Sunday, December 6th, brought the annual MSIG Lantau 50km held in Hong Kong. While some runners felt fresh at the starting line, others had completed the vertical kilometer just a day earlier. They had ascended 950m over 5km of distance, a race also hosted by Action Asia. Participants who did well in both races had the opportunity to almost double their award money at the ceremony of Lantau 50k depending on their overall positions. Having not previously known about the prize incentive, we opted to run only the Lantau 50k on Sunday.
Runners relaxed in the vicinity of the starting line at 6:45am, preparing for the day ahead. The start was conveniently located at Man Tung Road Park, only minutes away from the nearest MTR station and one public transit stop from the Hong Kong International Airport. As 7am grew nearer, participants quietly huddled around the start, and then were off running, through the quiet streets of Tung Chung before turning into Lantau North Country Park. This 4km start through city streets allotted plenty of time for runners to find their position in the crowd before facing the first major hill in this course, a 3.4 km ascent to the a Ngong Ping Cable Car station.
Because this first trail follows the cable car, and doubles as a maintenance route, the trail is a straight, unrelenting, ascent bringing runners to the top of the first hill of the course. Reaching the top, the route then turns to circumnavigate the 6th largest hill in Hong Hong, Nei Lak Shan. The course takes a slight detour to arrive at CP1 (9.5km) before continuing around the hill. This route offers runners a brief glance at the iconic Buddha statue of Lantau island before continuing towards the southwestern tip of the island.
The distance between CP1 (9.5km) and CP2 (24.3km) is the longest distance between checkpoints. Luckily, the terrain is forgiving, with manageable slopes and a mix of trail and paved road. The trail winds around the base of small mountains residing at the southern tip of the island. This section affords modest views of the windswept landscape, with occasional forested relief from the unrelenting breeze. It is a great place to stretch your legs and increase your pace, but remember to be modest, the steepest climbs are yet to come in the second half of the course.
Leaving CP2 (24.3km) there is an immediate uphill lasting only a kilometer before the course flattens out into a plateau. The trail follows the ridge on the left, with views of the ocean on the right, before eventually dipping down. Most of this section is paved, as runners make their way between the Shek Pik Reservoir and the coast. Approximately 1 km after crossing between the reservoir and the sea, participants arrive at the 3rd checkpoint (32.1km). The course is more than half complete, but this is where the hill climbing slows runners to a crawl.
The section of course between CP3 and CP4 is plausibly the most challenging. Leaving CP3 behind, the climb immediately begins, leveling off after only a kilometer, only to continue later with a 4 kilometer climb and 730m in elevation gain. This brings you to the top of Lantau Peak, the second highest peak in Hong Kong and the highest peak on Lantau Island at 934m. From here the views are outstanding, with sea on all sides, if you are fortunate to see them through a break in the whirling cloud.
From the top of the peak, descend almost 600m, over 3km and you will find yourself at CP4 (41.4km), located on Tung Chung Road. Cross the road and you will be heading up to Sunset Peak, the second highest peak of Lantau Island. Although this climb is steep, it’s not nearly as difficult as the one faced ascending Lantau Peak. Leaving Sunset Peak behind, there is one small uphill and then it’s all downhill to CP5 (50.9km). This section of course, although downhill, is surprisingly technical. Weaving down from the hills, there are a number of unevenly spaced stairs that make the descent difficult. In any case, the coastline and numerous boats in the distance are a welcome sight.
In reaching CP5 (50.9km), it is easy to feel like you are almost finished. Which you are! Although, these last 3.1 kilometers are generally quite flat, there are some small hills as you make your way back to civilization. Running the last straight stretch is particularly interesting, sharing the path with Sunday strollers on one side and traffic whirling on the busy road to your right. Everything looks increasingly familiar, and suddenly you are back at Man Tung Road Park, and crossing the finish line.
Overall the course is beautiful and challenging. The 3200+ in elevation gain takes you to the highest peaks of the area to admire the gorgeous views. It also allows runners to appreciate some of the flatter, faster trails in the area. As Lantau boasts some of the best hiking trails in the world, this course is a great introduction to the island.
Action Asia is well known for their impeccably organized race courses, they are usually well marked and incredibly accessible, with regularly scheduled buses at the start and finish. The prizes for this race were also adequate especially in comparing them with the prizes Action Asia delivers to their races held in Taiwan. The only major issue I have with the distribution of prizes for this event is that overall winners are also the category winners, meaning winners win both overall and categories, while those who were just out of the ranking didn’t place in either.
There was one major issue with this race. Being held in Lantau, the race start was only 4 kilometers from the Hong Kong International Airport but international participants had no other choice but to travel the 35 kilometers into the city to retrieve their race packs. Arriving one day before the race and looking forward to relaxing prior to the race start, we had to make the 1 hour journey to the city center and back, on public transit just to get our race packs. This will certainly deter me from entering another Action Asia race in the future and I hope they can find a more efficient way to distribute these for international participants, in the future.