2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100: Pre-race interviews part 4 – Team Nepal and Team Philippines

In this fourth and final part of the HK100 pre-race interviews before the big dance kicks off in Hong Kong, Lloyd Belcher and Andre Blumberg portray two countries that are somewhat less prominent on the global ultra scene and outside their home turf: Nepal and the Philippines. Both countries have quite significant grassroots ultra trail running talent but those runners often don’t have the financial means or backing to race internationally. We feature Team Columbia from Nepal as well as Team Bald Runner Elite from the Philippines.

Team Columbia from Nepal consists of female runner Mani Kala Rai as well as two male runners, Aite Tamang and Ram Kumar Khatri, and their Team Head and Coach Ramesh Bhattachan. Aite came 2nd at the 2012 Vibram HK100 in 10:17hrs, just 22 mins down on Ryan Sandes’ course record. He also finished 2nd to Kilian Jornet at the Mt. Kinabalu International Climbathon in Malaysia and came 1st at the Annapurna Nepal 100k last year. Aite is all fired up and based on his performance last year clearly the race favourite.

Ram Kumar is also no stranger to Hong Kong: he came 2nd in a team with Jeremy Ritcey and others at the 2012 Oxfam Trailwalker in 11:16hrs. He also had a couple podium finishes at home events, namely 3rd at 2012 Annapurna Nepal 50k, 1st at 2010 Annapurna Nepal 70k and 3rd at 2009 Annapurna Nepal 100k. For female runner Mani Kala it is the very first international appearance but she has a good track record of results: 4th at 2012 Annapurna Nepal Mountain Trail 75k, 1st at 2012 Annapurna Nepal Mandala Trail multi-day 201km, 1st at 2012 Annapurna Nepal 50k and 3rd at 2011 Annapurna Nepal 50k.

We caught up with Team Columbia from Nepal during one of their recent training runs on the HK100 course near Sai Kung (the video is best viewed in full screen):

Let’s take a look at another country now: what might surprise most people is that the Philippines is developing as the Asia-Pacific mecca of ultra trail running. The growing 2013 race calendar features over 30 events and has an increasing following by mostly local plus a few runners coming in from overseas for the events. They even have their own Grand Slam now with two road 100 milers and two hard trail 100 milers to be completed with one race every months in the Nov – Feb timeframe. We spoke to Jovie Narcise, Founder and Chief Coach of Elite Team Bald Runner, who will accompany two of his runners, Gerald Sabal and Marcelo Bautista, at the HK100.

1. Ultra trail running is becoming very popular globally – what does the sport look like in the Philippines?

Ultra trail running has just started in the country with the yearly TNF100 / TNF50 since 2009 and it attracted a lot of local runners every year. However, a longer trail run, the Taklang Damulag 100-Mile Endurance Run (TD100) held in December 2011 had started the conduct of a 100-miler ultra and we had its second edition last year with an increasing participation of both local and overseas runners. The number of local runners in ultra trail races is actually increasing every year and I hope more of the runners from Asia, USA and Europe will try what is like to run in our Philippine mountains with the hot and humid environment.

2. Compared to other Asian nations, such as Japan, China, Hong Kong and to a smaller degree Singapore, it is quite rare to see competitors from the Philippines enter international races, like UTMB or Western States. Why is that, and do you think it will change in the future?

It started with one or two runners who have the time and resources to train and travel to different countries with such prestigious and popular ultra races. They then provided information and sharing to other runners. The internet, social media and blogs of local as well as foreign runners (mostly US-based) had exposed these international races to most of our runners. The creation of the Philippine Association of Ultrarunners (PAU) in 2009 started our program of bringing elite runners to IAU-sanctioned championship races in Asia. Hopefully, in the coming years, we will be able to increase the number of runners going to these international ultra races. However, with the support of corporate sponsors (hopefully!), we could see more locals joining international races.

Jovie Narcise, Founder and Chief Coach of Elite Team Bald Runner
Jovie Narcise, Founder and Chief Coach of Elite Team Bald Runner

3. How did you personally get involved in the sport, and what is your role now?

During my time in college, I’ve started to run to treat a doctor’s findings in my lungs and heart. It was the university doctor who suggested me to jog every day and since then, I did not stop running. However, I am an average runner as I had to balance my job in the military service with that of running. Because of my love to running, I became the Commander of the Philippine Army Battalion Run Team for two straight years as Champion beating the other teams from the Major Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Then I became a Manager and Team Coach for another two years and was able to defend our title for four years. Before I retired from the service as a Two-Star General of the Philippine Army, I was designated as a Project Director of a Program (in addition to being a Commander of an Army Division) that would discover potential elite long distance runners in the military for future IOC meets for several years but it died down with my retirement. As a retired General, I continued the effort to discover and develop potential elite runners by forming the Elite Team Bald Runner (derived from my running blog Bald Runner) and created the country’s Sports Federation for Ultra Races and became its President – PAU. Some of my athletes performed well over the years, e.g. they were Champions in the 2009 and 2010 editions of the TNF100 and TNF50 races.

4. Two members of your Team Bald Runner Ultra Racing are joining HK100. Tell us a bit more about Marcelo Bautista and Gerald Sabal. What is their ultra trail background?

Lately, I made two posts in my blog about Marcelo, The Champion and Amazing Marcelo and he is simply described now as the most consistent local ultra runner for winning eight ultra races as Champion between April and December 2012. Gerald Sabal is one of the original athletes in my Elite Team Bald Runner since 2009 and he just won 3rd place in the latest MILO Marathon with a time of 2:43 hours. Last March, he won with his brother Cris as a team the Mt. Apo Boulder International Challenge, an ultra race run to the peak of the highest mountain in the Philippines. Since he is with the military, his exposure to international ultra races has been limited so far.

5. What did the HK100 preparation look like for the two runners? What are their expectations in terms of finishing times or places?

The background and latest exposure of these two runners on races showed that they are strong, fast and consistent long distance runners. To be serious about their participation in the 2013 Vibram HK100, I brought Gerald Sabal to Hong Kong last July to have a recon of the HK100 course. This provided Gerald with confidence and familiarity which he himself had shared with Marcelo on what to expect.

For the past two weeks, Gerald and Marcelo are training in Baguo City for the altitude and the cold environment, and of course for teamwork and race strategy (test the running kits, nutrition, pacing, hydration etc.). Marcelo lives in Baguio City (5,000 feet average elevation and can go as high as 7,000 feet) and he is accustomed to the cold condition in the area. Based on the previous results of finishers in the HK100 and their past performance and training, I expect them to finish in the Top 15 or register a finish time of sub-11 hours.

Gerald Sabal and Marcelo Bautista during a training run in Baguio, Philippines
Gerald Sabal and Marcelo Bautista during a training run in Baguio, Philippines

Thanks Team Bald Runner and best of luck at this weekend’s HK100 race!

This concludes our four-part pre-race interview series. Now over two you – tell us who you think will be on the podium of the 2013 Vibram HK100 series in the poll below. We’ve marked up the female and male potential podium-getters, so all you need to do is chose one of each to vote!

Follow the HK100 race day live action on Sat, 19 Jan 2013 through our coverage on @Ultra168 Twitter (hashtag is #HK100) and Ultra168’s Facebook page.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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