Izu Trail Journey - Cold but beautiful... and FAST!
The Japan SuperTrail on the Izu Peninsula proved to be a genuine SuperTrail. Not only because of the fantastic course, but also because of the harsh temperatures and the incredible average speed of the Japanese trail runners. It has to be admitted: the South-East Asians who came to Japan had a hard time competing with the elite of the country for the top positions. Japan is of course the distance running country par excellence, but it turned out that many of its top runners were also waiting for a race like Izu Trail Journey to motivate themselves to stay in shape during the cold winter. As such, Izu Trail Journey was an eye-opening experience for many participants. The race was controlled by four runners up front: last year's winner Tomohiro Tsuji, Kota Araki, Yuya Kawasaki and Yoshihito Kondo. These four took off after the first climb of the 72 km race roughly 9 km into the race. At that point, Brunei's Sefli Ahar, who was challenging for the Asia Trail Master Championship as the last man to still overtake Steven Ong on points, was running in 9th place and just 3 minutes behind the front quartet. Sadly, Ahar did start to suffer from the cold. Temperatures were only marginally above zero and the gale winds in the mountain zone made it feel a lot colder still. Winner of CM50 and BTS Ultra in the last six weeks, Sefli Ahar could not close the gap with the Japanese top runners and lost terrain as the race progressed. Suffering from frozen eyes and breathing problems, the 43-year-old Bruneian nevertheless finished the race - 61st - and with his chin up. Sefli Ahar certainly made the ATM Championship exciting until the last moment and we are looking forward to seeing him back in 2018.
Meanwhile, Kota Araki turned out to be the strongest of the leaders and pulled away. Only Yuya Kawasaki was able to stay close and kept the pressure on. Kawasaki almost paid a price for that, though, as he faded towards the end and saw Yoshihito Kondo finish less than a minute behind him in third place. First non-Japanese was New Zealand's Richard Coughlan. Time of the winner, Kato Araki, was 6:43:48. Izu Trail Journey is 72 km with 4300 Hm and run in a deepfreezer. Araki and Kawasaki will allegedly now represent Japan in the Trail World Championships in Spain next year. Spain's Pablo Diago Gonzales was just outside the top 100 and Hong Kong's Isaac Yuen Wan Ho, who became a two-star Grandmaster, just outside the top 300, which proves the very high level of Japanese trail running.
The women's race was a tight battle between Ayano Saito and Kaori Asahari. Both runners were never far apart from each other, and finished also just three minutes separate. Okinawa-based Corinne Williams was an excellent third place. Philippines' Patricia Ann Morota and Indonesia's Shindy Patricia are two ATM protagonists who also finished the race.