Sefli Ahar from Brunei and Tahira Najmunisaa from Malaysia emerged as marathon winners in the Beach Bunch Trail Challenge on Sunday, 28 February 2016. The inaugural long-distance trail race in Brunei saw about 330 avid runners gathered on Tungku Beach to compete in the 21 km or 42 km races.
Although the marathon course only had 630 m of elevation gain, it turned out to be a surprisingly challenging run. Along the Shahbandar rainforest section between the 5 and 15 km marks, runners’ energies were soon sapped as they overcame 14 short but steep hill climbs. Drained and sweltering under the 30 °C tropical heat, they then had to run on loose beach sand in the second half of the marathon.
One’s running shoe choice was critical: while trail shoes provided better grip on forested trails, road performance shoes glided better in the loose sand, saving time and energy from getting sucked in.
Beach Bunch Trail Challenge Winners
Even marathon winner Sefli Ahar admitted to underestimating the Beach Bunch Trail Challenge. The veteran runner with several international victories under his belt finished with a time of 3:53:23 – over 1 hour and 10 minutes slower than his road marathon personal best. Still, he was nearly 40 minutes ahead of Hong Kong’s Isaac Wan Ho Yuen in second place, and over an hour of his compatriot Alexander Chung in third.
The one to watch out for, though, is Isaac Wan Ho Yuen. Finishing fourth in the 156k Ultra Trail Hong Kong just a week before, he has earned 900 points, putting him in the lead for the Asia Trail Master championship 2016.
It was a good race, although it was very hot for a Hong Kong runner.I like (sic) 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.
—Isaac Wan Ho Yuen, Men’s 1st runner-up
Female champion Tahira Najmunisaa is another to follow as she strives for the Asia Trail Master 2016 championship. A young mother of three, and member of the Running Project Team in Malaysia, she possesses a certain prowess unlike any other. Having won the Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra 100k last November, Tahira Najmunisaa went on to finish the Brunei trail marathon in 4th place overall!
With 500 points, she is now in joint second place in the championships ranking alongside Yuen Kit Shan, who won the Hong Kong SuperTrail. Just half an hour behind her in the Brunei race was Singapore-based Japanese runner Itsuko Tanaka. Following them in third place was Australia’s Moana O’Sullivan.
The men’s half marathon race was won by local Bruneian Sahminan Haji Mohammed Sallehin in 1:39:24 in the men’s. Yvette Kortekaas from the Netherlands came in first in the women’s with a time of 1:56:21.
Encouraged by the positive feedback for the well-organised event, race organiser and President of environmental NGO Beach Bunch Rizan Latif is already looking forward to 2017.
The race will be back and again in February. 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. We are constantly busy with our team to do what we can. While most of our Beach Bunch events appeal to the green environmental crowd, this race weekend appeals also to the fitness crowd.
—Rizan Latif, President of Beach Bunch
One thing all participants, who applauded the event, can agree on: the 14 Shahbandar hills could be the next household name in the trail running community!
Brunei’s rainforest trails are tenaciously challenging to overcome as they are alluring. Ready to add them to your trail running bucket list?