North Face HK 100 offers ultimate test of grit, power and stamina
The North Face 100km trail is HK's toughest ever and features local and overseas runners tackling a course of punishing hills and harsh terrain
Runners are bracing themselves for the toughest trail challenge Hong Kong has ever hosted - the North Face Hong Kong 100. Featuring punishing hills, a respectable dose of bushwhacking and arduous terrain, Hong Kong's fourth 100-kilometre ultra is set to be a test of grit rather than running prowess.
Starting from Tai Mei Tuk tomorrow, 600 participants will attempt to conquer 6,300 metres of cumulative elevation over the gruelling 100km course as they scale the highest peaks, including Tai Mo Shan (957 metres), while exploring virgin trails in the city's north-west. Another 400 competitors will attempt the 50km course.
"On a pro-rata basis, the [100km] course is hillier than the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji and significantly hillier than the Oxfam Trailwalker [estimated to be 4,500m of cumulative altitude gain]," says race director Keith Noyes.
One of the highlights is scaling Tai Mo Shan "the hard way" - scrambling up the side through the scrub after 70 kilometres.
"What sets this race apart is that there are no easy sections," Noyes said. "Even the easiest section, section three, would be rated medium-difficult on the Trailwalker scale."
The mountainous challenge will pit the cream of Asian runners against some of Hong Kong's finest. The elite race has a cut-off point of 26 hours (compared to Trailwalker's 48) and stringent eligibility criteria, ensuring only the best take the field.
"It's a monster of a race, compared to the HK100 or Trailwalker - nearly 50 per cent more vertical and much more technical terrain," says Claire Price, elite local runner and female favourite. "It's going to be a huge challenge for all participants."
Price is well prepared, having recently returned from a seven-day 212km race in Nepal, but will face tough competition from other leading local runners and Nepal's Manikala Rai.
"Absolutely, this is the toughest race in Hong Kong," says leading light Stone Tsang Siu-keung, who competed in Europe's premier mountain race, the Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc, in a Chinese record of 24:15 in August, finishing 18th overall. Tsang has run the course in training and is looking forward to the technical steeps, where he shines.
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Another local favourite, Jeremy Ritcey, is planning a conservative approach. "This course definitely demands control," he says. He plans to save himself for the "brutal finish", which includes the Pat Sin Leng "Ridge of the Eight Immortals" range.
While Tsang, Ritcey and Co will have home advantage, they will face tough competition from Nepalese Purna Tamang from Team Nepal and 2013 Vibram HK100 winner Yun Yanqiao.
Noyes assures the course is a dream come true for adventure lovers. "I set out to design the most varied and beautiful course I could … avoiding pavement as much as possible," he said.
"I didn't intend to design the toughest race - just one I would want to run. For those who want a challenge, this is a dream course."
The winner is expected to finish in around 12 hours - two hours slower than Hong Kong's other top 100-kilometre race, Vibram HK100, and at least one hour slower than the fastest times on the Oxfam Trailwalker.
The event is the last stop in the eight-race TNF100 Asia series, which takes place in Australia, China, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.
"I am hopeful the course and the event will develop a reputation and become one of the signature must-do events on the global trail running calendar," Noyes said.