I had the chance and opportunity to have been up close to the runners and crew in this particular edition of this iconic Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon Race in 2018. I was surprised to see this documentary film which was posted on You Tube in September 2018 and this is the only time that I learned about the fight for the Podium Places among the Elite Runners. I have seen how close these runners are who composed of what they call, “The Badwater Community”. My participation in this race as a Crew and Pacer will remain memorable as one of my best experiences as an ultramarathon runner.
Who would think that a Local Blogger who exposed this race to the minds of the Local Pinoy Runners through this blog and be able to copy its rules and regulations for his Bataan Death March Ultras and PAU Races, would be able to experience to be in the race and “rub elbows” with the past and present Champions of this race dubbed as the “Toughest Footrace In The World”. This video will explain what it takes to join and finish this race.
I hope you will enjoy watching this video. Thank you!
In the history of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), the race started in 2003 but only after eight (8) years (2011) when Ultra Trail Runners from the Philippines started to join this iconic trail ultra which is considered as the “Holy Grail” of Ultra Trail Running In The World. Hereunder is the list of Filipino Runners who finished the race with their Official Finish Time and their year’s edition:
- Jonnifer Lacanlale—–44:00:57 hours (2011)
- Simon Sandoval—–45:19:06 hours (2011) & 20:25:13 (2012/shortened) & 40:25:11 hours (2013)
- Christian Vicera—–45:16:26 hours (2013)
- Aldean Philip Lim—–44:57:22 hours (2014)
- Deo Encarnacion—–43:55:17 hours (2014)
- Miguel Antonio Lopez—41:10:48 hours (2015)
- Roland Wangwang—–41:10:48 hours (2015)
- Aleksis Capili—–43:38:16 hours (2016) & 39:55:54 hours (2018)
- Hermogines Olvis—–35:33:54 hours (2017) *Fastest Time
- Miguelito Carranza—–37:01:00 hours (2017)
- Conrado Bermudez Jr—–40:18:29 hours (2017)
- Maria Josephine Liao—–42:15:14 hours (2017) *Female
- Donald Hermoso—–44:18:53 hours (2017)
- Benjamin Ramirez—–39:33:43 hours (2018)
- Patrick Hervic Aquino—–43:41:48 hours (2018)
- Felmer Hiponia—–44:53:06 hours (2018)
- Manuel Magbanua Jr—–45:59:25 hours (2018)
- Joseph Sibal—–46:04:59 hours (2018)
- Ronnel Valero—–39:29:59 hours (2019)
- Marc Conrad Molina—–41:07:23 hours (2019)
- Magno Rafael Gabotero—–44:10:00 hours (2019)
- James Tellias—–44:34:14 hours (2019)
- Mark Itol—–45:00:41 hours (2019)
- Thumbie Remigio—–45:27:15 hours (2019)
- George Javier—–46:18:16 hours (2019)
Race Report: KOTM Marikit-Pigingan 47K Trail Race (First Edition)
The following were the reasons why I joined this trail race: (1) This race is my first trail running event for the Season 2020 and my second trail running event after I renewed my subscription as a CTS athlete since the middle of November last year; (2) This is supposed to be a part of my training in preparation for my 2020 TransLantau 50K participation in Hong Kong as my last Long Run (whether I finish the race or not); and lastly, (3) To confirm and validate my training which was given as a part of my weekly workout—the use of weighted backpack for hiking for at least once a week.
Since the RD of the event is a friend of mine, I sent him a message of my intention of joining the race being the first edition of this event. He was glad that I would be attending this race. In the later days before the race, I asked him of the directions going to the venue as I am not familiar of the other side (eastern) of Itogon, Benguet. Two days before the event, I was able to trace the route going to venue, coming from Baguio City. With the help of a local living in Sitio Dalupirip and working as the Municipal Nurse of Itogon, Benguet, she guided me all the way to the end of the cemented road leading to the populated area of the Sitio. Having seen the overall location of the event, I knew already that the terrain will be challenging as well as the prevailing weather in the area. The place is surrounded with higher mountains and not so much of vegetations on the mountains we will be running, I expect that we will be fighting with the so-called “canyon heat” while we will be running under the heat of the sun.
From The Podium Hotel where I usually stay in Baguio City, it took me at least One Hour drive to Dalupirip, arriving at 2:30 AM of Sunday (Race Day). From the end of the paved road up to the Start/Finish venue (Covered Court), it is a good one-kilometer distance, crossing the river on a cable suspension bridge which is only good for motorcycles and pedestrians with a wide cemented footpath leading to the Covered Court surrounded with rice fields.
After I registered and checked-in with the RD and staff, I went back to my vehicle to prepare my things. At 3:30 AM, I was back at the Covered Court just in time for the start of the briefing by the RD.
Race Proper/First Loop
The race started at exactly 4:00 AM and it was still dark and my new Neo Headlamp was on. I positioned myself at the back of the pack, as usual, with the thought to just follow the runner in front of me. The plan was to enjoy the route/event; pass as many as runners along the route and finish within the prescribed cut-off time of 12 hours. On the first kilometer we passed by in-between houses within the Sitio of Dalupirip along a cemented pathway until we reached the road that leads to the Starting Area from the place where I parked my vehicle. We turned right into a paved path and the ascent started and the runners formed a “Conga Line”, a single-file formation going up to the mountain. I think I was able to pass 3 runners at this section and then suddenly the runners in front of me stopped, trying to look for ribbons/markers. The runners argued if we were in the right track or not and some of us “backtracked” to find the last ribbon along the route. At this point, we heard shouts from the Marshals below us and loud sounds from horns of motorcycles indicating that we were in a wrong directions. We were advised to return to the Start Line and follow the proper route on the first 1-2 kilometers as advised by the RD. As I passed the Starting Line (again!), the RD advised me and the other runners that the cut-off time will be 13 hours due to the delay we encountered. As I glanced my watch, almost 40 minutes had elapsed already and I was confident that I could finish this race in less than the new cut-off time.
