Dalat Ultra Trail: trademark win by John Ellis
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Hong Kong’s John Ellis was a sensational winner of the men’s Vietnam SuperTrail in Dalat in the Central Highlands. He ran past Hisashi Kitamura from Japan in the final uphill of the last 4 km on sheer determination! Ellis’ came in in a time of 7:03, a new course record. Early leader and last year’s winner Quang Tran lost the right trail after approx 55 km and dropped back behind his closest chasers. Shortly afterwards he decided to DNF. 

Hong Kong-based Australian Ellis had taken a typical conservative start, before turning on his engine just before halfway. As ATM Championship leader Ander Iza Rekakoetxea retired at Checkpoint 2 with an upset stomach, Ellis and Kitamura have also become 1-2 in the updated ATM Championship ranking. Kitamura can’t be far away from his first ATM race victory now! For Ellis it was his second and first of the 2019 season.

The third step on the podium was for Malaysia’s Mohamed Affindi, the winner of Tahura Trail in Bandung. Excellent for his ATM Championship ambitions. Fourth came the rejuvenated Michael McLean, the Brunei-based Canadian who has had a tough few months on the trails with DNFs in UTCR and 9 Dragons. Gone Running’s Henri Lehkonen took fifth in his ATM debut , followed by Thailand’s Sukrit and Guillaume Degoulet from France. T8’s Mark Green was 8th and Ho Chi Minh City based Britain Grant Bowdery was next in 9th place followed by Vietnam’s Ngo Quoc Duong 10th, first runner of the home country.

The women’s race (finish video scroll down or go to our video section on Facebook) developed into the big dual between Tahira Najmunisaa and Kim Matthews, after all. Both former ATM Champions came into the Dalat race with legitimate fitness concerns, but they delivered a great running pace and honest competition. Tahira was leading until just over halfway, when Kim Matthews caught her and passed her. The Australian made it a double victory for her country after John Ellis won the men’s. Tahira crossed the finish line in second place about seven minutes behind. Another Malaysian, Christine Loh, scored her second third place of the season after 9 Dragons. Both SuperTrail podiums, also. Korea-based Carrie Jane Stander was fourth, her best race result of the season and certainly good enought to regain the ATM Championship lead ahead of Christine Loh.

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New Grandmaster Ekin Hoe (Singapore)

New Grandmaster Ekin Hoe (Singapore)

New Grandmaster Richard Akol (Phlippines)

New Grandmaster Richard Akol (Phlippines)

Dalat Ultra Trail: Kim & Tahira launch their comeback!
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The Dalat Ultra Trail in Vietnam is the 3rd SuperTrail in this year’s Asia Trail Master Championship and the first ever in the country. Taking place in the cool Central Highlands city of Dalat, northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, the event has witnessed a spectacular growth in just two years. After last year’s successful inaugural edition, numbers now boomed to nearly 4000 runners for the varous distances on the programme, of which the 70K is what matters for the ATM Championship. A lot of regional top runners will be at the start at 4 a.m. on Saturday, including Malaysia’s Tahira Najmunisaa, who is returning to the ATM scene after nearly one-and-a-half years. 

Initially, 2018 male ATM Champion Alessandro Sherpa had also been announced as to open his points account in Dalat, but the Italian sent around a message this morning that he is unable to travel to Vietnam due to other commitments. Plenty of top runners left, though. Local hero Quang Tran was the winner last year and can certainly be expected to challenge for victory again. After Cao Ngoc Ha switched to triathlon, Quang Tran - a former winner of Vietnam Mountain Marathon as well - has become the most prominent Vietnamese trail runner. This Saturday he will be up against serious competition. Tahura Trail race winner Mohamed Affindi is aiming for his second consecutive victory on a course that should suit him as much as the one in Bandung two months ago. Dalat is almost 30 km longer than Tahura, though. Can the Malaysian keep up his fast pace over that distance? While Affindi will be running his second ATM points race of the season, a few will be doing their third already. Among those also last weekend’s CMU protagonists Ander Iza Rekakoetxea, John Ellis and Hisashi Kitamura. Manila-based Spaniard Rekakoetxea is the current points leader in the ATM Championship with a narrow margin of just 14 points over Ellis. Kitamura is 99 points behind, but in Dalat can reduce that gap significantly. A 2:38 marathon in Tokyo recently suggests that KItamura has become one of the fastest legs on the tour. Applying that speed to trail is always still something else, but Dalat is clearly less technical than CMU last Sunday, in which the Japanese finished 7th. 

