Hong Kong is certainly a place of contrasts. A pre-breakfast run along the waterfront this morning saw the whole city shrouded in a thick, yellow smog which softened the outlines of the masses of skyscrapers and high-rise apartment blocks. People bustle along the pavements whilst taxis and buses fill every meter of the chaotic roads. Even the water between the mainland and the island is crammed with boats of all sizes ferrying people or freight around seemingly 24 hours a day. Not really a promising place for a Skyrunning race then…
But an hour out of the city and Sai Kung is a leafy, charming place with a vibrant sea port and – more importantly perhaps – towering forest covered hills rising from the sea shore to the sky. Suddenly the potential for a challenging Skyrunning race and the Asian Championships is revealed.
Just after lunch Simon had a chance to catch up with a few of the elite athletes looking to make an impact on this race early in the season:
After a ruptured ankle tendon in 2013, Tom was actually happy with how he raced in 2013 and enjoyed including some long races that the surgically repaired ankle dealt with without a problem. When I asked Tom why he chose to race the Sai Kung race, he said that he had already planned on taking some time off in February to go on a warm weather training camp, to get away from the freezing temperatures that he has been enduring in Scotland all winter. As soon as the opportunity to race in Hong Kong came up, Tom changed his plans to be here.
Tom also said that after a winter of cyclo-cross and cross country racing, he thought that tactically, getting a Skyrunning race under his belt early in the season would give him an advantage later in the year.
Simon asked Tom about how cyclo-cross has played a part in his training and Tom admitted that although he really enjoys it, he is technically not as strong as he’d like to be having only taken up the sport in the last couple of years. But Tom thinks that it has given him a physical and psychological edge that he needed after his surgery.
Martin is a French resident although he is soon moving to Switzerland for work, so coming to Hong Kong for a race is a great opportunity to escape the snow and run in relatively warm conditions.
The Sai Kung race also represents a chance for Martin to return to the sport he loves after a hiatus in 2014. He feels that his best result last year was in Tarawera, but around racing the 80km World Champs in Chamonix, where he came 17th, Martin lost motivation for his running and took time off, only really returning to the sport towards the end of the season with a tilt at the Rut where he took a tumble off the trail.
With his new full-time job about to start, Martin is looking forward to having some structure, aiming for more quality over quantity. This makes the 28km race in Sai Kung a perfect chance to test his legs on a relatively shorter course.
Elisa told Simon that this is her first season Skyrunning. In fact until last year she had not raced more than 20km. She said that Zegama was a fantastic new experience for her and that, along with her brilliant run at the World Championships in Chamonix, have surprised her and given her added motivation to train and race.
Looking ahead Elisa is racing the shorter Skyrunning series in 2015 and then thinks that she might start to consider tackling some longer races. But for now she thinks that her speed on relative short distances – her road marathon debut was a very impressive 2:36 – will mean that she can compete with the best of them on the trails in the hills.
Marco De Gasperi
On reflection Marco believes that he may have been over-trained in 2014. He told Simon that for a few crucial months in the middle of the year he felt very tired and weak. Thankfully now he has fully recovered and has trained consistently – ensuring that he isn’t over-training – so that he is ready for the Sai Kung event, which Marco sees as a significant race and a great way to start the Skyrunning season.
Sat in Sai Kung town in a cafe today, Marco looked remarkably relaxed and told Simon that whilst he is wary of the other elite athletes on the start line tomorrow, he is also not stressed and is looking forward to the trails.
Marco has an eye on races beyond the Sai Kung event. He wants to be in best possible share to race Zegama later in the year and he knows that he needs to measure out his efforts so that he can get the best from himself at the right moments.
The action starts at 7am in Hong Kong and Simon will be on the course following events. You can keep up-to-speed on twitter and check back for a race report soon.