I was joined by a runner who knows the route and we were together for the first two kilometers until I went ahead of him. Since it was still dark, I hiked slowly in between rice fields until I reached a trail that ascends towards the first mountain of the course. The trail was very steep that I was forced to use my trekking poles. I just contented myself to just follow the lights in front of me and at the middle of the steep trail to the peak of the mountain, I started to pass more runners who went ahead of me. Through consistency and patience in steady hiking with the aid of my trekking poles, I was able to reach the peak of the mountain and it was already early in the morning as the sun rises in the east. I was amazed by the beauty of the mountains around and the river that flows at the feet of the mountains. It was a relief to hike and run on the flatter portions of the mountain until I reached the first Aid Station. I refilled my water bottles and ate a bite of sandwich and I was joined by two runners, Elle Alvarez and a guy, in the said Aid Station. Loiue Ganayan told me that I am ranked #30 runner to reach the said Aid Station. I left the Aid Station ahead of the two runners and I observed that the trail follows a water canal until I descended in the said mountain. However, in one of steep descents, Elle Alvarez was behind me calling me “General” and asked if she can pass me so that she can have some time to pee at the bottom of the mountain. It was the last time I saw her. In about one hour from the Ambasa Aid Station (Km 10), I was already on my way back to the starting area to complete the first loop/mountain which is called Mt Marikit.
I think I was ahead of more than one hour with the prescribed cut-off time at this point. At the Dalupirip AS/Start/Finish area (Km 17), I refilled my hydration bottles and immediately left the area. I started to hike and run as the first 2 kilometers was flat until I reached a long hanging cable bridge. I brought out my sunglasses from my pack as I could feel that the sunlight was getting brighter and the air was becoming warmer. My friend Bong Bernadez was at the cable bridge as he was taking pictures to all the runners crossing the said bridge.
The road was still concrete as I followed the path in between rice fields and some populated areas along the route. As I left the populated area and the rice fields, I just followed a concrete road until I reached another end of a long cable bridge on the side of Dalupirip which looks very new and more modern and I was at the Tabu Aid Station. I refilled my hydration bottles, drank a glass of Coke, and ate two slices of rice cake before leaving the place. After crossing the cable bridge, the route became a wide dirt road which have slight ups and downs and at this point I was following a lady runner who was steadily hiking with her trekking poles. After two kilometers, the ascent was continuous and started to feel the heat in the said place. It was good there were small pipes and strips of bamboo connected to the side of the mountain where potable water was flowing. I took some time to douse my head with the cold water but after a few meters of hike and run, I would feel again the heat on my body.
Finally, I reached the Tivang Water Station (Km 28). I stopped, refilled my bottles with water, and ordered some Coke, Eggs,and Boiled Banana from the local peddlers thereat. I guess, I took a lot of time for the first time to rest and eat at this point. I took some time to rest and have stayed here for almost 25 minutes. With enough water, I left Tivang and slowly passed some runners ahead of me. It was a relentless 3-kilometer distance of climbing from Tivang to the Peak of Mt Pigingan (Km 31). My trekking poles were helpful at this point. The Peak of Mt Pigingan looks like an “arrowhead” that it took me 10 minutes to reach it from the its base which has only a distance of 10-15 meters.
To give justice for all the hardship, pain and heat to reach the Peak of Mt Pigingan, I asked the Marshal to take a picture of me with the marker as the background. I had a chance also to have a picture of Bob/Robert, a British trail runner, who arrived ahead of me in the said peak. I did not take a few more minutes to stay in the place and slowly made my way down to the base of the peak. As I moved going down from the mountain, I met a lot of runners who were asking me how far was the peak. I have to answer them through some estimates which was nearer in distance than the real thing. I really did not want them to be frustrated if I told them the truth.
Finally, I reached Tivang Water Station (Km 34) and I ordered the same food that I have eaten before I went out towards the peak of Mt Pigingan. I stayed here for another almost 25 minutes and brought with two pieces of Ice Candy. I thought we were going to follow the route for the 32K runners from Tivang but only to find out that we have another mountain peak to reach which is Bantic (Km 37). It is another relentless uphill climb for 3 kilometers under the heat of the sun. The Ice Candies I had with me were very comforting but with the steepness of the climb, it gave more toll to my tired knees and legs. But through patience and lots of 10-seconds rests along the exposed route, I was able to reach the peak and hoped to have a faster downhill trek towards the next Aid Station.
I guess, I was wrong! The winding single track downhill route was so tricky and steep that I could not increase my speed at this point. Some portions were covered with dried leaves and some have loose tiny rocks which would cause my trail shoes to slide even if they have aggressive studs on their soles. The descent is another 3-kilometer distance which most of the sections are very steep. At this point, I was thinking that I could no longer reach the Tabu Bridge Aid Station within the cut-off time of 12 hours. As I reached the base of the mountain at the Langag Water Station (Km 40), I refilled my hydration bottles and immediately left the said AS. I finally crossed the bridge and reached Tabu Aid Station (Km 42) with barely 2 minutes before the cut-off time.
