UTKC - Jantaraboon & Theresia start as favourites
Ultra-Trail Koh Chang, aka UTKC, is again the first SuperTrail of the Asia Trail Master Championship this year, and despite Chinese New Year sees a remarkable line-up of international and domestic trail runners. Contrary to last year, it also looks very likely that the host country will have one or more athetes on the podium of the main event, the 100K race. Two of the country’s best trail runners, if not the best, will be at the start: freshly married Jay Jantaraboon - the dominator at Ultra-Trail Chiang Rai last October - and Sanya Khancai, the most successful Thai runner in ATM so far with race victories in Ultra Trail Nan 100 and Vietnam Mountain Marathon on his record already.
The men’s 100K, which starts in the early hours of Friday, is a meanwhile renowned tough and technical race with over 5000m of elevation gain. Taking place mostly during the day, the heat can be scorching in certain areas of the course. On the positive side, runners can enjoy the fantastic scenery of Koh Chang island to the maximum, and the fastest runners are expected to be back at the finish in the late afternoon and evening, in prime time in other words.
While many athletes can legitimately dream of a podium finish tomorrow, if Jay Jantaraboon showed the same kind of form as in Chiang Rai a few months ago it would be hard to bet against him. Having said that, UTCR and UTKC may be organised by the same company Teelakow but they are two very different animals. This one is a lot more technical and tactical. Last season, Japan’s star runner Wataru Iino looked set for a grand victory in UTKC, yet completely disintegrated in the final 20 km and got caught by Soonseng Ong. The Malaysian was kind enough to stay with the dehydrated Iino until the finish, but the Japanese ace made it clear to everyone Ong had been the stronger man. A scenario like this can repeat itself always in ultra running and especially in a tropical climate. Yet Jay Jantaraboon is no rookie. How close can Sanya Khancai stay with Jantaraboon? Will Khancai and Italy’s Alessandro Sherpa take off like bullets again, as they did in Ultra Trail Panoramic 100 miles last December? Another traditionally quick starter could join them in an early attack: Arief Wismoyono from Indonesia. The runner-up in the 2017 ATM Championship can definitely not be underestimated and has been showing excellent form in the past six months in both ultra and medium distance races. This trio could take the fight to Jantaraboon, of course with the risk of running against a massive counter punch. Wismoyono and Sherpa will have a battle between themselves as well this weekend, namely for the points lead in the ATM Championship. Sherpa was third in Tahura Trail, Wismoyono fourth. That’s a difference of just 25 points.
Other podium candidates on a good day are Frenchman Clement Dumont, third in Korea 50K in 2016, Britain’s Robert Butcher and Filippino Jared Teves.
In the women’s 100k start list we see perhaps fewer known and big names, but one stands out: Ruth Theresia. The always smiling second runner-up in the 2017 ATM Championship launches her 2018 campaign in Thailand this weekend. Ruth Theresia has the experience to bring this to a good end as well. The Indonesian will be competing against a whole field of Thai runners, of whom Montha Suntornwit is likely the biggest podium candidate, and against her own compatriots and fellow Grandmasters Shindy Patricia and Lily Suryani, fifth and sixth respectively in the 2017 ATM Championship. Filippino Ann Julian Pulanco could also be a podium contender on a good day. As this is ultra, there can of course always be a new name popping up from nowhere.
Apart from Wismoyono, Theresia, Suryani and Patricia, there’s two more ATM Grandmasters at the start of the 100K tomorrow. Brunei’s Ali Ajis Rasil and Filippino Cheryl Bihag. Both accustomed to the ultra distance, they will be adding another point on their march towards a second Grandmaster star.