The Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) grinds into action again for 2018 with the first race of the series taking place in Hong Kong on January 27, the Vibram Hong Kong 100. The race gets more competitive every year and like our own Ultra Trail Australia event it comes from humble beginnings, but is now one of the most reputable and competitive trail races in Asia. The course is notorious for its steps and often unpredictable weather, both of which often catch out international runners. The 100 kilometer route largely follows the famous Maclehose Trail and includes around 4,500 meters of elevation gain, however it can largely be seen as a race of two halves. The first half of the course is largely “runnable,” often lulling runners into a false sense of security before hitting the big climbs of the second half where the majority of the elevation lies. The participants will finish with a climb up Hong Kong’s highest peak Tai Mo Shan before a quad smashing five kilometer descent to the finish line.
The Vibram Hong Kong 100 course underwent a slight change in 2016 so that the last few kilometers are now on more technical trail rather than road. The course record is held by Francois D’haene in a time of 9 hours 32 minutes in 2016 and Nuria Picas (11hrs 18mins). The field like previous years features a deep mix of both local and international talent, many of which are repeat offenders. I am of course biased but I cannot recommend this race enough and the Hong Kong trail running scene in general. The race directors Janet Ng and Steve Brammer and their team put on a fantastic event every year that not only includes a challenging course and deep field, but also works to support a variety of charities. Now to kick off the preview we will start with the women’s field.
The women’s field is highlighted by Marie Mcnaughton, Lisa Borzani, Andrea Huser, Mira Rai and Kaori Niwa. Marie Mcnaughton is arguably the queen of the Hong Kong trail running scene and in the last three editions of the race she has been 4th, 7th and 3rd respectively. This experience and course knowledge combined with her other results make her a key contender for the podium if not win. In 2017 alone her other results include 1st at Translantau 100k, 5th at Eiger Ultra Trail 101k and most recently, 1st at the North Face 100k Hong Kong. Lisa Borzani also has experience with the Vibram 100 after 3rd and 2nd respectively in 2015 and 2016. She had a strong 2017 with 8th at Transgrancanaria 125k, 3rd Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115k, 3rd at Lavaredo Ultra Trail 119k and 1st at Tor des Geants. Given their recent results and course knowledge I think the battle for first and second could come down to Marie and Lisa.
There are however likely to be a few surprises coming from Andrea, Mira and Kaori, all of which have proven themselves in competitive trail races around the world. Mira has raced in Hong Kong before but this will be first time at the Vibram 100 and she has only started racing again in the last 12 months after recovering from injury. Mira has proven herself to be amongst the best in the world and the only reason she is not ranked higher here is due to her coming back from injury. Her results since returning from injury bode well however with 1st at both the 2017 Ben Nevis Ultra Skyrace 120k and MSIG Lantau 50k. If the trend continues then Mira will very much be contention for the podium, if not the win.
Andrea hardly needs an introduction as one of the most successful and prolific racers on the ultra trail running circuit and she should do well. However I believe the course might also be too short and fast for her to win, but she should definitely be in contention for the podium. In 2017 alone Andrea was 2nd at Transgrancanaria 125k, 1st at Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115k, 6th at Transvulcania, 10th at Western States Endurance Run (WSER) and 2nd at Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). Kaori is someone many people may not have heard about and she could be the dark horse in this race, however her results would suggest otherwise. In 2015 she was 8th at Transvulcania and 4th at Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, in 2016 she was 8th at UTMB, and in 2017 she was 4th at UTMB, 7th at Diagonale des Fous and 3rd at MSIG Lantau 50k. The female race is shaping up to be a very exciting one indeed.