Others to watch out for on paper are Thailand’s Sukrit Kaewyoun and Hong Kong-based Fin Henri Lehkonen, together with many local Vietnamese runners who can cause an upset. 

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Julia Nguyen Thi Duong won VJM 70 and came 2nd in Dalat last year

Julia Nguyen Thi Duong won VJM 70 and came 2nd in Dalat last year

In the women’s we have two former ATM Champions on the come back trail, and another one trying to regain the lead in the current Championship standings. 2016 Champ Tahira Najmunisaa has been back in action since several months, but Dalat will be her first major international trail race since the birth of her fourth child last October. Still only 29, Tahira is unbeaten in 10 ATM races and shares the all-time record with Ruth Theresia. She is therefore a logical race favourite, even when 2017 Champion Kim Matthews is also on the start list. After winning last year’s Tahura Trail, Matthews suffered a bad hip injury that put her out of action for almost a full year. As Tahira, she has been building up speed and strength again in the past three months and Dalat will be her first international test as a competitor for race wins. Now based in Hong Kong, Kim used to live in Ho Chi Minh City and is therefore familiar with Vietnam. 

Korea-based Canadian Carrie Jane Stander is one of the busy bees this season and will be competing in her third ATM race out of five already. Championship leader until last week, when Cheryl Navarro took over, Stander can regain the points lead on Saturday if she scores another good result. Possibly her biggest competitior for the points lead will be another Malaysian, Christine Loh. She scored a fantastic third place in the 9 Dragons 50/50 at the beginning of February. Stander will like Dalat, however, and let’s remember that she won Ijen 70, another runable 70k course! 

Vietnamese runners Julia Nguyen Thi Duong and Vy le Phuong have scored podium places in several ATM races in the past years and can certainly be expected to do so again. Julia of course won the Vietnam Jungle Marathon last year and came second behind Dutchwoman Marieke Dekkers here in Dalat. Dekkers, by the way, does not feature on the 70k start list so far. 

Kim Matthews: coming back after a year of injury misery

Kim Matthews: coming back after a year of injury misery

Tahira Najmunisaa: coming back after the birth of her fourth child

Tahira Najmunisaa: coming back after the birth of her fourth child

Can Mohamed Affindi double-up after his great Tahura win in January?

Can Mohamed Affindi double-up after his great Tahura win in January?

Last year’s Dalat Ultra Trail winner Quang Tran is again one of the race favourites

Last year’s Dalat Ultra Trail winner Quang Tran is again one of the race favourites

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Visit Victoria on two feet after UT Gold Coast!
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For most people traveling to Australia remains a special trip to somewhere far away. So it is also for Asia residents. Nevertheless, air fares have come down substantially in the last decade and connections to nearly all Asian capital cities have increased in frequency. As Australia has been visibly edging closer to Asia, we have accepted the ATM application of Ultra Trail Gold Coast in Queensland, eastern Australia, as already announced before. But why no add some more time and experiences to your Ozzie journey and do a bit more trail running and sightseeing there apart from the UTGC event? In collaboration with Venture Travel, local outdoor travel specialists, we have therefore designed a week-long itinerary for runners in Victoria. The programme starts a day after the UT Gold Coast event in Melbourne, capital city of Victoria State in the Southeast of the country.

You need to take a domestic flight from Brisbane or Gold Coast to Melbourne on Monday morning, and we meet up in the late afternoon for a sunset run in and around the fabulous city. The full programme is listed below.

The cornerstone of the trip, along with the Great Ocean Road, is the Grampians National Park is 167,219-hectare (413,210-acre) and situated 260 kilometres west of Melbourne and 460 kilometres east of Adelaide. Proclaimed as a national park on 1 July 1984, the park was listed on the Australian National Heritage List on 15 December 2006 for its outstanding natural beauty and being one of the richest indigenous rock art sites in south-eastern Australia. The Grampians feature a striking series of sandstone mountain ranges, and its trails are great for running. From south to north is more than 150 km of trail. Halls Gap is the centre town of the Park, and is a great outdoor place with great restaurants.

At the end of the tour we make a relaxation and sightseeing stop in Ballarat for the final evening and night. A visit to the reptile park is jaw-dropping.

PROGRAMME

Day 1

30/9: Melbourne: programme starts with a meet & greet and a gentle run, followed by welcome dinner

Day 2

1/10: Great Ocean Road: after van transfer, we run from Lorne to Port Campbell for about 50 km on trails along the famous GOR with astonishing ocean views

Day 3

2/10: Grampians National Park: we run from Dunkeld to Mt William, roughly 50k to the highest point of the Park at 1167m above sea level

Day 4

3/10 Grampians National Park: from Mt William to Halls Gap, main town of the Park. Estimate 40 km.

