The 6th edition of the Vietnam Mountain Marathon at the Topas Ecolodge in Sapa proves this event has become a true Southeast Asian classic alongside Borneo TMBT Ultra in Sabah. It has become much more than just a race with more than 3000 runners registered for one of the five race distances. In the context of Asia Trail Master, as usual the Grandmaster distances of 100k and 70k are the ones that count for the championship, and the participants’ field is fantastic.
For once we start with the women’s 100k, because it is jam-packed with talented runners who are challenging for the women’s Asia Trail Master Championship to boot. To recall, Indonesia’s Ruth Theresia took an important step towards the ATM crown at her home race in Bandung last week, but despite four victories in the bag her fifth was an off-day (CMU in March). So the title battle is certainly not yet over. Philippines’ Aggy Sabanal is one of her main challengers at this moment. The very young Filippino, 22, has scored wins in Rizal and Mt Apo in her home country this season and currently ranks 3rd in the championship. Interestingly, also for Sabanal, CMU was not her greatest race as she came in sixth. What is guaranteed is that the tough mountainous jungle course of Vietnam Mountain Marathon is ideal for Sabanal. The question is: will it also be for Singapore’s Evelyn Lek? A fast newcomer on the scene last month, Lek looked very composed in winning the Magnificent Merapoh Trail in Malaysia early August. That was her debut on the 100k trail distance. Of course, Merapoh is considerably more runable than VMM, so let’s find out what Lek can do on this type of terrain. There’s a few Asia-based expats who are also in the mix for the podium battle. Ho Chi Minh-based Dutchwoman Marieke Dekkers, for instance, won the Dalat Ultra Trail and the Penang Eco 100k this year. As for Sabanal, a third victory would create options in the ATM title chase. France’s Nathalie Cochet is based in Thailand where she won Ultra Trail Panoramic 100k last December, but more importantly she won the Vietnam Mountain Marathon already once in 2016! This season, Cochet has not yet been active on the ATM tour. More contenders for the female 100k podium this weekend are Malaysia’s Siokhar Lim and home runner Vy Le Phuong.
The men’s race last year saw a fantastic victory by Quang Tran over ATM champion Manolito Divina. This season, the local Vietnamese star is opting for the 70km race, where he will obviously be the one to beat. However, he might face stiff competition from South Korea’s Kim Jisub. The latter won the Korea 50k race last April, and certainly has the speed over hilly terrain as well. Can he cope with the South East Asian humidity?
On the 100k, the men’s race seems more open on paper and who fills the podium may depend very much on the form of the day. Based on recent performances, Japan’s Hisashi Kitamura will be close, although it remains to be seen how much is left in the tank after TMMT 100 and Borneo TMBT Ultra 100 in just six weeks. Kitamura, of course, ranks 4th in the ATM Championship at the moment, having already achieved five races. His worst result is 19th in the 9 Dragons Ultra, which means a podium result at VMM this weekend may see him jump ahead of his compatriot Tomohiro Mizukoshi. France’s Regis Cabaret is the second race favourite with an extra star behind his name. Cabaret is a very experienced technical mountain runner, whose 4th place on the 50km of Borneo TMBT Ultra three weeks ago show his legs are fine these days. What to expect of Italy’s David Gianelli? Having recently moved to Thailand and work as a diving instructor, the Mount Apo winner has not had as much training time as he would have liked. Let’s find out where he stands this weekend. Other runners who could envisage a podium finish are Robert Butcher and Guillaume Degoulet, and of course several other local runners who make their debut on the international ATM scene.