VIBRAM HONG KONG 100: THE FIRST STAGE OF THE ULTRA TRAIL WORLD TOUR CELEBRATES ITS 10TH ANNIVERSARY
The Ultra-Trail World Tour global series starts the season this weekend with the VIBRAM HONG KONG 100. The 10th edition of Hong Kong’s original 100km individual ultra-marathon, the Vibram Hong Kong 100, will take place on Saturday 18th January. For the first time, the event will also include a 56km race, “The Half”, which will start on Friday 17th January. Now firmly established as one of the pre-eminent ‘ultras’ in the world, the 2020 Vibram Hong Kong 100 and The Half will welcome around 2500 endurance athletes from over 50 different countries, as they compete over the beautiful course that is based around the Maclehose Trail in the New Territories of Hong Kong.
VIBRAM HONG KONG 100 2020: Kicks off Ultra Trail World Tour on its 10th anniversary
The Vibram Hong Kong 100 will once again form the first step of the international Ultra Trail World Tour, a series of classic ultra-marathons from around the globe in which the world’s best endurance athletes compete. Interest is heightened this year as Hong Kong 100 is the only Asian race at the Series level of the Ultra Trail World Tour, meaning athletes win more points in the ranking system if they succeed in Hong Kong.
Since its first edition in 2011, the Vibram Hong Kong 100 has been central to Hong Kong’s development as an outstanding trail running destination and the hub for the sport in Asia-Pacific. Around half of the field at Saturday’s race will come from overseas, including some of the world’s best trail runners.
In the women’s race, Holland’s Ragna Debats probably starts as favourite. Based in Spain, Debats won the Trail World Championships in 2018, and the Marathon des Sables in 2019. She has the luxury of acclimatization, having been in Hong Kong for 2 weeks as part of the first leg of her “Rolling Mountains” one-year family world tour. As a tune-up she won last weekend’s Hong Kong King of The Hills in a new course record.
The challenge to Debats is likely to come from China’s Xiang Fuzhao. Fuzhao came 4th in 2017, 3rd in 2018 and 2nd in 2019. A win in 2020 seems almost pre-ordained. Xiang, however, bats away any such suggestion and focuses just on moving in the right direction, laughing: “Every time I come to Hong Kong 100 it is like verifying the results of my efforts during the previous lunar calendar year. Fortunately, my grades have been improving, I have become faster and gradually moved to the international stage. This year I look forward to continuing to improve and I am ready to run!.”
A long list of contenders for the podium includes China’s Yang Guangmei, who came 3rd last year, and Slovakia’s Veronika Vadovicova, who burst onto the Asian trail running scene a couple of years ago, and (unofficially) became the fastest woman ever on the Maclehose Trail in November’s unofficial Oxfam Trailwalker.
Local hopes likely rest with Leung Ying Suet, who has twice represented Hong Kong in the Trail Running World Championships, and who came 8th at last year’s Hong Kong 100. Leung said: “I’m very happy to be part of the 10th edition and really looking forward to running with all those elites”, adding with candour: “In the last few months in Hong Kong there have been a lot of unhappy events causing a lot of pain. I feel that we need to release the stress through sports and I’m glad Hong Kong 100 can still be held”.
Many pundits’ top pick for the men’s title is Jared Hazen from Arizona. The second fastest runner ever in the famous Western States 100, the 25-year old seems just to be enjoying the chance to travel: “So far Hong Kong has been a great experience. It’s been nice to be in a place so completely different from what I’m used to. I’ve herd great things too about the trail running community here and am looking forward to experiencing it myself on Saturday”.
Likely to be pushing Hazen hard is Spain’s Pere Aurell Bove. The 2018 Skyrunning Ultra champion is here with his wife, Ragna, and the couple have been taking it in turns to train in the hills of Hong Kong and look after their 5-year old daughter, Onna, as they embark as a family on the experience of a lifetime. Like his wife, Aurell also won last weekend’s Hong Kong King of The Hills and also in a new course record.