Other Vibram Hong Kong 100 female contenders:
- Nicole Kalogeropoulos – 3rd 2017 Bandera 100k, 1st 2017 Black Canyon 100k, 6th 2017 WSER
- Melanie Rousset – 3rd 2017 Transgrancanaria 125k, 6th 2017 TDS, 11th 2017 Diagonale des Fous
- Sayaka Matsumoto – 4th 2017 Translantau 100k, 2nd 2017 Lantau 70k
- Nia Cooper – 3rd 2015 Lantau 70k, 4th 2015 North Face 100k, 2nd 2017 North Face 50k Hong Kong
- Wyan Chow – 1st 2015 Vibram Hong Kong 100, 10th 2015 Ultra Trail Australia 100k
- Fuzhao Xiang – 4th 2017 Vibram Hong Kong 100
- Ying Suet Leng – 5th 2014 MSIG Sai Kung 50k, 6th 2017 Vibram 100
- Sarah Morwood – 2nd 2017 Swiss Alpine Marathon K78, 8th 2017 Spartathlon
- Claire Walton – 9th 2012 Vibram 100k, 5th 2014 Ultra Trail Australia 100k
The Vibram Hong Kong 100 men’s field is headed by Harry Jones, Alex Nichols, Zach Bitter and Stone Tsang with a variety of other local and international talent to make sure no one rests on their laurels. Harry is relatively new to the ultra trail scene but has achieved some great results and has also raced in Hong Kong regularly so knows the trails and conditions. The year of 2017 can arguably be seen as his break out year as his results included 8th at Vibram 100, 1st at Translantau 100, 2nd at Mozart 100 and 2nd at the North Face 100 Hong Kong. Given his result here last year and his racing results in Hong Kong since then, Harry will most certainly be gunning for the win this time.
Alex has had some great success in his home country of America and Europe, however I believe this will be his first time racing in Hong Kong. He has demonstrated remarkable versatility across a range of races with his results including 1st at 2015 80k du Mont Blanc, 2nd at 2016 Speedgoat 50k, 5th at 2016 North Face 50 Mile Championships, 2nd at 2017 WSER and 3rd at 2017 Festival des Templiers 76k. These results demonstrate both outright speed and great climbing ability that are both necessary for doing well at the Vibram Hong Kong 100. Zach like Alex has had much success in American however he has less racing experience internationally plus despite having competed in track and road ultras for some time he has comparatively much less experience with trail events. He is someone who trains hard and will certainly bring some speed to the event. His recent results include 10th at 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, 1st at 2016 Javelina Jundred 100 Mile and 2nd at 2017 Javelina Jundred 100 Mile. It will be interesting to see if Zach can convert his speed to a solid result in the Hong Kong conditions.
Stone is a local running legend and outspoken advocate for the preservation and improvement of the Hong Kong trail network, he has achieved immense success both locally and abroad. He has huge experience with this race and his last four results here have been 8th, 9th, 9th and 2nd respectively, plus he was also 17th at UTMB in 2015 and 6th at the North Face 100 Hong Kong in 2017. Although perhaps not the fastest man in the field, Stone balances this out with a wealth of experience and local course knowledge. I am sure he would love to once again feature on the podium, if not win his home event. The above group of men is by no means exhaustive and as the list of male contenders below demonstrates this is a deep field with plenty of room for surprises. The Nepalese especially have a strong history of participation and have always done well at this race so keep an eye out for the likes of Purna Tamang and Suman Kulung.
Other Vibram Hong Kong 100 male contenders:
- Majell Backhausen – 21st 2015 UTMB, 6th 2016 TDS, 1st 2017 Tarawera 60k
- John Ellis – 19th 2016 Vibram Hong Kong 100, 5th 2017 Translantau 100, 4th 2017 North Face 100 Hong Kong
- Purna Tamang – 1st 2013 North Face 100 Hong Kong, 3rd 2017 Mount Everest 60k Extreme Ultra Marathon
- Sange Sherpa – 12th 2017 Vibram Hong Kong 100, 11th 2017 Lavaredo Ultra Trail, 13th 2017 Eiger Ultra Trail 101k.
- Kazufumi Ose – 12th 2016 80k du Mont Blanc, 8th 2016 North Face 100 Hong Kong, 9th 2017 Ultra Trail Australia 100
- Yoshikazu Hara – 4th 2016 Tarawera 100k, 1st 2016 Translantau 100k, 13th 2017 Lake Saroma 100k
- Matthew Urbanski – 3rd 2017 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, 2nd 2017 Cascade Crest 100 Mile, 4th 2017 Javelina Jundred 100 Mile
- Jeremy Ritcey – 2nd 2016 Translantau 100k, 2nd 2016 Lantau 70k, 3rd 2017 Translantau 100k
- Jantaraboon Kiangchaipaiphana – 7th 2017 Vibram 100, 8th 2017 North Face 100 Hong Kong
- Suman Kulung – 20th 2015 Vibram Hong Kong 100, 2nd 2015 Annapurna 100k
- Justin Andrews – 14th 2017 Vibram 100, 5th 2017 Ultra Trail Australia 100k, 1st 2017 MSIG HK 50