MSC 116: Calling all mountain goats
On paper, the Mantra Summits Challenge is the hardest points race in the Asia Trail Master Championship series. And every year, it gets longer, too. For 2019, event organiser Heru Prabowo and race director Ivan Citraya of the Malang Trailrunners, have introduced a collossal 116km as longest distance option on top of the existing 75km from a year ago. Total elevation gain is set at approx 8800 hm. Yet, the scenery at an altitude of well above 3000m with the mountains of Welirang and Arjuno remains an attraction for trail runners from all over Asia. Mantra Summits Challenge is the Indonesia SuperTrail in 2019, and any trail runner who loves a good mountain is at the Kaliandra Eco Resort in East Java this weekend.
Interestingly enough, the last two years the long distance race for men was decided in the very last kilometres on the road towards the finish line in the resort. In 2017, Fandhi Achmad overtook an injured Jan Nilsen and last season, famously, Elias Tabac from Davao ran past Pablo Diago Gonzales in the last kilometre with his shoes torn apart and his feet a bloody mess. This weekend we can in any case expect a fantastic battle royal in the high mountains between several protagonists in the Asia Trail Master series, both in the men and women categories, and both in the relevant 116km and 75km races.
Taking a look at the points standings first, we see the inevitable Hisashi Kitamura on the start list. The KL-based Japanese runner has made a remarkable progress in his short trail running ‘career’ and currently ranks 2nd in the ATM Championship, 75 points adrift of John Ellis. Fast marathon runner Kitamura runs all the ATM SuperTrails this season, but admits that the Indonesia one suits him least. Nevertheless, he showed great maturity in Penang Eco 100 last month and if he scores a second place in Mantra Summits he equals John Ellis’ total of 2525 points. A victory would put him first.
However, for the victory he will need to get past two hot runners who have been focusing hard on this one to keep their own ATM Championship chances high. The previously mentioned Pablo Diago Gonzales is the most experienced of all top contenders in Mantra, having been there since the beginning. The Singapore-based Spaniard knows all the steps of the podium in Mantra except the top one. Gonzales has therefore made Mantra a big goal this season, indeed… The second big favourite is Milton Amat from Sabah, Malaysia. A real technical mountain trail runner, the Uglow Malaysia runner finds in Malang the perfect race for his characteristics. Another one who focuses on the SuperTrails a lot, Amat does need a victory to stay level with the Ellisses and Kitamuras. So far he got 4th in the 9 Dragons and 2nd in Moon 100 after he lost a certain victory when his teammate and friend Wilsen Singgin literally dropped down ‘heatstruck’ on the beach in the final 2 km of that race in Thailand.
There’s several more podium contenders on the 116k, even when Indonesia’s top mountain trail star Arief Wismoyono won’t be there this season. 2018 ATM Champion Alessandro Sherpa showed an excellent return to form in Penang Eco 100k, but has rather unpleasant memories of Mantra Summits last year. Sherpa can never be underestimated in any kind of race, but the topography of MSC 116 on paper is not his ‘baby’. The same applies for Tokyo’s Tomohiro Mizukoshi. It was great to see him come in 2nd in the 100 miles of Penang Eco, but MSC 116 will be a hard nut to crack for a runner like him,too. At least when we are talking podium. On the other hand, West Java’s Fandhi Achmad is a mountain specialist and could cause an upset victory again - just like in 2017 when the longest race distance was still 50km. From Yogyakarta and a hit-and-miss for sure, Dzaki Wardana is a former winner of Ijen 100 and a podium placer in other mountain races in Indonesia. On his day, Dzaki is game. Another runner who could claim the spotlights this weekend is Malaysia’s Jeffery Budin of Team Malatra. Another typical mountain goat who is currently in fine shape. Let’s also keep an eye out for Alvin Png, Aris Sopiandi Muklis and Alan Maulana. This is their terrain.
In the women’s 116k, eyes naturally will be fixed on Tahira Najmunisaa. It comes with being a former ATM champion and dominant force in the women’s trail scene in Asia. However, it must be said that Tahira has had other issues to compete with in the private atmosphere after her great 2nd place in Dalat Ultra Trail. Nothing is a must, anything is possible. There’s other women on the start list keen on a great result. Coming from Philippines with a significant trail record, yet little to unknown on the ATM tour, is Arlene Agulto. We will be watching her in the battle with Surabaya’s in-form Sri Wahyuni, who was second in this race last year and has since improved further. Sri Wahyuni will be defending the honours of her home country as ATM Champion Ruth Theresia and also Shindy Patricia are taking a sabatical this season. Tahura Trail winner Asuka Nakajima will be facing her first test on mountain trails such as Mantra, and Malaysia’s Izzah Hazirah is the dark horse this weekend as convincing winner of the very technical MMTF in Taiping last November. Also on the start list is Cecile Wael, who has been doing very well in the championship this season.
The 75K is a co-A race this weekend and has some big names as well. Koi Grey is arguably top gun on this distance, being the experienced mountain runner he is. Moreover, Koi is in excellent shape this year since he launched his comeback to the trail scene half a year ago. He can do a great job for his ATM championship ambitions, too. This will be his 4th race of the season, and a fine result will propel him back into the top five of the ranking… and Koi Grey is one of those with experience running in Taiping, the ATM championship final on 14/15 December… His main competitors in Mantra 75 will likely be Yusuf Aprian from Bandung and Trung Nguyen from Vietnam. However, there’s also Furqoni Sya’bana who can never be underestimated. In the women’s 75K, Ruth Theresia is on the start list but the ATM Champion has announced she won’t be competing this weekend after all. Home favourite from Malang, Christin Mutia, is a victory contender along with Bandung’s Novita Wulundari and Malaysia’s Fadila Binti Yusoff - another one with experience in Mantra.
Follow ATM ‘s live coverage of the event via our Facebook, twitter and Instagram channels all weekend long. With special thanks to Adventure III on the spot in Malang.