The 2nd edition of Ultra Trail Chiang Rai in Thailand already begins on Friday early morning. Reason is a novelty, and also a one-off, according to race organisers Teelakow. The Ultimate 230 km features a giant loop around the big Singha Nature Reserve in the north of the country. Perhaps surprisingly enough, 40 runners of whom more than 1/3 foreigners feel attracted to this double ultra. Several are well-known in Asia Trail Master circles, such as 2-star Grandmasters Aleksis Capili and Lily Suryani, who both live up to their reputations as being the champions of ultra trail finishes. Both the Filipino and the Indonesian also have a realistic chance to score a podium result in the race. Capili has reduced his racing regime significantly this season, but after his European excursion has prepared himself for this colossal 230 km undertaking in the dry heat of Chiang Rai. Suryani returned from injury over summer to score a third place on the Ijen 100k a month ago.
Aleksis Capili will face another strong Filipino runner, Jag Lanante, who is no stranger to these distances. Among the known other starters we find Canada’s in-form Michael McLean, who scored great results at Borneo TMBT and Bandung Ultra 100 recently, as well as Robert Butcher from Great Britain, who was 2nd on the 122 km race distance of UT Chiang Rai last year. Malaysia’s Lau Say Niong is here, as well as many runners we still need to get to know, among which six Japanese. At present, it is still unclear if ATM Champion Steven Ong will run this weekend or not. He is on the start list, but indicated in Bali two weeks ago it is time for his injuries to heal first. Rumours have it that Steven is nevertheless on his way to Thailand.
As the Ultimate 230 km is of course an odd-one out, the 122 km race of this event has also been labelled an A-race for the Asia Trail Master Championship. Concretely, this means both the 230 km and 122 km score 500 points. The 230 km victor gets 50 bonus points, however, as 230 is more than 100 miles (the so-called 100 miles bonus for all finishers).
Therefore, the 122 km also has a competitive field even when current ATM Championship leader Alessandro Sherpa has pulled out. The Italian also has to allow his body, particularly his ankle, to rest for a while before resuming the ATM championship chase at the V Trail in Laos in two weeks. Sherpa leads the championship, but several others are still well within striking range. The men’s championship is more open than ever, and even Spain’s Salva Rambla can still join the title debate. A newcomer on the scene since a month, Salva finished on the podium of each of his three Indonesian races. Now running the 122k in Chiang Rai, the Catalan is certainly a man to watch. His main rival for the win is likely to be Thai: Sanya Khancai returns to the ATM scene eight months after his fantastic dual and second place in UTKC. Khancai has had to cope with management issues in the past months, and is keen to put all that behind him in Chiang Rai. His main challenger in Thailand, and winner of UTCR last year, Jay Jantaraboon will be running a shorter distance this season.
Another remarkable name on the start list since his victory at Ijen 100 is South Korea’s Sungsik Joh. For many it was an upset victory, but look at the course characteristics and his previous good result in Sungai Menyala, and one realised that Sungsik Joh had been flying under the radar for many months. In Chiang Rai, he also finds a course that should be to his advantage. Based on Ijen, the sympathetic South Korean could run to the podium this weekend as well.
It will be interesting to see if there’s any Thai runners making the jump to the top of the leaderboard this weekend, besides Sanya Khancai.
We will be reporting live from Chiang Rai throughout the weekend.
The race preview of the second Thai race this weekend, Ultra Train Nan, follows tomorrow.