The next small wave of teams climbed out of Pak Tam Au, including The North Face team [+16 mins], Cosmoboys, 2XU and a La Fuma team that looked to be struggling with the Blister Sisters comfortably following.
The close race continued across the hills of Ngam Tau Shan and Kai Kung Shan with Salomon Bonaqua and Columbia Powerfighters sharing the lead into the next checkpoint of Kei Ling Ha with Salomon France just 1 minute behind. The gap started to open between the first 3 teams and the rest with The North Face arriving 21 minutes later, closely followed by Cosmoboys and 2XU with the Blister Sisters coming though as first women’s team and in 8th position overall. At this point, the first 3 teams were ahead by 8 minutes of the course record pace set by the PLA previously. But there was still 65km to go.
The racing drama continued as Salomon France exchanged places with Salomon Bonaqua en route to Gilwell Camp [checkpoint 4] and shared the lead with the Columbia Powerfighters when passing the half way point [50km] of Sha Tin Pass with Salomon Bonaqua hot on their heels with just 2 minutes separating them.
Seasoned local ultra runners consider the 100km race to really start as the course approaches Tai Po Road after running the single track from Beacon Hill that is home to hosts of monkeys waiting to snatch at unwanted or unguarded food. The Salomon France team demonstrated sound strategy and team work by establishing a lead on the Columbia Powerfighters and Salomon Bonaqua teams as they approached Tai Po road and this remained the case as the top 3 teams passed though Smugglers Hill and Leadmine Pass to climb Tai Mo Shan [Hong Kong’s highest peak at 958m]. By this point, there was a clear gap between these front three teams and the chasing teams led by The North Face, Cosmoboys and 2XU with the Blister Sisters cruising along to cement their standing as the front-runners for the women’s team title.
Darkness had fallen by the time the teams reached Tai Mo Shan [checkpoint 8 – 79km] and a new course record was clearly on the cards with the Salomon France Team arriving in 9 hours with a focused Salomon Bonaqua team just 9 minutes behind and being led out by a very determined Jeremy Ritcey. It was now a question of which team could dig deep enough to descend he quickest over the remaining 20km from Tai Mo Shan to the finishing line. The Columbia Powerfighters team had lost ground and arrived 27 minutes later and appeared to leave the checkpoint with just one headlamp and a handheld torch to share and head back into the darkness.
The crowd of supporters and media waited at the finishing line near Yuen Long for news of which team had negotiated the final stages the fastest with the suspense increasing as we heard that Salomon Bonaqua were gaining ground as the teams passed Tai Lam Chung Reservoir [90km] and to add to the drama, rumours abound that the Columbia Powerfighters had lost their way.
Then with 11 hours and 12 minutes and 15 seconds passed, the Salomon France Team emerged out of the darkness to cross the finishing line first and smash the previous course record by a staggering 47 minutes. A hard chasing Salomon Bonaqua team were just 4 minutes behind [11hrs 16mins] and showed the quality we have in our region, with The North Face team taking third place in 11hrs 52 mins.
Convoy Cosmoboys [12hrs 25mins] and Team 2XU [13hrs 20 mins] brought in the rest of the local honours at the sharp end with the Blister Sisters bringing it home in 13 hrs and 53 mins to break the women’s course record. All top 10 teams finished the race sub-14 hours for the first time in the history of the event.
Each of the top three teams beat the previous course record and demonstrated ultra team racing of the highest quality and in doing so, have laid down a marker.
The event has once again put Hong Kong firmly on the map of global ultra trail destinations where we have seen performances by the top teams significantly improving this year. At the same time the wider acceptance and interest in ultra trail running is continuing to spread throughout Asia with the available Trailwalker slots typically oversubscribed.
And so, will we see a team go under 11 hours next year?
2012 Oxfam Trailwalker Official Results
1. Salomon France (S42: Julien Chorier, Andy Symonds, Francois D’Haene & Michel Lanne) – 11:12:43 NEW CR
2. Salomon Bonaqua Racing (S41: Michael Maddess, Jeremy Ritcey, Samir Tamang & Ram Khatri) – 11:16:33
3. The North Face (S35: Ryan Blair, Stone Tsang, Tsuyoshi Kaburaki & Jay Kiangchaipaiphana) – 11:52:01
4. Convoy Cosmoboys Team 1 (S01: Lam Ka Hei, Law Chor Kin, Wong Kam Cheong & Lam Shing Yip) – 12:25:39
5. Team 2XU (S04: Dan Parr, Anthony Davies, Peter Lee & Eric LaHaie) -13:20:28
6. Columbia Power Fighters(S03: Aite Tamang, Bed Sunuwar, Sudip Kulung & Bhim Gurung 13:35:03)
7. Convoy Cosmoboys Team 3 (S50: Cheung Kei Fung, Chan Kwok Keung, Ng Kwok Wai & Jjelddahl Chiaki) – 13:44:44
8. Vibram Hong Kong 100 Kin Hang Snails (S54: Ng Kwok Lun, Law Sze Kong, Armin Silbernagl & Chan Chun Fai) – 13:46:49
9. Blister Sisters (S38: Claire Price, Kami Semick, Jeanette Holmes Thomson & Janet Ng) – 13:53:52
10. Fire Services Team 1 (S25: Ho Dik Hei, Chong Lee Fai, Ng Sheung Yan & Ho Chung Wong) – 13:55:48