Chinese runner Jiaju Zhao made the headlines at the third edition of the Doi Inthanon Thailand by UTMB, defending his title in style, while Jenny Quilty of Canada was the emphatic winner of the female race.
Zhao, the record-breaking winner of the 100-mile Summit 160 race in 2021, underlined his talents at what was one of the biggest events of the 2022 UTMB World Series, set amid stunning scenery in Chang Mai Province.
Setting off in a field of 514 starters on a tough course, that included not only the true summit of Doi Inthanon for the first time, but beautiful rice paddies, traditional pagodas, and tropical forest in the tribal hill country of northeast Thailand, Zhao was again in dominant form.
The 27-year-old, who runs for the HOKA One One team, finished 18 minutes ahead of his fellow countryman Canhua Luo in second place, and 53 minutes ahead of the Lithuanian runner Gediminas Grinius at an event which, for the first time, was classed as the Asia-Pacific UTMB World Series Major.
It meant all finishers were awarded double the normal amount of Running Stones towards the lottery for the 2023 UTMB World Series Finals – eight for each runner on the Summit 160 course – while the top-10 finishers in the 100M, 100K and 50K categories earned automatic qualification to the Finals.
“I am very surprised to win, given the level of competition,” he said at the finish, after completing a race with more than 10,000 meters of elevation in 21 hours, 53 minutes and 49 seconds. “I felt better and better as the race went on and I’m very happy that I’ve won it. I want to come back every year to Doi Inthanon.”
Zhao is looking forward to running at UTMB Mont-Blanc in 2023 where he has unfinished business. “I am also very happy qualify for the UTMB World Series Finals for my revenge, since I did not finish last time,” he said.
‘Trails like nowhere else’
In the female division in the Summit 160 race, Quilty, who finished 15th overall – five-and-a-half hours behind Zhao – was nearly an hour ahead of her nearest rival, Wenfei Xie of China, who was 18th overall. In third place it was the Japanese runner Kaori Niwa.
Quilty, who is based in British Columbia, loved her first event in Thailand and her first 100-mile race. “It was beautiful to go through all the villages. I was on one of the ridges at sunrise and it was just magical. The trails here are like nowhere else,” she said.
She was thrilled to have won a hugely challenging race that saw her take the initiative in the closing stages. “I’m so excited to win and qualify for the UTMB World Series Finals,” she said. “I didn’t see it coming before 130km. I was fourth or fifth for most of the day and my plan was to race later. I didn’t race from the start and I knew I would probably move up, depending on how everyone else was moving.”
Zhang and Yoshizumi take 100 titles
In the Cliffs 100 distance, which earned finishers six Running Stones, the men’s division saw the Chinese runner Huohua Zhang complete the course in 11 hours and 42 minutes, nearly 15 minutes ahead of second-placed Richard Lockwood of the USA, with Peiquan You of China third.
Lockwood described the first 50 kilometers as “totally wild” as runners in the 765-strong field fought for race position in a constantly changing echelon. Like Quilty, he was very impressed with the event and the setting on a course with more than 6,000 meters of elevation.
“It was relentless all the way to the end, the last climb and then the downhill was so steep,” he said. “The entire time, running through strawberry fields and through coffee fields, was amazing. After the first climb on the ridge on the downhill, there were clouds below us – it is such a beautiful park. I can’t wait to go to Chamonix – it’s unreal, it’s so exciting and I’ll go for CCC. But right now I need some rest.”
In the women’s race, Yuri Yoshizumi of Japan was the winner in sixth place overall and 11 minutes ahead of the American runner Hannah Osowski in second place. Third place went to Jingyan Tang of China.
In the Pagoda50, which includes 3,137m of elevation gain, China’s Guangfu Meng won the men’s race, while Hau Ha from Vietnam won the women’s race, finishing 12th overall in a field of over 1,500 starters. Both earned their place on the start line of the OCC race of the UTMB World Series Finals, alongside the other top-ten finishers.
The UTMB World Series now prepares to head down under for final event of the year at Ultra-Trail Kosciuszko by UTMB.