Brunei's Beach Bunch Trail Challenge a tough run!

42k winner and local hero Sefli Ahar

42k winner and local hero Sefli Ahar

Local running star Sefli Ahar and up-and-coming female star Tahira Najmunisaa from Malaysia were the big winners of the first ever trail marathon in Brunei on the island of Borneo last Sunday. The Beach Bunch Trail Challenge, new in the Asia Trail Master series this year, saw approx. 330 enthusiastic runners take the start on Tungku Beach for 42k or 21k. The marathon distance only offered 630 metres of elevation gain, but turned out to be much harder than anyone had expected.  

The so-called Shahbandar rainforest section, from roughly km 5 to 15 was a steep rollercoaster with 14 short but steep hillclimbs that drained runners' legs before they had to cope with loose beach sand in the second half of the marathon.  The choice of running shoe plays a role in this race. While trail shoes gave a grip advantage in the forest, road shoes were gliding better in the loose sand and didn't get sucked in as much. 

Combined with a 30 degree tropical heat, the DNF quote on the 42k was around 50%, so anything unlike the "easy extended training run" some people had in mind! Race winner Sefli Ahar won the Hong Kong Half Marathon a few ears ago, amongst other international victories, and made his debut on the trail scene. While the 42-year-old Bruneian enjoyed the experience, he also admitted to have underestimated the Beach Bunch Trail Challenge. His finishing time of 3:53:23 is over 1 hour and 10 minutes slower than his personal best on the road marathon. Yet he was nearly 40 minutes ahead of Hong Kong's Isaac Wan Ho Yuen in second place, and over an hour of his compatriot Alexander Chung in third. 

Isaac Wan Ho Yuen came second, only a week after finishing 4th in UTHK! He is the new Asia Trail Master points leader

Isaac Wan Ho Yuen came second, only a week after finishing 4th in UTHK! He is the new Asia Trail Master points leader

Isaac Wan Ho Yuen delivered a remarkable performance, only a week after finishing fourth in the 156k Ultra Trail Hong Kong! His top placings in the first two races of the 2016 Asia Trail Master series earned him already 900 points for the championship ranking, which he is now leading.  "It was a good race, although it was very hot for a Hong Kong runner," said Wan Ho Yuen afterwards. "I like it that there were so many runnable sections in this race. I prefer that over continuous mountain climbing. To defend my Asia Trail Master ranking, I may consider to run the Magnificent Merapoh Trail in Malaysia in July. Another race with not too excessive elevation gain." 

Isaac Wan Ho Yuen will be one to watch out for this year, and so is the female champion of the Beach Bunch Trail Challenge, Tahira Najmunisaa. In an interview the day before the race, the young mother of three said the Asia Trail Master championship is a goal for her this year. Part of the Running Project Team in Malaysia, Tahira Najmunisaa is not a new face, in fact, as she already won the Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra 100k last November. In Brunei, she was unbeatable and even finished the marathon in 4th place overall! A solid second place, half an hour behind, went to Singapore-based Japanese runner Itsuko Tanaka. The podium was completed by New Zealand's Moana O'Sullivan. 

Rizan Latif, organiser of the race and President of the Beach Bunch environmental NGO to keep Brunei's beaches clean from waste pollution (a necessary work), was a happy man after the event. Encouraged by the positive feedback on his event, he is already looking forward to 2017. "The race will be back and again in February. Maybe we even add a third ultra distance to the event! But in any case, the most important remains raising awareness in Brunei of the need to keep the beaches clean. Plastic waste pollution is a big and persistent problem."

Well-organised, participants agreed the Beach Bunch Trail Challenge is a great and special addition to the Asian trail calendar!

Top 10 result: Men:
1. Sefli Ahar (Brunei) 3:53:23
2. Isaac Wan Ho Yuen (Hong Kong) 4:32:55
3. Alexander Chung (Brunei) 4:57:56
4. Guillermo Rocco (Argentina) 5:27:03
5. Razif Yahya (Malaysia) 6:10:55
6. Hj Muhammad Yazid Hj Musa (Brunei) 6:14:41
7. Chiew Lie Chieng (Brunei) 6:15:03
8. Hung Zheng On (Brunei) 6:16:37
9. Abang Jamadi Rosli (Malaysia) 6:25:36
10.Mohd Akram Mohd Akbal (Brunei) 6:31:45

Top 6 result: women
1. Tahira Najmunisaa Muhammad Zaid (Malaysia) 5:22:18
2. Itsuko Tanaka (Japan) 5:50:59
3. Moana O'Sullivan (New Zealand) 7:05:06
4. Katherine Mitchell (Great Britain) 7:13:10
5. Melissa Woo (Brunei) 7:30:58
6. Wan Chy On (Brunei) 7:50:34

Isaac Wan Ho Yuen added 450 (100 finisher points + 350 performance points) to his tally after UTHK, and now leads the men's Asia Trail Master ranking with 900 points after 2 races. Tahira Najmunisaa enters in a joint second place with 500 points, behind Yuen Kit Shan, who won the Hong Kong SuperTrail last week (550 points