Interview: Gilbert Gray After 2020 LAVS 500 Finish


A day after Gilbert Gray finished the 2020 Last Annual Vol State 500K Road Run, I asked him to answer two questions only: (1) How much is the Registration Fee?, and (2) Being a “screwed” (without any support Crew/vehicle) runner, how did he manage his “logistics” along the route?

BR: How much is the Registration Fee?

Gilbert: The Registration Fee for the event is $506.31 and the Registration Period usually starts on August 1 through UltraSignUp website.

BR: How did you manage your “logistics” during your run since you were a “screwed” runner?

Gilbert: I carried with me a Credit Card and Debit Card which I used for my daily expenses on food and water/liquid intake. My Average Cost/Expenses per day was between $20 to $30, depending on how much food I was eating during the day, whether I would prefer a dine-in or take-out for my food. Aside from my Credit & Debit Cards, I had with me a total of $40 in $1.00 Bills for Soda/Vending Machines (which are very accessible during late nights or when the stores were not open). The $1 bills were useful in Laundromats/Laundry Shops where I would wash & dry my clothes/socks every two days of running/walking to get rid of the salt from sweat. I had also in my backpack extra snacks as back-up for my nutrition. I was able to cut down my expenses since I did not stay in hotels. This is my advise to those who are planning to join this race, the top 3 most important things to consider are: Proper Hydration; Proper Nutrition; and Good condition of your Feet throughout the race.

Those were the only questions that I have asked from Gilbert Gray which could give me and my readers a good assessment on how much can a runner would need to support his participation in this event. Maybe, on my next interview with Gilbert, I would ask him the “perks or loot” that go with the Registration Fee.

Gilbert Gray With Another Runner @ 2020 LAVS (Photo Taken From Facebook)
Gilbert Gray @ 2020 The Last Annual Vol State Road Race (Photo From LAVS Facebook Group)

I will update you on this next time. Thanks for reading.

Gilbert Gray: Finisher Of The 2020 “Last Annual Vol State” 500K Race (LAVS)


Gilbert Gray finishes the 2020 Last Annual Vol State 500K Race (LAVS 500) last week in 7 days, 19 hours, 40 minutes and 57 seconds which started on July 9, 2020 in Dorena Landing, Missouri, USA and with the Finish Line located in Castle Rock, Georgia. He finished this race without any support crew and  he registered for this race as Uncrewed or popularly known as “Screwed” runner. This is his second time to finish this race as a “screwed” runner where he improved his finish time by one day, from 204: 48+hours (or 8 days & 12 hours) in the 2015 Vol State Edition. In this year’s edition, out of the 66 runners who started the race, 49 runners finished the race and 17 runners declared as DNF.

The Last Annual Vol State 500K Road Run (LAVS 500K) is one of the road ultra races which is organized and directed by Lazarus Lake of Barkley Marathons, held during the summer months of July every year. One month before this race, another Ultra Race called The Last Annual Heart Of The South 500K Road Race (HOTS 500), was also held which is also organized and directed by Lazarus Lake. These road races usually traverse the State of Tennessee, USA from the western boundary with Missouri, USA or Arkansas, USA to the Northwest part of Georgia, USA. These two ultra races were held despite the Covid-19 situation in the USA. These two races had an identical number of starters which was 66 runners.

The LAVS 500K and HOTS 500K has a cut-off time of 10 days to finish where every runner has to inform the Race Director/Organizer on his/her location every 12 hours through SMS. Each runner does not carry any “tracker” along the way and there are support crew of the other runners who would update the location of the runners by posting pictures and videos on the Facebook Group Page of the event, this is to include the so-called “angels” along the route of the race. These “angels” are the ones that give voluntary aid or help to the runners in terms of allowing them to rest and eat in their front yard or in government/state facilities like Fire Stations and Parks.

Gilbert Gray, a Retired Airman in the US Air Force, lives in Maryland, USA and he is married to a Filipina Lady with two daughters. He now works with a US Airline Company. At 58 years old, he had finished a number of Ultra Races to include being the Overall Champion in one of the Ultra Races in Europe. He is a two-time BDM GrandSlam Awardee; Finisher of the Prestigious Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race; and a yearly Finisher of the JFK 50-Mile Race. You can see the Ultra Races that he finished here.