Day 5

4/10 Grampians National Park: from Halls Gap to the northern border of the Park. Distance can be adjusted according to the group’s wishes.

Day 6

5/10 Ballarat: after optional morning sunrise walk, we transfer to Ballarat, a small but well-known tourism town with exquisite wine and beer bars. A recovery day with a visit to the famous reptile park, swim/spa/sauna, and farewell dinner.

Day 7

6/10 transfer to Melbourne airport. End of the programme and return to home country

GENERAL INCLUSIONS

  • Accommodation - 3 star cabin and hotel

  • Meals - all meals

  • Snacks and water - supplied for running

  • All runs, reptile park, pool recovery

  • Transport - bus and all included as part of itinerary

Pricing

USD 1599,- per person. (runners only).
HKD 12,550,- per person (runners only).

For more information, please contact kris@kuaisports.com




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Onifa & Vadovicova reign in the Cordillera
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John Ray Onifa and Kristian Joergensen delivered an awesome battle at the end of the Philippines SuperTrail in the 2019 Asia Trail Master Championship, the iconic Cordillera Mountain Ultra. With just a few km of the 47km left to run till the finish in Tinongdan, Joergensen caught Onifa, who had been dominating the proceedings almost from the start. However, the Filipino still found an extra gear to outsprint Joergensen again in the last Kilometre downhill towards the suspension bridge that leads back to the main village! Onifa’s time was an amazing 5:31. Last year he came second in this race behind Harry Jones. 
Koi Grey finished in third place a bit later. The home favourite opted for a quiet start but returned to the front relentlessly. Third place is a fantastic result confirming his come back to competition once more. He could have been the new leader in the ATM Championship as well, had it not been that Anders Iza Rekakoetxea and John Ellis were next in the finish. The Manila-based Spaniard Rekakoetxea was overtaken by Koi Grey in the last few kilometres, but fourth was good enough to become the new ATM points leader! Earlier this season, he was 3rd in the 50 miles race of the 9 Dragons in Hong Kong.


John Ellis ran very well after five weeks of rest, and fifth is a strong result for him. He left Davao’s Elias Tabac and Japan’s Hisashi Kitamura behind at the end. Ellis, Kitamura and leader Rekakoetxea are scheduled to compete again in the Dalat Ultra Trail next week, the Vietnam SuperTrail in the ATM Championship.

Filipino Arnie Macaneras was brave to follow Onifa for roughly 8 km, but paid the price at the end. Macaneras, who won Fifty Mapawa last season in a time faster than Onifa’s in 2017, arrived back in Tinongdan in 8th. Miguel Lopez and Malaysian Azuan Asmuni rounded up the men’s top ten of a fantastic racing day. 

In the women’s, Veronika Vadovicova scored a highly impressive victory in 6:31. The whole morning she had a small margin over American Laura Kline. When the young Slovakian ex triathlete briefly went off course, Kline took the lead but eventually could not respond to Vadovicova when the latter caught her again. Sandi Menchi did well to finish third, even when the two western ladies proved too fast. Cheryl Navarro comes in as fourth and is the new points leader in the Asia Trail Master Championship! Navarro was second in last month’s Akyathlon. Fredlyn Alberto is fifth today, and misses just 11 points to claim that points lead. Alberto was second in the 9 Dragons 50 miles race earlier this season.

Outstanding battle between John Ray Onifa and Kristian Joergensen

Outstanding battle between John Ray Onifa and Kristian Joergensen

New face in the female championship: Veronika Vadovicova impresses in her winning run

New face in the female championship: Veronika Vadovicova impresses in her winning run

Ander Iza Rekakoetxea is the new ATM Championship leader after scoring 4th in CMU

Ander Iza Rekakoetxea is the new ATM Championship leader after scoring 4th in CMU

Cheryl Navarro finished 4th in CMU and grabs the ATM Championship lead

Cheryl Navarro finished 4th in CMU and grabs the ATM Championship lead

Cordillera Showdown: ATM championship heats up!
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It is only the fourth points race of the 2019 season but the Cordillera Mountain Ultra will heat up the championship significantly this coming Sunday. The Philippines’ SuperTrail has attracted lots of regional and intercontinental top runners to Baguio for the meanwhile classic 50k race on and around Mount Ugo. We will see a number of races-within-the race, too, and in particular the inter-filipino battle between John Ray Onifa, Elias Tabac and Koi Grey for the unofficial honour of fastest 50k trail runner in the Philippines!

