TT plus: Ma Yanxing wins again as Hua Zhaohong steals hearts

The TTP (Tsaigu Tangsi Plus) is the 4th race in the calendar of the 2016 Asia Trail Master series, and the event was also chosen as China's SuperTrail race. All 82 km (50 miles) and 60 km finishers score points for the ATM championship ranking.

By Xiaozhao Zhao in Linhai

Held at Mount Kuocang of Linhai County in Zhejiang Province, starting at 0600 am, the 2016 TTP is an upgraded version of the 2015 event. The biggest change is the introduction of a 82km category with a total ascent of close to 6000hm,  traversing technical natural terrain along the ridges and in the forests, making it the toughest 50 Miler in China, and perhaps the most beautiful one with significant historic background as well.

Linhai is famous for its geographic and natural views filled with historic stories. It sits in the hilly Southeastern coastline with seasoned winds from Pacific from spring to autumn, which make its weather and climate great for outdoor activities, as in addition there is almost zero heavy industry around. No wonder Linhai is also a tourist resort.

The Rice & Wave Peak (1300 m from the sea level), the highest point of Eastern Zhejiang Province, as well as the first place to receive sunlight in the 21st century is included in the running course of TTP.  The race starts and finishes at sea level, though.

There are very thick plants in this area, such as bamboos and other sub-tropic species. The effect of seasoned winds brings sufficient precipitation. So there are crystal creeks running in the mountain through rocks with various shapes. In the mornings with sunshine followed a humid day, the peaks and ridge lines emerge from the clouds and through the fog, like rocks in the ebb tide in the sea.

In Chinese history, Linhai is one of the main arenas of early marine culture and of more powerful central authority (power of emperor) based on an agricultural society, which originated many hundreds of years ago during Ming and Qing dynasties. The overseas trade with Japan, Southeast Asia and even Arab countries made the merchants very rich and some of them owned a private armed force. The race starts from a stronghold built in the Ming dynasty and boasted as one of the most integrated ancient coastal fortresses in China. 

The route of 62km category is based on the 57km’s which was the longest in 2015. At the last 7km, runners haves to run through a very zig-zag steep and technical downslope with sands and blade-like rocks from the top of Rice & Wave to the sea level in the distance of 7 km after passing a power facility full of windmills. In a sunny day like the 2015 race day, many pictures of running by the windmills were widely spread in social media.

There is a less- competitive 30km entry-level group as well.

Race director is Yu Tsai (Kein), a local runner who finished UTMB and UTMF. His target is to make the race challenging with as many natural elements as possible along the route. The most difficult thing in preparation is to to do plenty of recce and set a one-direction route with more than 90% natural trail. He also insists all runners understand and take the rules on mandatory gears seriously in case of sudden change of weather at in the mountain.

Last weekend's race was held with moderate rainfall at times. It made the race even more challenging with natural mystique. Despite of the increased risks of stepping upon slippery rocks, runners were generally happy to experience the amazing view of Fog & Rain, which is described as a symbol of romanticism in many poems and novels in ancient China.  The course was well-marked so people did not have to worry about getting lost. You could see farmers working in the tea garden in traditional ways, rain drops falling down from pink flowers, the youngest untouched bamboo shooting out of the soil, the moss covering the rocks and even some thunder roaring on the horizon. Deep in the forest, you can even listen to the minimalistic sound of the bushes whipping slightly on your skin when you pass by close to them.

Friendship and community atmosphere is also a feature of the TTP besides its unique natural environment and good organization. This year, the number of international runners increased a lot. There were Swedish girls working in Hebei province and Shanghai, British tough nuts from Hong Kong, mid-aged Greek and German gentlemen from Jiangsu province along with a handsome Singaporean, plus a muscular Belgium manager working in Shanghai who can speak proficient Chinese. For the Chinese runners with jobs related to foreign languages,  there was no better chance to practice speaking skills! What’s more, in some dangerous situations like passing the running creeks among steep and slippery rocks, running pals in need will become life-time friends indeed.

Although Yan Longfei did not participate due to injury, another Chinese running star and the female champion of the 2015 Asia Trail Master series, Ma Yanxing, triumphed again on the 82km category. Ma Yanxing was in a big hurry after she finished: like most participants, the 50 miles race was tougher than expected and took a lot more time to complete, too. The only Chinese female finisher of TdG, UTMB and UTMF, Dalian's Qu Lijie and Chen Xue finished second and third in the longest women's race. As mentioned in our preview, the very tough terrain suited Qu Lijie very well as she managed to stay very close to Ma Yanxing! “In all the races I tried, the TTP has the most various kind of terrain, I like its challenge combined with the great scenery. It is a perfect combination of racing and tourism.” said Qu Lijie after the race.

According to the winner of the men's 50 miles, Hua Zhaohong, TTP is the most difficult race he has ever completed. The surprise of winning and the support from his family and friends at the finish line made it a life-long happy memory for him. Especially as he proposed to his girlfriend moments after crossing the line! Hua Zhaohong changed his gear covered by mud and dirt for a neat white shirt with the applause from everyone present on the spot. All attendants at the finish shared this sensational moment. Hua Zhaohong had a  22-minute lead over Shen Jianfeng and Dan Yongquan. The finishing time of over 14 hours proves the dificulty of the event. Noureddine Sahibi, a seasoned ultra runner and 10th in last year's Asia Trail Master series,  was among the many people who suffered their way to the finish. "Personally I prefer the 60km race distance, which I did last year. This 50 miles course was just a little too much in my opinion," he argued.  

Sahibi's view was shared by many, and the race statistics seem to prove them right as the DNF quota on the 50 miles was clearly above 50%. Within the cut off time of 21 hours, 76 (6 women) out of nearly 192 (32 women) runners managed to complete the distance. 

Top 3 male 50 miles (hh:mm):

1 Zhaohong HUA 13:44
2 Jianfeng SHEN 14:06
3 Yongquan DAN 14:14

Top 3 female 50 miles:

1 Yanxing MA 17:22
2 Lijie QU 17:28
3 Xue CHEN 18:42

Before the cut-off time at 2200, 16th, Apr, 99 (15F) out of 200 (45F) runners conquered 62km hilly course happily.

Top 3 male 62k:

1 Xiangyang LI 09:21
2 Fengrui XIANG 09:29
3 Bin XIE 09:30

Top 3 female 62k:

1 Xianglian ZHONG 12:06
2 Ying CHEN 12:35
3 Ying LIU 13:38

The men's podium of the 2016 Tsaigu Tangsi Plus 50 miles race

The men's podium of the 2016 Tsaigu Tangsi Plus 50 miles race