Tseng Wei Ling is Talking Trail Running

Following her superb second place in UTHK last month, jointly with China's Xiao Jing, we felt it was an opportune moment to talk trail running with Tseng Wei Ling from Taiwan. Contrary to Hong Kong, Wei Ling's native island does not yet have too many celebrities on the trail scene. Ironically, she is now also living in Hong Kong, yet very keen to promote the beauty of her home, and assist with the development of the sport, which does face some challenges in Taiwan. Always smiling in race photos, Wei Ling herself just keeps getting better and better in every race she runs. Incredibly dedicated and strong-willed, here's a runner who might just as well go for the Asia Trail Master title by the end of the year! Here's our Q & A with Tseng Wei Ling, and her favourite music to run in the background.

Wei Ling's favourite running tune

Q: Where are you from in Taiwan and what do you do for a living?

WL: I am from Taipei city. It has a basin topography. Lots of hills are around my city.  And Taiwan, the beautiful hometown I was born is also called Formosa. But today I’m a bank officer and work in Hong Kong.

Q: Was running part of your upbringing as a child and teenager?  

As a child and teenager, I often go hiking or trekking in my home country, Taiwan. There are lots of hills and around 260 mountains go above 3000 meters. On weekends, my parents, friends and I used to drive a car and walk into mountains to enjoy peace and nature. No road running, I was trained to become a trail walker, if you like.  

Q: When and why did you decide to take part in trail running competitions?

My first trail running race was the first edition of The North Face 50 km in Hong Kong in December 2013.  When I stood at the finish line after experiencing a sleepless night , strong winds, fog, heavy rain, and a cumulative elevation gain of around 3000 meters, I was not sure it was rain or hot tears in my eyes. I was exhausted but touched. I was able to make it to the finish no matter how tough or how dark it was ahead of me. If I could overcome all unknown and unexpected conditions along the trails, I would become mentally stronger. So afterwards I decided to do more physical training for trail running races. 

Q: Do you also run road marathons? what is your best time on the marathon?

Actually, I haven’t joined any road marathons yet. I was born to love mountains. I have only taken part in trail marathons until now. Maybe one day I will try it but I’m still addicted to trail running.

Q: Do you feel the so-called " runner's high " ? 

Yes. I know why I am running these days, the desire is my motivation to run and run fast. The feel-good brain chemicals released when I do so may have helped me achieve the speed and distances required. I try to push myself hard, but not too hard.  When I find a sweet spot where it is comfortably challenging, I think I feel the so called "runner's high". And, I also feel it when more trail runners are together.

Q: How much do you train? Do you have a coach or do you use a running coaching app?

I go running for 10 km and do core training during weekdays. And on weekends I tend to go trail running for 30 km to 50 km. I wish to enjoy all training. Although I don't have a personal physical coach, lots of senior trail runners are my mental mentors. They always push me to improve myself. 

Q: Do you have a specific objective in trail running, or you just wish to run for fun? Is it easy to combine with work and family? 

I wish I could finish strong in every trail running race. Be mentally and physically stronger, and  then look forward and face the next challenges. It's not easy to combine work and family for lots of trail runners. It is necessary to allocate our times well.

Q: Do you have any sports heroes? If yes, who and what is so special about him / her?

Vegan ultra runner Scott Jurek.  He always breaks all boundaries and never stops exploring even though he has already scored lots of victories in his running career. And, he is known to stay at finish lines cheering until the last runner crosses. What a touching gesture! 

Q: How do you feel about trail running in Taiwan. What is special about running in Taiwan?

Because I live in Hong Kong, I do not have very much experience in it. Trail running in Taiwan is just beginning. Various types of trails are based on different elevations. You might run cross streams or along the rivers or close to waterfalls, run into the forest and see specific kinds of trees, such as Taiwan red cypress, Taiwan white pine, firs and etc. And you might climb rocks by hands or ropes. I think Taiwan is special as it offers still wild and undeveloped trail types.

Q: At present, there is no Taiwanese race on the Asia Trail Master calendar. Which event would you like to see in it?

