Malaysia-based Italian Alessandro Sherpa has a shot at the Asia Trail Master championship lead this weekend as he lines up for the 100km at the Magnificent Merapoh Trail in his residential country. Sherpa needs 400 points (=minimum 4th place) to overtake Pablo Diago Gonzales, but may be keen to make a mark by winning the race ahead of 2017 ATM Champion Steven Ong, who will reportedly be making his first appearance of the season in an ATM ultra race.
Organised by Ten Senses, mainly known for its road running events in the country, the Magnificent Merapoh Trail - aka TMMT - has quickly developed into one of Malaysia's most popular trail events that attracts a wide international audience as well. The passage through four dark and natural caves is a highlight, as well as the renowned 3km long river crossing. The race courses for all distances (100km, 70km, 35km) have been redesigned for this year. While overall still runable, the 100km now has 2300m of elevation gain as well, or an increase of approx 800hm compared to previous years. Most of this vertical gain will be conquered by the 100k runners just before or around dawn after roughly 50km. The river crossing is now back towards the end of the course, between km 70 and 80, which means nearly everyone will cross at daylight contrary to last year. It has been relatively dry over the past days in Merapoh, so the water level in the river is normal and participants won't have to swim :-).
Close to 1000 runners will take part, which is the maximum quota for the event given the very remote location on the border between Pahang and Kelantan states, as well as the Taman Negara National Park.
Among the race favourites we have Alessandro Sherpa, who based on his big victory in Penang Eco 100k last May will find another course very suitable to his characteristics as a trail runner. Japan's Tomohiro MIzukoshi is another excellent runner who could set the pace like he did in Penang 100 miles. Mizukoshi is number 2 in the ATM Championship at the moment, having already completed five ATM races this season. The Tokyo runner will be trying to erase his 8th place (330 points) in Korea 50k in April, his 'worst' result of the season, to boost his ATM championship total a bit higher. He cannot threaten the position of leader Pablo Diago Gonzales, however, as the Spaniard is 240 points ahead and Mizukoshi can maximally gain 170 points if he wins TMMT 100.
Announced is the return of Steven Soonseng Ong, last year's Asia Trail Master champion, in what would be his first ultra race of the current championship. If he starts, he is always a victory candidate. Sherpa and Ong squared off once before under ATM, which happened in the 100 miles race of Ultra Trail Panoramic in Thailand last December. Ong won. Eight months later, Sherpa has proven to be in great shape while Ong has been very busy setting up his new outdoor and running retail shop in Kuala Lumpur.
There has been speculation that Mohamad Affindi, second in TMMT 100 last year, will also be a late addition to the start list. Affindi has was dealing with the after-effects of the flu earlier this week, though. One dangerous dark horse is Canadian Julian Baker. Based in South Korea, Baker is last year's winner of Ultra Trail Koh Chang 70. This season his ATM record is still blank.
The women's race was dominated by Tahira Najmunisaa in 2016 and 2017, but now being 7 months pregnant, the female star of Malaysian trail running will be cheering for the others. In fact, remarkably, Tahira will take part alongside her husband Abdul Rahman in the 35km race on Saturday. Malaysia still has a strong runner at the start who could grab the win: Adelinah Lintanga from Sabah. The Grandmaster was 2nd behind Tahira last season. Her main competitors for the podium will be Erin Aziz from Kuala Lumpur and Philippines' Ann Jilian Pulanco - who was 3rd at Dalat Ultra Trail in Vietnam last March. Erin Aziz could be the first woman to reach the plateau of five races this season. After her great 3rd place in Mantra Summits Challenge 75 last month, the ULTRON runner has Indonesia's championship leader Ruth Theresia within sight. Aziz requires 373 points this weekend to claim the points lead, which corresponds to a top five race result in TMMT 100!
Subject to connectivity, we will be broadcasting and reporting live from Merapoh from start to finish. The 100k flag-off is scheduled for Friday at 9 pm.