If China’s Liang Jing wins on Saturday it will surprise no one. Liang came 2nd last year and crossed the line first in 2018 only to be disqualified for receiving support outside checkpoints in breach of the race rules. His positive response to that setback and his gritty, “lead from the front” racing style has made him something of a crowd favourite in Hong Kong.
There is a long list of other possible contenders, which includes Nepal’s Suman Kulung, China’s Zhenlong Zhang (3rd last year) and Deng Guo Min (4th last year) and Swedish trail stars, Carl Johan Sorman and Petter Restorp.
Locally, Wong Ho Chung (11th last year) and John Ellis (12th last year) are the strongest prospects for a podium place. Ellis, a Hong Kong-resident Australian, has finished all 9 previous editions of the race. Asked what keeps him coming back, Ellis replied: “As a Hong Kong trail runner, I’m just so proud to be represented by this race. It’s everything that’s great about the scene here – a vibrant community, fabulous organization, a warm welcome for our international guests, and, most importantly, some wicked natural trails against ridiculous city, beach and mountain backdrops. I love it!”.
The race is not just about the world’s best trail runners competing for the podium. It raises funds every year for Blind Sports Hong Kong’s trip to a city marathon. This year 160 visually impaired athletes and their guides participated in the Chia Nan Group Marathon in Taiwan. It is therefore particularly meaningful to have Rhollan Clark Tsoi, who is visually-and hearing-impaired, competing in HK100 this year, guided by Edwin Ma, Patrick Siu and Donald Kwok. In addition, Jerry Liu, who is hearing-impaired, will be taking part. The reception for Rhollan and Jerry at CP3, which is manned by members of Blind Sports Hong Kong, will be emotional.
Other stories to strengthen your faith in humanity include the return of Bill Bucklew to race Hong Kong 100 for the second successive year. Bill suffers from Parkinson’s disease and is raising funds to find a cure. He is constantly taking on new physical challenges and says: “In nature we’ve evolved to overcome challenges. With this disease you have to continue to problem solve and learn new things. If you give up and accept it, you’ll never find out what you’re capable of.”
ULTRA-TRAIL WORLD TOUR 2020: NOVELTIES ON THE NEW CIRCUIT FOR 2020
The Ultra-Trail World Tour 2019 Awards Ceremony – presented by Volvic – also saw the announcement of significant improvements for the 2020 Ultra-Trail World Tour season which will feature an expanded, simplified and unified race calendar, involving all historical events alongside new venues in China, France, Spain, Russia and Oman. A simplified scoring system and a new permanent and rolling ranking will also be introduced on January 1st next year.
Also taking center stage at the Awards was the announcement that next season will see an expanded calendar featuring no fewer than 28 events, with new courses joining established and iconic races like the Vibram Hong-Kong 100, Transgrancanaria HG, Madeira Island Ultra-Trail, Ultra-Trail Australia, Lavaredo Ultra Trail, Western State100-Mile Endurance Run and UTMB Mont-Blanc (UTMB, TDS and CCC).
The first new addition to the calendar arrives in March with the Gaoligong by UTMB in China, while 2020 will now conclude in December in the Sultanate of Oman, with Oman by UTMB extending the season beyond November’s Ultra-Trail Cape Town, the 2019 finale. Watch the 2020 season calendar here.
Equally important are the changes announced to the ranking and points systems. From January 1st the existing World and Annual rankings will be unified into a single ranking based on each athlete’s best four Ultra-Trail World Tour results over a rolling 24 month period.
Runners need to have taken part in a minimum of four Ultra-Trail World Tour races in the last 24 months to be included, with the overall ranking recalculated from the new results from each completed event. On January 1st 2020 the single Ultra-Trail World Tour ranking will be based on results between January 1st 2018 and December 31st 2019. The first update will follow the Vibram Hong-Kong 100, the opening race of the 2020 season.
