Elias Tabac and Majo Liao shine in gold
Just one week after John Ray Onifa confirmed his status as up-and-coming Filippino trail star at Rizal Mountain Run, two more pinoys with a road running pedigree defeated the established trail guard at the excellent Pilipinas Akyathlon event in Baguio last weekend. Elias Tabac from Davao on Mindanao Island in the south of the Philippines won the 46 km and 3250 hm mountain race in a stunning time of 5 hours and 42 minutes, trailing local runner Jeffery Alligan for 43 km before launching an impressive dash to the line. Tabac’s attack was so explosive the gap to Alligan had grown to 7 minutes at the finish. Cordillera trail star Marcelino Sano Oy had just about caught up with the front duo in the final 4k, but the end verdict was ten minutes behind the winner!
Before the start of the race at 4:30 a.m., Mount Apo Sky Race organiser Doi Calbes said to us: “keep an eye on Elias”. Elias Tabac turned out to be a young 2:44 marathon runner, who was doing his third trail race but his very first at Asian high level. Untested in other words, and surely the Akyathlon with the long climb up Mt Ugo and the 3250 meters of elevation gain in just 46 km cannot be compared to any road marathon. Yet is seems to be the new trend in the young 2018 season that road runners are taking the trails by storm and giving the established trail runners a lesson in speed. Second-placed Jeffrey Alligan reportedly only ran his second ever trail race, and his first was way back in 2015. The two were leading a well-stacked field from early on.
Marcelino Sano-Oy was keeping up and so was Wilnar Iglesia, until the latter took a wrong turn. In-form Iglesia realised his mistake timely, yet had to chase and never saw the front runners again. Sano Oy, who admiitedly is not yet 100% recovered from an injury and who fell again in the early part of the race, was 10 minutes behind the leading duo on the summit of Mt Ugo. Showing his technical skills in the long descent, he reduced that gap to barely 2 minutes at checkpoint 5 with just 5km left to the finish. It looked like he was going to grab and drop them, but then Tapac still shifted to a higher gear…
Al Telias, likewise in excellent shape these days, gave it all he got and was seemingly disappointed with his fifth place at the end, close behind Wilnar Iglesia. A further look at the top 10 proves just how good this competition was. Lipa six, Carranza seven, regular podium placer Aldean Lim eight, Dean Perez - 3rd in Rizal - ninth and last year’s Cordillera Mountain Ultra winner and #5 in Vietnam Mountain Marathon, Arnold Lozano, had to be content with tenth!
Lozano admitted he had probably been a bit nonchalant at the start by lining up towards the back of the pack. Yet nobody seemed to have expected Tapac and Alligan to step on the throttle like they did from the get-go. Both athletes love running on trails, but they will continue to combine trail with road races. It goes without saying that both could become a contender for the Asia Trail Master championship with this level of speed. Speaking of which, Vancouver-based Dean Perez is the new points leader in the men’s championship standings. He’s the best of the runners who have already finished and scored points on two of the three ATM points races in the beginning of this 2018 season. Dean Perez is Filippino, very experienced trail runner in North America, and expressed his admiration and surprise of the competitive races in his native country. Still on holiday till March, Perez has also signed up for the Cordillera Mountain Ultra on 4 March, so we may find his name on the leaderboard still for quite a while.
If there was any betting on the women’s podium of Pilipinas Akyathlon, either someone brave got very rich or nobody won anything. Sandi Menchi, Gretchen Felipe and Rizal winner Aggy Smith Sabanal were all at the starting line… but not at the finish. What happened? Sabanal already said she was feeling unwell before the race began and quit in the early stages. Sandi Menchi and Gretchen Felipe were leading until they both took a wrong trail and continued to follow that one for what eventually turned out to be nearly 5 km. Their mistake proved very costly and eliminated all chances of a podium finish, as they had to run those 5 km back… mainly steep uphill even. Also the women’s field had competitive runners including Majo Liao, who anyway was expected to put some pressure on Sandi Menchi. Majo Liao took the lead and held onto it with a well-paced and consistent effort in what was her first trail in nearly half a year. For the 28-year-old Manila-based Liao it was the third career ATM race victory. Behind her, Baguio girls Marjorie Sofla and Marjorie Velo had a nice tight batlle for the second and third place steps of the female podium.
When she got back to the arena, Sandi Menchi accepted her mistake (note that there were no complaints about the markings in this race at all), and seemed to realise this should not happen. All top stars have a day-off for some reason, be it due to fatigue or lack of focus, but for Menchi’s chances in the ATM championship this is a bitter pill to swallow. Not in a position to do that many ATM points races over a year’s time, she missed out on 500 points…
Pilipinas Akyathlon was a new entry in the ATM championship and a successful one. Taking place on the other side of Mt Ugo compared to Cordillera Mountain Ultra, runners will not be disappointed by choosing to run both races.
Video footage of the finish including interviews is available to watch on facebook.
The next points race is the first SuperTrail of the season: Ultra-Trail Koh Chang in Thailand. Finishers of the 100k and 70k races will score 50 additional bonus points for the championship.