Sunday November 24th the 2014 edition of the East Yang Ming Shan trail run was held by Ezfun Taiwan. It offered both 18 and 10km courses and was sponsored by Merrel Taiwan. Race packages were mailed to participants, including baggage tags allowing for the quick and easy deposit of bags. The starting point was Xi Mountain Elementary school (溪山國小), only a few minutes drive from Northern Taipei City and this year more than 1100 people total signed up for either race.
Online it initially stated that the race would begin at 7 am so we were shocked to see that when we showed up at 6:30 people were already lining up at the start for the gun to go off at 6:40. We quickly deposited our luggage and were able to cross the start line at 6:48, luckily there was no official “start time” on the finishers certificate, and each runner was ranked according to the time they crossed the start/finish line. Still, I found myself to be a little annoyed as normally competitive trail runners take the first (usually wider, road) leg to pass other runners as the trail gets significantly narrower later on.
The first 4.8km was was steep uphill road and contained 2 of the 4 water stops for the 18km race. Although this part was road, it was a grueling climb, in just over 4.5 kms we would ascend just over 490m. Still I took this opportunity to pass as many other runners as I could given that we had been delayed out of the starting gate.
After turning off the road, the trail heads up stone staircases surrounded by tall grass. Luckily, it has not recently been raining in Taipei and the stones were relatively dry. From here its another 170m to the top elevation of 850m and the 3rd (10km) water station. This section is narrow, and parts of it are extremely slippery despite the lack of rain, the sections of grass next to the stone path can occasionally be used to pass but are generally found to be uneven. The inconsistent nature of the stones also makes for some difficult footing. This trail is very scenic and along it you can see the occasional wild buffalo. It also runs intermittently between grasslands and and an old Japanese forest plantation on its way to the top.
Once we reached the top we took advantage of the water stop, the next one is quite close the the end of the race. This is where the trail run intersected a very popular hiking spot known as Cing Tian Gong (擎天崗). This is a relatively flat part of the mountain with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and Taipei City below. It is also a great place to take advantage of the wide trail and gain some ground.
Here you run on this wide section of groomed path for approximately a kilometer before turning into a small grass trail, and past a sign that says “trail closed”. This thick grass is difficult to wade through as the directions quickly change and the grass is above head height.
Finally the trail starts downhill, it is a narrow path that winds amongst the trees and I was having so much fun running it I didn’t have the opportunity to take any pictures. With many obstacles and small dips and climbs this was by far my favorite part of the course and the only section of authentic trail, with no stones or paving.
This trail lasts for about 3km before turning into another paved path, following a small stream before turning on to the final portion of road, past the final water stop (15.5km) down the hill and to the finish line.
I was disappointed with the early start of the race but other than that the race was well organized and well flagged. There was also a refreshing chia seed beverage a the end, along with a rice dumpling for participants. The main sponsor Merrell gave shoes to the top 10 of the men and women’s open category, worth 3000 NTD per pair. Although the shoes were not readily available and would be sent to participants at a later date. I’m not sure what their policy would be for international participants, they didn’t take our size but instead would mail a form in which we would fill out and mail back and then they would mail us the shoes, a seemingly long process, but a generous prize none the less.
After finishing the race I was left wondering if all the stairs and uneven terrain was worth the 3km of exceptional trail and the beautiful views. I’m afraid I’m still not sure, but luckily it was a beautiful day for a run.