Ultra-Trail World Tour Executive Director Marie Sammons outlined the purpose of the changes: “The improvements we are introducing for the Ultra-Trail World Tour are founded on four solid pillars: continuity, unity, openness and simplification. The continuity comes from the re-engagement of all the major races which have been such a core and vital part of our journey since 2013, while our unity is enhanced by the inclusion of three events supported ‘by UTMB’ in Gaoligong, Val d’Aran and Oman. I am also delighted to confirm that all the races on the circuit have committed for the next three years, until the end of 2022. In addition, we have also opened the Ultra-Trail World Tour to new, key markets, with added events now taking place in China, France, Spain, Russia and Oman. Finally, we have sought to simplify the ranking points scoring system by reducing the number of levels to four (vs. 5 in 2019), namely UTWT 500, UTWT 1000, UTWT 1500 and UTWT 2000. In 2020 one event will be granted the UTWT 2000 status –UTMB at the end of August – with guaranteed prize money for the top 10 men and women and an increase in media coverage.”
Sammons added: “All these improvements are clearly focused on making sure the Ultra-Trail® World Tour has the best ultra-distance trail running races in the world, the ones that excite and appeal to the fast-growing community of athletes, fans, media, sponsors and race directors. On top of that, Ultra-Trail World Tour is tripling the prize money for the top 10 men and women at the end of the year and, at the same time, the circuit will invest to implement the Quartz health-prevention programme on all its races.”
Also unveiled for regular participants on the Ultra-Trail World Tour are the introduction of an e-passport (by the summer 2020), which will open the door to a number of benefits for the runners, and ‘Running Stones’ which are designed to fast-track entry to the heavily over-subscribed UTMB Mont-Blanc races. Starting in January 2020 runners who complete Ultra-Trail® World Tour races will be awarded Running Stones (1 Running Stone per ITRA point), which can be retained and used to gain direct entry to UTMB Mont-Blanc races, avoiding the lottery.
UTWT RACES 2020 (race/country/points/date)
- Vibram® Hong-Kong 100/Hong-Kong/UTWT 1500/17.01.2020
- Tarawera Ultramarathon/New Zealand/UTWT 1000/08.02.2020
- Transgrancanaria HG/Spain/UTWT 1500/04.03.2020
- Gaoligong by UTMB®/China/UTWT 1000/23.03.2020
- Patagonia Run/Argentina/UTWT 500/04.04.2020
- 100 Miles of Istria/Croatia/UTWT 1000/17.04.2020
- Penyagolosa Trails HG/Spain/UTWT 1000/18.04.2020
- Ultra-Trail® Mount Fuji/Japan/UTWT 1000/24.04.2020
- Madeira Island Ultra-Trail®/Portugal/UTWT 1500/25.04.2020
- Whalers’ Great Route Ultra-Trail/Portugal/UTWT 500/08.05.2020
- Ultra-Trail® Australia/Australia/UTWT 1500/16.05.2020
- VVX Volvic-Volcanic Experience/France/UTWT 500/22.05.2020
- Mozart100®/Austria/UTWT 1000/20.06.2020
- Lavaredo Ultra Trail/Italy/UTWT 1500/26.06.2020
- Western State®100-Mile Endurance Run /USA/UTWT 1500/27.06.2020
- Val d’Aran by UTMB®/Spain/UTWT 500/03.07.2020
- Eiger Ultra-Trail®/Switzerland/UTWT 1000/19.07.2020
- Golden Ring Ultra-Trail®/Russia/UTWT 500/19.07.2020
- TDS® (UTMB® Mont-Blanc)/France-Italy-Switzerland/UTWT 1000/26.08.2020
- UTMB® (UTMB® Mont-Blanc)/France-Italy-Switzerland/UTWT 2000/28.08.2020
- CCC® (UTMB® Mont-Blanc)/France-Italy-Switzerland/UTWT 1500/28.08.2020
- Harricana Ultra-Trail®/Canada/UTWT 500/13.09.2020
- Trans Jeju/Korea/UTWT 500/10.10.2020
- Ultra-Trail® Ninghai/China/UTWT 500/17.10.2020
- Cappadocia Ultra-Trail®/Turkey/UTWT 1000/17.10.2020
- Javelina Jundred/USA/UTWT 500/31.10.2020
- Ultra-Trail® Cape Town/South Africa/UTWT 1000/28.11.2020
- Oman by UTMB®/Sultanate of Oman/UTWT 500/03.12.2020