At the Tabu Aid Station, I entertained the idea of eating a glass of Halo-Halo (concoction of sweet fruits, milk, sugar, and crushed ice) but after eating it, I started to have an “acid reflux” (aka throwing up the fluids and foods I have ingested in the said Aid Station). The marshals and some of the runners offered help by giving me some medications and ginger tea to ease my stomach problem. I was asked by the Marshal if I would declare myself as DNF at the said AS since I have only 35 minutes to spare before the cut-off time of 13 hours but I replied that I would try my luck to just run and hike up to the Finish Line.
Five kilometers in 35 minutes? In the end, I was able to cover a distance of 4 kilometers only when my watch registered a time of 13 hours. After this, I just simply hiked until I reached the Finish Line. I found out later at the Finish Line from the RD that there were more than 20 runners behind me who were declared as DNF at the Tabu Aid Station.
Post Race Assessment
I am still happy that I was able to finish the race even if my time was longer than the prescribed cut-off time of 13 hours. My training using my “weighted backpack” gave me confidence to hike relentlessly on steep uphill climbs. The heat experience I got from this race was just part of my training for my future races but I need more of these type of races for me to adjust to hotter environment. I need to fix my problem on the occurrence of “acid reflux” during my ultra races and better learn how my body would prevent this from happening. I stayed and spent so much time at the Tivang Aid Stations (going to the peak and back) and at the Tabu Aid Station on my way to the Finish Line. Lastly, in KOTM races, expect the published distance to have an additional bonus distance of either 1-2 kilometers.
Overall, I am happy with my performance in this race.
Running Kit Of Thomas Combisen @ 2020 HK4TUC
The running kit of Thomas in last year’s (2019) HK4TUC did not change in this year’s edition except for his Hydration Vest and Shoes. Even for his nutrition and hydration, they had been the same but there are some things that we need to add.
Thomas decided not to use the Salomon S-Lab Sense 5-Liter Hydration Vest that he used in last year’s HK4TUC because it was already loose for him and wanted to use the one he always used in his trail and road ultras in the past which is the Mountain Hardwear Fuel 3-Liter Hydration Vest/Pack. If I remember right, I bought the same Hydration Vest three years ago at the Columbia Store in SM Megamall and it is still with me except that the zippers in the pockets are stuck and non-operational already. As I googled this item while writing this post, this particular model is no longer in the market and the brand had already stopped making them.
As compared to the Hydration Vests and Packs that the other runners used in this event, Thomas hydration pack/vest was very small in capacity but I was surprised that it was able to accommodate the Salomon Waterproof Jacket, his food, cellphone, a Windbreaker Jacket, Hydration bottles, handy water filtration unit, Headlights, and other miscellaneous things that Thomas needed in every trail leg. It is surprising to see the big back pocket with zipper could expand to accommodate everything. Since the hydration pack/vest has two mid-rib belts which are not stretchable, Thomas can tighten them to be always snugged on his body. Thomas did not use those Race Belts with pockets which is very popular among trail runners nowadays.
Thomas shirts during the event are our PAU Shirts By Bluprint (Imported Brand) but the Logo is printed locally. He used 3 PAU shirts (white, dark gray, & black) during the event and a shirt from Kalenji/Decathlon. He did not change his NIKE Running Shorts with PAU Logo Patch and RP Flag Patch throughout the event but he always change his underwear with the Decathlon’s Kalenji’s Under Shorts every time he starts a new trail leg. Throughout the event, he was consistently using the Injinji Socks and changed them every time he starts a new trail leg.
The day before the event, Rowell Campos brought us to Cam2Sports Store in Mongkok to buy a new pair of running shoes for Thomas. He was looking for an ALTRA Lone Peak 3.0 which he intends to use for the event. Thomas was lucky to find the remaining one pair of ALTRA Lone Peak 3.0 shoes available in the store which was ON SALE at 50% discount. This is the shoes that Thomas used for the 2 Trail Legs of the event (MacLehose & Wilson Trails). It was only in the Hong Kong and Lantau Trails that he used his old ALTRA Lone Peak 3.0 shoes. It was at the Hong Kong and Lantau Trails that Thomas started using his Compressport Compression Calf Sleeves. He did not use any shoe gaiters along the course.
As for his headlamp, Thomas was using a LedLenser Headlamp and another extra one which I could guess to be a regular Black Diamond Headlamp. He used his headlamp at the MacLehose, Wilson, and Hong Kong Trails. In his Lantau Trail, I gave him my Lupine Headlamp which he wore from the start until he reached the lighted portion of Mui Wo Road, near the Finish Line. The rechargeable battery was drained when Thomas gave it back to me. He could have used its High Beam which is 700 Lumens throughout his run/hike along the Lantau Trail. Thomas did not have any negative feedback on the use of his headlamps during those nights that he was on the trails.
As for his hydration needs, Thomas did not have any problem where to replenish his hydration needs, in terms of water or sports/cola drinks. He used his portable filtration unit in places where he can get water in streams in the mountains and in Public Comfort Rooms/Toilets’ faucets. He uses also his Octopus Card to get or buy what he wanted in those Vending Machines available in the vicinity of the Comfort Rooms in each Country Park Facility that he passes. There are also Free Source of Drinking Water which he observed as new additional structure within the vicinity of each Comfort Rooms/Toilets along the trail. And there are commercial establishments in the villages along the trail that Thomas can stop and order some hot food. Thomas can also stop to buy or order some solid foods in commercial establishments in the MTR Stations. There is always a 7-11 Store or Convenience Store in these MTR Stations. It is necessary that a runner in this race has some some Cash and Octopus Card with him during the event.
