Drama and a lot of sweat at Penang Eco 100!
The Penang Eco 100 again lived up to its reputation of being a seriously tough event for even the best trail runners in the region. The Malaysia SuperTrail in the 2017 Asia Trail Master championship series brought Hitchcock-like suspense and drama, with a number of turnabouts nobody saw coming in both the 100 miles and 100k races!
If one major conclusion can be drawn after the event it is this: trail running experience and tactics outweighed sheer running pace. Sefli Ahar, Kim Matthews, and Isaac Yuen Wan Ho all set a blistering pace in the early and rather flattish part of their respective races, but none of them arrived first at the finish.
On the 100k, local Ultron runner Steven Oong grabbed his second ATM race victory of the season, after UTKC 100. The Malaysian overtook Wilnar Iglesia from Philippines after km 62 and found the technical hilly sections very much to his liking. Oong's race story could be printed unedited in a trail running guidebook. Unbothered and smiling when Brunei's Sefli Ahar took off like a bullet with Iglesia trying to keep up, Oong bode his time and balanced his effort in the hot and humid conditions of Penang. When the race went into the rainforest and the hills after about 40k, the number 2 in the Asia Trail Master Championship ranking began to focus and chase the front runners. Even Kim Matthews from Australia was running ahead of him at that point. Matthews herself ran like stung by a bee, which was amazing given she had started the race with a broken rib sustained in a household accident. Up front, Sefli Ahar discovered that technical trail running is very different from his maiden discipline: road running. The Bruneian won the Hong Kong Half Marathon a few years ago, and has developed an appetite for trail running after winning both editions of the Beach Bunch Trail Challenge in the past two years. Ahar has the ATM Championship in mind. He started the hilly section of the race with an advantage of approx 20 minutes on Iglesia, but his inexperience in trail cost him dearly. Ahar missed a marking, got lost and seemingly panicked. Unfortunately, he went on to end up at the start/finish arena rather than track back to the point he lost the right trail. The race director had no choice but to disqualify Sefli Ahar from the race result.
Iglesia took over the lead, but Oong charged forward, overtook the Filipino and finished in 15:47. In the end, thanks to his technical proficiency and stamina, Oong had even opened up a time gap of almost two-and-a-half hours over Iglesia, who did great in his ATM debut. Iglesia hails from the Manila area and will be back on the ATM circuit later this season. Oong now more than ever looks like a serious candidate for the ATM Championship. His Malaysian compatriot Yim Heng Fatt adopted a similar strategy than him. Fatt came also from behind, was never mentioned in the top five at checkpoints, but then reached the finish in a clear third place! Yim Heng Fatt in so doing retains his 4th ATM championship ranking with another great result. Singapore's Norman Koh was a popular and remarkable fourth place in the race - he ran on slippers! Man Kok Fai completed the top 5.
In the women's, everyone at the finish was waiting to celebrate the victory of Kim Matthews, until Dong Minfei (China) appeared in the final strait instead! A new name on the scene, Dong Mingfei ran her first 100k and hails from Zhejiang Province. She had passed Matthews under the radar at CP9 with only some 10k left to go. The Thailand-based Australian had suffered a knock of the hammer and got sick (like so many runners on the weekend). Matthews even fell asleep at the checkpoint, which allowed the Chinese girl to return. Dong Minfei obviously had a mental boost and managed to stay clear of a struggling Matthews by some 15 minutes. The two female runners both had an outstanding performance nonetheless, considering they were also fourth and fifth overall in the race! The battle for the last female podium spot was interesting throughout the race and decided in favour of Katanya Kapelli (USA). Home runner Lynn Law won the battle for 4th place ahead of her compatriot Siawhua Lim. Shindy Patricia came in sixth, followed by her Indonesian compatriot Eni Rosita, who had clearly not recovered yet from all the ultras she did in the past few weeks.
Dramatic turn of events as well on the 100 miles. Hong Kong's Isaac Yuen Wan Hong led most of the race but got sick in the final sections . He was ultra fast early on, running 105k in 12:20! Andres Villagran from Ecuador chased him down and eventually won the 100 miles race in 28:13! His first career race win after several podium finishes in the US, and a new course record. Villagran is 33 years old and this was his first race in Asia: "i m so happy with my first win," he said. "I did not expect it as the Hong Kong runner was so fast, but I saw him throwing up towards the end. Great organisation and a very tough race, which makes my win even sweeter." Isaac managed to hold on to second place. "This was so tough, especially the descents are very technical," said the visibly tired runner, who seems to have a subscription on second places. Yuen Wan Ho nevertheless did a good job for his ATM Championship ambitions, and deserves a lot of credit for his resilience.
ATM championship leader Arief Wismoyono was third. The Bandung Explorer ace had taken the fastest start, in fact, until Yuen Wan Ho took over. Wismoyono kept a good pace throughout and never saw his podium place under threat. The Indonesian was also visibly battered, though. Liew Tho Fatt from Malaysia was fourth. Fedok Ompiduk (MAS) fifth. Hendra Siswanto eventually came in as number 6 and again accumulated useful points for his championship ranking. Shannon Lee was 7th, followed by William Beanjay.
First woman was Malaysia 's Christine Loh, ahead of pre-race favourite Ruth Theresia. Loh finished in 34:30 approximately, which was amazing in her first 100 miler! Loh was ahead from the beginning, with Theresia a few minutes further down until the Indonesian got lost. And she got lost for a very long time, which dropped her all the way down the leaderboard halfway through the race. To her credit, Theresia did not give up and began to fight back. She finished her first 100 miler still in second place, which is important for the ATM Championship as she now has 25 points more than defending champion Tahira Najmunisaa in as many races (3). Lily Suryani was another runner who proved that on 100 miles, experience counts. Suryani finished on the podium, ahead of the younger and faster-paced Adelinah Lintanga, who faded towards the end but also deserves applause for completing her own debut on the 100 miles.