The Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC) is the brainchild of local Hong Kong expat Andre Blumberg and since its inception in 2012, has garnered almost mythical status amongst local runners due to its brutal yet simple concept. The participants who choose to enter the challenge must complete all of Hong Kong’s four main trails (Maclehose, Wilson, Hong Kong and Lantau) within 60 hours, which amounts to 298 kilometers with over 14,500 meters of elevation gain. It is important to note the no frills nature of the event and the fact that it is a challenge not a race, it is strictly a solo undertaking and entirely self-supported.
I will not dive much deeper into the details of the challenge because that was covered in an earlier Ultra168 article that I recommend you read beforehand (Asia’s Barkley). It is interesting to note that it is hard to preview the race as you never really know who is taking part until the day itself. Although based on some whispers along the Hong Kong trail running grapevine, there are some strong runners lining up and the magical 60 barrier may well fall this year. I will not spoil the suspense by naming names but regardless this year should be exciting as always.
The closest anyone has come to breaking the 60 hour barrier is Tom Robertshaw in 2016 with 60 hours and 38 minutes. In this article I interview local runner Scottie Callaghan, an Aussie living in Hong Kong and discuss his own upcoming attempt at the HK4TUC.
Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your running background?
I live and work in Hong Kong with my wife Jemima and our three children Peach, Esther and Banjo. I co-own a wholesale coffee roasting business a cafe and an espresso bar. I started running in 2010 and for six years up until then, I did zero exercise and put on a bit of weight, I felt lethargic and had low energy.
I reminisced what it I felt like when I was fit and healthy playing sport, so decided I wanted to be like that again. I started running 2km twice a week and ran my first 10km road race in 2010, which I ran in 52 minutes. My next race was the same race the following year and completed that in 42 minutes. Taking 10 minutes off my time the year before gave me a massive high and ever since that day I have been running to achieve that same high.
What would you consider your most successful running accomplishment?
Probably my 5th place in the Translantau 100 in 2015.
How did you find out about the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC)?
On Facebook and through the Hong Kong Trail running community. I followed last years runners and while doing so, wished I was one of them.
What has your training been like leading up to the challenge?
Chasing vert instead of km is my motto this year, a 3 hour run chasing vert means you cover much less km, so I cannot let that worry me. For example a regular training run is over the two mountains behind where we live. The first is 860 meters above sea level over 6km, dropping to 300 meters above sea level over 2km, then back up to 960 meters above sea level over 4 km, then back down the way I came and back up and down again. That run takes me 3 hours 30/45 mins and totals 2000 metres of cumulative elevation gain over approximately 24km.
Runs like that mean my weekly mileage is quite low, but focussing on chasing weekly vert is my motivation. I train six days per week and for three of those days per week I do the run I’ve just described. Other days are hill repeats, interval sessions, tempo runs or long runs on 10 – 30km of concrete. There will be a lot of concrete, maybe up to 100km broken up over different sections.
To keep things interesting I have raced in the Lantau Salamon 70km and the HK North Face 100km over the last few months. In the HK4TUC you must run each trail in reverse, this is quite a challenge. In Hong Kong these trails are designed and marked to go in one direction, the arrows, markings etc are all designed that way. So when you run them in reverse it is not so easy. To get around this I have completed full recces of each trail in reverse at the same time of day I intend to be on them during the ultra challenge.
What goals do you have heading into the challenge?
I don’t know. The longest I have ever run is 100km, this challenge is 198km on top of that, so I really do not know what to expect my body to do. I do hope I can finish under 60 hours and I am planning to achieve that with my equipment, logistics and nutrition plan, but on the challenge itself I will need to be flexible and see how my body fares as I go.
How you plan to deal with the logistical considerations of the challenge?
The plan is to keep moving, constant forward motion. Someone has volunteered a van and another person has volunteered to drive. The van with Craig, my wife Jemima and maybe another will meet me when I finish each trail and drive me to the next.
The van will be stocked with:
- laminated instructions for the crew so we do not forget anything
- 1 x container for each trail – the rule here is “Scottie must not leave the van on the next trail unless the box marked with that trail is empty”. Each container has loads of gels, Runnivore bars, Tailwind, anti chafing cream, Nuun tablets
- Loads of liquid, water, electrolytes, coconut water
- Substantial/real food such as chicken, burritos, bananas, watermelon
- Head torch battery charger
- Watch charger
- Mattress with sheets, blankets, pillows to try get some sleep while driving.
- Change of clothes for each trail, plus water and towel for a quick wash
I will allow myself 10 minutes at the end of every trail to drink, eat, quickly change, drink, eat, re-apply Gurney Goo, drink eat, then go, drink and eat while driving, then hopefully catch a bit of shut eye. While driving, my crew will re-load my pack with all my nutrition, anti-chafing cream, head light, wind breaker etc.
Then we’ll arrive at next trail and go.
What will your nutrition look like for the event?
On trail: A mix of real food, plus gels and electrolytes and salt tablets. Runivore bars, Vfuel gels, Pro Bars, Ucan, Tailwind, Nuun tablets, Salt Stick caps, plus a mix of other bars yet to be determined.
There are a few shops on these trails, two on the Maclehose, two on the Wilson, local Chinese food stalls that have noodles, sui mai, coke, water and other soft drinks. I hope some of them are open so I can grab a bowl of noodles. The Wilson goes through the city where there is a 7-Eleven. The Hong Kong Trail passes a supermarket. A lot of the shops are most likely closed though due to Chinese New Year. I will calculate how many calories I need to be putting in every hour and carry enough of the above to meet those needs.
On the Maclehose I will need to carry all my nutrition for 16-18 hours for 100km. To keep the weight down I will make a large portion of it Ucan and Tailwind, because those are powder form they will be lighter.
For the Wilson I will carry enough for the first 67km, where the shops will be open. There I will re-stock at 7-Eleven on jelly beans, other soft sugary lollies, dried fruit, coke.
For the Hong Kong Trail I can re-fill half way at a supermarket, so I will carry enough to get me there. At that supermarket I will fill up on Power Bars, soft sugary lollies, dried fruit, real fruit – bananas, oranges.
On the Lantau Trail, all the shops will most likely be closed until the 67km point where there is a 7-Eleven. So I will have to carry enough until then and re-fuel there.
My approach will be ‘keep eating and drinking’.
In between trails, I’ll have more substantial real food, sweet potato, congi, chicken, coconut water, pasta, pizza, bananas, oranges, watermelon.
The current format of the event remains low-key compared to many other ultra events and mass emphasis is placed on it being a challenge, not a race. What are your thoughts on this?
To be honest I have not given this much thought, although it makes sense to have it like this because otherwise the logistical exercise for the organisers would be ridiculous.
Finally, any tips for potential international participants?
Spend many hours on Google maps studying the trails, zoom down on the intersections, memorise it all. Otherwise you are bound to go in the wrong direction a few times, or spend way too much time at each intersection wondering which way to go.
We’ll keep readers posted of the exploits of the runners over the Chinese New Year weekend via our Facebook page.
Feature image: Andre Blumberg, race director and brainchild of the HK Four Trails Challenge.