The host village has changed from Dalupirip to Tinongdan this year but the race course has remained 70% the same as it used to be. The long ascent and descent of Mount Ugo defines CMU and is a scene set for breathtaking trail running. On top, the mountain villages in this part of the Cordillera were hit heavily by typhoons during the wet season last year and running events like CMU are a great and necessary boost for the local community.

The list of protagonists for the race win in both the male and female category is so long we cannot name them all. Starting with the women, Baguio hero Sandi Menchi returns to CMU for the first time since winning it in 2017. She knows the trails like the back of her hand and has shown to be in good form in this early part of the year. Several other filipino women can make her life difficult, though. Cheryl Navarro comes to mind. Navarro is always a contender wherever she starts, which she illustrated only last month again with second place in the Akyathlon. It makes Navarro the likely new ATM championship leader after CMU, subject to a fine result of course. Cecile Wael, third in Akyathlon, is also on the start list but is reportedly unable to race. Maria Sepe is a southern filipino athlete who can also be expected to challenge for a podium spot, as well as local Gretchen Felipe, who won this race in 2016. Arguably the fiercest competition for Sandi Menchi will come from foreign athletes such as Laura Kline, who is flying in from the USA, and Shanghai-based Slovakian Veronika Vadovicova, who is more and more making the switch from triathlon to trail running, similar to last year’s winner Carole Fuchs, who cannot take part on Sunday.

The men’s race is bound to be action-packed with the pinoy trio of John Ray Onifa, Elias Tabac and Koi Grey squaring off against each other for the first time since they reached the top of their game. Onifa is arguably the man-to-beat, especially as he has the experience of last year when he finished second behind Harry Jones. But the four-year-younger Tabac has been hot on his heels and is familiar with Mount Ugo, too, winning last year’s Akyathlon. Koi Grey is the local hero and most experienced trail runner of the three, and completely rejuvenated of late after being out of the scene for two years. On top of it all, to spice the race up even more, they all come from different islands in the Philippines.

The three pinoys will push each other forward on Sunday. It will be needed, too, because there’s a lot of other victory contenders! Hong Kong-based Australian T8 runner John Ellis has been looking forward to CMU for a long time. Kristian Joergensen is in the best shape of his life and has done this race before, too. Tomohiro Mizukoshi will find a course and a distance that should suit him, and then he is always a dangerman. Anders Iza Rekakoetxea is a Manila-based Spaniard who is capable of causing an upset. Perhaps the biggest dark horse comes from Malaysia: Mohd Azuan Asmuni. Azmuni is a triathlete / runner who raised quite a few eyebrows last year when he defeated Mohamed Affindi by nearly half an hour in a technical 30 km trail climbathlon in Malaysia. The profile of that Mt Tahan Climbathlon is similar to CMU, albeit shorter. Still, Azmuni - who two weeks ago won the Johor Bahru Duathlon - should not have an issue with the distance and his technical skills are clearly phenomenal. For runners such as Ellis, Joergensen and also Hisashi Kitamura, 50k may actually be just a little too short for their characteristics. But who would ever bet against John Ellis?

Another race-in-the-race will be between five runners for the ATM Championship lead. Virginia’s Chris Miller tops the ranking, but John Eruel Oquino - who will be doing his 3rd of the 4 ATM races so far this season), John Ellis, Anders Iza Rekakoetxea, Hisashi Kitamura and Koi Grey all have chances to claim the lead in their second race of the season.!

We will be following all the action at CMU as usual via our social media channels, with video on facebook as well. A separate ATM Trail TV episode is also planned for Saturday evening (subject to connectivity).

Sandi Menchi will try to win CMU again after 2016

Sandi Menchi will try to win CMU again after 2016

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Labuan Bird Park Eco is a 2020 Candidate Race
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We are happy to announce the first 2020 ATM candidate race and it is scheduled in a new destination, Labuan island off the coast of Sabah in Malaysia. The Labuan Bird Park Eco promises a relatively runable 70K as main distance, with shorter options also available on the programme. The 70K will take runners basically all around Labuan Island, which makes for an authentic course. The event date is scheduled on 7/8 September, which is the weekend of the recently cancelled Hakuba Trails in Japan. As such, ATM fans can try this one out that weekend and…. maybe even double it up with the Borneo TMBT Ultra event that takes place in Sabah a weekend later on 14/15 September. Those who focus on the Championship points race at Borneo TMBT therefore have a great warming-up event with the Labuan Bird Park Eco!

Registration is open via Racematix.

