Finishing the 298km Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC) is a once in a lifetime achievement for most, but not for Phairat Varasin. Having completed the event in 2018, he is back for more, and could become the first HK4TUC double finisher. Hsiao Chiu-wen, a 2017 finisher, returned but did not complete the course last year.

The HK4TUC links all of the city’s major trails – MacLehose, Wilson, Hong Kong and Lantau Trails – in reverse. It started on Saturday at 9am. No support is allowed on the course, but runners can have help between the trails. There are no checkpoints. If you reach the end, marked by a postbox in Mui Wo, in under 60 hours you are deemed a “finisher”. If you reach the end in under 72 hours you are deemed a “survivor”.

In nine years since it started, there have been just nine finishers, including Varasin.

“I loved the good feelings of the people around me in this event,” Varasin said of his return. “When I saw other runners doing the HK4TUC I saw a reflection of myself. I knew what they had been through and what they had to come.”

(From left) Tom Robertshaw, Phairat Varasin, Salomon Wettstein, Jag Lanante and Chiu Wen-hsiao are five of the nine finishers of the HK4TUC. Photo: Patchanida Pongsubkarun

Varasin, 37, from Thailand, finished in 57 hours and 54 minutes in 2018.

“Last time I didn’t think I wanted to return,” he said. “I thought I was done.”

He is determined to live in the moment and not worry about the end.

Phairat Varasin is running the 298km event in self-modified shoes to accommodate his wide toes. Photo: Mark Agnew

“I don’t care about the time,” Varasin said. “I don’t care about breaking 50 [hours] or 60. I just love the moment. But it will be good if I could do 60, but if not, whatever.”

Varasin has cut the front of his shoe off, so only the sole remains. In the past he has run in sandals and he said the latest modification is because he has very wide toes, too wide for most shoes.

He is returning from injury too. “So I’ve trained a lot less than last time,” he added.