Hong Kong 100km – Vajin Armstrong Race Report

The first race in the Ultra Trail World Tour, the brutal Hong Kong 100km, took place on the 18th of January. On the start line was New Zealand’s Vajin Armstrong – below is his account of the day.

Start of the Hong Kong 100km

Start of the Hong Kong 100km

This weekend past I had the good fortune to be racing the Vibram HK100, the first race in the new Ultra Trail World Tour. I had applied to go to this race back in early December but it wasn’t until the first week in January that I received the good news that I would be going. At this point, with only two weeks to go until the race, there was no time for any specific preparation instead it was off to Hong Kong on a wing and a prayer.

Having been to to Hong Kong before I knew what to expect, a big bustling vibrant metropolis which was also home to some of the most accessible and interesting trails one could hope to find. Over the last few years Hong Kong has developed a reputation as a real hotbed of trail running in the Asian region, with new races popping up and selling out on an almost monthly basis. Being such a central location and a major airline hub makes it a really easy place to get to from where ever you are, especially for all our Asian friends.

Being the first race in the new Ultra Trail World Tour meant there was plenty of media interest in the event. With the field being so international, with runners coming from more than 40 different countries, this also added to the sense of occasion. On the Thursday pre race, there was a great press lunch at the local indian club with some really good food. I was lucky to be invited onto the Athletes Panel to answer some questions for the media. It was also a great chance to meet some of the other athletes and get into the mood of the race.

The race started at the leisurely time of 8am which gave the locals plenty of time to catch a taxi to the start. The race over the last four years has grown from 200 in it’s first year up to the 1600 runners taking part in this years edition. Being in Hong Kong, many of the runners were not used to the 12 degrees temperature at the start, most were wrapped up in a hat, gloves, jackets and huddling trying to keep warm. The race start was quite amusing as at the last minute quite a few locals came forward to get their photo taken with the elites and then stayed put until the race started when they sprinted into the lead.

From the start there was 700-800m of road to settle into a good position before getting onto the single track. I started on the trail in 2nd place behind a Nepalese runner who immediately stopped to walk and offered me the lead, I happily obliged. The first section of the race was very run-able which led to a huge lead pack coming into the first support point together. The pace was fast but I felt relaxed and comfortable hoping it was going to be my day out on the trails.

Lead pack around 10km into the HK100km.

Lead pack around 10km into the HK100km.

Over the next couple of sections I was still in the lead pack and slowly but surely one runner after another dropped behind. I was feeling pretty good until my lack of stair specific training began to catch up with me after 3.5 hours. For those of you that don’t know, Hong Kong trails are notorious for their huge amount of stairs which certainly take their toll on the unprepared runner. Coming down some stairs on the way to checkpoint four I began to get my first of many cramps on the medial portion of my quads. This meant that I had to slow down and let the lead pack go as I tried to nurse myself through this situation, and dropped back to as far as 7th place.

I just kept trying to stay relaxed and positive which helped as by halfway I had moved back up to 5th place. This was the first time that I had raced 100 without any course specific training and also the first time that I had ran into serious problems this early into a race. Coming into the 2nd half I was unsure at how my legs would hold up as the 2nd half is much more difficult than the first. Heading out onto the back half of the course I was running pretty well on anything flattish or up hill, it was just the stair descents that I was having to take it easy on.

The 2nd half was really entertaining, you had the two top Nepalese falling back and then coming storming through to the front, while at the same time you had some of the earlier fast starters beginning to drop back through the field as the course began to take it’s toll. I went from 5th back to 6th before passing Ram and Dave Mackey on the way into Checkpoint 8. I now found myself in 4th place with the hardest 17km of the course still ahead. This last section of the course is an epic way to finish off the day, with three big back to back climbs. The first, the notorious Needle Hill, is the staircase to end all staircases, steep unrelenting good times. This is followed up by the very run-able road climb over Grassy Hill, which serves as a nice warmup for the final treat the big climb up Tai Mo Shan(957m). The road up to the top of Tai Mo Shan is a real sight to behold it is perhaps the steepest single road section I have had the pleasure to encounter.

I managed to get through all of this without seeing another runner and once I hit the top of Tai Mo Shan I thought I was pretty much home and hosed, with only the final 4km road descent to the finish. Cruising down here at around 4.20km’s I wasn’t perhaps paying as much attention to what was going on behind me as I should have. Unbeknownst to me while I had been enjoying the dusk and the views out over the city and out to sea, a battle royal had been ranging between Scott Hawker and Ram Bhandari with Scott passing Ram and catching me with a little over 1km to go. This, despite giving me quite a shock, was a good thing in the end as it woke me up and pushed me to smash out the last km in 2.55, which in turn allowed me to hold unto 4th.

Vajin and fellow kiwi Scott Hawker at the finish chatting with HK100km race director Steve

Vajin and fellow kiwi Scott Hawker at the finish chatting with HK100km race director Steve Brammar

This race was a great experience in many ways, meeting and sharing the trails with hundreds of others from round Asia and around the world was definitely a highlight. It’s great to see such a big, modern city still having such a strong connection with the nature and trails it is surrounded by. As our lives become ever more online, it is this connection with nature that I think helps keep us centered and balanced. The UTWT model showed itself to be working with a big strong and extremely diverse elite field, spending time with all of these athletes was inspiring, entertaining and informative. Hong Kong it’s self is such a unique and wonderful place to visit, an amazing fusion of the best of both the East and the West, also knows how to put on a challenging and rewarding trail race.

I would like to thank UTWT for flying me over, Janet and Steve for the great job they do with the race and for still finding time to be wonderful people outside of that. Jez Bragg for being a true icon and gentleman of the sport, Vlad for being himself and a name to watch for the future. Everyone else who was there, racing, watching, handing out drinks or following online.

And of course my wife Prasasta and my sponsors, Ultimate Direction (the Scott Jurek Ultra Vest is a great pack), MACPAC (Chch’s finest), Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team (inspirational) and the wonderful Lotus-Heart in Christchurch (all things nutritional).

Pre HK100 interview with Vajin, Scott and Shannon HERE.

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