Although he comes regularly to the Philippines with his wife for a visit, the last time that we saw each other was in the 2014 edition of the Bryce 100-Mile Endurance Race in Bryce Canyon, Utah, USA, together with Paul Encarnacion, a Filipino Ultrarunner who also lives in Maryland, USA and multi-awarded 100-mile finisher. During his training for the 2013 edition of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race (WS100), he visited California to recon the route of the WS100 and then a day later, he joined me and other Pinoy Runners in the LA area in the 2013 edition of the Bandit 50K Ultra Trail Run where we finished at the same time.

Finishing The Bandit 50K Ultra Trail Run
Gilbert Gray With Badwater Ben Gaetos

Gilbert will always be a good friend of the local ultrarunners in the Philippines, most specially with the PAU runners. He is very kind, very helpful, and very simple and silent about his ultrarunning accomplishments. I just hope I would be able to meet him again in the future.

In our local races, PAU had also conducted its first 500K+ road race last June 2019 with the First Edition of the Manila To Pagudpud 580K Ultramarathon Race which had a cut-off time of 135 hours or 5 days and 15 hours. This race is officially considered as the longest road race in the country now. The result of this event could be seen here.

For additional reading about the the LAVS 500, you can read it here.

July 15, 2020: First Day Of The Great Maharlika Highway Virtual Run 3,517K


Two weeks ago, I have created a Facebook Group where interested persons or runners can join a virtual run/race which covers the distance of the Philippines’ Maharlika Highway’s 3,517 kilometers from Laoag City (Ilocos Norte, northern province of Luzon) down to the southern Mindanao City of Zamboanga. However, runners have the option to run in the reverse direction, from the Southern tip of the Highway up to the Northern City of Laoag. There is no required limit of distance or mileage that each runner can cover in a single day but I put up a Challenge that any runner can finish it in one year or in 365 days. As such, a runner should be able to run at least, 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles per day. For the slower or recreational runners, they have the option to finish the distance in 2 years or 730 days, with an average daily mileage of 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles a day.

Maharlika Highway 3,517K Poster On Facebook

To make the event more interesting, this event is FREE and anybody in the Social Media can join the said event by simply joining the Facebook Group Page that I have created. At this time, there are now 144 active members. Additionally, I have created an Event’s Club on Strava where anybody can post their Strava Data on the said Club and for their runs to be posted and each runner is ranked among the members of the Club. There are now more than 160 Strava Members who are part of this event.

I have only one objective in creating this virtual event—I just want people to be motivated to run each day during this present time as we deal with the Covid-19 situation that is happening worldwide.

Stay safe and stay healthy!

2018 Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon Race Documentary


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!

What Is Success In An Ultra Race?


As I was browsing on my past posts/stories in this blog yesterday, I came across with this “insight” which I have written on February 14, 2014 (Valentine’s Day) and never was able to publish it in this blog. I was wondering what could be the reason why I was not able to post this as this post answers the BIG “WHY” I have been to ultramarathon and thus, creating an iconic Ultramarathon Event in the country which is the “Bataan Death March 102K Ultramarathon Race”. And this is my insight as an ultra marathoner (road and trail) and a Race Director and Organizer of Ultra Running Events which up to now is still true and applicable up to the present.

It is almost SIX years when I started to float the idea of conducting an ultra marathon race in the country and in this year of 2014, it will be the 6th edition of the Bataan Death March 102K Ultra Marathon Race. On hindsight, I have been thinking why I organized this kind of road running event and slowly made it as something to be proud of among runners in the country.

It all started when I saw a website of a marathon event that is named after the Bataan Death March which is being held in the desert of White Sands, New Mexico, USA. I saw this website when I was still in the active service in 1999. After a year, I implemented the same concept of the race among the units of the Philippine Army and made it as a Team Competition to include the US Army & Marines contingent based in the country. Although the race covered only 25 kilometers of the Bataan Death March Route, it became a success even if we did not ask for any Registration Fees from the Team Participants. It was simply sponsored by the Philippine Army, through my Office as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training and Education, G-8. In simple terms, I was the Chief Trainor & Educator of the Philippine Army nationwide!