His food in his pack consisted of “Tikoy” (Rice Cake) from Bicol which we personally ordered for him, “Rice Cakes” (Chinese) from the 7-11 Store, Sky Flakes, Snickers, Yakult, Springs Gels, and Apples. All of these were packed inside the Hydration Pack of Thomas!
Thomas had been alternately using a Visor Cap (during day time) and a Running Cap (during nighttime) to cover his head. However, I have never seen him use any Buff/Neck Gaiter in all his runs in the past and in this event, to include last year’s HK4TUC.
Before he started the Lantau Trail, I gave him my GIRO Cycling Gloves which I know will give him warmth for his palms/fingers during the night and as he approaches the freezing winds of the Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak.
After the event, Thomas and I discussed the things that we should improve on and the things we should learn from his experience this year. He told me that he slowed down significantly at the Hong Kong Trail due drowsiness that brought him “hallucination” moments and the cold/freezing winds during the night. The strong, cold and freezing winds at the Lantau Trail had also slowed him down that he had to stop and take a nap, only to be awaken that he was already lying on the floor in one of the Pagodas/Rest Huts along the trail.
After a thorough discussion, I recommended him some solutions for his problems and we will use them in next year’s Thomas participation in the 10th edition of the HK4TUC.
Thomas Combisen: The First Local Pinoy To “Survive” @ 2020 Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC)
Thomas Combisen, the top ultrarunner of the Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) finished as a “Survivor” in the 9th Edition of the Hongkong Four Trails Ultra Challenge, simply known as HK4TUC, with a time of 68:50 hours. This is his second time to join this race event where he declared himself as “retired” after running 228 kilometers on the third day in last year’s event. He missed his target time to board the Ferry Boat ride to Lantau Island for him to have the chance to finish the course in 72 hours for the last 70 kilometers of the event.
Hongkong Four Trails Ultra Challenge was created by Andre Blumberg, an accomplished ultrarunner who works as an Executive in one of the key Corporate Offices in Hongkong; a US Grand Slam of Ultrarunning “Eagle” Awardee; and a 2-time finisher of the famous and prestigious Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Race in the US. The rule of the event is to be able to finish the total distance of 298 kilometers covering the famous Four Trails of Hongkong starting with MacLehose Trail (100 Kilometers); Wilson Trail (78 Kilometers); Hong Kong Trail (50 Kilometers); and Lantau Trail (70 Kilometers) in the said order but with each trail to be ran on the reverse course. To make it more challenging, each runner is “self-support” while on the trail and the only time that he can be supported is when he finishes a trail or before he starts the next trail. Each runner can be supported and transported by their respective Support Team while they are in transit from one trail to another. There are no Marshals, No Medical Responders, No Aid Stations, and No Whining in this event. There is No Registration Fees for the Runners and No Awards for the Survivors and Finishers. A Runner is declared as a “Finisher” if he finishes the event within the cut-off time of 60 hours. However, if a runner finishes the course within the cut-off time of 72 hours, he is declared as “Survivor”. All of them are required to kiss the Mui Wo (Green) Mail Post in Lantau to declare that they have finished the event. And for those who could not make it, they are declared as “Retired”.
But for this year, Thomas has transformed to a stronger, faster, and smarter participant of this event. Determined to join again and improve his performance last year, he applied last July 2019 but he was placed in the Waiting List until he was finally accepted in October of the same year. Thomas focused on his training as he visited Hong Kong for a Recon Run in Lantau Island last August 2019 for two days. Due to his limited time to stay longer in Hong Kong because of his work in the Philippines and family to attend to, he decided to arrive earlier on the week of the event to review the places where he experienced “lost moments” that cost him a lot of hours of delay, most specially in the MacLehose and Wilson Trails.
Having an experience from his previous year’s participation, doing some “recon runs”, and correcting his past mistakes with his race strategy and nutrition, Thomas was determined to finish the event, whether he could be a “Finisher” or a “Survivor”. What is important is for him to finish the event within 72 hours.
Thirty-three (33) participants selected by the RD/RO coming from different countries throughout the world started the race at 9:00 AM January 25, 2020, the Lunar Chinese New Year’s Day, for the 9th edition of the event at the starting area for the MacLehose Trail. Two other Filipino runners were also with Thomas in this event as they applied and qualified to join this race. Thomas started the race at the back of the pack and we, his Support Team to include his close family members from the Philippines and Canada, cheered him and later, monitored his movement through his Tracker on Racemap Application on the Internet. At Kilometer 50, Thomas was among the Top 3 on the trail and maintained his steady pace of 7 kilometers per hour. It was still too early for us to be happy that Thomas will target the sub-60 hour finish. However, he was in the right track for him to finish the MacLehose Trail in 15 Hours as planned. He slowed down on the last 15 kilometers as it was already nighttime plus the fact that it started to rain and he reported some tightness in his quads. Despite his situation, he was expected to finish this leg much faster than the time he registered last year with almost 2.5 hours. Finally, Thomas arrived at the Sai Kung Country Park as the 5th Runner with a time of 15:04 hours! It was a huge improvement from his time of 17:40 hours last year!
In 10 minutes of eating and changing his clothes at the Park, we were on our way aboard a Taxi to the start of the Wilson Trail which is a good 45-minute ride but the Taxi driver had to refill some gasoline which added, at least 5 minutes of the travel time. However, Thomas had a good sleep, which he badly needed, during our trip to the start of the next leg. Once we arrived at the Waiting Shed near the Nam Chung Public Toilet, we set-up our “pit stop” assistance to Thomas——food, water, clothes, and running accessories were packed and placed in Thomas Hydration Vest while Thomas was eating. In a short time, Thomas started his run on the Wilson Trail with much encouragement for him to keep on moving, eat & hydrate when he can, and bring out & wear his reserve “wind-breaker” inside his water-proof jacket to make him warm as it was raining hard and colder temperature awaited him in the mountain peaks of the 78-kilometer long Wilson Trail. He started his run at 1:25 AM of the second day, January 26 which is again another improvement from his time last year. At this time, we were confident that he will not get lost and spend so much time when he will cross the Victoria Bay from the MTR Lam Tin Station to the MTR Tai Koo Station in Hongkong Island.
