Korea is no longer a rookie country when it comes to trail running and the proof is this weekend's Korea 50k event in Dongducheon in the outskirts of capital city of Seoul. The 3rd edition again breaks participation records with 1117 officially registered runners! Not all of them are of course going for the hilly 59 k, yet even the main race will see just over 500 starters. And it is not only the quantity that strikes observers, also the quality. Many of northern Asia's established trail runners are present, and they will be facing one of the world's most reputed trail runners in the person of Ryan Sandes of South Africa. It goes without saying he is also the race favourite, but there's plenty of dark horses this weekend.
Korea 50k is thus actually closer to 60k and offers a hilly course mainly inside forests and has no less than 3500 metres of elevation gain. That's tough, and especially something that could be in favour of explosive runner types rather than ultra endurance types. The terrain could therefore be Sandes' biggest rival. At 35, the South African is not the oldest, but neither the youngest anymore. Japan's Ruy Ueda, for instance, is a fan of Korea 50K's topography and has an aggressive running style. Ueda will be an important challenger for Sandes. So will be Ueda's compatriot Tetsuya Osugi - if he recovers in time from illness that struck him this week -, along with Takeshi Doi and Tomonori Onitsuka. The Land of the Rising Sun certainly is well-represented in Korea this year!
On a start list of 500 there are bound to be other fast runners few people know about, but one name is certainly not unknown: Alison Tellias from the Philippines, third in the Cordillera Mountain Ultra last month, is another podium candidate to say the least. Still, there's another Filippino runner who will be very much in the spotlight this weekend: Cheryl Bihag will be taking part in her fifth ATM points race of the season already, and is set to overtake Tahira Najmunisaa in the 2017 Championship points ranking! Currently ranked second with just 50 points less than the Malaysian - who has done three races so far - Bihag will be the first runner to score points in five races, which means that as of the next race she can begin to try and eliminate her worst points result (11th in Cordillera Mountain Ultra, i.e. 300 points). Always smiling and in a good mood, Bihag has traveled across Asia in recent months and her consistent results in races will now give her a truly well-deserved place in the spotlight for some time.
In all fairness, winning Korea 50K will be an uphill task for Bihag this weekend. For the race victory, local runners such as Sunghee Lee and Gyesook Lee seem to be a good bet. But also in the women's race, Japanese runners will join the debate for sure.
As always, you can follow the action of Korea 50K live via our social media channels. The race is set to commence at 5 a.m. local time.