Hong Kong's Lantau Peak a challenge for ace trail runner Scott Jurek
American ultrarunning legend takes over six hours to complete 43km Moontrekker overnight race on Lantau Island, as Australia’s Vlad Ixel speeds home in a new course record of 4 hours 15 minutes
Hong Kong’s humidity and the infamous stair climb up Lantau Peak posed a tough challenge for American ultrarunning superstar Scott Jurek at the Barclays Moontrekker 43 kilometre trail race last weekend.
Jurek, who was running his first race in Hong Kong in 14 years, finished the October 14 overnight event on Lantau Island in 34th place in 6 hours, 41 minutes and 36 seconds, well behind race winner Vlad Ixel of Australia, who set a new course record of 4:15:24.
To be fair, 42-year-old Jurek - still recovering from his epic Appalachian Trail 3,524km adventure last year in the US where he ran an average of 80km a day for 46 days - had made it known pre-race that he was treating the Moontrekker as a “fun” run. Jurek was in Hong Kong to support The Nature Conservancy, the Moontrekker’s chosen charity, for whom race participants raised a total of HK$1.8 million this year.
After a short speech at the start line at Mui Wo, he flagged off participants, then joined the hundreds of runners mid-pack, running and talking with people along the way. The weather and 934-metre high Lantau Peak, however, would leave him breathless.
Jurek took 41 minutes 51 seconds to complete the 2km run with 400 metres vertical ascent from Ngong Ping to the summit of Lantau Peak, much slower than Ixel, who had the fastest ascent time of 25:26. The fastest female ascent was by Elsa Jean De Dieu (35:33).
“I found it tough going up the concrete stairs of Lantau Peak and struggled to catch my breath in the humidity,” admits Jurek. Still, he enjoyed the “great event atmosphere and finish area”.
Ixel, whose Moontrekker win makes it 15 straight victories this year, stayed on in the race finish area in Pui O enjoying smoothies and vegan burgers from the race sponsors while waiting for a photo with fellow vegan Jurek.
The men’s race saw no fewer than 15 top local runners toeing the start line, including defending champion Stone Tsang and former winner John Ellis. Despite warm and humid conditions that led to several of the elites dropping out, a lead pack of Ixel, Tsang, Jeremy Ritcey and Anders Kartik Jensen settled into a blistering early pace, running together for most of the first 17km around the Chi Ma Wan peninsula before Ixel saw a chance to open a gap, pushing hard on the first testing climb of the race to Nam Shan.
Seizing his opportunity, Ixel settled into a strong but comfortable pace pushing on to finish unchallenged in 4:15:24, breaking Tsang's record set at last year’s race (4:16:56).
“I was able to relax when I couldn’t see anyone behind me any more, but coming off Lantau Peak there was really low visibility so I lost a bit of time. I’m really happy to take the win and new course record,” said Ixel.
Tsang was second (4:32:28), managing to just squeak past Kartik Jensen (4:33:38) in the last kilometre. Kartik Jensen was comfortably in second place coming into the last section of the race but caught a foot on the last long descent and fell, costing him valuable time and allowing Tsang to close the gap.
In the women’s race, defending champion Jeanette Wang wasn’t even planning on running, fearful was she of risking injury before the Queenstown Marathon in New Zealand next month. Her last-minute decision to enter the race as an “easy training run” meant she could relax and run pressure-free, a strategy that obviously worked as she cruised home to defend her title in 5:43:12.
“My goal was to have fun and not worry about timing or pacing. A few of the ladies shot off from the start but I let them go, ran my own race, and caught up to them eventually. I ran with a conservative, steady pace throughout the race and finished my fourth Moontrekker feeling strong,” says Wang.
Runner-up Sayaka Matsumoto came home in 6:06:57 and third place went to Stephanie Roland (6:33:37).
Alongside the 43km race, which began at 8.30pm, there was also a 30km event, which flagged off 2½ hours later. Men’s defending champ Ryan Whelan ran unchallenged along the entire course to retain his title in 3:34:58, with Nick Laqua second in 4:03:14 and Brian Lee third in 4:35:18.
The ladies race was a far more exciting and invigorating affair with just 10 seconds separating Baby Marites Sotto Bitbit (4:40:05) and Rachel Andrews (4:40:15). Rebecca Shore was third in 5:10:43.
Overall, a total of about 1,300 runners participated across various categories including teams of two and teams of four, as well as a corporate challenge. Full results can be found here.