If I can still remember it right, I only gave Trophies to the Top Three Teams and there were NO Finisher’s Medals and Finisher’s T-Shirts. Our office and my staff gave packed lunch to all the participants and we parted ways as happy competitors and runners. In the same manner, our civilian guest runners were just treated with the said packed lunch at the finish area.

Sadly, when I got transferred to Mindanao for a Combat Commander position, my BDM efforts just died and forgotten.

Fast Forward. Retirement and the Freedom to Run in any place and time of the day gave me a more focused attention to the Ultra Races that I’ve organized in the past. Of course, my being a Retired Major General of the Armed Services had also helped me in my coordination with the AFP, PNP, and the Local Governments. And whenever any of my ultra races is being concluded with all the finishers enjoying their triumph and victory, I always get a heart-warming feedback of “Congratulations For a Successful Event!” from the other runners, friends from Facebook, and from the thousands of followers of my blog.

It is a very humbling feeling when I get such feedback and it is already enough “compensation” for the preparation, coordination, risk, sleepless and tiring moments just to be able to monitor the safety of the runners and the progress of the race.

Personally, success to me in every race, is NOT in the number of registered runners. I would be happier if I have lesser in the number of runners whom I personally know and who would stick to follow my Race’s Rules & Regulations. Furthermore, I would be happiest when I hear stories among my runners on how they help each other in order to finish the race. These ultra runners whom I usually call “the usual suspects” are aware that the registration fee that they have paid to join the event is NOT enough to pay for my “Talent Fee” for seeing to it that they are safe and secured during the event.

But, most of the reasons for a Successful Event is attributed to the Competing Runner himself/herself. In ultra races, a runner can not “fake’ his performance backed with lackluster training and preparation. It takes a lot of pounding on the ground, discipline, determination, positive attitude, and critical problem solving if an ultra runner wants a decent finish in a race without any injury or “issues”. So, if a runner registers a Course Record Time for the event, it becomes a motivation for the others to work harder in their next training & preparation. Success for a runner is being able to overcome one’s inner demons, pain , suffering, and other personal challenges!

Success does not mean profit or money that a Race Organizer would earn from each event. Since I am not being backed up or sponsored by any Corporate Entity, a runner’s registration fee would be spent for the Podium Finisher’s Trophies, Finisher’s Medals, Finisher’s Shirts, Certificates, Race Bibs, Tarpaulins, Payment For Marshals & Event’s Staff,  Ambulance/Medical Team Services, Planning & Coordination, Timing Services, Food For Runners at the Finish Line, and Travel Expenses. Sad to say, I am not being paid for being the Race Director!

To tell you the truth, I am getting richer from my “tax-free” monthly pension and “tax-free” interests of my investments and rentals to my properties. Even without organizing or directing ultra races, I will be happy and contended sitting on my rocking chair while listening my music from my Bose Sound System and scrolling/reading your Facebook status on my MacBook Air and Apple iPhone!

Success, therefore, to me in races is developing friendships and maintaining those friendship so that in every race, a runner would learn something for him/her to be a better person. Better would mean stronger, healthier, more matured, more friendly, and have a better outlook in life.

The highest level of success is when ones experience as a Runner and Race Director/Organizer is being shared to others and such experience becomes an inspiration to emulate. And this blog has that main objective to share my experience to everybody.

Success Is Being Healthy At The Age Of 62
Success Is Being Healthy At The Age Of 62

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and have the motivation to challenge yourself to run and adhere the outdoors for the greater good of a healthy lifestyle. Please subscribe to this blog for more updates and stories. Thank you!

Expenses @ The 2020 Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge


Expenses @ The 2020 HK4TUC

This is the most sensitive part of my story about Thomas participation in the 2020 Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge. Most of the Local Runners who are joining International Running Events never post or mention how much they have spent to join a particular event. To give justice to what Thomas had accomplished in this year’s HK4TUC event, it is proper for the Team to be transparent with our finances with the following reasons: (1) to provide future participants the information on the financial aspect of the said event for planning and preparation purposes; (2) to account for everything that the Team had spent before, during , and after the event; (3) to give the impression to my readers that the Team was NOT sponsored by any individual, corporate brand, or the government, and as such, the whole Team did its share to contribute on this matter with the money coming from our pockets. We did not ask for funds from the other runners or conducted any fund raising activities in relation to Thomas attendance or participation in this event.

