Dalat Ultra Trail: Kim & Tahira launch their comeback!
The Dalat Ultra Trail in Vietnam is the 3rd SuperTrail in this year’s Asia Trail Master Championship and the first ever in the country. Taking place in the cool Central Highlands city of Dalat, northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, the event has witnessed a spectacular growth in just two years. After last year’s successful inaugural edition, numbers now boomed to nearly 4000 runners for the varous distances on the programme, of which the 70K is what matters for the ATM Championship. A lot of regional top runners will be at the start at 4 a.m. on Saturday, including Malaysia’s Tahira Najmunisaa, who is returning to the ATM scene after nearly one-and-a-half years.
Initially, 2018 male ATM Champion Alessandro Sherpa had also been announced as to open his points account in Dalat, but the Italian sent around a message this morning that he is unable to travel to Vietnam due to other commitments. Plenty of top runners left, though. Local hero Quang Tran was the winner last year and can certainly be expected to challenge for victory again. After Cao Ngoc Ha switched to triathlon, Quang Tran - a former winner of Vietnam Mountain Marathon as well - has become the most prominent Vietnamese trail runner. This Saturday he will be up against serious competition. Tahura Trail race winner Mohamed Affindi is aiming for his second consecutive victory on a course that should suit him as much as the one in Bandung two months ago. Dalat is almost 30 km longer than Tahura, though. Can the Malaysian keep up his fast pace over that distance? While Affindi will be running his second ATM points race of the season, a few will be doing their third already. Among those also last weekend’s CMU protagonists Ander Iza Rekakoetxea, John Ellis and Hisashi Kitamura. Manila-based Spaniard Rekakoetxea is the current points leader in the ATM Championship with a narrow margin of just 14 points over Ellis. Kitamura is 99 points behind, but in Dalat can reduce that gap significantly. A 2:38 marathon in Tokyo recently suggests that KItamura has become one of the fastest legs on the tour. Applying that speed to trail is always still something else, but Dalat is clearly less technical than CMU last Sunday, in which the Japanese finished 7th.
Others to watch out for on paper are Thailand’s Sukrit Kaewyoun and Hong Kong-based Fin Henri Lehkonen, together with many local Vietnamese runners who can cause an upset.
In the women’s we have two former ATM Champions on the come back trail, and another one trying to regain the lead in the current Championship standings. 2016 Champ Tahira Najmunisaa has been back in action since several months, but Dalat will be her first major international trail race since the birth of her fourth child last October. Still only 29, Tahira is unbeaten in 10 ATM races and shares the all-time record with Ruth Theresia. She is therefore a logical race favourite, even when 2017 Champion Kim Matthews is also on the start list. After winning last year’s Tahura Trail, Matthews suffered a bad hip injury that put her out of action for almost a full year. As Tahira, she has been building up speed and strength again in the past three months and Dalat will be her first international test as a competitor for race wins. Now based in Hong Kong, Kim used to live in Ho Chi Minh City and is therefore familiar with Vietnam.
Korea-based Canadian Carrie Jane Stander is one of the busy bees this season and will be competing in her third ATM race out of five already. Championship leader until last week, when Cheryl Navarro took over, Stander can regain the points lead on Saturday if she scores another good result. Possibly her biggest competitior for the points lead will be another Malaysian, Christine Loh. She scored a fantastic third place in the 9 Dragons 50/50 at the beginning of February. Stander will like Dalat, however, and let’s remember that she won Ijen 70, another runable 70k course!
Vietnamese runners Julia Nguyen Thi Duong and Vy le Phuong have scored podium places in several ATM races in the past years and can certainly be expected to do so again. Julia of course won the Vietnam Jungle Marathon last year and came second behind Dutchwoman Marieke Dekkers here in Dalat. Dekkers, by the way, does not feature on the 70k start list so far.