Sherpa and Rambla run for the title during Izu Trail Journey
For the second consecutive season Izu Trail Journey across Japan’s Izu Peninsula south of Tokyo will decide the outcome of the Asia Trail Master men’s championship. After 35 points races in 15 Asian countries, Alessandro Sherpa and Salva Rambla will battle for the title in a straight dual on the fantastic but challenging 72km course from Matzuzaki to Shuzenji.
Izu Trail Journey is rapidly gaining prestige and fame in the Asian trail circuit since it joined our championship series in 2017. Last year’s edition was of course also historical for its frosty and even snowy conditions. It won’t get that cold tomorrow but for sure wind jackets will be worn by most runners as they line up for the start at 6 a.m. by the ocean. Five of the top six male runners in the Asia Trail Master Championship will be competing against some local Japanese elite and international elites. An important novelty for the season’s final, though, is that ATM points will only be awarded to runners who have done minimum two ATM races this year. This means there will be a race within the race for the ATM protagonists. In the fight for the ATM title, it comes down to this: Sherpa leads Rambla by 130 points, but Rambla can still up his total score by 180 points. It means that no matter what anyone else does tomorrow, Salva Rambla needs to be first (+180 points) or second (+130 points) of the ATM protagonists to have a chance of winning the ATM championship. And then it of course still depends on Sherpa’s own performance. If Salva wins Izu and Sherpa is second, Sherpa wins the championship (2550 points vs 2525 points). If Salva wins and Sherpa finishes third in the race, they both end up with a total of 2525 points: a tie and then we look at the last direct confrontation of the two runners in question, which means Salva would be the new champion. That is of course the beauty of tomorrow’s race: Salva Rambla beat Alessandro Sherpa in Singapore’s Trail Blazer only two weeks go, and if fast-legged Salva were to go ahead solo on the Izu Trail, Sherpa must make sure nobody else of the ATM protagonists runs passed him tomorrow. Enter runners Pablo Diago Gonzales, home runner Tomohiro Mizukoshi, Hisashi Kitamura and Daisuke Kobayashi, to name the most likely ‘spoilers’ for Sherpa in this scenario. Tomohiro Mizukoshi has already been labelled the King Maker, because not only is he at home in Izu and did he run this race last year already, but most importantly, he beat both Rambla and Sherpa on a runable 70k course in Bali in October! Moreover, Mizukoshi needs to watch his rear mirror, too. Hisashi Kitamura is not too far down on ATM points and seems keen to finish the championship season as number one Japanese! Pablo Diago Gonzales ran Izu also last year and is back in Japan to do better. Diago Gonzales hails from Spain just like Salva Rambla: will there be a Spanish alliance? Finally, there is Daisuke Kobayashi: little known outside Japan, but a strong runner with Echigo and Hakuba Trails on his ATM record in 2018: he is in the mix for points tomorrow. Kobayashi finished just eight minutes behind Mizukoshi in Hakuba Trails proving his advanced level. In ultra trail running, it is a cliche that anything can happen and there’s too many scenarios to write down here. Let’s conclude with one that sees Salva Rambla finish as second tomorrow: then Sherpa can allow himself to be fourth only.
We could not have hoped for a better finish of the 2018 season, although it is of course a pity that the injured Milton Amat from Malaysia could not join the final in Japan. Amat would have been another candidate for the ATM title thanks to his great performances this season in four big races, three of which were SuperTrails.
In the battle for the race victory tomorrow, Japan’s elites Kei Kikushima (winner Hakuba Trails, but did not compete in another ATM race this season), Tomohiro Tsuji (winner Izu Trail Journey 2016) and Yuichi Miura rank among the top favourites.
The women’s Asia Trail Master Championship already reached a conclusion two weeks ago with Indonesia’s Ruth Theresia crowned as the new champion. However, Izu Trail Journey still has significance for the places of honour. Philippines’ newcomer Aggy Sabanal will be trying to snatch second place in the ATM championship ranking away from Sri Wahyuni. Sabanal, still just 22 years young and university student, is running her first race outside of her home country. She will try to follow into the footsteps of her compatriot Patricia Ann Morota, who completed the freezing edition of last year as first Filipino in great fashion. A strong runner who will try to finish a remarkable year inside the ATM top 10 is Carole Fuchs. Previously based in Bangkok, the French former IronMan professional and winner of Cordillera Mountain Ultra has recently moved to Japan and has been back in training after her successful but physically draining Mount Everest expedition in May. On a good day, Fuchs might as well aim for the top three in tomorrow’s race and a good race result would in any case propel her into the ATM championship top ten. Yukako Takashima, the winner of Echigo Country Trail this year, will be one of the Japanese elite to beat.
As usual we will be reporting live from the race via our social media channels. The race starts at 6 am local time.