At Ijen the return of Jan Nilsen

After the dramatic races at Penang Eco 100 in Malaysia, the Asia Trail Master Championship series move to Indonesia this weekend for already the third time this season. Ijen Trailrunning is on the agenda, also
known as the the Race to the Blue Fire, after the blue glow runners will see at night as they climb the  Ijen volcano in East Java. Contrary to the ultra tough MesaStila Peaks Challenge and Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra races later in autumn, Ijen Trailrunning is in fact quite runnable. Nevertheless, this year the event by Egon Trails has also seen a face-lift as a new 100 km category has been added to the programme,  with total elevation gain of approx 4200 Hm. That is comparable with the biggest trail race in Hong Kong each January, and the good news is that also the same cut-off time is being applied at
Ijen. That means every runner has a good chance of completing the distance and return home happy, especially those who are attempting their first ever 100K.

Sempol, which serves as the race venue, is a very remote location and it takes time to get there, but the several hundreds of participants will certainly not be disappointed. The Ijen volcano is a fantastic sight to see.

Looking at the start list, we find many big names of the Asia Trail Master circuit, but one man might steal the show: Grandmaster Jan Nilsen. The amazing Thailand-based Norwegian is making a bit of a comeback this weekend after being out of action with injury for quite some time. Jan Nilsen stole the hearts of many people in the Asian trail running community last year with a string of outstanding performances in the most brutal of trail races on the continent. Seemingly never tired, Nilsen was unbeaten in Indonesia in 2016, demolishing the field at MesaStila Peaks Challenge, Bromo Tengger Semeru 100 miles and Rinjani 100 as the cherry on the pie. Nilsen was
the only finisher of the 100k race at Rinjani. Not bad for a 50-year-old from chilly northern Europe!

Urban legends have been going around about Jan Nilsen. One of the weirdest, which he later denied, was that on weekdays he works and trains on a container ship running around the containers at sea. Nilsen was also always sick or injured, until he crossed the finish
line in first place. But at the end of last year, the many long and demanding efforts did catch up with him. Nilsen lost out on the ATM Championship in a direct confrontation with Manolito Divina in Clark at CM 50, and vowed it was time to take a rest. However, he did not and continued taking part in tough ultra trails. After a few uncharacteristic DNFs, Nilsen did take a little break, eventually. But the damage to his foot had already been done. He returned early March
at the Cordillera Mountain Ultra and could not do better than fifth place: not what one expects from Jan Nilsen in a mountain trail race. He realised it as well, and at last put a stop to his running
activities. Acting like a true professional, he switched to cycling to keep his body in motion and retain his stamina. Now, two-and-a-half months later, the Grandmaster returns to the trail scene. Not yet fully convinced of his performance level, Nilsen has opted to go for the 70K rather than the 100K. It will be great to see him back in action, and competitive as he is, he will go for the race win. However, that might not come as easy: Pablo Diago Gonzales is also on the 70K start list! The Singapore-based Spaniard was the King of Mount Apo on Mindanao last month, and finds at Ijen a course with similar characteristics, only less technical. Gonzales is an excellent road
runner and has ATM Championship ambitions. He starts as the man-to-beat on the 70K, which is a Grandmaster distance and as the 100K accredited with 400 performance points.

The local Indonesian stars are nearly all going for the new 100K race distance. Last year's winner Arief Wismoyono is still recovering from his efforts at Penang Eco 100 last weekend, but his rival from twelve months ago is back to claim that elusive race victory. Yohanis Hiareij has been going very well so far this year and a 10th place in the current ATM Championship ranking proves that. Hiareij is a local from the area and knows the terrain. Last year, he was the only runner able
to follow the pace of Wismoyono. Hiareij seems the favourite to win the inaugural 100k, but will need to watch out for the likes of Vincent Chalias and Laurent Tuffi from France, and Aris Supiandi Muklis. And of course, in any trail race of this nature, unexpected names may turn up...

The women's competition is currently a bit unpredictable. Ruth Theresia, Lily Suryani and Shindy Patricia are expected to start at Ijen, yet the decision on which race distance is pending. Both took part at Penang Eco 100 last weekend, a race that of course cost an enormous amount of physical and mental energy. Ruth and Lily both can claim the top spot in the ATM Championship ranking, led by Cheryl Bihag, this weekend, though. For both it would be the perfect end of
the first semester of 2017. Ruth Theresia in particular can put the pressure on her main championship contenders Tahira Najmunisaa, Sandi Menchi, Kim Matthews and co.

Mila Marlina is another podium and potential race win candidate on the 100k, and on the 70k we can expect Grandmaster Ina Budiyarni to be close.

As usual, signal permitting, we will be reporting live from Ijen
Trailrunning throughout the weekend.

Yohanis Hiareij (right) was officially second in last year's race behind Arief Wismoyono

Yohanis Hiareij (right) was officially second in last year's race behind Arief Wismoyono