Sunday, June 21st, saw the first Edition of the Garmin Trail challenge, held along the Lu Ku Ping Historical Trail (鹿堀坪古道) near Wanli (萬里). Organizers offered runners the choice of 14k, 8.5k and 5.3k. Shuttle buses were also provided leaving Taipei Main Station at 4:30 am for the 7 am start at Da Ping Elementary school (大坪國小).
This simple course follows an ancient trail connecting the DaPing county farmland with the rich grasslands of Yangmingshan. Leading from Wanli, it follows a ridge and the Toucian creek, first heading west on the south side of the ridge and then returning to the start going east on the north side of the ridge. Lu Ku Ping (field where deer live) refers to the native Formosan species of deer that once roamed these lush grasslands and beautiful wooded trail which lies on the northeast corner of Yangmingshan park.
The race starts at DaPing elementary school with 2k road running at a gradual incline before turning onto forested trail. Although most trail runs start with competitors sprinting a small section of road, the 2km distance at the start of this race forces runners to pace themselves, in order to arrive at the trail in a good position. The entrance to the trail houses both the initial and final water stop for the course.
Arriving at the trail, participants are faced with the first of 2 major hills of this course. The steep climb from the road will take them more than 200m+ over one kilometer. Reaching the top of this grueling climb, participants are greeted with 2.5k of single track non-technical trail which rolls over and down the first hill. The single track widens until it arrives at a section of road at approximately 5.75km into the course. This road section is brief and pleasant, with a short downhill followed by the ascent to the second of the 2 major hills.
At 7.5km the course veers off road, as runners negotiate a particularly steep climb. Starting with stairs and turning into a slope, the hill requires focus and all limbs in order to reach the top. After this major hill, there is an aid station, a brief road jaunt and then back to the trail, where the course becomes difficult to navigate. The course is shared with runners heading in conflicting directions, some towards the small road section and others back to the finish.
Eventually, the trail opens up into a field, which historically housed a robust population of water buffalo, although now home to very few, there are still distinct heavily trodden paths leading through the open field. Here, runners find themselves atop the last hill and at the second last aid station before returning to the start. Although runners are now, all heading in the same direction, the different distances share a returning trail. Faster runners from the 14k are constantly winding around participants from the shorter distances. The trail is single track, but more technical, with rocks jutting out and the larger ones causing the trail to weave. There is also a detour, down a steep rocky path, to ensure runners don’t miss sight of Toucian waterfall which is this trail’s trademark.
Eventually, the trail meets up with a river, which it follows to a canal, before turning onto the road. Runners meet the final aid station before running the 2km of rural road finally finishing at the school.
Top prizes of 5000 NT for first place brought many talented runners from the Taipei area to compete, although prizes for the categories were comparatively unsubstantial. The aid stations were plentiful and well stocked, with fruit, sports drinks and water. At the finish line, runners were offered shaved ice, which helped with the mid-June heat, although it was not substantial enough for most runners recovering from a hard run.
It was great to run a course that was has not been done before, in a beautiful part of Yandgmingshan. Organizers also held training sessions prior to the race for participants to familiarize themselves with this trail. Hopefully, in future editions of this race, organizers will find a solution to having many participants of varying categories and speeds, battling for space on the single track course. Now that I am familiar with the area, I will probably return to run this beautiful course on my own.