Amount Of Pocket Money:

At the exchange rate of P 7.00 per HK$ 1.00, I bought the equivalent of P 50,000.00 as the Support Team’s “baon” for the duration of our stay in Hong Kong. However, I still have an amount of 1,000.00 US Dollars as a “reserve” cash to be converted to HK Dollars just in case we will be lacking with our financial resources. My LANBANK Debit Cards will be our “Last Line Of Defense” for any Contingency.

Coming from Thomas’ pocket, on the other hand, he bought HK Dollars at the Airport’s Exchange Facility amounting to P 50,000.00.

Cathay Pacific Fares:

Thomas paid his own RT Fare amounting to P 9,500.00 which included the usual Travel Tax. I paid my RT Fare with two others who composed the Team as members of Thomas Support Team. It costs me P 28,500.00 (Travel Tax included) for three passengers. Our Taxi Fares and Expenses for our Early Breakfast at the Terminal 3, NAIA can be estimated to about P 2,000, of which I paid for it. An additional cost of “Pasalubong” of about P 1,500 was paid in one of the Souvenir Shops at Terminal 3 as our gift to the RD’s wife, being a close friend since I started blogging. This brings to a total of P 41,500.00 for the Team Thomas expenses before leaving Manila.

Upon Arrival @ Hong Kong Airport

Thomas bought a Local Sim Card for almost HK$ 200 and loaded HK$ 300 into his Octopus Card. The money he used came from his personal fund. I bought a Local SIM Card on my own for the same price (HK$ 200) with that of Thomas, and loaded HK$200 into my Octopus Card and loaded HK$100 to each of the two members of the Support Team. 

Total Expenses Upon Arrival: 

Thomas——HK$500; 

BR——HK$600

Chari Sevilla, a Filipino working in Hong Kong, offered her Apartment for the Team Thomas as a place to stay during the duration of the Event. This was a big savings for the Team, instead, of paying for our accommodation in the hotel where we usually stay during our visits in Hongkong. (Note: A “savings” for us estimated to be the equivalent to P 20,000.00)

Estimated Expenses For Our Two-Day Recon Runs (Transportation Fares Were Deducted From Our Octopus Cards):

The following estimated expenses for our Food and Drinks along the Trails (MacLehose & Wilson) and in Sai Kung Town.

Thomas——HK$200

BR——HK$200

Initial Groceries/Food For The Team Expenses (To include Logistics for the Event): HK$2,000.00

Additional Expenses For Groceries/Food To Be Cooked During The Duration Of Our Stay In Hongkong: HK$2,000.00

Additional Expenses For Food Spent In Restaurants: HK$1,000.00

Additional Loads To Our Octopus Cards: HK$ 500.00

Total Transportation Expenses During The Event: TAXI Fares To Ferry Thomas From One Trail To Another & TAXI Fares In Going Home To Chari’s Apartment:

BR——HK$ 1,600.00

Chari——HK$ 1,600.00

Team Thomas was treated to a Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner & CarboLoading Party for Thomas the night before the event by the sister and nephew of Thomas who came all the way from Canada to cheer for Thomas.

Before we left to the Hong Kong Airport on our way back to Manila, Team Thomas was treated to a lunch by the Family of Jurg, Irene, and Ida Montemayor as a celebration for Thomas “finish” in the 2020 HK4TUC.

Hong Kong Dollars: What Was Left With Our Pocket Money

Bottomline:

The amount of P 50,000.00 that I exchanged for HK$ currency was all gone except for the remaining HK currency in the picture. To include our RT Tickets and other miscellaneous expenses spent in Manila and Hong Kong, I spent a total of P 100,000.00

I am not privy to what happened to the P 50,000.00 that Thomas had exchanged to HK Dollars at the NAIA before leaving Manila but I would guess/estimate that he was able to spend 2/3 of the said amount for his expenses in connection with his participation in the said event. 