At the start of the Wilson Trail, looking at the Racemap App, the two other Filipino runners (Rolando Espina is a two-time finisher of the Spartathlon Race in Greece and Ronnel Valero had just finished the 2019 UTMB 166K in Chamonix, France), had been declared as “Retired” which simply means that they declared themselves as “DNF” (Did Not Finish). Five other runners were also “Retired”, making it a total of seven (7) “retired” runners at the end of the first day. We did not try to find out the real reason/s why these runners “retired” on the first day. However, in a news report from the article of the South China Morning Post, they said that they could not stand and endure running on the “stairs” and on the concrete/cemented trails of Hong Kong. Some of the runners told to the reporter/s that the rain had brought them cold and freezing temperature which their body was not prepared to take.
On the second day, we were glad that Thomas was on the track without any “lost moments” and be able to finish the Wilson Trail on the said day. Our Support Team was at the Finish Line of the Wilson Trail at 5:00 PM January 26, 2020 with the hope that Thomas would finish within one hour. However, we waited for almost 3 hours for Thomas to arrive still smiling, happy and strong as he was ranked as the 9th runner at this point. Thomas arrived at 8:06 PM on the second day of the event. He finished the Wilson Trail in 18:30 hours.
Thomas arrival at the end of Wilson Trail (@ Stanley Gap Road) was very remarkable and surprising as he improved his time by 13+ hours as compared to last year. We immediately boarded a waiting Taxi for the 20-minute ride to the Bus Station on Shek O Road as the starting line of the 50-kilometer Hong Kong Trail. We “forced” Thomas again to sleep during the duration of our Taxi ride which he did. At the Shek O Road, we were met by Paper, the wife of Andre; Andre; Tomokazu Ihara; and Christian Viloria, a Pinoy OFW in Hongkong. We immediately set-up our “pit stop” for Thomas for him to re-charge his nutrition/hydration; rest; and change his running attire for more layering to fight the coldness in the mountains. At this point, the NHK TV Reporter and crew took a video of Thomas while he was eating and resting. The TV reporter was interested on the food prepared by his support team. Christian’s fried “tuyo” (dried sardines) and our Pork Adobo and Sinigang Na Ulo Ng Salmon were the “center of attraction” on Thomas’ food in the video and interview. Finally, Thomas left the Shek O Road at 9:05 PM after much encouragement and motivation from us and Tomokazu as he was his “classmate” in last year’s edition.
Based from Thomas performance last year, we estimated that he could finish the Hong Kong Trail in less than 9 hours and that we will be able to catch-up and ride the 7:00 AM Ferry Boat ride from the Central Pier to Lantau Island. But by looking on his Tracker, we estimated that he would arrive at the end of the Hong Kong Trail at 8:00 AM on the third day. We arrived at the Victoria Peak at 7:30 AM and the place was windy and cold. It seems that we were experiencing a freezing temperature being exposed outside the building and standing in the open/exposed park/space at The Peak. I decided to jog the last one or two kilometers before the Finish Line to meet Thomas and at the same time warn the members of his Support Team that he was arriving in a few minutes. At 1.6 kilometers from the Finish Line, Thomas was approaching, hiking and looked very cold but still in good spirits to finish the race. He had his fingers on both hands locked with one another with his palms pressed against his chest. He was trying to keep his body warm even if he was wearing his Salomon Waterproof Jacket. I jogged ahead of him by 50 meters and finally led him to the waiting Taxi with our Support Team. Finally, Thomas reached the Finish Line of the Hong Kong Trail at 8:42 AM on the third day, January 27. Thomas finished the Hong Kong Trail (50K) in 11:30+hours which is 3 hours slower than his time last year. He told me that the freezing wind temperature, sleep deprivation, the darkness along the trail and a bout of “acid reflux” had slowed him. He even had experience of “hallucination moments” with the rocks along the trail as talking tortoises only to realize that he was talking to the rocks around.
Within the short 15-minute Taxi ride From Victoria Peak to the Central Pier, Thomas was able to eat “Lugaw” (Rice Porridge With Chicken) and Drink Hot Coffee and then took a nap. Five minutes before the Ferry Boat would depart for Lantau, we were running to board the boat and was able to ride in it. As the boat started leaving the Pier, Thomas was already sleeping for the 50-minute ride to the last leg of the event, the Lantau 70K Trail. We took the 9:00 AM Ferry Boat ride which was the slow one but the longer trip gave much time for Thomas to sleep. The fare was half the price of the faster craft but we did not complain as we estimated that Thomas would not be able to finish the event within the cut-off time of 60 hours.
After the slow Ferry Boat ride, we established our “pit stop” under a tree near the McDonalds which is surrounded with steel seats. We bought Hamburger and Coffee which Thomas requested to eat and drink before starting the Lantau Trail. We refilled his hydration pack with water and food and he changed his attire and loaded some extra windbreaker and shirt in his pack. When he was ready, I accompanied him to the trailhead which is about 300 meters away from the Pier. Photo Guava, one of the Official Photographers of the Event, was also there to take pictures of Thomas and wished him “Good Luck”. Thomas started the Lantau Trail Leg at 10:25 AM of January 27, on the third day of the event. We estimated that he could finish the Lantau Trail at 1:00 AM on the fourth day, January 28, which is about 15 hours of elapsed time. We returned to Hongkong where we were staying and monitored the movement of Thomas through the RaceMap App.
