Preview: Vietnam and Japan begin ATM season
Two races on the agenda for this weekend in the 2017 Asia Trail Master championship. On Saturday we have the first of three events in Vietnam this season, the Vietnam Jungle Marathon. On Sunday, the shortest but crispiest race of 2017 will be held in western Japan, the Kushigata Wind Trail - also the first of three in the Land of the Rising Sun.
In fact, both races share quite a few similarities. Vietnam Jungle Marathon and Kushigata Wind Trail are events that have been set up following the success of two other events by the same organisers. VJM is the new race by the Vietnam Mountain Marathon team, and Kushigata is produced by the team that brings you Echigo Country Trail. It is a clearcut sign of how trail running has been developing in Asia. Mind you, these two races are no simples warm-up runs, they are tough and challenging in their own right.
According to race director David Lloyd, VJM offers probably the best trail running scenery Vietnam can offer. The 70k race goes through the Po Luong Nature Reserve, a wild, hilly, adventurous and natural rainforest area about two hours from country capital Hanoi. Trail running in Vietnam has started to flourish and this year's three points races for the Asia Trail Master Championship are testimony to that. Not only do runners from Asia and the rest of the world get a chance to visit and experience Vietnam in a different way, but Vietnamese runners also get a chance to learn, develop and be part of the ever growing Asian trail scene. Already this year in February, we go to know Ngoc Ha at UTKC in Thailand. The Vietnamese runner scored a great third place in the SuperTrail race behind Steven Ong and Wataru Iino, proving the potential he has. Ngoc Ha will be in action this weekend, and also in the next Vietnamese race in a month's time, the Tam Dao Mountain Trail. In the women's race, the top favourite is arguably the Singapore-based Norwegian Ann-Mari Lillejord, winner of last year's Ijen Trailrunning 70 in Indonesia.
In Japan, the 30km race with 2500 hm is open on paper, and we are likely to discover some new names and talents at Kushigata.
Our Asia Trail Master team is present at both events as usual, and will be reporting from the field - signal permitting.