Race report: High mountain 50k of Ultra Tu Wenchuan

The 50 km race of H-Soil Ultra Tu Wenchuan on 15 May 2016 was the 2nd race in mainland China on  the 2016 calendar of Asia Trail Master series. Wenchuan, a peaceful small town with astonishing mountains view, sits in the northwest of Sichuan Basin, which is described as the “Heaven Country” in Chinese literature. It is famous for the birth place of Da Yu, one of the greatest leaders of ancient tribes in Chinese history, and for the first Chinese to plan for smart irrigation systems around 5000 years ago. Wenchuan is also one of the habitats of the panda, the unique animal living only in southwest of China, and which relies on local bamboo shots for its food. There are many ethnic minorities,  such as Tibetan (藏族), Qiang (羌族) and Hui (回族). You can see the Tibetans and the Qiangs wearing their featured apparels walking down the street. It is a place with a leisure atmosphere and friendly locals. The people there like playing a game called Mahjang, which looks like a 4-person chess but needs more tactics on calculating and analysis. All the buildings here, from the apartments to stadium and schools, look clean and new with ordered planning and decorations of ethnical features.

By Xiaozhao Zhao

The nature never hides its beauty from locals and tourists. Clouds roll along the peaks of more than 2000 meters altitude and higher from far a distance. Suddenly the bright sunshine tears up the iron curtain of clouds, and dyes everything with a layer of golden color. Standing on some peaks after a struggling ascent, you can see some snow caps of Hengduan Mountains (the boarder of Tibetan Plateau) shining under pure blue sky.

The start of the Wenchuan 50k race was still held at nighttime, though just before dawn

The start of the Wenchuan 50k race was still held at nighttime, though just before dawn

Going back to the unbelievable darkest moment of Wenchuan, the devastating earthquake on 12th, May, 2008 is a heart-braking painful memory. Wenchuan got destroyed into piles of bricks and rubbles of collapsed buildings in a matter of seconds and minutes. All the traffic to the outside world and power supply was completely cut off, paved roads were twisted and split, horrified survivors squeezed themselves out from bodies under smashed concrete walls, mourning their family and friends who died on the spot in great agony. Being regarded as the most serious one after 1976 Tangshan Earthquake, it claimed more than 69 thousands lives in Wenchuan, and even other places in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu province. Some people in Beijing and Shanghai reported that they felt the ground trembling slightly for seconds as well.

Revival and rebuilding are much like a phoenix reborn from flames. With all the help and support from all over China and the rest of the world, relying on their own resilience and diligence, a brand new Wenchuan has been established in just a few years and is ranking in the middle of a recent official survey on economics and social development in Sichuan Province.

The H-Soil Wenchuan Trail Tu is divided into 3 categories: 12km team, 23km and 50km solo. The route of 50km is nearly a loop on  the mountains around the town. Runners need to climb up 2 mountains and accumulate about 3800m of total ascent. The highest point is nearly 2800m from the sea level, while the lowest about 1000m. In the last 13km, there is a steep and long descent from the highest point to the finish at the altitude around 1200m. Thanks to the hilly terrain, 90% of the course is unpaved and consists of rugged stones, dirt single tracks and trails zigzagged in the farms and fruit gardens. Note: never lose yourself in face of the natural beauty and forget to pick up your pace, because the cut-off time is pressing 14 hours, plus all 5 checkpoints have their own time limitation. The slogan of the race said: Never Try Never Know.

As race director Lang He said, designing such a tough race is our way to the objective of demonstrating the potential of future development of outdoor sports in Wenchuan,  and let more people enjoy trail running.

107 runners from at least 5 countries competed in the 50km category, while approximately 120 in the 23 km and around 50 in 12km. Only the 50km race gave Asia Trail Master points to finishers. For most local runners it was the first Asia Trail Master points race of the year, except for Zhong Guan, who had finished 8th in last month's Tsaigu Tangsi Plus. 


Bi Duanyuang from Beijing was the fastest man in the race

Bi Duanyuang from Beijing was the fastest man in the race

The Asia Trail Master’s 50km race started at 5.00 am, in the chilly dawn of after a day of raining. Runners first ran along a short distance of wandering and narrow concrete road, and then switched into rugged trails covered by bushes and single tracks along the exposed ridgeline with cliffs on both sides. They traversed the mountains and farmlands and had to deal with major ascents and descents.

At first, dense and humid fog floated among the high peaks and the course was so slippery due to the rain the day before. Runners really had a hard time jumping and squeezing among the rocks and bushes. As time went by, sunshine came out, so they were able to enjoy the “natural beauty” , nevertheless along with painful struggling: alpine meadows, frightening deep valleys with steep slopes at both sides, and the two very long ascents. Wang Guang led the race until 37.5km where he came up to serious pain in knees, followed by Bi Duanyuang and Kuo Li. the recent winner of a race in Northeastern China. Then Bi Duanyang took the 1st place and managed to hold it all the way to the finish. “It is a well-organized and fabulous race with pretty nice view and very technical path in lots of places,"said Bi Duanyang. " I love the meadow and snow caps of high peaks far away. Marks are ok in all. All the staff and locals are very kind and helpful. Races of Asia Trail Master series are very interesting so I will have a closer look and pick up some for my races calendar. ”

As the 2nd-placed Kuo LI said “I love the last 10km with the long and steep descent. I can dash at will without braking, kinda feeling of flying freely. I encouraged Wang Guang to stay on course at 37.5km when we are at the check point, before I pushed myself to the highest point. ”

“I appreciate the help of Kuo Li when I was at the brink of total collapse due to my inflaming knees. The time is not so ideal so I will do this race again with a better performance, I have still room for improvement.” Said Wang Guang.

Zhou Dongmei won the 50km race for women. Last year, she came second in a 100km race on Gonga Shan, also in Sichuan, so her new victory may not come as a major surprise. For the 2nd Female Yihan LIU, a musician when she is not running,  it was her perfect debut in ultra-trail races. “I lost my way several times but each time I could meet kind friends to help me out of trouble. Being afraid of getting lost again, I walked the last few kilometers to the finish, focusing on locating marks rather than accelerating. Any way I am enjoying the running and the atmosphere of socialization.”

82 runners finished the 50km with valid results (64 male and 18 female) within the 14 hours cut-off. 


Race podium result

Top 3 male of 50km:

1. Duanyang BI (06:32:30)

2. Kuo LI (06:56:33)

3. Guang WANG (07:11:17)

Top 3 female of 50km:

1. Dongmei ZHOU (08:33:24, the 13th over-all)

2. Yihan LIU (09:23:49)

3. Jun YANG (09:28:46)

In all, the H-Soil is more than a race, it is a lesson about how to make each day count during our limited lifetime, from the spirit of a revived and peaceful town and its people, returning from a  great loss with toughness and hard work.