Extreme fitness

Law Kai-pong battles the elements to win Hong Kong’s toughest race at the Ultra-Trail Tai Mo Shan 2019

  • The 31-year-old boat worker completes the gruelling 162km race in 23 hours, 44 minutes and eight seconds
  • Li Lai-ting wins the women’s race a month after taking honours in the Hong Kong 168
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 6:34pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2019, 9:13am

Seasoned local trail runner Law Kai-pong battled through rain, darkness and sleep deprivation to win arguably Hong Kong’s toughest race in the Ultra-Trail Tai Mo Shan 2019 on Sunday.

The rising trail running star completed the gruelling 162km race in 23 hours, 44 minutes and eight seconds, edging out France’s Baptiste Puyou in a race Law said was “the most difficult in Hong Kong by far”.

The Ultra-Trail Tai Mo Shan is not the longest race in Hong Kong. That honour belongs to the Hong Kong 168 held at Tai Mei Tuk last month, but the Tai Mo Shan race is acknowledged by many runners as the toughest because of its length, elevation and course difficulty.

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“I’ve run every big race in Hong Kong several times, but that was crazy,” said Law, whose body was battered and bruised at the end.

“It was raining for a long time and I actually lost the trail several times in the dark. It was scary and I had to be really careful, so I’m happy I won.”

The 33-year-old Law earned the nickname “1,000k Bong” because of his freakish love of running extra long distances. He won the Hong Kong 168 four years ago, but it was his first time running the TMS Ultra, which he insists is the most difficult race Hong Kong has to offer.

“I just have a love for running, and that’s what motivates me to push through the difficult moments,” said Law, who is a boat worker with the Hong Kong Marine Department. “I run every morning before work, and then I run again after work to train.

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“It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, dark or if I have no sleep or nutrition, I will just keep running.”

This was only a warm-up for Law, who plans to take part in the 246km Race Across Taiwan in April.

Meanwhile, women’s champion Milk Li Lai-ting, who finished with a time of 29:14:32, has a similar love for the crazy long distances. She just edged out Japan’s Yasuko Natsume, who finished in 29:36:28.

“There is something magical about running 100 miles compared to running 100km,” said the 31-year-old, whose boyfriend called her “crazy” for her love of running.

“When you are near the finish line, there is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment knowing you’ve given everything you have. With 100km I’m still relatively fresh, it doesn’t feel as complete.”

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Li won the Hong Kong 168 by a comfortable margin just a few weeks ago, but this race was “much more intense”, with Natsume right on her tail the entire time.

“I remember when I got to the checkpoint near Kadoorie Farm, I saw her [Natsume] right behind me and she basically didn’t stop to rest at all,” Li said. “That’s when I realised I had to give my full effort if I wanted to win.”

Li said she used her “home court advantage” to ultimately net victory.

“I’m super familiar with these mountains and I’m good at running downhill,” said the 32-year-old, who works as a clubhouse manager. “I knew it would be close in the beginning, so I conserved my energy and waited for the big downhill peaks near Tai Mo Shan.”

Li, who run races for fun, completed her personal goal of running across every inch of Hong Kong’s trails this year and running in all three of the city’s 100-mile races.

But after two impressive wins in arguably Hong Kong’s two toughest races in the past few weeks, it may be time for her to take her trail running career to a new level.

“It’s a difficult decision – I’ve always just run but I have a crazy love for trail running,” Li said. “I can see why not many people would like this type of race.

“There is a crazy temperature range. It can be really hot in the day and really hot at night. You have to go a long time without sleep. But I love every second of it.”