With this detailed accounting of our expenses, we will be able to plan and prepare for the next year’s event. Thanks to Chari for her hospitality in allowing us to stay in her Apartment with the hope that she will offer again her place for the Team in next year’s edition and for those emergency financial needs in support to Thomas success in this event. Thanks also to Team PAU for cooking the food for Thomas; preparing and packing the logistics/needs for each Leg of the event and for washing the dirty clothes of Thomas.

My personal thanks go to Jurg, Irene and Ida Montemayor, the Original Team Thomas Support, for their unwavering support and concern to Thomas’ welfare throughout the event. Jurg’s presence in Lantau to cheer and wait for the finish of Thomas means a lot to the Team. Thank you also to the sister of Thomas, Marina and nephew John for being with Thomas during the event.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank Tha Na and Josephine Austria for their company and support (food & drinks) at the Stanley Gap Road as we waited for the arrival of Thomas at the end of the Wilson Trail. Thank you also to Christian Viloria, an OFW in Hong Kong and a fast/strong trail runner, who prepared a lot of Filipino Food at the Shek O Road Bus Stop and for his support to Team Thomas.

There are still untold stories about our experience in terms of finances and logistics in supporting Thomas’ finish in this year’s Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge. The other half of the story is with Thomas. In due time, if time permits, I will be able to have more time talking to Thomas and relate his personal story in this blog.

Running Kit Of Thomas Combisen @ The 2020 HK4TUC


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 With His Mountain Hardwear Fuel 3-Liter Hydration Vest/Pack (Photo By Photo Guava)

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.

Thomas With His New ALTRA Lone Peak 3.0 Shoes, Kalenji Shirt, & Salomon Jacket

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.

Water Dispenser Near Public Comfort Rooms/Country Park

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.

Picture I Took With Thomas & Photo Guava Before The Start Of Lantau Trail

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 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!

Thomas @ MacLehose Trail (Picture By Photo Guava)

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.

Thomas Before The Finish Line @ Hong Kong Trail

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.

Thomas @ The “Pit Stop” Before Lantau Trail

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”.

Thomas Showing His PAU Shirt @ Finish Line (Picture By Alan Li)

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.  

Official Results: 2020 Hongkong Four Trails Ultra Challenge


2020 #HK4TUC Results:

33 Participants, 7 Finishers, 5 Survivors, 21 Retirees

2020 Finishers:

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

Collage Of 2020 HK4TUC Participants (Courtesy of Lloyd Belcher)

2020 Survivors:

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)

Journal Of “Team Thomas” @ 2020 HK4TUC (Second Day)


Journal Of “Team Thomas” @ 2020 HK4TUC (Second Day)

Thomas started the 2nd Leg of the event at Wilson Trail at 16:25 Hours, which was 1:25 AM of January 26, 2020, Sunday Morning. Ahead of him was a 78-kilometer distance during a cold and rainy night. Thomas was feeling cold at the start but having eaten a lot of food and keeping himself on the move, he will surely regain his pace and tempo during the run. After Thomas left, we immediately fixed our things, packed the used clothes/attire of Thomas and threw the trash at the Trash Bins at the Starting Area. We immediately took the Taxi which was waiting for us to bring us back to the place where we are staying. As we arrived in our place, we immediately checked the Racemap Application to find out if Thomas was on the right track. We were glad that Thomas was on the right track and we immediately rested for the day at 3:00 AM on the second day. Last year, after 1-2 kilometers from the Starting point, Thomas got lost and we had a sleepless on the first night at that time when more additional “lost moments” had to be corrected.

I woke up at 8:00 AM on the second day and immediately checked on the tracker of Thomas and he was doing fine without any “lost moments” as compared to his experience last year. Our monitoring team advised Thomas to call us once he reaches the MTR Station at Lam Tin and once he crosses the Quarry Bay and reaches the MTR Station at Tai Koo on the Hongkong Island side. From these calls, we would be able to estimate the time we would meet Thomas at the Finish Line of the Wilson Trail Leg. But with the lagging time as depicted by Thomas tracker, we decided to give an ample buffer time to wait at the said place before Thomas arrives.

