Salomon Wettstein is leaving nothing to chance as he attempts to become the first person to run the 298km Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC) in under 50 hours. He has planned every conceivable variable down to the finest detail, from pacing, the weight of his shoes for different trails and terrains, to nutrition for different weather and training volumes. He has vast spread sheets that show he is treating the run as an exact science. It is in stark contrast to many other HK4TUC runners, who talk about how it feels to be in nature, in tune with their bodies. The likes of Tom Robertshaw, the record holder at 53 hours, does not run with a watch or have any data – he runs fast when he feels good, slow when he feels tired, eats when he is hungry and drinks when he is thirsty. “This is the way I work,” said Wettstein, a Hong Kong-based Swiss. “Sometimes I think it would be great to be like Tom, just embrace it, not think about it and be successful in it anyway. But I have to accept that’s just not me.” View this post on Instagram A post shared by Mark Agnew (@adventureagnew) The HK4TUC links all four major trails in Hong Kong – the 100km MacLehose, the 78km Wilson Trail, the 50km Hong Kong Trail and the 70km Lantau Trail — over Lunar New Year. Runners are not allowed any support and there are no checkpoints, though they do have help travelling between the trails. If they reach the postbox in Mui Wo on Lantau, which marks the end, in under 60 hours they are deemed a “finisher”. If they reach it in under 72 hours, they are a “survivor”. Only 16 people have finished, including Wettstein who recorded 56 hours and 14 minutes in 2018. ‘Sleep demons’ for some but Salomon Wettstein breaks 60 on 298km ultra This year, to mark the 10-year anniversary, only finishers and survivors have been invited to run. Stone Tsang Siu-keung, a finisher in 2017, is the only other runner to explicitly declare he wants to ‘break 50’ this year. Wettstein has always been deeply analytical by nature. He describes himself as almost ascetic, the opposite of hedonistic. “Sometimes, I felt people were putting me in a box and saying I wasn’t emotional at all. Sometimes I struggled, I’m not emotionless. But I think a lot through my head, and less with my heart,” he said. He has now embraced his personality type and sees it as a strength, though it does not always align with others’ expectations. “When people act emotional, I want to offer solutions. But sometimes people just want to talk, they don’t want me to solve their problems,” he said. “It’s something I struggle with. “And likewise, if they see me struggling they find it hard to help. If I’m struggling on a run, they think they should just encourage me and cheer “great job!” That doesn’t mean anything to me. If people come to me and say they saw how I approached it, how I did speed training, my nutrition and have some suggestions, then great.” The approach comes from his father, a psychologist, who was equally methodical. If Wettstein had a nightmare as a four- or five-year-old, his father would not “hug me, or give me warm emotions. He’d talk me through it explaining why I had the dream and how I should act in the dream so instead of being chased, I could chase the enemy, for example”. “And that’s how I like to approach things whenever it gets difficult. I like to approach it with my head, what do I need to do, how can we work through this, rather than just embracing it and fighting through.” It takes Nikki Han 220km to find her groove on Hong Kong Four Trails It might not sound like fun, but Wettstein draws enjoyment from the execution of his well thought-through plans. If he has a pace in mind and he finishes within seconds of that pace, he is happy. “It’s a joy from the brain. It’s not wrong. People sometimes think I’m so much in my head, overthinking, can I not just open up? But there’s no right or wrong,” he said, adding that people should idolise the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo for their work ethic, instead of Lionel Messi for their natural talent. Wettstein’s plan for the HK4TUC is to be 10 per cent more efficient in every controllable aspect – 10 per cent more speed training and 10 per cent more powerful when climbing. He increased his training volume by 50 per cent, running over 100km most weeks, and rarely taking a break. In particular, he wants to be more efficient between the trails to cut down time. He has slightly lighter shoes for the Hong Kong Trail and Lantau Trail because long flats will allow him to run. He has all his gels and food planned for different sections and times of day, having learned from last time that too many sweet gels are hard to consume. One flavour thicker with caffeine he will use at night, but if it is hotter than expected he has another lighter flavour that is easier to consume. He has marked points along the trail where he will take an inventory to make sure he is eating and drinking the right amount, not too much or too little: “When I’m 50 per cent through the trail, I should have 50 per cent of my food left.” Though the weather is uncontrollable, he worked hard during the summer to get used to heat. Runner aims to ‘break 50 hours’ for 298km Hong Kong Four Trails record On his 2018 run, he got lost on the Wilson Trail and had to push hard up a hill to make up time. As a result, he overexerted himself and had a stabbing pain in his chest that almost made him quit. The detour not only cost him time on the trail, but also made him miss the 12.30am ferry to Lantau by 45 minutes, so he had to wait for the 3am ferry. This is low hanging fruit to shave hours off his time this year. Wettstein prepared for sleep deprivation by training on Friday nights. He “Everested” Lantau Peak, running up and down until he accumulated the height of Everest. “I did that after a few days of hard work, I came home without much rest and went out and did it during the night. I could have done it during the day, after a day of rest, but I did it then on purpose. I did a lot of Friday night runs when I really wanted to just watch Netflix,” he said. He needs the big goal of breaking 50 to stay motivated, he said, otherwise he could not drag himself out of bed day after day. But equally, the plan is so specific that it only has limited flexibility. If he is behind by an hour, Wettstein will know exactly what it takes to claw back the time. If he is ahead of schedule, he will slow, knowing his body’s limits, not risking a burnout. “But if I really reach a point, say two, three hours behind, and I know that scientifically I cannot go fast enough to make up the time, then mentally this is a really big challenge. Probably, if it’s only halfway in the challenge, I may not be able to force myself to complete it,” he said. It has been almost a year of planning and pushing himself to the extreme, project-managing his body and his goals down to a tee. “I look forward to after the Four Trails when I can just go and run for fun,” he added.