Mother-of-three Caroline Chaverot favourite to win gruelling MSIG Lantau 50

The 40-year-old high school teacher has been dominating the women’s competition after experiencing heartbreak by missing out on qualifying for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games in kayak slalom

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 December, 2016, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 December, 2016, 10:42pm

Closing in on the final gate of the kayak slalom competition, Caroline Chaverot was confident she had her Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games qualification spot in the bag. But just a split second later the Swiss’ dreams drowned as she somehow narrowly missed the final checkpoint. Devastated, Chaverot, then 20, swore never to compete in any sport ever again.

Fast forward 20 years later and Chaverot is winning some of the world’s most prestigious trail running ultramarathons. In the past 18 months she has dominated the women’s competition, claiming victories in numerous big races including July’s Skyrunning World Championships (105 kilometres) in Spain, the 168km Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) – considered the World Cup of ultrarunning – in September, and the 2016 IAU Trail World Championships (85km) in Portugal in October, just days after turning 40 years of age.

In Hong Kong for the first time this week, in-form Chaverot is undoubtedly the favourite for Sunday’s MSIG Lantau 50, a 54km trail race around Lantau Island that doubles up as the International Skyrunning Federation’s Asian Skyrunning Championships.

CChaverot spearheads a star-studded field that includes France’s Ludovic Pommeret, men’s champion of the 2016 UTMB, Spain’s Cristofer Clemente (2016 Skyrunner Ultra Series champion), Julien Chorier (2012 Ultra Trail Mount Fuji champion) and Nepal’s Samir Tamang, the defending Asian Skyrunning champion.

In spite of her extensive trophy cabinet, Chaverot’s competitive trail running career has been relatively brief - she only did her first trail race in 2012, six months after giving birth to her third child.

“I decided to start running to get back in shape. But I never guessed I would have such good results; it was a surprise for me,” she said.

Her breakthrough came at the 2013 CCC, a prestigious 101km race seen as the “little sister” of the UTMB, which she won while still nursing her son five times a night. The victory made her realise her potential in the sport.

Juggling motherhood and work as a high school geography and history teacher, Chaverot trains for between 10 to 15 hours a week on average – relatively little compared to the 20 to 30 hours a week typical of top trail runners.

But what she lacks in training time, Chaverot makes up with her strong mind. “My greatest strength I think is my mind. I have a very strong will and I never give up. I can push myself very hard for a very long time,” she says.

Despite being late to the game, Chaverot believes she can be competitive for years. What motivates her to keep going? “It’s a need I think,” she says. “I need to be outside, I need to do physical activity. I’m always very sad when I have to rest.”

On Thursday this week I had the privilege of taking Chaverot, Chorier and a few other elites for a run up Sunset Peak on Lantau Island to reconnaissance part of the race route. At many points we would stop running to re-group, but Chaverot would never stand still, preferring to run back and forth on the trail instead of wasting time waiting at one spot.

Her “need” to run was apparent, but, with a big smile on her face while bounding lightly over rocks, even more obvious was Chaverot’s genuine love for the mountains.