A whole bunch of trail in Brunei

Male winner of 42-km category, Sefli Ahar (Brunei).
Male winner of 42-km category, Sefli Ahar (Brunei).
Male winner of 42-km category, Sefli Ahar (Brunei).

Ahar and Najmunisaa take convincing wins in first-ever trail marathon

Local running star Sefli Ahar, and up-and-coming female runner, Tahira Najmunisaa from Malaysia, were the big winners of the first-ever trail marathon in Brunei on the island of Borneo on March 9.

The Beach Bunch Trail Challenge, a new component of the Asia Trail Master series this year, saw around 330 runners make the start on Tungku Beach. Two distances were offered: 42k or 21k, with the marathon distance only offering 630 metres of elevation gain. Still it turned out to be much harder than anyone expected.

The so-called Shahbandar rainforest section, from around kilometre five to 15 was a steep rollercoaster with 14 short hillclimbs that drained legs that then had to cope with loose sand on the beaches of the second half of the course.  Here the trail shoes that gave a grip advantage in the forest, were sucked down in the loose sand. Combined with 30˚ heat, this led to 50% of DNFs, even with a cut-off time of eight hours.

Race winner Ahar won the Hong Kong Half Marathon a few years ago, among other international victories. While the 42-year-old Bruneian enjoyed his first trail race, he also admitted to have underestimated the Beach Bunch Trail Challenge. His finishing time of 3:53:23 was over an hour and 10 minutes slower than his personal best on the road. Yet he was nearly 40 minutes ahead of Hong Kong’s Isaac Wan Ho Yuen in second, and more than an hour faster than his compatriot Alexander Chung in third.

Isaac Wan Ho Yuen delivered a remarkable performance, only a week after finishing fourth in the 156k Ultra Trail Hong Kong. His top placings in the first two races of the 2016 Asia Trail Master series earned him 900 points,putting him at the top of the series standings.

“It was a good race, although it was very hot for a Hong Kong runner,” he said afterwards. “I like it that there were so many runnable sections in this race. I prefer that over continuous mountain climbing. To defend my Asia Trail Master ranking, I may consider to run the Magnificent Merapoh Trail in Malaysia in July. Another race with not too excessive elevation gain.”

Another to watch out for this year is the female champion of the Beach Bunch, Tahira Najmunisaa. Part of the Running Project Team in Malaysia, she is not a new face, having already won the Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra 100k last November. I

Najmunisaa will now focus on her home country’s SuperTrail event, the Malaysia Eco 100, on 14 May, attempting to build on her joint second place in the series with 500 points, behind Yuen Kit Shan, who won the Hong Kong SuperTrail last week (550 points).

The half marathon race was won by local Sahminan Haji Mohammed Sallehin in 1:39:24 in the men’s, and by Yvette Kortekaas from The Netherlands in the women’s in a time of 1:56:21.

Rizan Latif, organiser of the race and President of the Beach Bunch environmental NGO was encouraged by the positive feedback on his event: “The race will be back again in February,” he said, “Maybe we even add a third ultra distance to the event! But in any case, the most important remains raising awareness in Brunei of the need to do something about the plastic waste pollution, which is a big and persistent problem.”

Top 3s:

Men
1. Sefli Ahar (Brunei) 3:53:23
2. Isaac Wan Ho Yuen (Hong Kong) 4:32:55
3. Alexander Chung (Brunei) 4:57:56

Women
1. Tahira Najmunisaa Muhammad Zaid (Malaysia) 5:22:18
2. Itsuko Tanaka (Japan) 5:50:59
3. Moana O’Sullivan (Australia) 7:05:06