Vibram 100 runners clock up the miles ahead of gruelling race

Local contenders follow their overseas rivals by competing in extreme distances as they prepare for this weekend's challenge

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 10:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 11:39am

In the world of ultrarunning, it is a long road to the top. The 100 kilometres runners face at this weekend's Vibram Hong Kong 100 is nothing compared to the hundreds of training miles logged before the starter's gun.

Elite British runner Jez Bragg, who hopes to dominate the men's race on Saturday, represents a true extreme. Last April, he ran from the north to the south of New Zealand, complete with a kayak across Cook Strait, for a total of 3,054km. Being struck mid-way with giardia (parasitic infection) did little to slow him down; he ran the trail in a record-breaking 53 days.

Pick of the women's field, Francesca Canepa, ran non-stop for 88 hours last September to win the 330km Tor des Geants (TdG), named for the 25 2,000m mountains runners must pass.

I've run the HK100 every year since it started in 2011. I thought this year I should do something a bit different
Joel LaBelle

Races of punishing distances are the Italian ultrarunner's preferred method of training. Before running - and winning - the same race in 2012 she ran the 168km Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc two weeks before as a "training run". Finishing as the second woman was an added bonus.

Inspired by the feats of the professionals, local amateurs are crafting their own challenges. After deeming the weekend's arduous journey "not difficult enough", Joel LaBelle, aka "Jogger Joel", intends to swim and cycle an additional 431km before Saturday's race in Sai Kung.

"I've run the HK100 every year since it started in 2011. I thought this year I should do something a bit different," he says. It's also a way for the 43-year-old IT consultant to raise money for the More Than Sport charity.

The Hyperman Challenge, as he has named it, began this morning with a 10km ocean swim. LaBelle will spend the rest of today cycling a hilly 145km. Tomorrow, he will ride for another 276km, ending with the HK100 on Saturday.

"I will only get between three to four hours sleep a night, but hopefully more." He's hoping to complete Saturday's race in under 21 hours.

For LaBelle, competing in ultra distances is a numbers game. "I definitely get stronger the more I train. The muscle memory allows me to get better and better every time."

It is a training approach also followed by local runner John Ellis. He routinely runs more than 100km a week and races every weekend. The Vibram will be the 35-year-old's third 100km race in as many months.

"It's a lot more interesting - your heart is racing, you're in race conditions, and then there's the intensity of the competition," he said to justify his unusual training methods.

In between his weekly ultra racing schedule, Ellis, who works in the finance industry, will do two intense running sessions of 20km each, followed by some rest. "I don't get much out of a 15km potter at the weekends."

Besides, it is nothing compared to his training partner, Matt Moroz, who ran 561km in training in December, he says.

Doesn't he get tired? "No, but I do get injured," says Ellis. Other than a tweak in the hips, some creaks in the knees and ankle niggles, he couldn't be more thrilled about his fourth run. He's planning to run the race with Moroz in under 13 hours "if the running gods are on my side".

"I think you get stronger with more running, but I think it's a question of quality. There's definitely a point of diminishing returns," he says.

Like Ellis, Tan Seow Ping has taken part in every major Hong Kong trail race since October - plus three marathons - for a total of 534km. "I'm bit of a race and mileage junkie," she says. "I'm feeling a little exhausted, but I am excited about the [HK100]."