VMM - Asian trail stars unite in Sapa

Kim Matthews

Kim Matthews

The Vietnam Mountain Marathon launches the final part of the 2017 Asia Trail Master Championship series this weekend. In style, because not only has VMM grown to be one of Asia’s finest trail races over the years, it also has attracted a quality field of Asian runners including our defending champion Manolito Divina. The Philippines’ running star still has some work to do in the final quarter of the year to defend his title. After an unfortunate DNF in Tahura Trail in January, Divina won the Rizal Mountain Run and the Sungai Menyala Forest Trail, but while others already have four or five results he is still down to two. Manolito has remained in good shape, though, as he proved in the Candidate Race in Bali two months ago. Manolito dominated the race and never even had to push to claim victory. This weekend in Vietnam, however, he will face some stiff competition on a hilly and often technical course that may match less with his characteristics as a trail runner. Manolito Divina, ironically enough, may have to fear another pinoy runner most in Vietnam: Arnold Lozano. The man from the Cordillera is known as a mountainbiker mainly outside Philippines, but then he won Cordillera Mountain Ultra last March, ahead of Marcelino Sano-Oy, Al Telias and Jan Nilsen! Lozano has his own ambition for the ATM Championship, so we could get a very interesting dual on the mountains around Sapa this weekend. 

The local stars of course also want a say in the battle. Cao Ngoc Ha in first place. The tall Vietnamese runner has been doing great in the ATM Championship this year and is determined to finish the year on a high note as well. Currently ranked in 6th place with three race finishes, Cao Ngoc Ha has home advantage this weekend and will be cheered on by the ever-growing Vietnamese trail community. Trail running is coming of age in Vietnam, indeed, and Cao Ngoc Ha is one of the pioneers. With also BTS Ultra on his agenda, it looks like he will definitely claim a top 10, if not top 5 or even higher position in the final championship ranking. 

In the women’s 100K, ATM Championship leader Lily Suryani will be at the start to defend her position. The Bali-based Indonesian  is unstoppable and very consistent this year. Only last weekend she finished the Bandung Ultra 100, a very technical and tough ATM Candidate Race. Lily has five results in the bag already, and her aim is of course to improve on her “fifth result”. This weekend, she will for sure leave Vietnam still as the Championship leader, but Australia’s Kim Matthews is set to move up. Matthews, in fact, is the women’s race favourite. She won UTKC 70 and Tam Dao Mountain Trail, and also scored second in the Penang Eco 100k earlier this year and is one of the top favourites for the ATM Championship at the end of the season. In Sapa, Matthews will be competing with Suryani, but also with Montha Suntornwit and local stars Tu Nguyen, Nguyen Thi Duong and Vy Le Phuong. Moana O’ Sullivan from New Zealand is the dark horse for the women’s race this weekend. 

As always in trail running, there may be guest runners claiming the spotlight as well. In Sapa we can expect some solid runners from South Korea, Thailand and France.