The Asia Trail Masters Championships is a year long series comprising of 32 races across 11 countries where competitors must choose the races in which they want to participate. Not all races are equal. The longer the race the more points can be earned For a first place, basic points are 400, plus 100 for being a finisher plus 50 points if beyond 100 km, or 50 points if designated a "super trail". Oh, and a once off 50 point bonus if you compete in a race outside your own country. The best 5 scores across the series count towards your championship total.
Leading up this weekend's 125km Ultra Trail Chiang Rai, GR/JD Team Mate John Ellis was in second place with his score for the best 5 races standing at 2525, 50 points behind the leader Hisashi Kitamura from Japan at 2575 points. Johns 5 race scores stood at 475, 425, 550, 425, 600 (+50) and Kitamura's at 500, 500, 525, 500, 500 (+50).
Ultra Trail Chiang Rai is designated a Super Trail and 125k of pain with 550 points up for grabs. If Kitamura would win he would add 50 points to his total (a 500 point race would drop out) and make him pretty uncatchable, and Ellis would gain 125 points (as a 425 race would drop out) and give him the lead.
After this race there are 5 more races left in the series until the end of the year. 3 of which are potential 550 pointers (but the all happen very close to each other) and 2 are 500 pointers.
So it was all on the line for, absolutely essential for Ellis to win (and to beat Kitamura) to close the gap. You can read the epic battle that ensued below but it came down to the wire. Kitamura forcing himself to take risks on the descents, John, pushing ahead on the flat. Decisions to miss water stops to force the pace and then ironically it came down to battling it out on the road in the last 7km.
Brilliant victory by John which means one of his 425's drops out and he gains 125 points and takes a 75 point lead as Kitamura gets zero. (his second does not replace one of his prior races).
So there a many permutations but in a head to head with Kitamura, John has the advantage he gains points with anything above 425 so "just" has to win one of the remaining races, ideally a 550 pointer will claim the title, but Kitamura has to win 2 of the 550 pointers to be able to improve his score sufficiently to catch and beat John.
The only other contender is Milton Amat in third who improved his score by 25 in this race to 2475 who if he was able to pull of a win could gain 200 points and put him in contention.
So it will come down to the wire but this fabulous performance by John this weekend has put him in a great position to finish the job!... What a brilliant performance all round.
(Incidentally, if you are wondering about the vest thing John is wearing, it was apparently mandatory gear to wear a hi-vis vest the entire time!... so much for his usual nakedness!!)
This is John's Story ...... "Ultra-Trail Chiangrai - That was one epic battle! Hisashi Kitamura and I knew this was a critical Super Trail race in the Asia Trail Master championship, and I caught him around 40km into the 124km race. We worked together to catch the leaders and then the fight began. So many breakaway spurts, each one met with a feisty response and a little “bravo” acknowledgment. Two runners pushing each other to the limits but also in a fair way, encouraging the other, calling the wrong turns and sharing the trail. Hisashi even offered me his gels when I had a dropbag issue. In the middle of our battle, we agreed that, whatever the result, it was a privilege to be a part of it. Then, with only two CPs to go, I knew I had to make a move. I put together a couple sub-4 road kilometres (“John, you know I’m a road runner with a 2:29 marathon PB?”) and then skipped the water refill at the next CP, forcing Hisashi to do the same. We immediately went into a steep uphill and I kept pushing. I’d finally broken him - but also buried myself in the process. The next 20km were pure hell, a broken energy-sapped mess, without water, and zombie run-walking in 35C to the finish line. Hisashi, it was an honour to battle you yesterday, and I’ve no doubt you have many more wins ahead of you"
Photo Credits: Asia Trail Masters