Certainly the most significant surprise for a visitor to Hong Kong is the presence of hills and forests. Actually the towering, high-rise, tightly packed urbanised area, full of flashing neon and determined taxi drivers, that is synonymous with Hong Kong represents a tiny fraction of the area that Hong Kong covers. Forty five minutes drive out of the city is the Sai Kung Country Park, the venue for today’s race: a seemingly vast area thickly covered with vegetation made up of extremely steep hills tumbling down to beaches and the sea. It was on these hills that 2000m of vertical ascent was packed into 28km on extremely steep and in some places technical trails.
The first to set off were the 28km and 50km races.
In the shorter distance, the men’s favourite was considered to be Marco de Gasperi, but with athletes such as Tom Owens, and Martin Gaffuri lining up with him, it was never likely to be a cake-walk. In the 50km the same was true: whilst Yan Long Fei was considered to be the favourite by many, Samir Tamang, David Byrne, Luke Nelson and Blake Hose plus others were never going to give in easily.
For the women, Elisa Desco and Stephanie Jiminez were considered the pre-race favourites for the 28km race, whilst in the 50km Kasie Enman, Wyan Chow Pui Yan, Dong Li and Mira Rai were the ones to watch.
The start of the 28km and 50km races happened at the same time and involved a very fast downhill road section, before the first climb started towards the trails that would make up the majority of the races.
Perched just above the third check point before the two races split at around 22km, we were getting snatches of news. Especially about the race leaders who we were hearing were having some problems staying on the course. Before we caught sight of the runners we knew that 28km pre-race favourite de Gasperi has taken a wrong turn and lost time on two Japanese runners who had taken the lead.
By the time the runners reached us, we could see that de Gasperi’s mistake had indeed cost him and the Japanese pair of Dai Matsumoto and Kondo Yoshihito were in control with only around 6km left to go.
Indeed from that point to the end, the positions remained the same, with Dai winning in 2:49:23, Kendo second in 2:51:41seconds and a disappointed de Gasperi in third in 2:54:32, who rued taking a wrong turn. He said after the race “I made a mistake by missing the course and I realized it until I saw Dai, the Japanese runner coming in front of me running down the hill. I probably wasted 4 minutes until I found the right way. If time can turn back, I would do everything to avoid the mistake.”
In the men’s 50km race Nepalese runner Samir Tamang won 4:58:40. After the race he said ‘Such an honor to become the champion, but I didn’t finish the course within my estimated time. I have been to Hong Kong once before for a 100k race and this is my first 50k in HK. It marked a good start of the year in 2015!’ Tamang was followed in by Yan Long Fei from China in 5:11:50 ‘I chose to follow some of the strong runners as usual and I guess I followed the wrong person this time. I realized there were two people ahead of me at the very last bit of the race and that was too late for me to overpass them both. I enjoyed the race overall especially the view at the hilltop.’ The final spot on the podium was taken by Spanish runner Cristofer Clemente in 5:15:07.
For the women, the 28km race went with the predictions, with Elisa Desco narrowly beating Stephanie Jiminez in 3:41:02. Desco said afterwards ‘The course is very challenging for me because there were lots of up hills and down hills. Unlike those in Italy, we usually climb up one main mountain. I’m not used to the hilly terrain and it makes the course very technical to me.’ Finishing the trio was Japanese runner Kanako Hasegawa in 3:56:25.
In the women’s 50km race, it was Mira Rai from Nepal who backed up a win in the HK50 with a completely dominant performance, elegantly skipping up the brutal climbs and down the technical descents to win in 5:39:31 over an hour ahead of China’s Dong Li in second and Kasie Enman in third.
For complete results click here.
Whilst there were a few runners who went off course which caused frustration, the general feeling was that the race was a great way for many to start the year. The route was technical and exciting with many of the more experienced runners saying that it was a ‘true’ Skyrunning race.
As a part of the new way that the Skyrunning series will be decided, there were valuable points scored for some today and for others it was a chance to bounce back from lacklustre ends to 2014 or injury.
Whatever the racer’s take on the Sai Kung 50, it was a great way to see a different side to Hong Kong and a superb way to ensure that Asia has an even stronger place on the world trail running map.