This Otterbox Action Asia annual event is one of the most well known trail races in Taiwan and despite the heat in 2014, participants came out in hundreds for the 8am start. There were 2 distances, 9km and 17km. The course has been the favorite of many trail runners in Taiwan, and also being quite technical, it is more challenging than most.
From the starting point to the entrance of the trail, runners will have to overcome a kilometer of uphill road running. Many participants sprinted off the line, eager to get a good position before hitting the trail, but during this long initial kilometer, there was plenty of time for positions to be jostled.
The 9km and 17km competitors start together, so in either group, runners should be aware of their turn-off. 9km runners turn to the left while 17km runners push up the hill a little further before hitting the trails. Expect the first 6kms of this race to be the most challenging with steady inclines and the occasional steep descent. The trail starts out single track but eventually widens out, leaving runners with enough space to pass.
This course is deemed technical due to all of the different types of terrain underfoot. Runners will encounter slippery rocks, sandy trails, steep uphills, stairs, stream crossings and large roots along the varied trail.
Runners reach the highest elevation of this course just before the 6km mark and then quickly descend to the first check point. This first steep descent is treacherous, with roots, steep drops and very narrow track. There are only two check points for this race, runners are cautioned to prepare their own hydration system or at least their own cup for the aid stations. Cups are not provided by the organizers, and despite the late September date of this race, the summer heat still lingers.
After kilometer 7 the trail widens out making it easy to pass and run at your individual pace. This wide trail makes the course fast, interesting, and challenging as runners constantly rally for position.
Finally, having descended most of the way back towards the start, with about 4.5kms remaining, you come across the second of only 2 check points. This checkpoint caters to both distances but luckily, by this late stage in the race, the swarms of runners from either 17k or 9k have dissipated because of the difference in overall distance. Following the final checkpoint, the course becomes relatively flat with forest and urban trails mixing. As the forest thinned, the course offered some good views of the city below.
Finally, in the last stretch, runners come up towards the temple, running towards the finish at a slight incline. As you approach the parking lot, this feels very much like the end of the course, but be warned, there is still a small detour of trail to be run before crossing the finish line. Finally, runners are directed downhill, behind the temple and across the finish line.
There are elements of the organization of this race that are certainly disappointing. There are no timing chips and finishing times were recorded with some human error, which is to be expected in a large race with no timers. This is one of the most well attended trail races in Taiwan, thus far, and unfortunately the funding seems lackluster, luckily the sponsors were there to save the day offering prizes and drinks to finishers.
The course started at ZhiNan Temple (指南宮廟) and is easily accessed by the MaoKong Gondola, although because the MRT only starts running at 8:30, the race organizers provided shuttle buses leaving from the gondola station at the bottom of the hill (Taipei Zoo station) allowing participants to take the gondola back to the city after the race.
There were 2 rest stops throughout the 17km course and no course distances marked, although the trail was well marked. Participants were asked to bring their own hydration systems or bottles as there would be no water receptacles provided.
Race packs had to be picked up by participants and wouldn’t be sent through the mail system. They were made available at a central Taipei location at a convenient time, although a form had to be printed out and signed prior to pick up. The times were suitable, being available from noon-9pm both Friday and Saturday before the race. Picking up the race pack took about 10 minutes.
Overall, the course is very scenic and with little road, perfect for trail enthusiasts, and a big draw for local runners. The course was well marked and runnable, but unfortunately the overall organization was below my expectations. Maokong is a beautiful place to run, so enjoy!
You can download the GPX map here.