Two weeks before my first 50km we headed to Shihmen reservoir to practice the trail with a group known as the “Taiwan Beast Runners“. We signed up for this group trail run to try our luck at the final kilometers of the race and familiarize ourselves with the course.
The race is reported to be technical, with many hills and different terrains. We started our run in a forest of bamboo, which was indeed difficult. As the narrow trail twisted around the long stalks of bamboo, it changed elevations rather quickly, although the climbs were not too steep, they did make the trail a little treacherous.
We ran through the bamboo forest following pink and yellow ribbon for about 4kms. Some parts of the trail were confusing in this dense forested area and we even found ourselves, together with the person who initially marked the trail, lost. Eventually we found ourselves at a small road which crossed a river and our guide informed us that this was the correct direction.
We crossed a bridge and on to a paved road for 200m and than back into the forest. We had left the bamboo behind and were now in deciduous forest starting our ascent. Over the next 4.5km we would ascend approximately 250m and while that is not too high for this distance, the trail continues to climb and dip several times. Many of the quick ascents and descents are too steep or have improper footing to be runnable.
We were on our way up to the highest elevation of this 50km course at approximately 590m. We passed checkpoint 3 and were reminded that on race day, at this point in the course, if we are not here by 2pm we will be asked to take a shorter course and complete only 40 of the original 50km course. Our guide warned us that the worst was yet to come, as between km 26 and km 27.2 we would climb 215m in just 1.2km. This would be challenging on its own although in the race we would have to complete it after running/hiking more than a half marathon.
When we reached the top we were only 7km into our run but I was already questioning my decision in registering for this ultra marathon. Luckily at the top we were rewarded with some views of the valley below and from there our guide pointed out the remainder of the route. “Just down this hill, over there to the road, back into the forest, up towards that… see that there, in the distance that’s the finish line”… “Ok, that doesn’t look so bad” I said pointing to a small hill in the distance. “No, not that one, the faaar one.”
It was comforting at least to see the entire rest of the course laid out from the top of the hill.
So together we started our descent. No longer rocky, the trail is nice, grassy and fairly wide. Though almost completely runnable this constant decline may be wearing on your joints. Over the next 5 km you will descend close to 420m, the top part winding through forest and then on to a grassy make-shift road for some steep switch-backs.
The final climb is not as high but I imagine on race day it will be grueling as you ascend 385m for the final large hill. Luckily by the time you hit the 42km mark, you will be descending the final 8km to the finish line. This winds through another portion of narrow bamboo forest, a small section of road and some nice wide trail running.
The last half of this race offers many different types of terrain, lots of logs and other obstacles, some beautiful views of the Shihmen reservoir and some grueling uphills and downhills. I’ve never been to run the course prior to race day but this experience has relieved me (and left me a little terrified). With 10 days until race day its now time to hydrate, mentally prepare and think about how to pack 10+ hours of food into my Nathan race bag. Wish me luck!
Note that if you would like to practice before race day, there are pink and yellow ribbons along the entire length of the course, remember to bring refreshments and all your gear with you as there are no stores along the trail. Please also remember to be safe! Bring something with GPS, some warm clothing and a compass, just in case.
View the map and download the GPX file here
Google map with directions from Taipei train station here