TMMT: Sherpa returns to the Merapoh caves
This weekend the Asia Trail Master Championship series continues in Malaysia with the fifth and final edition of the Magnificent Merapoh Trail, also known as TMMT. Event organiser Ten Senses announced it would be the last time the event will be held under its ‘Running Project’ umbrella before its team moves to Baling, another venue in the north of the country where there is a need to protect the local environment from logging and mining industries. Since the beginning of TMMT, Merapoh has witnessed a blossoming eco tourism scene that has benefited the local villages’ economy and stalled the deforestation and destruction of the many natural caves in the area, which is on the fringes of the vast and famous Taman Negara National Park. After five years and objectives reached, the management of the annual trail running event and all the expertise it entails is now ‘given’ to the local people. So, while TMMT will cease to exist, there will still be trail running in Merapoh next year!
The overarching meaning of the event has apparently not gone missing. Many runners this weekend are returning to the Merapoh trails and caves, including last year’s entire men’s podium: Alessandro Sherpa, Tomohiro Mizukoshi and Hisashi Kitamura. All three will once again be favourites for the 100km race that starts 3 hours later than usual, though, at midnight. A year ago, exactly those top runners - and others - were argueing that it was a pity they ran for 9 hours through the night and therefore hardly saw anthing at all during the entire race. TMMT is a fast course, namely. Sherpa’s winning time was 11:26 last year. The course is flattish and has a few spicy and technical sections, yet there has always been ’tempo’ in this one. Even despite the 3 km long river crossing, which aside from the four cave crossings is another main feature of this race. The Italian will be looking to win again and collect another 500 championship points. After a quiet start of the year, recovering from surgery, Sherpa returned convincingly in Penang Eco 100k two months ago. He is counting on a strong second part of the season to bring him in a position to retain his ATM title, a battle that is likely to go all the way to the last race: TNF Malaysia Mountain Trail Festival in Taiping on 14/15 December.
But incidentally, Hisashi Kitamura is the one who can claim the points lead in Merapoh. Currently on equal footing with John Ellis (2525 total points each in five races), the Japanese Uglow runner requires a win to boost his total, though. His fifth and “worst result” is 450 points for Sungai Menyala - where he finished second. He has not exactly been resting a lot since his fantastic second place in Mantra Summits Challenge, a technical mountain race that normally does not suit his characteristics as a runner. How much is left in the tank after what has already been a very long and tough campaign for him? His compatriot from Tokyo, Tomohiro Mizukoshi, was faster than him in Merapoh last year and also in the recent 100 miles race of Penang Eco. For Mizukoshi, TMMT is indeed the kind of race that he excels in. Now in fifth of the ATM Championship, Mizukoshi can become third as it will be his fifth result of the season.
What can 2017 Asia Trail Master champion Steven Ong do in Merapoh? It is a race he has not yet done, and Steven is still working his way back to the top after prolonged injury in 2018. If he is in good shape, Uglow Malaysia’s Steven is of course a dangerman for anyone on a 100k distance.
Other podium candidates we know are Thibault Bertrand, third in Ijen 70k three weeks ago, and Grandmaster Yim Heng Fatt, who is always doing well in this race.
In the women’s 100k, it seems quite an open race with Carrie Jane Stander once more toeing the start line this season. The Canadian is third in the ATM championship and only needs 56 points to overtake Veronika Vadovicova for second place again. One of her competitors for the win in Merapoh is likely to be Been Lee, also known as Bikini Been since Moon 100. The South Korean finished second in that very tough race in Thailand and especially showed a lot of grit in that one. There’s several Koreans on the start list, in fact, so we may get to find out some new faces as well. The same applies for the many Malaysians with little to no previous track record in ATM. From Philippines comes Lynil Martinez and she was 6th in Sungai Menyala and 7th in Penang Eco 100k.
Connectivity can be challenging in Merapoh, but our team will be reporting live from the event throughout Saturday on our social media channels.