Sefli Ahar remains the measure of all things in the Bruneian trail running scene. For the third consecutive year the former winner of the Hong Kong Half Marathon won the Beach Bunch Trail Challenge, the premier trail ultra event in the country. It was arguably his most impressive victory of the three, in fact, looking at who finished behind him and how much distance he was eventually able to put between him and the others. Sefli crossed the line in 11:50, more than 1-and-a-half hours ahead of Mohamed Afindi and Wilnar Iglesia!! Sefli was a class apart last Sunday. It's 6th career ATM race victory.
Being a police officer in his country, Sefli has found it hard to travel and cannot predict yet if he will again be able to challenge for the ATM Championship later this year. What's for sure is that he is now slowing down. Malaysia's Mohamed Afindi was already second behind Sefli at last summer's Magnificent Merapoh Trail, but the gap then was just about half an hour. While Afindi seems to be joining Isaac Yuen Wan Ho in the League of the Nearly Men, his first big victory in ATM is just a matter of time. Afindi proved his warrior instinct during the Beach Bunch and raced for the win against Sefli, rather than be happy with second. It nearly cost him second, as Philippines' Wilnar Iglesia still came quite close (10 minutes) at the finish. Iglesia himself was spent at the finish in another piece of evidence of how tough this so-called 'flat' race really is. It's Iglesia's first podium of the season after 4th in Akyathlon and 5th in Cordillera. His third top result propelled him into the lead of the ATM Championship for the first time in his career. Championship challengers better take note, because Iglesia was also 2nd in Penang Eco last year, a race he will return to next May!
In fourth place was local runner Alex Chung. And that deserves a special mentioning. Chung, third last year in this race, was only 9 minutes behind Iglesia and 19 behind Afindi. A very consistent pace and a very promising result for the future.
There is more than just Sefli in Brunei in any case. Another local, Amirul Tuah, became the 16th Asia Trail Grandmaster by finishing the 100k, his sixth ATM long distance finish within two years. Tuah joins his compatriot Ali Ajis Rasil ,who earned the Grandmaster title last December as first Bruneian.
Also the women's race was spectacular and had a tighter battle for the race win than the men's. Indonesia's Ruth Theresia repeated her feat from last year, but clearly had to dig deeper as her compatriot Sri Wahyuni had the bit between her teeth! Ruth even had to catch her as Wahyuni took a faster start on the long road section before the runners hit the trails. But when everyone thought Wahyuni would quietly fade away and be happy to consolidate her second place, she kept on putting pressure on her more experienced and lauded compatriot. The gap was never more than half an hour and at the finish it was back down to 23 minutes. Ruth Theresia herself ran a great time of just over 17 hours (50 minutes faster than last year!), and regains the ATM championship lead with this second win of the season after UTKC in Thailand. It's also Ruth's 6th career win. But Wahyuni is certainly the new face of Indonesian female trail running: both quick and resilient. Beach Bunch was her 4th podium finish in ATM races, it won't be long before she claims that first victory.
Malaysia's Jassica Lintanga took third on the podium. She decided not to mix with the two Indonesian ladies up front as her main goal was to claim the Grandmaster title. Her sister Adelinah already became a Grandmaster at the end of last year, and now "Jess" achieved the same in Brunei. Lintanga finished comfortably in 21:44 , earned a truckload of ATM championship points with her 3rd place, and will "race for position" already next week at her team Malatra's home race in Sungai Menyala, where she finished 2nd last year. Lintanga could become a genuine championship contender this season, although it is Ruth Theresia who has now regained the points lead at the expense of Majo Liao.
At BBTC there was a second A-race for ATM points. The 50K was surprisingly won by Filipino-Australian Andrew Hill in 4:44. He stayed 13 minutes ahead of Pablo Diago Gonzales, who returned after sustaining a knee injury at the 9 Dragons in Hong Kong last month. Amirul Jamil from Brunei claimed the final podium step.
In the women's 50K, Kathryn Deuerlein from Canada took top honours in 6:56. She was joined on the podium by local runner Judy Leslie and Singapore's Jeri Chua from the Red Dot Running Company, her second ATM podium finish after Sungai Menyala last season.