We returned to Lantau Island aboard the last Ferry Boat trip at 10:20 PM to wait for the arrival of Thomas as a “Survivor” of the event. We boarded the Fast Ferry Boat and we arrived at 11:00 PM and tried to stay at the Silver Mine Bay Pier in Mui Wo to protect us from the freezing wind coming from the sea and the mountains. We looked for seats in the area and tried to get inside the telephone booths for a warmer air. Sometimes, we would go to the Public Rest Room for a warmer air and later went inside the 7-11 Store for food and drinks and we were allowed to stay at the 2nd floor of the store. Lastly, we were invited to stay at the heated Lantau Basecamp Sports Store where we monitored the movement of Thomas through the Racemap App. Jurg, the husband of Irene Montemayor, tried to join us at the finish line at the Hongkong Trail as he was our Main Support during Thomas first attempt last year but he was not able to catch-up with us at the Victoria Peak. He told us that he will be joining us in our Ferry Ride back to Lantau and cheer for the arrival of Thomas. At 1:00 AM, we were confident that Thomas will be arriving as the 9th Runner and the 2nd “Survivor” to arrive at the Finish Line.
After cresting the highest peak of the trail, Lantau Peak, on the last 15 kilometers, Thomas was passed by Lady Runner Virginie while he was sleeping in one of the Pagodas/Rest Areas. Virginie tried to help Thomas by giving him her “space blanket” to wrap his head and she even called the RD about the situation of Thomas. Thomas was freezing due to the strong cold winds at the Lantau Peak and after the peak, he took a brief nap while he was sitting with his back leaned on one of the posts of the Pagoda but he was surprised to wake up lying on the floor when he heard the voice of Virginie calling the RD on the phone. Virginie and Thomas had been running together before the Lantau Peak but Thomas went ahead of her until he was seen as sleeping on the floor of the Pagoda. Jurg and I tried to locate Thomas by boarding a Taxi to check on him on the said Pagoda after we received the recorded voice call of Virginie from the RD. However, when we saw that Thomas had moved on the Racemap App, we turned around and went back to the Finish Line. In a few minutes, Virginie reached the Finish Line at 5:30 AM on the fourth day and we were confident that Thomas would be the next runner to finish.
RD Andre, Tomo, and I were waiting for Thomas at the roundabout as we could see him going down the road on his last 100 meters to the Finish Line. After a few minutes of conversation, Andre and Tomo walked on the uphill road to locate Thomas and Tomo was shouting his name! After few minutes, RD Andre and Tomo shouted to us that Thomas was coming. Thomas reached the Green Mail Post at Mui Wo at 5:50 AM on the fourth day, January 28 as the 10th runner overall and the 3rd “Survivor” of the Event. Thomas finished the Lantau Trail in 17:25 hours. In total, Thomas finished the 9th Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge in 68:50 hours and declared as a “Survivor”.
In summary, Thomas finished the following Hong Kong Trails with these times:
MacLehose Trail (100K)—15:04 Hours (Cut-Off Time of 18 Hours)
Wilson Trail (78K)—18:30 Hours
Hong Kong Trail (50 Kilometers)—11:30+Hours
Lantau Trail (70 Kilometers)—17:25 Hours
Almost 9 hours were spent in his transitions from one trail to another and his rests along the trails.
Out of the 33 Participants, 7 were declared as Finishers, 5 were declared as Survivors and 21 were declared as Retirees. Thomas is now one of the 49 Finishers & Survivors of this event since its birth nine years ago.
2020 #HK4TUC Results:
33 Participants, 7 Finishers, 5 Survivors, 21 Retirees
1. Nugo Yamanath Limbu, Nepal, 54:26 hours
2. Stephen Redfern, Australia, 54:46 hours
3. Abimanyu Shunmugam, Singapore, 56:06 hours
4. Takashi Doi 土井陵, Japan, 56:25 hours
5. Law Kai Pong 羅啟邦, Hong Kong, 58:11 hours
6. Jacky Leung Chun Keung 梁俊強, Hong Kong, 58:31 hours
7. Hyun Chang Chung, South Korea, 59:46 hours
1. Cheung Man Yee 張敏怡, Hong Kong, 62:47 hours
2. Virginie Goethals, Belgium, 68:30 hours
2. Thomas Combisen, Philippines, 68:50 hours
4. Yang Feifei 杨非非, China, 70:40 hours
5. Sarah Pemberton, United Kingdom, 70:45 hours
Congratulations to Andre Blumberg & Support Staff, Finishers, Survivors, and to All The Participants!
(Source: Hongkong Four Trails Ultra Challenge Facebook Page)
The following article is a repost from what Jason Koop, Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning, had published in their CTS website and shared in the Social Media outlets. I have received a copy of this article in my e-mail as one of the CTS Athletes for the past two years. (Note: I am on rest and recovery up to the end of this year). I hope this article will be of help to future trail ultra runners who have plans of joining this iconic race.
Repost: Top 3 Hot Takes from the 2019 UTMB, CCC and TDS Races
By Jason Koop, Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning
As has been the case for the last few years, I spent the better part of a weekend following athletes around the (newly revamped) Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS), Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix (CCC), and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) races. The races were packed with drama, success, failure and everything in between. From the front of the field through the final finishers, the mountain teaches us common lessons – sometimes the hard way – about how to prepare for and execute a great race.
