Four Beasts Trail Race – 四獸山山徑越野跑 (15 km)

FourBeastsSunday March 8th, EzFun held their annual “Four Beasts Trail Run” offering distances of either 9 or 15km, in Xinyi District Taipei. The 15km runners started at 7:30 and had a window, 7:30-8am, to cross the start line before the 9km began their run from 8-8:30am. Although, we had only completed the Elle Race the day before, we were at the line when the horn blew at 7:30, ready to conquer the hills of Southern Taipei. VIRB Picture

The race started with a 400m sprint leading from the Fude Elementary School in the direction of Quarter Mt (四分里山) before leading up the first of 3 hills. Although this is the smallest of the 3 major hills encountered on this run, it is the steepest, climbing 182m in elevation over 900m. As with most popular trails in Taiwan, this was paved with stones and despite how eagerly everyone took off from the start, we were all deduced to a methodic climb as we encountered the first hill.

VIRB PictureReaching the top, we took a sharp left, onto a trail following the ridge of the mountain. The trail here is narrow and technical as it winds through the trees back down the hill. It wasn’t long before the steeper downhill sections of dirt were mixed with the morning dew and turned to slippery mud. After a few unfortunate slips, defeated, I hunkered down and slid, covering both myself, and my camera, in clay mud.

After 3.5km into the race we found ourselves at the first aid station, on the Academia Sinica campus. Turning right from here, we followed the road for 2km before turning back onto the trail. VIRB PictureI found this road section, although at a slight incline, to be a great time to make up ground between me and the other runners. The terrain is flat enough to run hard, but just steep enough to deter some of the competition from running too hard.

At 5.3km in we turned back into the trail and started our climb up the second of the 3 peaks. This climb was not as steady, or as steep and the terrain was mostly dirt trail, broken up by a few paved sections. For me this was the best section of the race. The trail glided perfectly through the ups and downs of VIRB Picturethe hills as we slowly climbed the second peak. Unfortunately it was not too well marked and somewhere around kilometer 7.5 we had reached the frontrunners of the race, frantically searching for the correct route, they seemed to have found it just in time for our arrival and we all sprung off in the same direction. Despite the large group of people we had just encountered, I quickly found my pace and settled in. Some of the frontrunners left me behind and I quickly passed some others until I was suddenly all alone on the trail. Running through the trees, trying to catch the group in front was both enjoyable and nerve-wracking and there were a few times I thought I had lost my way, calling out “hello!” with no response. Finally, I decided VIRB Picture to run as fast as I could in what I assumed was the right direction.

It wasn’t until we had gotten back on the stone path and began to see volunteers that I became confident I was going the right way. Around 9.5 kilometers we began ascending the final peak on a seemingly un-ending flight of stairs, gaining 170m in elevation over 400m in distance. From here (km 10), to the end of the race, the path is paved and wide, which was convenient as the majority of it was shared with the 9km runners who were also making their way to the finish.

VIRB PictureAt kilometer 11 we made it to the last peak, and the final 4 kilometers were spent descending long flights of stairs with intermittent uphills. By this time I didn’t know exactly where the finish line was, or where I was in relation to it, but when I saw the final aid station I was disappointed and even more disappointed when I saw it came with another uphill flight of stairs. My best estimation at this point, as disoriented as I was, was that the finish line was soon, but the aid station indicated there was still some distance before the end.

VIRB PictureImagine my surprise when 800m later I started to descend the final staircase and saw the finish line below. I was glad not to have to sprint down this staircase as it surely would have ended in injury. And for he second time in my life, I crossed the finish line as the overall, first-place, female.

Organization and course

There were 4 aid stations over the course which were well stocked. I only took advantage of one of them, as the weather in Taiwan is cool in March, so hydration wasn’t an issue. The first and the second aid station were located quite close to one another, and the last one was less than a kilometer from the finish, so I thought they could have been better dispersed. The course was unfortunately not well marked, and there were a few times I thought I might have lost my way. Other than that, it was about 45% of actual dirt trail, 2km road, and the remainder was paved with stones making for a fun mixture of terrain. It was well organized, in that the 15km and the 9km runners did not meet until near the finish where the trail was wide enough to pass. I thought it was odd having the finish being at the very bottom of a hill, but luckily there wasn’t a need to fly down at breakneck speeds and the temple area at the bottom was quite pretty. Organizers didn’t offer trophies but instead a monetary prize and a gift from their sponsors. They also offered lunch boxes including a meatless option. Finally, is it strange that I was disappointed there was no beer when I crossed the finish line around 9:30am?

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