This weekend’s Cordillera Mountain Ultra is the third and last SuperTrail of this early part of the Asia Trail Master Championship, and contrary to UTKC and 9 Dragons, CMU caters for the quicker legs on the medium trail distance of 50K (approx 2650 hm). The 3rd edition of the event in Dalupirip, Benguet, Philippines has smashed all records when it comes to registration numbers. Close to 800 people, of which 400 for the long distance race, will take the trouble to travel to the remote venue in the Cordillera mountains, including runners from 26 nations! Not only the quantity is impressive, so is the quality in both male and female competitions that also have the ATM Championship points lead on the line this Sunday.
Looking at the men, the list of favourites for the podium is nearly endless, which does not happen often in a South East Asian trail race. And they come from different places. Harry Jones (Great Britain,residing in Thailand) and Hiroaki Matsunaga (Japan) are two internationally known runners who both showed excellent form in the past fortnight. Jones, of course, won the 50 miles race at 9 Dragons and collected a solid 432 ATM Championship points in that effort. He had to dig deep in that Hong Kong ultra, but if Jones is recovered the others will have to get by him to win on Sunday. Matsunaga himself is on the rebound from a 100k in New Zealand two weeks ago. Our organiser of Echigo Country Trail and Kushigata Wind Trail (both points races for the ATM Championship) is making his first ever appearance in Philippines and is seemingly not letting anything disrupt his concentration and prepration for the race this weekend. South Korea’s Byeongwon Park is a dark horse, and that could as well be an understatement. Coming to make a name for himself, Park belongs to the recent wave of fast road runners who like to get a taste of trail, like it and indulge in it ever since. The same seems to apply to a local Baguio runner who was the surprise-second behind the surprise-winner at Pilipinas Akyathlon a month ago. Jeffrey Aligan is over 40 and no longer the youngest runner in the field, but if he can repeat the performance he showed then he won’t be far off the podium. Current weather conditions may actually play in favour of the faster legs: it rained today for the first time in two months in Dalupirip, which by Sunday could have made the trails harder and more compact to run on. The likes of Aligan will love that, yet he is not the top favourite on the pinoy front: John Ray Onifa from Visayas has been making headlines ever since he won UT Mapawa last October, and has developed into the next big trail thing coming from Philippines. By winning a wet and muddy Rizal Mountain Run, Onifa proved he is also resilient and tough when more is required than pure speed. Fighting this weekend for the points lead in the ATM Championship, winning CMU would be another big scalp in his young trail career. A new element for him is that all Filippinos now know him and watch him.
It’s almost perverse that we need to push top runners such as Wilnar Iglesia, Dean Perez, Al Telias, Kristian Joergensen. Dean Lim and last-but-not least, Arnold Lozano - the CMU winner last year! - to the back of this race preview. That is how deep the field is in terms of quality. Anyone who gets in the top 10 of CMU on Sunday is a race winner. Iglesia was very quick catching up after losing the right trail in Akyathlon. Al Telias finds in CMU his best race course and was on the podium here the past 2 years. Perez is doing his 3rd ATM points race of the season and keen to show the best of himself before returning to Canada. Joergensen is in the shape of his life, and looked strong in finishing 2nd in Rizal behind Onifa. Can he narrow that 30-minute gap this weekend? Maybe with the help of Lozano. Winner last year in a spectacular dual with Marcelino Sano-Oy, he was disappointed with himself for being too relaxed in the early stages of the Akyathlon. If he’s more alert on Sunday, he won’t easily let go!
Unfortunately, some of the local favourites will, ironically, not be there at this great trail party. New entrepreneur Manolito Divina has not yet picked up his regular training and has postponed his racing campaign to April, and Marcelino Sano-Oy is still running with pain after a nasty fall early in the Akyathlon (a race he continued to finish 3rd on the podium). In the women’s Baguio’s own Sandi Menchi - winner at CMU last season - will not be competing.
The female race will be very strong nonetheless, even when ATM Champion Kim Matthews has also announced her DNS today. Matthews fell badly on her hip a week ago during training, and is not in a position to run in the next few weeks. She even already scrapped her “home” race, Dalat Ultra Trail, on 17 March off her race calendar. The season is still long and Matthews already has 500 championship points in her bag for winning Tahura Trail at the beginning of the 2018 season.
Still, one of her main competitors for the championship has a great opprtunity to open up a points gap this weekend. Two weeks after being victorious in UT Koh Chang, Indonesia’s Ruth Theresia is back for her second SuperTrail of the season. Were the Bandung Explorer lady to win also CMU, it would very much be a perfect start of her championship campaign! However, Ruth Theresia will face stern opposition on Sunday from the locals, but also from Thailand-based French runner Carole Fuchs. Fuchs is making her debut on the ATM scene, but has announced previously she might prioritise our championship this season. Known to be tough and fast, Fuchs for sure will give all others a run for their money. Among the others we find 2018 race winners Aggy Smith Sabanal (Rizal) and Majo Liao (Akyathlon), 2016 CMU winner Gretchen Felipe and the ever-improving Patricia Ann Morota. Home advantage is a thing, yet it did not help local Felipe last month when she followed Sandi Menchi going the wrong way at Akyathlon. However, more reason to shine on Sunday. Other potential podium runners are Maria Luisa Prado, Diorella Cerujano and Bitbit Baby Marites Sotto.
A big trail party is in the making in Dalupirip for the Philippines’ SuperTrail of the Asia Trail Master Championship. But if there’s one thing Dalupirip is not known for, it’s for the mobile connectivity. Measures have been taken to improve the speed, so that proper broadcasting and multimedia services can be done live. Please bear with us, should the mountains and its weather decide otherwise.