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Retolado and Fontanella surprising winners Akyathlon
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Beautiful weather for the 49km of the Pilipinas Akyathlon resulted in highly motivated runners at the start. Several of them were newbies or roadies coming to trail for the first time, and they certainly left their marks. In the men’s race, Helmer Retolado stepped onto the international scene by winning in a strong fashion ahead of Larry Apolinaro, who had been leading earlier on until Retolado caught him in the last 5 km. Both of them made their debut in the ATM circuit. Retolado hails from the Rizal mountains east of Manila, while Apolinario comes from one of the southern islands. The winning time was 6:24. The podium was completed by Baguio home runner Jeff Aligan, who was second in this race behind Elias Tabac last year . Edu Losnong and Al Telias were the next home runners in the finish. In 14th place we had American Chris Miller. Coming from Virginia, Miller scored 10th in the Tahura Trail three weeks ago and is the only runner who did that double. Miller’s 14th spot was just good enough to overtake Kazufumi Ose on points and become the new leader in the ATM Championship after three races. He will stay on top for at least a month as the next points race is on 10 March, the Cordillera Mountain Ultra.

Also in the women’s we have a new championship leader, after some revisions were made to the result of the 9 Dragons in Hong Kong last week. Canada’s Carrie-Jane Stander is now ranked as a finisher and was 9th on the 50 miles. Combined with her 5th place in the Akyathlon last Sunday, the always smiling Stander hops ahead of Magdalena Boulot to the top of the women’s championship ranking. Last season, Stander won the 70k race at Ijen Trail in Indonesia, and ended as 11th in the championship. During Akyathlon, the pace set by local women Jenny-Vi Fontanella and Cheryl Navarro proved to be a bit high, though. Fontanella is a cyclist who has only recently began trail running. Her battle with established runner Navarro was high-level as illustrated by their 8th and 11th place in the overall result. Fontanella even stayed under 8 hours. In third place was Cecille Wael, who continues to make progress in her performance. Considering her idol Majo Liao - last year’s winner - was 40 minutes behind and Stander more than 90 minutes, Wael ran an impressive Akyathlon.

Awesome win by Helmer Retolado

Awesome win by Helmer Retolado

Jenny-Vi Fontanella is another great newcomer on the trails in the Philippines

Jenny-Vi Fontanella is another great newcomer on the trails in the Philippines

American Chris Miller did the double Tahura-Akyathlon with good results and is the new points leader

American Chris Miller did the double Tahura-Akyathlon with good results and is the new points leader

John Eruel Oquino is one of the strongmen who doubled up 9 Dragons 50 miles and Akyathlon

John Eruel Oquino is one of the strongmen who doubled up 9 Dragons 50 miles and Akyathlon

Also Kent and Carrie-Jane Stander did the double and puts Carrie-Jane in the ATM points lead

Also Kent and Carrie-Jane Stander did the double and puts Carrie-Jane in the ATM points lead

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Akyathlon: local heroes vs new faces
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The Pilipinas Akyathlon this Sunday is the first of two points races back-to-back in the Cordillera mountains around Baguio. It is the race where Davao’s Elias Tabac appeared on the international stage for the first time, winning the 46 km in commanding style ahead of local stars Aligan and Sano Oy. This weekend the longest distance race has been beefed up to 49 km and 3500 m of elevation gain, and we are looking forward to seeing more new faces emerge in competition with already established top runners, such as Majo Liao and the Telias brothers.

Larry Apolinario is one of those runners coming from the southern islands of the Philippines, who is keen to show himself to the world. Also Joseph Noy Gentoleo is one to watch. He scored two top five placings in ATM points races last season, and also won the Mount Talinis Mountain Marathon. Of the two Telias brothers, Al is usually the one who stands out on the 50k distance, while James is seen more often on the ultra distances. Al Telias is always a reference for races in this mountain area, but landing the big victory so far has eluded him. Will tomorrow be his day? Another local hero, Marcelino Sano-Oy, was chasing Elias Tabac and Jeffrey Saligan all the way to the finish last year and is therefore a logical top favourite as well. Sano-Oy is a former winner of Cordillera Mountain Ultra, too, the event that takes place in the same area here next month.

Pilipinas Akyathlon is the local championship of Skyrunning and also the third points race of the 2019 ATM season. On the start list we see a few athletes who already have Tahura Trail or the 9 Dragons in their legs. We will be paying attention especially to American Chris Miller, who ran himself in the top 10 in Bandung three weeks ago. Miller collected 310 points and this weekend needs 240 to topple last week’s 9 Dragons winner Kazufumi Ose from the top spot in the championship ranking. 240 points corresponds to a top 17 finish in Akyathlon. It’s early days in the championship of course, but if you’re active now you can find your name in the top places of the ranking for quite some time and you can choose your races tactically later on in the season. Also on the start list is Ijen 100 winner Sungsik Joh from South Korea. Sungsik may find Akyathlon a little short for his characteristics as a trail runner, but a good placing is always on the cards.

