JOHN Ray Onifa is ready to scale historic heights when he carries the country’s fight in the inaugural World Mountain and Trail Running Championships (WMTRC) in Chiang Mai, Thailand this weekend.

Dubbed as “Stingray,” the Antique-native will be the first Filipino participant in the world-class event organized by the four major organizations led by the International Trail Running Association (ITRA) as the sport’s global ranking and governing body.

The WMTRC was supposed to be held last year before its postponement, leading to longer and tougher preparations for the Philippines’ top trail runner in Mr. Onifa, who promised a relentless run to the summit.

“… I’m excited to race. My dream is to become a world champion in trail running to bring pride and honor to the Philippines,” said Mr. Onifa.

Mr. Onifa will be racing in the 40-km distance against fancied bets from over 50 countries with hopes of carrying the momentum from a Top-80 finish in the 170-kilometer race in France participated by over 1,700 runners.

Managed by former world-class runner Ryan Blair of The North Face Adventure Team, Mr. Onifa also came off a Top-60 finish in the 100-km Spanish race that featured over 600 runners on top of multiple stints in Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Last year, he conquered the famed 43-km Hong Kong Trail in three hours and 26 minutes for the fastest known time in the dreaded mountain.

Philippine Trail Running Association (PHILTRA), with the backing from the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA), vowed an all-out support for Mr. Onifa in a bid to produce more world-class runners in the future.

“Philtra is working hard to upgrade the level of trail runners in the Philippines and this is the initial step. Hopefully next year after Mr. Onifa, we’ll be able to send more runners in international races,” said PHILTRA president and local trail running legend Thumbie Remigio.

“Aside from running for the country’s pride, my goal is to promote trail running in the Philippines to showcase that there are indeed strong and tough runners here at home,” Mr. Onifa added. — John Bryan Ulanday