Gaoligong by UTMB® is in a month!
The largest Chinese trail ultra will be held in a month. The organization can count on a booming local economy, remarkable historical heritage and a battle between the top Chinese and Western ultra-runners.
The largest trail ultra in China
China is now an economic and sporting superpower, but few know that it is fast on its way to becoming a trail running superpower. Amateur running started in earnest about five years ago in China, and is now booming - the country has 15 million amateur runners, and some 200 trail ultras are held annually across China, in all terrains and climates - from the Gobi Desert in the north to the tropical jungles of the south.
The largest trail race in China now has a direct connection with UTMB®. Gaoligong by UTMB® (which offers three distances - 100miles, 125km and 55km) will be held on the 9th of March this year, and already has over 1600 runners registered, from 20 different countries. It is now the largest trail ultra in China.
The Chinese believe that to become a master you must learn from a master, and Gaoligong have chosen to learn from UTMB® on how to organize a world-class trail race. All aspects of the race are done according to UTMB® standards and under direct UTMB® supervision, hence the “by UTMB®” label.
UNESCO world heritage site
The location of the race says nothing to a foreigner - Tengchong Municipality, in the mountains on the border with Myanmar, in Yunnan Province, South West China. Unknown outside China, Tengchong and the neighbouring Gaoligong Mountains, where the race is held, are truly remarkable both for their cultural assets and natural views. For foreign visitors, it is a chance to discover untouched, original China.
Everyone knows of the Great Silk Road that once connected the Europe and China, but the Southern Silk Road, also known as the Tea and Horse Trail, is as important but yet virtually unknown. It linked the Arab world and India with Tibet and Southern China, transporting tea, silver, precious gems and war horses. The first caravans started more than two millennia ago, and only stopped after World War II. The Tea and Horse Trail is the direct ancestor of Gaoligong by UTMB®, on some sections of the course, the competitors will run on the stone-laid paths older than the Roman Empire.
Gaoligong Mountains are a UNESCO world heritage site – virgin jungle, home to leopards and red pandas, where ancient ruins are mixed with World War 2 battle sites. Seventy years ago, the Chinese Expeditionary Force battled against the Japanese Imperial Army here. The Chinese troops were led by American officers and supported by US volunteer pilots, known as the Flying Tigers. After the war, for ideological reasons, these Americans were written out of history, but now they have been rehabilitated as heroes, and are cherished one more as part of local history and heritage. A remarkable museum in Tengchong testifies to piece of once-forgotten history.
Tengchong is also home to active volcanoes, their cones, covered by lush forest, surround the city. Countless hot springs, fuelled by volcanic energy, were once used by locals as natural baths, are now developed into resorts.
A showdown between China’s top ultra-runners and the world’s best
The Chinese athletes, yet unknown abroad, are former elite marathoners forged by the Chinese national sports system, a conveyor belt which produces elite athletes. These runners have now broken with the rigid official state control and embraced the freedom of ultra and trail running, and are full professionals.
Last year’s female champion, elite American runner Marcia Zhou, said simply: “Gaoligong is the best organized race I have ever taken part in.” This year it promises to be even better. China has arrived on world ultra-running stage.
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