Penang Eco 100: Ellis & Kitamura head-2-head!
This weekend we conclude the first half of the year and of the Asia Trail Master Championship season with the traditional Malaysia SuperTrail, the Penang Eco 100 in Bukit Mertajam. It’s the 5th edition of this event, which has become renowned for its atypical race course and its unexpected twists in the stories of the 100 miles and 100 km races. Both these distances are labeled as A-race SuperTrails and also this year we have a stellar line-up for each of them.
To begin with, the current ATM Championship points leader and his closest rival are on the 100 miles start list. Four weeks after his popular maiden race victory in Vietnam, Hisashi Kitamura will now tackle his first ever 100 miles race. As he said in the post-race video interview at that time, the Japanese Uglow runner only has one objective and that is to stay close to John Ellis, who has developed into his key rival for the championship at this point of the season, but who is also his big example as an ultrarunner. Ever since Ellis, Australian but living in Hong Kong, appeared on the ATM scene in Penang Eco 100k last year, he has earned deep respect from Asian running communities. Ellis is going all-in to win this year’s Championship, but by now has also realised it won’t be as easy as one might have thought. Reports from Hong Kong say that Ellis has never been leaner as now, preparing himself for this weekend’s SuperTrail. He knows that this is a tough race, as he disintegrated in the final technical sections of the 100k last year and got passed by the stronger Alessandro Sherpa at the end. Now Ellis is doing the 100 miles, of which the first 100k are runable and nearly flat, before a very technical apotheosis on single trails in the jungle and likely run entirely at night time. Looking back a year ago, Tomohiro Mizukoshi came first at the checkpoint after 110km, but he finished the race in seventh place and 8 hours and a half behind winner Law Chor Kin (Hong Kong). Another Japanese star runner, Sota Ogawa, ran out of steam after 110 km and -suffering from digestive issues- called it a day. Two years ago it was Isaac Yuen Wan Ho who set a blistering pace on the flat, only to break down as well in the final 50 km.
Tactical running is a must in Penang Eco 100, and that is of course the trademark of John Ellis. Kitamura adopted this strategy to good effect in Vietnam, and with the championship in mind he indeed better focuses exclusively on arriving ahead of Ellis in the finish line - as he did in Sungai Menyala in April. The points gap is 390, but let’s not forget Ellis can score a full whack this weekend in his fifth race of the season, whereas for Kitamura it’s about eliminating his “worst” result (7th in Cordillera Mountain Ultra) as he has reached the five-race-treshold already.
So who can run between them? Tomohiro Mizukoshi returns to erase the bad memory from last year, and his form has been steadily improving in recent weeks after his ankle injury early in the year. Malaysian ultra veterans Yim Heng Fatt and Liew Tho Fatt are podium candidates on the 100 miles, both of them also experts in energy management during a race of this length. Jeffery BUDIN from Team Malatra is also one to watch for.
In the women’s 100 miles, it will be interesting to see what trail newbie Asuka Nakajima can do on this ultra distance. She won Tahura Trail 42km and came third in Sungai Menyala Forest Trail 50km, but now we are talking 100 miles for the Jakarta-based Japanese runner. In any case, if she manages to win this one, she will do a fantastic job for her ATM Championship ambitions. Sabah’s Adelinah Lintanga, Bali’s Lily Suryani both are Grandmasters and have been on the podium before in this race. The dark horse for the race victory is most likely Habiba Benahmed from Hong Kong. Benahmed has experience winning 100 miles races (eg HK 168), and even though still on the way back to top form after injury she would not come to Penang Eco 100 miles for a DNF… Siokhar Lim is another likely podium contender - or more -, but how much is in the tank after last week’s gruelling Moon 100, which she finished in fourth place.
On the 100km race distance, which starts on Saturday early afternoon, most attention will go to last year’s winner Alessandro Sherpa. The defending Asia Trail Master champion has returned from a training camp in his home region in Italy and seems ready to start his championship campaign in earnest. On paper he would have had to face off with Mohamed Affindi this weekend, but the top-ranked Malaysian in the ATM Championship has professional duties and will not make it to the start line - as we were informed. The women’s race will see the likes of Izzah Hazirah, who is reportedly training hard for Mantra Summits next month - a pure mountain race that should suit her more than Penang Eco. Also, multi-race runner Khat Visperas is on the start list. The Filipino is 4th in the points standings after already having completed five races this seasn. Faherina Mohd Esa is a potential podium candidate, and certainly also Vietnam’s Julia Nguyen Thi Duong.
We will be reporting live from Penang Eco 100 on our usual social media channels. Dot Track Asia is also present, and you can watch all runners’ progress online here: