The 2017 Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC) has become an annual fixture of the Chinese New Year holiday, with this year’s being the sixth edition of this formidable event.
The trails in question are the territory’s four, major, ultra-distance routes: the Maclehose Trail (100km), Wilson Trail (78km), Hong Kong Trail (50km) and Lantau Trail (70km), making a total of 298km. Over this distance, the positive altitude gain is around 14,400m, more than one-and-a-half times the height of Mt Everest.
There are two completion categories, a Finisher category for those coming in below 60 hours, and a Survivor category for those completing between 60 and 80 hours. Participants requiring more than 80 hours or deciding to discontinue along the way are retired from the challenge.
This year saw the 60-hour barrier broken for the first time. Tom Robertshaw who came close to being a finisher last year, finished the job this year, completing his adventure in just 53 hours with the now-ceremonial kissing of the green postbox at the Mui Wo ferry pier on Lantau Island (shown left). Next home was Hong Kong native, Stone Tsang (shown below), who finished an hour later.
Of the 22 participants that started, 13 did not finish, retiring along the way, either due to not meeting interim cutoffs or having to pull out with fatigue or injury.
The challenge is particularly difficult for overseas participants to complete given they may not be familiar with the trails in Hong Kong and that the course is not specifically marked for HK4TUC.
That said, Chiu Wen Hsiao from Taiwan achieved the prized accolade of Finisher, coming home in 59 hours 45 minutes. Even faster was Jag Lanante who had least had some experience to fall back on, having completed the event three years in a row. He finished in 57 hours 45 minutes this year, after also surviving in 2015 and 2016. Jag becomes the only person to complete the challenge three times.
Unlike conventional organised races, HK4TUC focuses on self-sufficiency. Participants are not allowed any outside support while on the trail. They must carry all their equipment and water themselves, only being allowed to receive outside support when transferring between the trails. The clock however does not stop during this time – so time spent in transit or sleeping counts towards the final completion time.
“I spent a lot time in preparing the whole logistic stuffs for 4Trails, such as planning the time split, the nutrition, equipment, the support between each trails, transportation, emergency plan for injury,” said Tsang afterwards. “Actually, I had a very good plan for it, I had smooth transition. Besides, I worked hard for the fundraising campaign. My target is raise HK$440,000 and make it under 60 hours, to be a finisher. I made it!”
Stone also admitted, “The most challenging part is to fight with the sleepiness. I’ve never done a race where I run for more than two nights! I slept twice for five minutes on the roadside during the race, my eyes just cannot be controlled. Also I slept an hour between trails.”
To ensure the safety of participants, and provide family and friends with a way to view runners’ progress, the 2017 HK4TUC was the first event in Asia to equip all participants with near-time GPS location tracking devices which were then mapped on a website.
The HK4TUC was founded in 2012 by Andre Blumberg – shown here greeting the winner – a long-time Hong Kong resident and accomplished ultra-marathoner. He told Action Asia: “This is not meant to be a race or a commercial event, it is truly a ‘fat-ass’ style – no fees, no awards, no aid, no whining. If someone wants a goodie bag or a medal, then this is not for them.”
The next edition of HK4TUC is scheduled for Feb 16-18, 2018.