11 ‘survivors’ complete Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge but ‘no finishers’ under 60 hours
Tom Robertshaw was first to kiss the post box at Mui Wo after a gruelling journey involving blisters, chafing, severe sleep deprivation and hallucinations
Strange, weary figures kissed the postbox outside Mui Wo ferry pier from Sunday night until the early hours on Wednesday morning, marking the completion of a legendary local endurance feat which began at 8am on New Year’s Day.
Eleven people walked, ran, jogged and at times crawled for 298 kilometres over Hong Kong’s four publicly marked ultra trails, including 14.5km of steep climbing – equivalent to almost 30 times up and down the height of the International Commerce Centre (ICC).
Their remarkable accomplishment was part of the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge – a challenge, not a race, masterminded by well-known local ultrarunner Andre Blumberg.
Blisters, unimaginable chafing and severe sleep deprivation didn’t deter them, nor did Blumberg’s torturous rules: runners had to run all trails in the “harder”, reverse direction, non-stop, being self-supported and within 60 hours.
Despite their bravery, Blumberg asserts there are still “no official finishers” of the HK4TUC since 2013. “No finishers came within the cut-off time of 60 hours,” he said.
Briton Tom Robertshaw, 32, came close, finishing in 60 hours and 38 minutes.
“The sleep deprivation was, at times, irresistible, plus my legs continually ached for the last 24 hours,” said third finisher, John Ellis, 37, who finished in 63 hours and 47 minutes through “deep mental highs and lows and hallucinations from the second day”.
“HK4TUC is certainly not for everyone. At a minimum, you need to be a decent ultra trail runner with a huge appetite for pain and a big dose of mental stubbornness.”
Two runners, Hong Kong’s Law Chor-kin and Jag Lanante from the Philippines, attempted the challenge a second time to come within the elusive cut-off but fell short; Law finished in 61 hours 34 minutes while Lanante finished in 66 hours 50 minutes – almost a day faster than last year.
Singapore’s Jeri Chua became the first woman to complete the challenge in 77 hours, 10 minutes.
An unprecedented number of runners took part this year; 23 started and 11 finished, compared with four and one finisher last year. Previously, only five people had completed the challenge, including Blumberg himself.
He believes runners are drawn to the chance to achieve a legendary status amongst their ultra peers.
“There’s no physical thing that you get for finishing, there’s no medal, but there’s so much recognition, particularly on social media, it becomes a bit like mini-stardom.”
The HK4UTC Facebook page reached more than 156,000 people in four days.
Blumberg will fine-tune the challenge in 2017, introducing cut-offs and harsher time limits.
“As much as I would like to watch people take a week to complete the challenge, it is then no longer what it set out to be: a very demanding feat that very few people can conquer.”