Lesson #1- To win the race, you can be reasonably bold or just grind it out.
UTMB winners Pau Capel and Courtney Dauwalter days played out in seemingly opposing fashion, yet both ended up taking the top step of the podium. Pau took the lead early and never relinquished it, looking spry and springy all the way around the 170-kilometer course. Courtney on the other hand, quite frankly looked terrible the whole way. Normally a smiling and happy runner, she muddled, grunted and grinded her way to a 24 hour and 34 min winning time (which from a historical perspective is quite good).
As a quick comparison, go take a quick look at Update #8 and Update #9 from the final climb to Tête Aux Vents here- https://utmbmontblanc.com/en/live/utmb. It’s an easy compare and contrast of the styles from the winners of both races on the exact same climb.
What all runners can learn from this: There are several different pathways to the exact same result. If you are having a good day, take it and roll. Don’t get greedy with your race plan, but at the same time, if you are having a good day enjoy it and ride out the goodness, hopefully all the way to the finish line. On the other hand, if you are not having the best day and you have built up enough good fitness (as Courtney had), you should have enough resources to simply grind and tough it out. The day might not be all you hoped of, but you can still reach the finish line (and maybe surprise yourself along the way).
Lesson #2- Everyone has a bad day. The harder the race, the more the bad day is exacerbated.
Many of the top runners in the UTMB, CCC and TDS races did not have their days go to plan. Some of these runners ended up dropping out, while some ended up forging on for a respectable finish. Similarly, many of the mid- and back-of-the-pack runners we work with, and several I witnessed out on the course, were simply not having their best days. Although there is no easy ultra, the UTMB race in particular presents a wider variety of issues to contend with. The difficulty is compounded by the event’s length, starting at 6:00PM, running through the entire night right from the get go, copious amount of elevation gain, and the sheer energy of the Chamonix valley that drains the runners in advance of the starting gun. Generally speaking, athletes who got themselves into trouble in this race simply had a harder time bouncing back than those in the shorter (but still ridiculously hard) TDS and CCC.
What all runners can learn from this: If you are in a ridiculously hard race, do yourself a favor and play some defense early on. Aside from entering the race fit and ready, runners can do themselves a favor by running conservatively, taking some additional time at aid stations, having a good attitude, and – if there are any weather conditions – making sure you have enough gear to stay comfortable. All of these will give you a bit of downside protection for races where the penalty for failure is high!
Lesson #3- Multiple mistakes have compounding effects
Every runner wants to have a perfect race. Sorry to tell you, but those are rare. In a lifetime of running if you are able to scrape together a small handful of perfect races, consider yourself lucky. More often, ultramarathons are a series of problem solving exercises. Encounter some bad weather, move through it. Then, you will have a big, quad thrashing descent. After the descent, maybe your legs are giving you trouble. Your legs feel a bit better, then you have a monster climb ahead of you. Most runners can take each individual battle head-on in sequence by solving one problem and then moving to the next.
When issues pile on top of issues, the effect is greater than the sum of all the individual parts. I saw this unfold at the Beaufort (91.7 K) aid station during TDS. Nearly every runner from the front to the back of the field was tired at this point. CTS coach and eventual 2nd place finisher Hillary Allen (coached by Adam St. Pierre) even had the 1000-yard stare as she entered the aid station. As the day transpired, the runners arriving at the aid station complaining of one singular thing (I can’t eat, for example) would move in and move out quickly to tackle the next climb. The runners with a laundry list of issues (I can’t eat and my feet hurt and my quads are shot) took at least four times longer in the aid station and were moving at half the speed, regardless of where they were in the field. In this way, the runner who can’t eat but deals with it, then has their feet hurting and deals with that, and then has shot quads and deals with that, will finish far faster than the runner dealing with all three issues at once.
What all runners can learn from this: Dealing with issues during ultrarunning is inevitable. They are long and hard enough to present a host of problem solving opportunities. When these ‘opportunities’ creep up, don’t compound the problem by creating another one or not addressing the first. Address each issue as it comes up, when it comes up. ADAPT when necessary and slow down if you need to. It is far better to take a bit more time as issues creep up than continue to plow forward and create compounding issues.
I have always relished the opportunity to attend races as a coach, fan and support crew. These opportunities have always been ‘learning by observing’. The UTMB, CCC and TDS races were no exception. If you are reading, I hope you enjoyed the wonderful coverage of the event and some of these on the ground takeaways.
John “Sting” Ray Onifa: The Pinoy Course Record Holder In 2019 UTMB’s CCC 101K Trail Race
I have never met and still not a friend on Facebook of this very talented mountain trail runner. Because of this outstanding and admirable finish at this year’s CCC 101K Race in Chamonix, France, he deserves to be featured in this blog for whatever purpose. It could be an inspiration to future elite runners or a good reference to others. (Note: Hopefully this will used as a reference to our Local and National News and printed media). But one thing is sure, he is now the BEST Pinoy Ultra Trail Runner for finishing the 2019 CCC 101K Race from Courmayeur, Italy to Chamonix, France with a Course Record Time (For Pinoys) of 12:36:11 hours finishing with a ranking of 33rd place out of 2,000 runners and top 30 runners in the Male Category. His Average Speed for the course is 7.9 kilometers per hour (which is basically my average Road Running Speed) considering that this is his first exposure in running bigger/higher mountains than he usually race in Southeast Asia where altitude and technical nature of the trails usually slow down runners coming from the sea level places.