Tomorrow’s women’s race will see last year’s winner Majo Liao return to the scene. Majo Liao is one Philippines’ most established trail runners and purely on experience alone she will certainly feature again this weekend. Expected rivals for the victory are Cheryl Navarro, Cecile Waes and Carrie-Jane Stander. The latter, and her husband Kent, had a tough time in last weekend’s 9 Dragons Ultra and will be motivated to score a good result. Carrie-Jane Stander is the winner of Ijen 70 last season, so she already knows how to win on the ATM tour.

As always, ATM will be reporting live from Tinongdan and the Akyathlon tomorrow from start to finish.

After several top placings in ATM races, tomorrow finally the big win for Al Telias?

After several top placings in ATM races, tomorrow finally the big win for Al Telias?

Majo Liao is a favourite to repeat last year’s victory in the Akyathlon

Majo Liao is a favourite to repeat last year’s victory in the Akyathlon

Carrie-Jane Stander won Ijen 70 last season: she and husband Kent are doubling 9D + Akyathlon

Carrie-Jane Stander won Ijen 70 last season: she and husband Kent are doubling 9D + Akyathlon

9D: Kazufumi Ose & Julien Chorier put up great show!
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Japan’s Kazufumi Ose really loves the 9 Dragons and he proved it in the best possible way by fighting tooth and nail to beat France’s Julien Chorier and take the overall victory. After losing nearly 9 minutes to Chorier on the 50 miles on Saturday, Ose attacked halfway through Sunday’s 50k race and reached the finish line with an advantage of 12 minutes. Magdalena Boulot lived up to her status as pre-race favourite and won the women’s 50/50, although local runner Jcy Ho gave her some stress during the 50 miles race. The 9 Dragons Ultra, with its quite unique 50/50 format, has grown into a showcase ultra trail event for Hong Kong and a genuine test for even the international elite runners who traveled to take part in it.

Running conditions were generally smooth, although perhaps more warm and humid than usual this time of year, particularly on Sunday. The two courses are in a sense typical Hong Kong with a very high dose of stairs and steps. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, as one Ruth Theresia found out. The Indonesian ATM Champion was never in her element and struggled her way to the finish on both days, well down the leaderboards. Still, it was another example of her determination to finish what she starts and learn from the experience.. Many elites, such as UTMB winner Francesca Canepa, threw in the towel quite early.

Julien Chorier and Kazufumi Ose produced a fantastic battle for the overall 50/50 win

Julien Chorier and Kazufumi Ose produced a fantastic battle for the overall 50/50 win

Julien Chorier was one international star who did have the knife between his teeth and go full gas for the win. Kazufumi Ose, winner of the 50 miles race in 2017 and second behind John Ellis on the 50/50 last season, pushed him forward all day on Saturday. Sabah’s Milton Amat, a typical fast starter, tried to keep up in third place. Amat, who had been unable to fight for the ATM Championship at the end of last year due to a malaria attack, was clearly back at his best level. His experience of doing the 9 Dragons in 2018 - 4th on 50/50 - of course helped him to prevent a meltdown, even though local hero John Ellis did catch up with him in the later stages of Saturday’s 50 miles. The Hong Kong-based Australian struggled all weekend with a calf injury sustained a week ago. His grit brought him a well-earned third place, which he then defended successfully on Sunday’s 50k against Amat, Hisashi Kitamura and Salomon Wettstein. Ellis has ATM Championship ambitions this season, yet may need some recovery time first. Kitamura, 4th in the ATM Championship 2018, celebrated one year of ultra trail running by improving from 19th to 5th on the 50/50! On Sunday he was one of the fastest finishers by catching Milton Amat at the end and putting enough distance between him and Wettstein, who had beaten him a day earlier.

