After a week of pre-race buzz including run-celebrity sightings, numerous newspaper articles and a star-studded press conference, the eyes of the world turn to Hong Kong tomorrow as some of the world's best runners face off in what promises to be an epic battle.
Despite predicted temps of 21C and 95% humidity, pundits are predicting record times. Elites from the United States, Australia and China are expected to push hard from the gun in the longer blue ribbon event, with the favourite, a high profile American athlete, recently clocking 1:04:00 for a half marathon. There will also be two shorter distances on tomorrow's race card and the race organisers have a great track record of putting on excellent events.
The premise of the Fast100 is simple. Going against the trend of more technicality and more vert, this race promises runners a very runnable course - so more running and less hiking - and makes a great trail intro for road runners.
It's hard not to like Walmsley here, despite a second place at last weekend's Valentine's Day fun run. He starts as the world's highest ranked ITRA runner at 951 (Kilian Jornet is second at 935) and his recent 1:04 flat at the Houston Half Marathon shows he has speed to burn. He's had a week in Hong Kong to acclimatise and doesn't mind steps, so it's weather and his famous suicide-pace starts that loom as the main risks to a Walmsley win.
Chinese superstar, YUN Yanqiao, however, can't be ignored. The recent Hong Kong 100, where Chinese runners swept both podiums, shows they have a big advantage here. They are race fit, acclimatised to the warmer weather and Hong Kong trails can be quite similar to China. Yanqiao boasts a 860 ITRA score and is also a proven winner in Hong Kong, including twice at Hong Kong 100 (2013 and 2017) as well as The North Face 100 (2014).
Rob Krar also needs little introduction. The 42 year old Canadian has a stratospheric 895 ITRA and is coming off a huge 2018 after two years of battling injuries. The highlight was a monster win at Leadville by over an hour.
And then there is Brendan Davies. This understated legend of Australian trail running sports an 854 ITRA, but pulled out an incredible 884 performance at Ultra Trail Australia last year to take the win. Significantly, tomorrow's terrain could be quite similar so Brendan should be in the mix.
In terms of local runners - and they will need a big dollop of home ground advantage and luck to just be remotely competitive - look out for Gone Running-Joint Dynamics runners Brian McFlynn (ITRA: 769, 1st Trailwalker, 1st TransNT and 9th HK100 in 2018) and Henri Lehkonen (ITRA: 736, 1st Yuhuang Ultra 50K, 1st Maclehose 45K, 1st GreenRace 50K in 2017-18), as well as Chengdu-based American WAA elite, Justin Andrews (ITRA: 809, 1st MSIG HK50, 5th Ultra Trail Australia in 2018). J. Campbell is also running but it's the American one, not Canadian 😉
Unfortunately, the women's field won't have the same buzz as the men, with only Cher Tan from Singapore making the trip to Hong Kong. The race looks like a showdown between three locally based runners.
Originally from Canada, Katia Kucher has an ITRA of 576 and has had a fabulous 18 months, including podiums at Mountain Range 50 and TransNT. More recently, she won the GreenRace Immortals 32K and, significantly, came in runner up at the GreenRace Ultra, also a 50 mile race but on much tougher terrain.
Denise YING (ITRA 532) and Aqua Tsang (ITRA 536) should push Katia all the way. The distance should both, with Denise more of a 50km specialist, with two fifth places in the MSIG Hong Kong 50 series (Sai Kung and Hong Kong), while Aqua had a fabulous 2018, including 5th Mountain Range 50, 3rd Rebel Walker 100, 4th TransLantau 100 and 5th Garmin 100.
Enjoy the action and best of luck to everyone running tomorrow!