Who is John “Sting” Ray Onifa? I bet that if you are more of an average Road Runner, you will never had the chance to meet him in person or read his name in local and national news or even meet him in the local and National MILO Marathon Events. Even the local trail runners in Luzon and Mindanao seldom would see this guy in more popular trail running events in the Cordilleras for the past years (except this year when he joined this year’s CMU). Except for the runners in Panay Island, he is well-known as a Road Runner and later on as an Ultra Marathon Runner having finished the local ultra races in Iloilo, Negros, and Antique. Later, he joined short distance trail running events within the area where he is from.
JR Onifa was born in Dao, Antique, now known as the Municipality of Tobias Fornier. Where is that place? Having been assigned in the Panay Island during my military days and visiting the Province of Antique almost every year for my Antique 100-Mile Endurance Run, it is my first time to know about the town. When I “googled” the name of the town, I found out that the municipality is located at the southernmost tip of Antique Province, way down south from the Capital Town of San Jose De Buenavista where my race usually starts. The town is bounded by mountains on the east and the sea on the west. You can “google” the name of the town for more details about the history and population data of the locality.
Due to the geography where he lives, JR Onifa was born in a poor family and ultimately earned his living through farming and fishing. I would suspect that he was able to complete his secondary education level only. For him to improve his life, he applied as a Candidate Soldier in the Philippine Army but he failed for three consecutive times to enter the service. How I wished I could had helped him during those times when he was trying to enter the military service. If he failed in the Neuro-Psychiatric Test (NP Screening), that is another story to deal with. To make things worse, his mother died and his father left the family. So, starting in 2015, he started running as part of his daily regimen while he was farming and fishing. Through his training, he became a well-known local runner when he won the local races in Antique and Iloilo, setting course records in every event.
It was on the early part of last year, 2018, when one of his friends who saw the elite running potential of JR Onifa started to ask for contributions and sponsorship through crowdsourcing for him to be exposed in international trail running events. His friend, Adonis Lloren aka LAGATAW was very successful in bringing JR Onifa to Thailand to compete in the The North Face (TNF) 50K Ultra Trail Race on February 3, 2018.
The result of the said race completely changed the life of JR Onifa. He won as Champion with an Official Time of 4:01:51 hours in the said race, his first International Ultra Trail Competition, beating the elite athletes of the famous The North Face Adventure Team of Hongkong to include the Team Leader and Director Ryan S Blair who placed 3rd Overall in the said event. Director Ryan Blair was so impressed about the performance of JR Onifa and after a brief interview with JR Onifa about his background, he immediately thought of getting JR Onifa as his new recruit to the Team. Five days after the event in Thailand, Director Ryan Blair posted on the Team’s Facebook Page that JR Onifa had signed in as a full-time member of the The North Face Adventure Team based in Hongkong. I can just imagine how Director Ryan Blair felt when he found out the living situation of JR Onifa in the Philippines knowing for a fact that Director Blair had never brought a new recruit or member to his team for the past three years. Since then, JR Onifa had been a popular trail runner in Hongkong. In March 2018, he was able to get his Working Visa in Hongkong and since then he had been training in Hongkong as well as winning those popular trail races in the area. Simply browse on the Facebook Page of the The North Face Adventure Team (Hongkong) to find out those races where JR Onifa landed on Podium Finishes as well as those incidents that he would be lost along the trail despite being ahead from all the rest on the first half of the course! (This is so familiar to most of those local elite trail runners whom I know!)
If Director Ryan S Blair would read this post, let me express my thanks to you for signing up JR Onifa to your ward of World Standard Elite Trail Runners. How I wish there are more people like you in my own country.
As of this writing, JR Onifa’s team mate Wong Ho Chung of Hongkong finished the UTMB 170K Trail Race in sixth place, highest ranking for an Asian Runner in the said event, with a time of 22:47:47 hours. This is his second time to finish UTMB where he was ranked as 38th Finisher with a time of 27:47:10 hours in the 2016 edition. He is awarded as the Hongkong’s 2019 Trail Runner of the Year.
Congratulations, Jay “Sting” Ray Onifa! You have put our National Colors again in the World of Ultra Trail Running Events. Keep up the good work and be good to your Team Members and Boss! At the young age of 29 years old, your career as a Professional Trail Runner is still starting. Be humble! I have the feeling that you will be standing the starting line at the 2020 UTMB/CCC 101K Trail Race again where you would proudly wave the Philippine Flag crossing the Finish Line as a Podium Finisher. I hope to see you soon in Hongkong!
(Note: Pictures Taken From The North Face Adventure Team Facebook Page)
1st Manila To Pagudpud 580K Ultramarathon Race
June 3-9, 2019
Starting Place & Assembly Time: Km 0, Luneta Park, Metro Manila/9:00 PM June 3, 2019
Assembly Time: 9:00 PM June 3, 2019
Start Time: 10:00 PM June 3, 2019
Finish Line/Area: Pansian Beach, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte
Finish Time: 1:00 PM June 9, 2019
Intermediate Cut-Off Time: 100 Kms Per 24 hours
Event’s Cut-Off Time: 135 hours (5 days & 15 hours)
Number Of Starters: 14 Runners
Number Of Finishers: 6 Runners
Percentage Of Finish: 42.85%
RANK NAME TIME (Hrs)
- Robert Watson (Overall Champion & Course Record) — 129:15:57
- Thomas Combisen (1st Runner-Up, Overall) — 132:41:40
- Bong Dizon (2nd Runner-Up, Overall) — 133:12:21
- Laico Tolentino — 133:35:42
- Edgar Miras — 134:30:39
- Carlito Don Rodas — 134:50:32
Congratulations To All The Finishers!