|2018 Run Across Taiwan|
April 13-15 saw the fourth revival of Frank Kuo’s 246km Race Across Taiwan organised by the Chinese Taipei Association of Ultrarunners. Formosa is a substantial island with a mountain chain down the middle. Traversing it is a 246K run from sea level rising to 3275m and descending back to sea level. The final 25km of the journey is through the famous and spectacular Taroko Gorge.
A hundred and six started this year, including 24 foreigners from 7 countries, and 33 made it all the way within the allowed 44 hours. Another 120 runners enter 165K and 110K categories. The first across was Japan’s Shigemi in 30:02, a course record. The previous two editions were won by his fellow countryman Inoue Shingo, who also held the record, but this year he failed to make the cut-off time. The first woman across was Taiwan’s Chou in 36:51, another course record. She was third overall. She also is the current Taiwan’s 24hr, 100 miles and 100K records holder.
Photo: Taroko Gorge during the race
The race started at Taichung harbour on the island’s west coast at 8PM on Friday evening (Friday the 13th as it happens). The first 80km through the night were on wide, flat, well-lit roads with little traffic. From the early morning, though, that was followed by 40km of unremitting ascents and descents through the day on Saturday, most of them quite steep. In the heat of the day the temperature touched an unseasonable 30° finding most of the runners drastically over-dressed. Fortunately there were well-stocked aid stations about every 10km manned by local running clubs. They were essential. That part of the course followed a narrow, winding country road with very little traffic, and much of it was shaded. It wound and switched back and forth through farming villages of some of Taiwan’s many aboriginal tribes. Historians now agree that it was the ancestors of Taiwan’s indigenous inhabitants who invented the outrigger canoe and who originally settled the islands of the vast Pacific from Hawaii to New Zealand.
Photo: Taroko Gorge
After 113km there was no more up-and-down. It was 44km of unremitting climbing on a narrow road with heavy tourist traffic. It was an unpleasant interlude in an otherwise lovely race. The only saving feature was that the temperature gradually dropped from the high 20s to 14°, foggy and windy when Shigemi reached the highest point at about 3:15 in the afternoon. When the majority of the runners passed during the night, the temperature was in single digits. The pass was at 3275m, so in addition to the cold and wind the altitude had a significant impact on everyone’s breathing.
The final 86km were steady downhill, which sounds pleasant, but few do much downhill training so it ruins the legs after an hour or so. The road through the Taroko Gorge has been cut along cliff faces with extensive rock overhangs. Some of the many tunnels are unlined with rough rock walls and ceilings. They are in fact so long, dark and numerous that one runner had to call for help only 7K from the finish line. He was apparently experiencing acute claustrophobia, no doubt exacerbated by sleep deprivation and terminal exhaustion. Taiwan experiences frequent earthquakes and the road is littered with fallen rocks, some of them of lethal diameter. (Indeed, the timing team, using another highway, was blocked by a land slip and missed the arrival of the first few runners whose times had to be recorded by hand.) So each runner was required to present a helmet at check-in which he or she could pick up at the aid station just before the gorge. And if the risk of falling rocks doesn’t fire a few exhausted, sleepless brain cells, the gorge also features wild monkeys for entertainment.
Fortunately, the weather on Sunday was cool and breezy with light showers—a big help to those still running. The east coast finish line was in another rather larger aboriginal town, and women in traditional costume met each finisher with a garland of flowers and a drink from a ceremonial vessel. After the finish line closed there was entertainment from a pretty good local duo who were able to deliver songs in several languages including Japanese and English. The post-race dinner was also locally-grown traditional dishes served by local women in ceremonial garb.
Photo: finish line
Each finisher received a wooden souvenir personalised with their name and time. The winners also received larger hardwood trophies. There were no cash prizes, but a very good time was had by all, even the many who didn’t make it under their own power. Most will be back next year to try again.
- Chou, Ling-Chun (Taiwan) 36:51:38
- Huang, Hsiao Chun (Taiwan) 37:51:37
- Kurumi, Wakaki (Japan) 40:41:18
- Shigemi, Takayoshi (Japan) 30:01:45
- Jiang, Yao Min (Taiwan) 33:57:49
- Lin, Bin (China) 37:11:12
Prepared by Frank Kuo