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Two Runners Explore China’s Booming Trail Running Scene

This is the next frontier of trail running—and, surprise, it’s in China. Mountain runners Meredith Edwards and Jason Schlarb traveled to Sichuan Province to compete in the Ultra Tour Mount Siguniang. They wanted to experience the culture, make new friends, and be part of the country’s booming interest in trail running. The Chinese Himalaya exceeded their expectations. “This is the most beautiful range I have ever seen,” says Meredith, the first woman to compete in and win the 66K. Jason also won the 100K and says: “This race as gnarly and wild as it gets in a place that everyone hasn’t been before.”

>> Roam Report footage by Ben Clark featuring Meredith Edwards and Jason Schlarb with Altra Running, Jaybird, and Camelbak

Watch the full film (above), episode 1 of the “Run Around the World” series, and read more about this part of China in an interview with Ben Clark.

ROAM: Two Runners Explore China’s Booming Trail Running Scene
Meredith Edwards high on the course of the Ultra Tour Mount Siguniang; Photo by Ben Clark

What makes the area around Mount Siguniang, where Ultra Tour Mount Siguniang takes places, the “Yosemite of China”?

Ben Clark: The area is two steep, granite-filled valleys with large peaks and Himalayan faces bigger than El Capitan. It is rare in the world to see so many big rock faces outside Yosemite or Patagonia.

You’ve experienced the Himalaya in Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, and China. What was unique about the Chinese Himalaya?

Ben Clark: Climbing, hiking, and running in the Chinese Himalaya require more speed and some grit for adventure. Weather windows are short, there are no maps, and most objectives are a first ascent.

Climbing, hiking, and running in the Chinese Himalaya require more speed and some grit for adventure. Weather windows are short, there are no maps, and most objectives are a first ascent. —Filmmaker Ben Clark

ROAM: Two Runners Explore China’s Booming Trail Running Scene
Runner Vicki Qui takes on the race course; Photo by Ben Clark

How had this area changed in the ten years since your first visit?

Ben Clark: A trail running boom is happening and Chinese climbers are now proudly tackling unclimbed peaks.

What is happening in China with regard to trail running and the outdoors in general?

Ben Clark: A culture is growing that wants to explore. Some Chinese have the leisure time and resources and are going to the mountains and getting the skills to climb!

What makes the Ultra Tour Mount Siguniang “harder than Hardrock” as Jason said?

Ben Clark: The race is so adventurous compared to an American ultra marathon. Jason has won both, but this one had no fall zones and obstacles that would not be allowed in America and most European races. Ultra Tour Mount Siguniang’s 100k course is sustained at about 13,000 feet, making it the highest mountain race in the world.

What gear kit is needed for the race?

Ben Clark: A small running pack with enough layers to deal with going to 15,000 feet in the middle of the night. Also trekking poles and soft flask water bottles.

ROAM: Two Runners Explore China’s Booming Trail Running Scene
Meredith Edwards learns traditional dances from new friend in China; Photograph by Ben Clark

What cultural experiences enhanced your trip?

Ben Clark: The friends we made and the food they helped us discover. Seriously, if you haven’t had a Sichuan peppercorn in a skewered piece of meat or potato then now is the time to hot pot!

What food did you eat day to day that was unique?

Ben Clark: The hot pot is my favorite. One side of a boiling pot is spicy and the other savory, and you dip meats and veggies in them with a big groups of friends. I also loved the snacks that you could get everywhere. They now use a lot of non gmo and organic ingredients in China so it’s really easy to travel with dietary restrictions or a picky eater.

What food did the racers eat?

Ben Clark: Rice, veggies, eggs, and steamed buns. On the race course, the aid station food was served hot and was pocketed vegetables and stuff that western runners would have a hard time getting down through 60 miles.

Are there positives and negatives to being a couple who races ultras?

Ben Clark: Jason and Meredith are strong supporters of each other’s life and career, and I think they bring a lot to each other’s performances. But like all pursuits where there can only be one winner. I think these two know that at the end of the day no one gets to be number one all the time.

ROAM

Filmmaker

Ben Clark

Ben Clark is a filmmaker and mountain endurance athlete. He spent a decade pioneering new routes in the Himalaya before shifting his focus to ultra trail running. His last feature film, Nolan’s 14, tells the history of Colorado’s burliest, most obscure mountain challenge. His upcoming feature film The Snowman Trek, which is about three ultra runners attempting a fasted known time record on the world’s hardest trek, drops in theaters May 17, 2018.