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The Next Big Thing: Trail Running in Hong Kong

The Next Big Thing: Trail Running in Hong Kong

By The Loop HK

Meet the city’s coolest up-and-coming sport — trail running — and the amazing athletes who are passionate about it. Generally referring to a combination of running and hiking along country trails, trail running has exploded in popularity in Hong Kong. “We take it for granted, but the combination of mega skyscrapers nestled against stark mountains is quite unique globally,” says John Ellis, trail runner and co-founder of trail-running gear shops Gone Running and T8. “Where else can you leave your CBD office and get to a national park in 20 minutes?”

From January to March 2020, the city will host three unique and exciting trail-running competitions: the Hong Kong 100, Ultra Trail Tai Mo Shan, and TransLantau. They are among the largest races in Hong Kong, and will take participants through some of the most stunning scenery the city has to offer. We found three veteran trail runners to dish on exactly what makes these Hong Kong trail-running events so very special.

Ultra-Trail Tai Mo Shan, 4-6 January 2020

Ultra-Trail Tai Mo Shan, 4-6 January 2020

Ultra-Trail Tai Mo Shan, 4-6 January 2020

Tai Mo Shan is Hong Kong’s highest peak, at 957 meters above sea level. The area is known for being enshrouded in a thick layer of fog all year ‘round — hence its nickname of ‘big fog mountain’ among locals. “The special thing about Tai Mo Shan is that you meet monkeys who will try to steal your food,” says trail runner Gediminas Grinius ‘GG’, who holds the current record for the Ultra-Trail Tai Mo Shan course at 18 hours and 48 minutes. “It's not on every course that you encounter animals like monkeys.”

UTMT is an extremely gruelling three-day race that takes runners along a 162-kilometre course through the many foothills of Tai Mo Shan, with an elevation gain of up to 9,032 meters. Some checkpoints throughout the course provide rest areas and food and drink, but for GG, it’s non-stop running from start to finish. “I don’t sleep as I’m trying to be as fast as possible. The training is important. But, most of all, you must be mentally tough,” GG says. “The mind is the weapon that will give you the power and the wings, because everybody will have bad moments, especially when conditions become nasty — with things like rain and strong wind, which could be the case in Hong Kong.”

It takes at least three to six months to train for a race like the UTMT, and GG cannot emphasise enough the importance of hiring a coach, especially if you’re a beginner. “The wiser thing to do is to hire a coach who knows how to tackle such a race,” says GG. “The coach will also decide on the sleep and rest schedule for you, which is super important. If you're running without sleep for two nights, that can be very dangerous. When you're tired, you make mistakes and that’s when accidents can happen.”

Hong Kong 100, 17–19 January 2020

Hong Kong 100, 17–19 January 2020

Hong Kong 100, 17–19 January 2020

The Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race is the holy grail of local trail-running events. “HK100 is a really big deal, as it’s one of a handful of Asian races on the Ultra Trail World Tour,” says John Ellis, who has raced in HK100 every year since it started. “Think uber-elites, party atmosphere, stunning course and top-notch organisation and you have HK100.”

The 103-kilometre course is based around Hong Kong’s famous MacLehose Trail, starting in Pak Tam Chung in Sai Kung and finishing with the descent from Tai Mo Shan. It’s designed so that runners will experience stunning scenery — including ancient forests, reservoirs and unspoilt beaches. It’s not all roses, however. “The hardest challenge is the never-ending stairs, which can really smash your quads if you're not used to them,” John says. “If you're in Hong Kong, trails such as Black's Link or the Twins are both great quad-crunching workouts. If not, don’t forget to practise your double steps down!”

The well-known race is beloved among the local trail community for its sense of camaraderie. “The HK100 has this amazing buzz. There are sections where it's just you and the trail but, every so often, you'll run into volunteers or supporters and they are so fabulously positive and encouraging,” John says. “This can make all the difference later in races when your brain is telling you to slow down or stop!”

TransLantau, 28 February–1 March 2020

TransLantau, 28 February–1 March 2020

TransLantau, 28 February–1 March 2020

Founded in 2012, TransLantau is a relatively new trail-running event that takes place on Lantau Island, Hong Kong’s biggest outlying island. In the 100-kilometre race, runners will ascend both Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak. TransLantau is beloved for being farther away from the city and for its strict regulations. The biggest challenge, says veteran Hong Kong trail runner Wyan Chow, is “having to compete in the relatively primitive and rugged landscape.”

The course is more remote compared to races in the New Territories, and participants have to carry their own water and food supply, making the race a popular challenge for racers around the world. The off-the-map feeling is precisely why Wyan finds trail running so addictive. “When you’re in the mountains, it’s as if you’re one with nature,” she says. “I leave behind my gender and my identity, and I can roam freely and unfettered.”

For those looking for something different, John recommends the TransLantau 100-kilometre race, which starts at night. “It makes it a really different type of adventure. When the sun finally does start peeking over the horizon, that wave of new energy and the promise of a new day is just such an amazing high!”

The Hong Kong Tourism Board disclaims any liability as to the quality or fitness for purpose of third party products and services; and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy, adequacy or reliability of any information contained herein.

Information in this guide is subject to changes without advance notice. Please contact the relevant product or service providers for enquiries.

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