John Ray Onifa unstoppable in Rizal Mountains
The 3rd edition of Rizal Mountain Run in Basekamp, San Mateo, in the rugged mountainous suburbs of Manila goes into the history books as the toughest so far. Not only was the total race distance and elevation gain increased to 53km and 3100 hm, the hard rainfall in the days leading up to the event made the trails slippery and technical to the extreme. As a result, the DNF rate was high for the 50K athletes at 40%. Rizal Mountain Run delivered two outstanding winners of whom we can be expected to see a lot more still this season.
John Ray Onifa burst onto the trail scene last October when he defeated Manolito Divina by half an hour in Ultra-Trail Mapawa 50k, and since then many have wondered if the 24-year-old from Visayas could repeat that performance. The answer is yes. Onifa took the bullet by the horns from the start, and opened up a gap in the first, technical and even dangerous 10K of the race. Onifa never looked back. Local boy Elmer Retolado was going fast behind him until he twisted his ankle in the very muddy conditions. As such, Rizal expert Kristian Joergensen inherited second place and was the only one who kept Onifa within potential striking range until the km 45 mark. Joergensen trains in the Rizal mountains and was very familiar with the course, which he ran entirely in training a fortnight ago. When Joergensen crossed the finish line in 7:04 (six minutes faster than during his training session in dry weather!), he could not believe he was nearly half an hour behind Onifa: “I was 10 minutes behind before the last checkpoint, so how did I lose 20 minutes in the last 8 km?” The answer was as straight as it was overwhelming: Onifa still had the strength and energy to run up the whole last climb of 4 km while others were walking up. An impressive run by the youngster, who could become another serious ATM title contender from the Philippines this season.
JR Onifa is still new to trail running, coming from a few solid road run performances, and has never gone beyond 50 km in racing conditions. Interestingly, that is a characteristic he shares with Jeff Campbell, who won last week’s Tahura Trail in Indonesia. They now both top the 2018 ATM Championship ranking with 500 points.
The third place on the podium was occupied by Filippino Dean Perez, who did very well by staying ahead of Pablo Diago Gonzales. Last year’s winner of RMR, Manolito Divina, was present at the event, but only as a sweeper for the short distance race. “Tolitz” confirmed he suffered a lot from his stomach cramps in UT Panoramic early December and, combined with the demands of a new business initiative, his 2018 trail running campaign will only begin in March.
At CP1 after a tough 10km, the women’s race looked like it would be a dual between Agostoralin Sabanal, also known as Aggy Smith, and Melanie Hingpit. Only a minute or two separated both runners at that point, but eventually Sabanal turned out to have too much power on the day and completed the 53 km as 8th overall in just over 10 hours. Hingpit held onto second place, and another Filippino runner, Maricar Hiponia, completed the podium in third place.
The third points race in the 2018 ATM Championship is set for next weekend and it is again in the Philippines. We move further north to the Cordillera area, where on Sunday the Pilipinas Akyathlon 46k takes place with some of the country’s finest expected to be at the start.