Race report - Tahira grabs ATM Championship / Outstanding Nilsen sets up CM 50 showdown
The 6th MesaStila Peaks Challenge this year will go into the trail running archive as the toughest edition yet. Not only was the original course including the ascent of Gunung Merapi retained this year, it was pouring down with rain for most of the weekend. The wet conditions turned several trails into slippery mudbaths and the volcano sections at night surprised plenty a runner for being freezing cold despite this being Indonesia! As usual, the tough race profiles of the five race distances are compensated with a solid event organisation, excellent hospitality at the MesaStila Resort & Spa and pleasant atmosphere throughout the weekend. A worthy Indonesia SuperTrail in other words, which had the additional pleasure of seeing Malaysia's Tahira Najmunisaa crown herself as the new women's Asia Trail Master champion. 50-year-old Jan Nilsen, quite simply incredible this year, took the men's 5 Peaks race over 100k against some big names and claimed the points lead in the men's ATM ranking, setting up a major showdown for the title at CM 50 in Philippines next month against, amongst others, Manolito Divina.
The 100k race with 7700 metres of elevation gain started in the early hours of Saturday and provided a good warm up for the runners before the rain began to come down after the first peak - the steep Mount Andong. Defending Asia Trail Master champion and MesaStila champion Arief Wismoyono had prepared himself well for the important race and immediately put the pressure on Jan Nilsen, Kristian Joergensen, Abdul Rahman and a grouo of strong local contenders. ATM points leader Isaac Yuen Wan Ho unfortunately did not start claiming a back injury. Already on Andong it was clear that Tahira Najmunisaa was back at her very best. Coming down from Andong, the Malaysian star ran in fifth place overall and had put quite some distance between herself and her main competitors Mary Josephine Liao, Ruth Theresa and Mila Marlina, last year's MesaStilla winner.
Arief Wismoyono knew he had to basically win this SuperTrail race to keep his Asia Trail Master title defence in check. The 50 bonus points do matter in the men's ranking. Sadly, the 32-year-old Bandung hero missed a marker on Gunung Merbabu, which put him suddenly behind Jan Nilsen, Muhammad Dzaki and Kristian Joergensen. Yohannis Hiareij, who narrowly lost the spring to Wismoyono at Ijen Trailrunning last May, seemed to have an off-day and would not feature in the debate up front. To be fair, the conditions for running got increasingly difficult, too. The combination of pouring rain, high altitudes and strong winds when night fell turned the race into a true epic. Wismoyono witnessed four of his running friends suffer from hypothermia and decided like a real gentleman that helping him was more important than chasing down Nilsen and Dzaki. Kristian Joergensen, originally from Denmark, also saw no choice but to escape from the frigid elements for a few hours, which put him down the race ranking and out of podium contention. Still, if a strong northerner like Joergensen freezes up, one can only imagine how hard it must have been out there on Merapi and Merbabu.
But when the going gets rough, one guy never seems to be too bothered: Jan Nilsen continued his amazing form this season and was in control of the race. The Thailand-based Norwegian was not even too concerned when the surprising local runner Muhammad Dzaki came closer and closer and reportedly even caught up with Nilsen with less than 10k to go! Dzaki had been training for a long time for this race, and his efforts, along with knowledge of the route, clearly paid off. Still, Nilsen had an extra gear left and ran solo to the finish at the MesaStila resort in just under 20 hours. In his usual style, Nilsen had a thing or two to say about trail markings and other inconveniences, but he quickly returned to smiles and began to realise himself that he had just done another serious exploit - after dominating Rinjani 100 earlier this year! Muhammad Dzaki finished second, and another Indonesian Muhammad Fauzi Difinubun moved up to third place in the latter parts of the race. Abdul Rahman was fourth and consolidates his top five ranking. Joergensen, in his first 100k outside his resident country Philippines, had to settle for seventh.
That was after Tahira Najmunisaa had taken victory in the women's race and by doing so becoming the new Asia Trail Master champion. Tahira scored two SuperTrail victories this season (Malaysia Eco 100, MesaStila 5 Peaks) plus two more ATM wins at Beach Bunch (Brunei) and Merapoh Trail (Malaysia). As the best three results count for the final ranking, only Ma Yanxing (winner China SuperTrail) and Yuen Kit Shan (winner Hong Kong SuperTrail) can mathematically still catch up with Tahira, but both would need to win CM 50 as Philippines SuperTrail next month, and another third ATM race to boot. A scenario that is unlikely. Last Sunday, the 26-year-old Malaysian was joined on the podium by Ruth Theresa, in her first 100k race (!), and Majo Liao. The latter, multiple race winner in the Philippines, showed true grit and did a great job returning from a nasty ankle injury. Majo still has two more ATM races lined up and can finish the season high in the final ranking.
The statistics of Tahira Najmunisaa 's Asia Trail Master campaign do not lie: 5 career ATM race victories and undefeated! She also has collected four Grandmaster points already. To receive the honourary title of Grandmaster, a runner must complete 6 races of 70k or more inside 24 months.
This year, the cut off time of the MesaStila 5 Peaks had been extended by four hours to a total of 36 hours, which resulted in more finishers (28) and more delighted runners afterwards. Being an official finisher in the epic 2016 MesaStila Peaks Challenge will be remembered for a long time!
Whereas the 100k, or the 5 Peaks race, obviously gets the most attention, it does somewhat injustice to the 65k race, which is essentially the same route minus Gunung Merapi and a massive elevation gain of almost 5000m as well. Given those numbers, it was decided earlier this year to grant the 4 Peaks also 1 Grandmaster point. Both the men's and women's competition was tight with changing positions and possibilities. Firdaus dropped Polish runner in the last 7km only for a superb home victory. However, Jessica Lintanga made it a double hit for Malaysia as she took the women's race after a good battle with last year's winner Ina Budiyarni. Lintanga, from Sabah, is a first-year trail runner who - like Tahira - belongs to her country's Running Project to prepare aspiring athletes for UTMB in a few years. It was her first race victory outside Malaysia. Ina Budiyarni may have missed a second consecutive race victory at MesaStila, but now has five Grandmaster points in her bag. One more, and she will be the first ever female Asia Trail Grandmaster. A feat she aims to accomplish at Bromo-Tengger-Semeru next month!