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This February saw the first ever Asian Sky Running Championship race come to Hong Kong. The competition is one of the most physically demanding a runner can put their body through. But that didn't stop over 1,000 people attracted by the challenge including several top runners from China.
It's 6am and hundreds of racers gather in the darkness of a car park in rural Hong Kong. Lit by the glow of a small shop foreigners and locals of all ages stretch, talk tactics and take a final gulp of water before the run.
This is the 2015 Sky Running Asian Championship. People from all over the world have come to take part in what must be one of the most scenic races on the planet. The morning light gradually reveals lush green hills sloping into secluded beaches and a poster blue sea. But the beauty of the landscape belies the pain that many of these participants are about to push themselves through.
The competition consists of a series of runs stretching up to 50 kilometres (about 30 miles) across mountain paths rising 2,800 metres, uneven rocks, loose scree and sandy beaches, followed by a final mountain climb to soak the last remaining energy from tired legs. It's a massive challenge for even the fittest athlete. And yet the event sold out with 1,200 runners of all levels of ability.
"I started off just running for fun but it's so competitive here that once you get in a race you just can't help yourself, you just get carried away,” says Mo, a PE teacher from Scotland who's been living in Hong Kong for ten years. This is his first year trail running.
"People come from all over the world to race here. And, surprisingly the standard is world class, really good. Especially today's race,” he says. “Some of the top runners in the world are here today.”
Many of the elite athletes are entering the 50km race. But there's also a 13km, 24km and 28km taking place at the same time. Runners of all standards are here - some even brandishing walking poles, clearly intending to hike rather than jog. But of the top athletes, one of the favourites is from China.
China arrived with a team of 8, three of whom are professional. Yan Longfei was one of them. He has a slight, boyish frame with high arched eyebrows that look like he's always on the verge of a chuckle - and often is. But he's serious about running. After a period as a professional marathon runner he switched to trail running a year ago. In that short time he's already achieved some of this competition's fastest times and holds the Hong Kong trail record for 100km.
In fact the organisers even use a life sized poster of him splattered with mud mid-race to promote the event. Little wonder then that he is tipped by many to win. Despite the pressure, Yan Longfei appeared in relaxed mood the day before the race. Sitting with teammates sipping a jar of homemade lemonade in a local cafe he was happy to share his tactical approach to the next day's race.
"Usually from the start to the middle of the race I follow the first runner. After that I pick up my pace towards the end.”
Yan Longfei's teammate Shan Hu - also a professional runner - sits across from him on the table sipping a cup of black tea. A tall young lady wearing a tight olive green t-shirt and bright red trainers, she says her secret is not eating anything when climbing the mountain, only carrying mineral water and a few energy snacks in her backpack that she might take one hour in.
But despite the success of this young team, the sport of mountain running is relatively new in China. Shan Hu likens the level of Chinese runners to primary school students in comparison to the “college level” of European athletes. One aspect in which the Chinese can improve, according to Yan Longfei, is knowledge of nutrition and knowing what food you should - and shouldn't - eat to achieve peak performance. That may be true, but this group of Chinese racers can compete with the best, according to race organiser Michael Maddess.