There was competition between runners everywhere, but the biggest battle of course took place all the way up front between Chorier and Ose. The Frenchman seemed surprised when Ose returned to him just over halfway on Saturday, he then made a blitz pit-stop at CP5 that caught Ose a bit off-guard. The Japanese runner was again forced to chase and that cost him energy in the final two sections. Chorier crossed the finish line with a bonus of 8’54”. As soon as the 50k began on Sunday, Chorier looked totally in control. He shadowed Ose for approx 25 km until the Japanese began to put on the pressure and accelerate. The high humidity perhaps not in his favour, Chorier cracked and had to let Ose go. The beginning of a cat-and-mouse race till the end. However, bit by bit Ose pulled further away from his rival. Thanks to Dot Track Asia and its GPS tracking platform, it was an exciting finale to follow for everyone tuning in, and after Ose had arrived the countdown began. Over 12 minutes later, Julien Chorier appeared, conceding defeat to Ose by just 3’51” after 17-and-a-half hours of running in two days…

Milton Amat returned from a malaria attack to once again finish 4th in the 50/50 category

Milton Amat returned from a malaria attack to once again finish 4th in the 50/50 category

Magdalena Boulot as expected won the women’s 50/50 category

Magdalena Boulot as expected won the women’s 50/50 category

Hisashi Kitamura caught Milton Amat just before the finish and grabbed 5th place overall in doing so!

Hisashi Kitamura caught Milton Amat just before the finish and grabbed 5th place overall in doing so!

Jcy Ho was surprisingly strong on the 50 miles, running virtually together with top favourite Magdalena Boulot until CP4. There, just before sunrise, the Hong Kong runner took (too much?) time and lost sight of the American for good. Boulot was in charge from then on, including on Sunday where she was unchallenged by other 50/50 athletes. Jcy Ho held on to second place, and in third on both days came Malaysia’s Christine Loh. Nicknamed ‘the Pocket Rocket’ by some, Christine Loh is the 2017 winner of Penang Eco 100 miles and a runner with ATM championship ambitions this season. Including last weekend’s 9 Dragons, she also has all four ultra trail points races in Thailand on her agenda.

Chengdu-based American Justin Andrews dominated the 50 miles single stage on Saturday. An upset stomach threatened to spoil the party for him, but he fought his way to the finish. Philippines’ Koi Grey ran a smart race. Contrary to his usual style, he started out conservatively and then began to move up the leaderboard until he had second place in sight. Twisting his ankle at km 71 ruined his chances. Kurt Evans, Ander Iza Rekakoetxea and Takefumi Yamamoto preceeded him at the finish. The women’s 50 miles was won by Edith Fung, who beat Fredlyn Alberto from Philippines by over an hour. The podium was completed by Mokwan Chan.

The single stage 50k was not a points race for the ATM Championship, but saw some excellent runs by regional top performers. Deng Guomin from Shenzhen beat the course record to win the 50k in 6:09:21 ahead of Yuta Suda and Blake Turner. In the women’s Charlotte Tacquet was strongest in a fantastic battle between several women, including Sandi Menchi - strongest finisher - and 2017 ATM Champion Kim Matthews, who returned to the ultra scene after more than a year of hip injury problems that at one point even threatened her competitive running ‘career’.

Philippines-based Spaniard Ander Iza Rekakoetxea scored a solid 3th place on the 50 miles distance

Philippines-based Spaniard Ander Iza Rekakoetxea scored a solid 3th place on the 50 miles distance

Koi Grey continued his comeback and almost scored 2nd place on the 50 miles.

Koi Grey continued his comeback and almost scored 2nd place on the 50 miles.

ATM Champion Ruth Theresia had two very difficult days but still managed to finish

ATM Champion Ruth Theresia had two very difficult days but still managed to finish

Thumbie Remigio and Patricia Ann Morota completed the 50 miles

Thumbie Remigio and Patricia Ann Morota completed the 50 miles

Bruneian Grandmasters Ibrahim Matnarudin and Ali Ajis Rasil

Bruneian Grandmasters Ibrahim Matnarudin and Ali Ajis Rasil

2017 ATM Champion Kim Matthews made a great return to the ultra scene with 3rd place on the 50km

2017 ATM Champion Kim Matthews made a great return to the ultra scene with 3rd place on the 50km

9 Dragons: John Ellis opens his ambitious ATM campaign
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The 9 Dragons Ultra in Hong Kong is the first SuperTrail of the 2019 Asia Trail Master Championship taking place across the New Territories this weekend. The 50/50 stage race and 50 miles (in actual fact 89 km this year) are both A-races, which means a lot of ATM points are up for grabs. But this being a SuperTrail, and in Hong Kong, the competition is dense. The 9 Dragons traditionally attracts international trail running stars and this season is no different with the likes of Francesca Canepa (women’s UTMB winner 2018), Magdalena Boulet and Julien Chorier. However, just how motivated are they for suffering in this gruelling stage race in Hong Kong? Because even if they say to ‘just want to enjoy’ or ‘it’s just another race’, the 9 Dragons stage race is considered the toughest ultra in the territory and the hyped-up local and regional challengers are for real! Saturday’s 50 miles has an elevation gain of over 5000 hm, and the 50k has a whopping 3500 hm. A lot of stairs, obviously, are included.

