UTKC - Fantastic racing at the Thailand SuperTrail
The first SuperTrail race of the 2017 Asia Trail Master championship series took place on Koh Chang Island in Thailand and was by all accounts a great event to remember and look forward to already for next year. Yes, the jungle sections in UTKC are very technical and hard, but the course - modified and more varied than last year - proved appealing for basically all runners at the finish. Every finisher realised he or she had recorded a remarkable achievement, not in the least as temperatures rose to extreme heights of 44 degrees centigrade at noon on Saturday! In addition, the Teelakow organising crew made everyone feel highly welcome and offered outstanding refreshment stations throughout the race topped-off by pre- and post race meals at the event arena. UTKC was publicity for the sport, and even the 100k race proved to be exciting to follow!
In a nice gesture of sportsmanship, Steven Oong and Wataru Iino crossed the finish line hand in hand just before midnight after 15 hours 8 minutes. Iino from Japan, top favourite before the start, had gone off on his own relatively early in the race, but began to suffer from dehydration symptoms as darkness fell and saw the experienced Malaysian Oong return with just over 15 km to go. Keeping safety in mind, Oong decided to stick with Iino, even when he might have had the upper hand. Both were officially hailed as winners of the 100k race. Behind them in third place was Vietnam's Cao Ngoc Ha, who made a name for himself outside his own country. Cao Ngoc Ha was running together with Oong for most of the first 40 km, and never really dropped far back afterwards. He was even fastest in the final sector of 15 km, cementing his third place in the race. Very popular in Vietnam, where a new trail running community is gradually coming of age, Cao Ngoc Ha will return to the Asia Trail Master circuit soon, and could become one to watch this year as his experience grows.
Amazingly, the first woman came home fourth overall! Perhaps it has become less surprising when one knows that woman is defending Asia Trail Master champion Tahira Najmunisaa Muhammad Zaid, who already at Tahura Trail in Indonesia last month proved to be back at her best level. The Malatra ace from Malaysia won her seventh ATM race in a row and regained the lead in the 2017 championship ranking after Lily Suryani briefly surpassed her at Coast To Coast last week. While she admitted to be struggling with the technical jungle trails as well, it seems others had more issues with those than her. Tahira finished the 100km in 16:10, just over an hour down on Oong and Iino. In second place was Australia's Joanna Kruk in 19:57, a fine effort by all means as well. Completing the women's podium was another Malaysian, Siawhua Lim, who had lost time in the early parts of the race after missing a marker.
31 nationalities were present at UTKC and this was illustrated by the top 10 of the 100k, with only 1 local runner from Thailand in fourth place. Nikom Tongjai actually battled hard for his final result, as he was shown down in tenth place halfway through the race. Grandmaster Aleksis Capili is another ultrarunner who never slows down and moves up the leaderboard the longer a race goes. Capili scored yet another fine sixth place, just behind a remarkable runner from the Czech Republic, Jan Suchomel, who completed his 99th (!!!) 100k or more race in six years. On the question which race will have the pleasure of celebrating his 100th, Suchomel did not yet have an answer. Peter Vangeit, a Belgian living in India, was next coming into the finish, followed by the second Pinoy runner Jared Teves, France's Emanuel Abadie - winner of the Merapoh Trail in 2015 - and Philipp Yeo Kian Jong, also Malaysia.
The 70 km race was of course also a Grandmaster distance, and following the new ATM championship regulations, offered 400 performance points to the winners as well. Again, two runners jointly came in: America's Zack Reimer and Canada's Julian Baker in a splendid time of 9:38:20. They were almost a full hour ahead of number three, Great Britain's Martyn Driscoll. Also on this distance, one woman stood out with a fifth place overall: Kim Matthews from Australia, though living in Thailand nowadays. Matthews finished in 11:02 and has ambition for the Asia Trail Master championship. We look forward already! The women's podium was completed by Thai runner Montha Sontornwit and Japan's Terada Kazue.
On Facebook later this week we will publish a fine photo album of UTKC, courtesy of Adventure III, and on the same social media page you can find interviews with race winners Wataru and Steven, along with plenty of other video and photo work.
The first SuperTrail of 2017 is a wrap, and what an event it was!