As mentioned above, most trails in Taiwan are quite wild and undeveloped. I would expect a race with a route that covers mountains above 3000 meters. If that, trail runners could see beautiful sunrise with endless sea of clouds and maybe could run with Sambar deers if  lucky. But this kind of trail running race above 3000m might not be allowed by the government. I know there is the first edition ofThe Beast Trail race held in June in New Taipei City. The route represents the wild and technical trail type in Greater Taipei.

Q: Do you often travel to other countries to take part in trail running events?

I have taken part in several trail running races in Hong Kong mainly, but  I also finished 172km UTMF in Japan in September 2015. And I have signed in UTMB-CCC race this year. Looking forward to it...

Q: Last month, there was the news that a big national park in Taiwan (Yangmingshan National Park) has forbidden trail running with immediate effect on environmental and safety grounds, leading to the cancellation of scheduled races. Do you think more parks will follow and forbid races? 

I hope that won't happen. But how to protect environment during a race and after a race is a very important issue. Trail runners should be taught well. And race organizers and government officials could refer to how Japanese put a lot of effort into ecological planning and protection while holding the big UTMF race. 

Q: How do you select the trail races you run? 

In Hong Kong, I plan to join all ultra trail races. In other countries, I prefer to sign up for popular and classic races.

Q: Which Asia Trail Master races are you planning still for this year? Given your high points score, will you try to get a good final ranking?

There are lots of interesting Asia Trail Master races, such as Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset and Annapurna 100.  I hope I can join them, I need to check with my limited annual leave from work. 

Q: What was your best trail running experience so far?

My favorite part of trail running race is the moment of breaking dawn. It makes me think of being vigorous, fresh and enthusiastic. It makes me keep going ahead.

Q: What was your craziest experience in a  trail running event? 

My first 100 miles race was UTMF in Japan in 2015. The trail was muddy because of pouring rain in the previous day and still scattered rain during the race itself. The cut-off time was very tight in the first half of check points. I tried to speed up my pace to pass through lots of technical sections. But after sunset, I couldn't see the narrow route clearly through thick fog in the forest. It's really dangerous because of chances to fall down off the mountain. I slowed down and waited for someone coming with a brighter light.  It was my first time to feel helpless. And rain became heavier at night. Trails were muddier and slipperier. In addition, trekking poles were forbidden by organizers for the reason of soil protection . So every trail runner needed to be more careful to go downhill. Lots of runners fell on their butts, faces, knees and other body parts. I got an injury at the lateral collateral ligament of knee joint after going downhill dramatically in the first one-third of the 172 km long race. And my pain still increased in intensity when I approached the finish line. I was in a bad situation at that moment. I was still determined to keep going unless I were to miss cut-off time. So, I really wanted to cry when I crossed the finish line after not sleeping for two nights. I learned lots and gained a lot of experience from this race.  

Q: What does your training look like when you have a specific race goal 

I will start training for UTMB-CCC race soon. Although the distance is not my longest race, it's still 6100 meters of positive altitude change in 101 km. No doubt it's very steep up and down, but without any stairs like in Hong Kong. I plan to find similar terrain in Hong Kong and spend weekends running on it. In addition, I plan to spend more time training to hike uphill on a treadmill as steep as it goes at gym, because at CCC I'm actually going to be hiking for almost half of the steep climbs.

Q: In your opinion, what are the biggest issues facing the sport of trail running in the near future? What is it you would not like to happen?

How to protect the environment and nature is an important issue. There is always a lot of litter on the trail after a race. How to prevent that?  Also, the effect of urbanization in Hong Kong is that the government has gradually paved over the ancient trail with concrete in recent years. It looks like an attempt against nature. When we go trail running or hiking, we want to spend quality time on trees and grass, not on city-like sidewalks.  

Q: Is there a race you really NEVER want to do, and why? 

I face all challenges and expect to break through them myself. 

Q: Do you have any tips for race organisers? Things every organiser should pay special attention to?

For race organizers, I would suggest that they provide more detailed race information on the websites as early as possible. The most important thing for overseas participants is to run the right way without spending too much time finding routes. I wish all organizers could provide GPS and mark routes more clearly.