It is only the fourth points race of the 2019 season but the Cordillera Mountain Ultra will heat up the championship significantly this coming Sunday. The Philippines’ SuperTrail has attracted lots of regional and intercontinental top runners to Baguio for the meanwhile classic 50k race on and around Mount Ugo. We will see a number of races-within-the race, too, and in particular the inter-filipino battle between John Ray Onifa, Elias Tabac and Koi Grey for the unofficial honour of fastest 50k trail runner in the Philippines!
The host village has changed from Dalupirip to Tinongdan this year but the race course has remained 70% the same as it used to be. The long ascent and descent of Mount Ugo defines CMU and is a scene set for breathtaking trail running. On top, the mountain villages in this part of the Cordillera were hit heavily by typhoons during the wet season last year and running events like CMU are a great and necessary boost for the local community.
The list of protagonists for the race win in both the male and female category is so long we cannot name them all. Starting with the women, Baguio hero Sandi Menchi returns to CMU for the first time since winning it in 2017. She knows the trails like the back of her hand and has shown to be in good form in this early part of the year. Several other filipino women can make her life difficult, though. Cheryl Navarro comes to mind. Navarro is always a contender wherever she starts, which she illustrated only last month again with second place in the Akyathlon. It makes Navarro the likely new ATM championship leader after CMU, subject to a fine result of course. Cecile Wael, third in Akyathlon, is also on the start list but is reportedly unable to race. Maria Sepe is a southern filipino athlete who can also be expected to challenge for a podium spot, as well as local Gretchen Felipe, who won this race in 2016. Arguably the fiercest competition for Sandi Menchi will come from foreign athletes such as Laura Kline, who is flying in from the USA, and Shanghai-based Slovakian Veronika Vadovicova, who is more and more making the switch from triathlon to trail running, similar to last year’s winner Carole Fuchs, who cannot take part on Sunday.
The men’s race is bound to be action-packed with the pinoy trio of John Ray Onifa, Elias Tabac and Koi Grey squaring off against each other for the first time since they reached the top of their game. Onifa is arguably the man-to-beat, especially as he has the experience of last year when he finished second behind Harry Jones. But the four-year-younger Tabac has been hot on his heels and is familiar with Mount Ugo, too, winning last year’s Akyathlon. Koi Grey is the local hero and most experienced trail runner of the three, and completely rejuvenated of late after being out of the scene for two years. On top of it all, to spice the race up even more, they all come from different islands in the Philippines.
The three pinoys will push each other forward on Sunday. It will be needed, too, because there’s a lot of other victory contenders! Hong Kong-based Australian T8 runner John Ellis has been looking forward to CMU for a long time. Kristian Joergensen is in the best shape of his life and has done this race before, too. Tomohiro Mizukoshi will find a course and a distance that should suit him, and then he is always a dangerman. Anders Iza Rekakoetxea is a Manila-based Spaniard who is capable of causing an upset. Perhaps the biggest dark horse comes from Malaysia: Mohd Azuan Asmuni. Azmuni is a triathlete / runner who raised quite a few eyebrows last year when he defeated Mohamed Affindi by nearly half an hour in a technical 30 km trail climbathlon in Malaysia. The profile of that Mt Tahan Climbathlon is similar to CMU, albeit shorter. Still, Azmuni - who two weeks ago won the Johor Bahru Duathlon - should not have an issue with the distance and his technical skills are clearly phenomenal. For runners such as Ellis, Joergensen and also Hisashi Kitamura, 50k may actually be just a little too short for their characteristics. But who would ever bet against John Ellis?
Another race-in-the-race will be between five runners for the ATM Championship lead. Virginia’s Chris Miller tops the ranking, but John Eruel Oquino - who will be doing his 3rd of the 4 ATM races so far this season), John Ellis, Anders Iza Rekakoetxea, Hisashi Kitamura and Koi Grey all have chances to claim the lead in their second race of the season.!
We will be following all the action at CMU as usual via our social media channels, with video on facebook as well. A separate ATM Trail TV episode is also planned for Saturday evening (subject to connectivity).