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Tips to Surviving the 9 Dragons

Here are eight tips from 2018's ninth dragon and three-time podium, John Ellis, to give yourself the best possible chance of finishing the brutally hard 9 Dragons Ultra 50/50.

Photo credit: EC Windblow

1. This is a monster, so treat accordingly. The 50M is actually 88km / 4,900m D+ and the 50K at 54K / 3,600m D+ is a ridiculously tough 50K in itself - and probably Hong Kong's hardest at this distance. It's not a surprise we saw a 62% DNF rate in 2018 😱

2. Pacing - Try to think of the 50M as a 100K race. When you hit the finish line, you should feel like you could slog out another 10K so you have a little bit left in the tank for tomorrow.

3. Recovery - when you hit the finish line, get onto the recovery shake ASAP. You'll also want to be focused on rehydrating ahead of tomorrow and recovery sleeves or tights will help too. I've always found a Saturday massage useful and prefer to stay up to 6-8pm and get a solid 12-10 hours good sleep rather than sneaking an afternoon kip. 

4. Where does each race start? The 50M really doesn't get going until after CP4 Fanling (45km) and then it's CP3 Lead Mine (27km) for the 50K. Keep it super comfortable and don't push before these points to avoid a blow up, where you can really ship time. The cut-offs are tight but you'll do better banking energy rather than time in the first half.

5. There is a crap-ton of climbing. The combined race averages 600m per 10km but there are some more intense sections too - by 24km into the 50K, you'll have already climbed 2,400m! Hong Kong is famous for its stairs so don't neglect your stair training, and the downhills are probably more important than the ups. Make sure you are comfortable cruising down stairs without smashing your quads, and bring some poles to help with the ascents. On the steeper steps, when you're legs are dying, you'll find you can place your poles two or three steps up and drag yourself up, a uniquely Hong Kong technique! The poles are also handy in case you come across the village dog.

6. There could be a couple tricky village turns. Loading the course GPX onto your watch can make all the difference, especially at night. The routes can be downloaded for free at https://gone.run/collections/gpx-files (2018), though best to check the official website for any updates.

7. Respect the weather - you can get the latest official forecast here and the humidity is probably more important than the temp. Anything over 80% humidity will be a tough sauna! Friday night is invariable jacket-chilly up on Tai Mo Shan, then Saturday can get pretty steamy so you'll lose more sweat than you realise when the sun comes up. Take extra water for stage 5 (Fanling to Luk Keng) as it'll take most runners three to four hours. Then Sunday can be very nasty, even during winter. Pace accordingly and you'll minimise cramping and the gut bombs.

8. The single hardest part of the race is the 5am alarm on Sunday morning. Commit, commit, and you won’t regret it (well not as much as if you roll over and snooze).

Best of luck if you decide to register for the 9 Dragons 50/50. There might be tears but it's an awesome race full of challenge and adventure (and a little bit of hurt too).


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