We arrived at the end of the Wilson Trail Leg at the Tai Tam Country Park in Stanley Gap Road at 5:00 PM with the hope that Thomas would be arriving in 30-45 minutes. In a few seconds, we witnessed the arrival of the 4th Runner Abimanyu from Singapore and since Thomas was ranked as the 8th or 9th runner as seen on the tracker, we prepared ourselves to wait for some more time in the said place.

Thomas Along The Wilson Trail (Photo From Facebook)

Thomas Along The Wilson Trail (Photo From Facebook)

The cold wind from the sea was blowing on our faces as we waited for Thomas but our Team was entertained by two Pinay runners who are working in Hongkong with their stories about the race and what they have prepared in terms of food for Thomas and to the rest of the Pinoy Runners. They even mentioned to me that Christian Villoria from Pangasinan, also a worker in Hongkong, is waiting at the Bus Station at Shek O Road for more food and drinks for the Pinoy Runners. We had a lot conversations with Tha Na and Josephine and they entertained us while waiting for Thomas. I decided later to hike the 1,000+ steps or the last 600 meters of the trail and tried to wait for the arrival of Thomas. Instead, the #5 Runner Chiang from South Korea came out from the vegetated portion of the trail and he was running at an easy pace going downhill. I greeted and congratulated and told him that he is only 500 meters to the end of the trail.

Thomas After Crossing Victoria Bay (Photo By Lloyd Belcher)

After almost 3 hours of waiting, the #9 Runner Karen from Hongkong, the leading Lady Runner of the event, arrived at the Finish Line and we knew that in a few minutes, Thomas will be arriving next. Finally, Thomas arrived at the Finish Line of the Wilson Trail Leg at exactly 8:00 PM of Sunday, January 26, 2020 with a time of 18:30 Hours to finish the whole Wilson Trail.

Thomas Finishing The Wilson Trail

At 8:10 PM, we left immediately the end of Wilson Trail to the Shek O Road for Thomas to start the Hongkong Trail Third Leg. It took us a 22-minute ride on a Taxi to the Bus Stop at Shek O Road which is officially the Starting Area of the Hongkong Trail. Upon arrival, Thomas checked-in with Andre Blumberg and we set-up for the “pit stop” for Thomas. Thomas ate his dinner with the food we cooked for him and the food brought by Christian Villoria. Christian was there to meet us once we alighted from our Taxi ride. The NHK Japanese TV Network guys were also there to meet us with their Video Camera and Lights. They even interviewed Thomas while he was eating his dinner and focused their video camera on the food prepared for him. They were interested to see Fried Tuyo (fried salted sardines), Pork Adobo, and Sinigang Salmon Head (Sour Soup with Salmon Head) as Thomas food for dinner.

Thomas At The “Pit Stop”

Thomas With Christian Viloria

After eating, refilling his hydration vest with water and food, and changing his socks and attire, Thomas was ready to start the Hongkong Trail which has a distance of 50 kilometers. Before he left the starting point, Tomokazu “Tomo” Ihara, a sub-60 Finisher in last year’s HK4TUC and also a classmate of Thomas in last year’s event, advised Thomas that he is in the halfway (in terms of time elapsed) of the event and he needs to complete the remaining 120 kilometers in less than 24 hours to be able to be declared as a Finisher of the Event. Tomo said that it will be an easy task for Thomas to take the 7:00 AM Ferry trip to Lantau Island and be able to finish the Lantau Trail before the 60-hour cut-off time. Tomo was surprised to see how Thomas improved on his performance this time as compared to last year. In a conversation with Tomo, I told him about Thomas “lost moments” on the beaches of MacLehose Trail, lots of intersections at the Wilson Trail & mistake of going to the MacLehose Trail, and delays for looking the right MRT Platforms at the Lam Tin and Tai Koo Stations. 

Thomas left the Shek O Road at 9:05 PM of Sunday, January 26, 2020 and we expect him to finish the Hongkong Trail in 8 hours or at 5:00 AM of Monday January 27, 2020.

Thomas At The Start Of The Hongkong Trail

To be continued.