Hong Kong’s arctic blast is nothing like home, says Lithuanian ultra runner

Organisers warn athletes to beware of zero degrees or colder conditions in Vibram 100km endurance marathon

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 January, 2016, 3:12pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 January, 2016, 10:51pm

Leading ultra runner Gediminas Grinius laughed off Hong Kong’s arctic blast as organisers warned 1,800 athletes to prepare for “zero-degree conditions” in Saturday’s Vibram 100.

Rain, extreme cold and biting winds are forecast for the sixth edition of the Vibram Hong Kong 100, a 100-kilometre ultramarathon which starts in Sai Kung and ends with a frosty ascent of Tai Mo Shan.

“I’m from Lithuania – before I left it was minus 20 [Celsius],” joked Grinius, last year’s winner at Japan’s Ultra Trail Mount Fuji.

We’re getting the word out to runners, volunteers and supporters to dress much warmer than you think, and bring more warm clothes than you think you’ll need
Steve Brammar

Co-race director Steve Brammar said cold conditions spurred faster times and new course records, but were challenging for keeping competitors warm.

“We’re getting the word out to runners, volunteers and supporters to dress much warmer than you think, and bring more warm clothes than you think you’ll need. When it is cold in Hong Kong it feels a lot colder than it is,” said Brammar, who expects conditions to “feel like zero degrees or colder, particularly up on higher ground”.

Race check points have been reinforced with extra blankets.

Elite men are predicted to finish the course in under 11 hours – averaging a five-and-a-half-minute per kilometre pace over 4,500 cumulative metres worth of hills.

This is definitely the strongest field we’ve ever seen and I think the course record will go – unless something daft happens like they all go out so fast in some sort of monster peloton that they break each other
Steve Brammar

But China’s Yan Longfei, last year’s winner and course record holder in nine hours, 52 minutes and 42 seconds, hopes to go even faster.

“It depends on the weather, my performance, and other competitors, but I hope to be more competitive than last year,” he said.

Only three runners have finished the 100km race in under 10 hours, but Brammar believes a “whole bunch” could go under the mark and a new course record is on the cards.

“My only fear is the field is so strong they’ll blow each other up in the first half,” he said, referring to the race’s “Jekyll and Hyde” nature: the first half is ‘relatively’ flat while the back-end is loaded with hills.

“This is definitely the strongest field we’ve ever seen and I think the course record will go – unless something daft happens like they all go out so fast in some sort of monster peloton that they break each other,” he said.

Other contenders include France’s Francois d’Haene, part of the winning team at the 2012 Oxfam Trailwalker and multiple US ultrarunner of the year Michael Wardian.

From Hong Kong, strong performances are expected from Vlad Ixel, third place finisher at the HK100 in 2014, and Stone Tsang Siu-keung.

All of last year’s top five women are back – just. Wyan Chow Pui-yan, 2015 winner, announced she would defend her title at the eleventh hour after she was forced to cut short a mountaineering trip due to lost luggage.

“I’ve had no specific preparation, although I have been in the mountains at high altitude, so I just plan to enjoy it and keep smiling,” she said.

Last year’s first runner-up, China’s Dong Li, also claims she’s not in the same shape. “I feel a little tired, I haven’t raced for a while. I’m here to have a good run and have fun.”

That leaves space for last year’s third-place finisher, Lisa Borzani of Italy, or top local runners such as Marie McNaughton to shine.

Brammar believes Claire Price’s 2013 course record of 11 hours and 58 minutes looks safe. “No [female] has yet come within about 20 minutes of Claire’s course record – but then again, with the cold conditions and if the women push each other, anything could happen.”