To begin with, the top 2 from last year is back: Hong Kong-based Australian John Ellis and Japan’s Kazufume Ose. From an ATM perspective, John Ellis will be one to watch in particular as he has announced to give our championship a shot this season. This “winter” in Hong Kong, not everything has been going to his liking and he seems to have become more injury-prone, but Ellis’ stamina and determination is the stuff of legends and it would be unwise to bet against him this weekend - at least for a podium finish on the 50/50. Ellis has been planning to travel to several races in the ATM Championship this year, which remains unusual for a top star in Hong Kong. A local challenger for the victory at the 9 Dragons will certainly be Law Chor Kin. This Hong Kong ultra specialist won the Penang Eco 100 miles a year ago in very impressive style indeed. Ben Duffus, Jacky Leung and Jeremy Ritcey are local podium candidates as well.

We will be very interested to see the progress of Hisashi Kitamura from Japan, now based in Kuala Lumpur, and fourth in the 2018 ATM Championship. Kitamura - a newbie in trail running - just kept on getting better last year, let’s see how he starts his 2019 campaign. There’s also quite a crowd from the Philippines in the men’s races. Carlo Chiong came to the fore of the ATM scene at the end of 2018 with a third place in CM 50 and a second spot in Fifty Mapawa. Especially the latter was interesting, as he was over an hour faster than Japan’s Tomohiro Mizukoshi. Carlo Chiong is certainly a dark horse this weekend.

And so is Malaysia’s Milton Amat. The sympathetic Sabahan ended 4th in the 9 Dragons Ultra last year and returns to get on the podium - also because he likes to have a shot at the ATM title this year. Amat, who began competitive trail running only in 2017, ended last year as seventh in the ATM Championship and - importantly - won the Bandung Ultra 100: a very technical race in Indonesia in which he distanced local hero Arief Wismoyono and Spain’s Salva Rambla. With the experience from last year in the bag, Milton Amat can cause the upset in Hong Kong this weekend. One caveat: has his body recovered well enough from a malaria attack three months ago. Another 2018 ATM top 10 performer, Michael McLean from Canada - but based in Brunei - is opening his new season here this weekend. McLean is a proper ultra runner, remember Borneo TMBT Ultra last season in which he caught six guys in the final 10 km! He should find 9 Dragons to his liking, although he can also have bad days (e.g. DNF in Ultra Trail Chiang Rai 230 in October). India’s Shashwat Rao is another runner who kicks on the type of challenge 9D poses. His performance kept improving during the 2018 season, let’s see where he is at the beginning of 2019. Singapore-based Vietnamese Trung Nguyen was 2nd in the Vietnam Jungle Marathon 70 and 4th in the Vietnam Mountain Marathon 100 last season: another one to watch out for.

In the women’s, the obvious favourite is Italy’s Canepa and it will be interesting to see how our own 2018 ATM Champion Ruth Theresia fares against her. Theresia is looking forward to her first big race of the new ATM season, yet emphasises that everything is currently based on doing well in France come late August. Other regular ATM competitors will challenge her this weekend. For instance, Carrie Jane Stander, winner of Ijen Trail 70 last September, and also Christine Loh from Malaysia. She won Penang Eco 100 miles ahead of Ruth Theresia in 2017 and has a focus on the ATM Championship this season with, amongst others, all Thailand points races on her programme.

On the single stage 50 miles race this Saturday, we will see several established ATM runners in action. From Philippines we have Mark Koi Grey, who has relaunched his running career recently, Thumbie Remigio and Patricia Ann Morota (female). Spain’s Ander Iza Rekakoetxea will also be right up there, as will Dutchman Peter van der Zon.

We will be reporting from the 9 Dragons throughout the weekend via our facebook and instagram channels.

The 50 miles of the 9 Dragons Ultra starts at midnight

The 50 miles of the 9 Dragons Ultra starts at midnight

Back to slay the dragon again: John Ellis

Back to slay the dragon again: John Ellis

The 2018 ATM Champion and Runner of the Year will test herself this weekend on the HK stairs

The 2018 ATM Champion and Runner of the Year will test herself this weekend on the HK stairs

Koi Grey returns to the ATM points scene on Saturday during the 50 miles

Koi Grey returns to the ATM points scene on Saturday during the 50 miles