The last 100 miler of the ATM season in Hong Kong was won by local ultra runner Wong Wai Lun, but only narrowly so. At the very end, he had an advantage of only 20 seconds on Lau Chun Man and Jiang Liangjun. Of the ATM protagonists, Japan’s Hisashi Kitamura was running with the front pack until km 90, when nasty stomach cramps sealed his fate. Kitamura had to DNF and therefore stays sixth in the ATM Championship ranking. A remarkable finisher in ATM context was Brunei’s Ali Ajis Rasil. He completed his 10th Grandmaster distance and is therefore now a 2-star Grandmaster!
Meanwhile in Malaysia, the inaugural Malaysia Mountain Trail Festival took place in Taiping, Perak. A 2019 ATM Candidate Race organised by Ewegene Tan, a renowned ultra trail runner himself. The 70km main race - and all the others - were characteristed by very wet, muddy and slippery conditions that made the trails hardly runable. In addition, many rope sections up or down steep hills were a test of upper body strength for many participants. According to many, the weather of the previous days had made MMTF arguably the toughest ultra race in the country. Plenty of talented runners at the starting line, too. Including Alessandro Sherpa, ATM championship points leader. The Italian has suddenly come under pressure after being beaten in a straight dual by Spain’s Salva Rambla in the Singapore Trail Blazer last week. Rambla announced he was going to Izu Trail Journey and decided to DNS in Taiping to save his energy. Rambla can still become ATM champion now, leaving Sherpa hardly a choice but to travel to Japan as well next weekend. Perhaps with that in mind, Sherpa did not protest to loudly when race officials disqualified him after six hours of racing for officially missing a checkpoint (CP3), which appeared to be the result of a misunderstanding. At that point, Sherpa was trailing the two Sabahan brothers-in-law Daved Simpat and Saffery Sumping. Just behind was Filipino Koi Grey, making his comeback on the ATM circuit after a two-year-absence. Grey later missed a marker, which put him out of contention for the victory. Still, it was a remarkable return for the fashionable and popular pinoy runner, and his fourth place was well-deserved. Australia’s Christopher Koelma was a happy but tired third place, but nobody could touch the two runners from Kota Kinabalu. It was no surprise that Simpat arrived first, with Sumping some minutes down in second. Together with Milton Amat, the Sabahan trail runners could become a major force on the 2019 ATM Championship tour.
In the women’s 70k race we saw the emergence of a new local Malaysian talent, Izzah Hazirah. The 29-year-old from Kuala Lumpur ran to victory in only her second major trail race ever, and her first over an ultra distance. She finished half an hour ahead of Ng Song Hiang and more than an hour ahead of Norzaimee and Grandmaster Adelinah Lintanga. Izzah Hazirah loves mountain hiking, but has no real history as a runner. She has joined Team Malatra and we are looking forward to seeing more of her in the next season.
The fact that MMTF was a very specific trail race was proven by the results of Evelyn Lek and Siokhar Lim as well. Both are solid race winners in this year’s ATM championship series, but both struggled to come to terms with the slippery course in Taiping.
One woman who felt it was fun, though, was Tahira Najmunisaa. Barely six weeks after the birth of her fourth child, Tahira returned to competition and won the short distance race of 15km. She is already looking forward to getting back into to top shape for 2019.