This Surabaya-born Javanese lady, raised in Bali, has brought the Island of the Gods’ name into the spotlight of international trail running recently.
Founder of Bali Trail Running Challenge, a now famous race in the vicinity of Mount Batur that was originally introduced in 2020, Indah Wardhani is moving forward with the creation of the Altitude Run Series and the franchising of the already popular Sky Races, originating from Malang.
There is nothing vocational in Wardhani’s interest in running. Although good at various disciplines during her school years, she never pursued any sports activities, once a housewife and a mother, and only discovered trail running in 2015. It’s her husband who is at the starting point. Back then, they both decided to share a healthy activity together and he brought her to the various Bali Hash House Harriers clubs on the island where he was already a regular member. Also a talented racer in Indonesian competitions where he was a forerunner, it didn’t take long before he convinced his wife to join in the many trail races Indonesia has to offer.
But first, it has to be said that Indah Wardhani, not a sporty person on any account, quickly developed capabilities in running fast that made the switch to competition a sensible idea. She attended many races over the following years after an initially timid start on a 12km race in Bandung just to give it a try. This converted into a promising top-five right on her second attempt, and then onto more daring challenges when registering to most of the prestigious races of Indonesia, across various distances, and up to 70km: Tahura Trail Race, Goat Run Guntur, Ijen Trail Running, Mantra Summits Challenge, Sentul Hill Trail Run, Coast to Coast Trail Run, MesaStila 100, Bromo Tengger Semeru Ultra Run, Gepang Ultra Marathon, or even the infamous Rinjani 100, one of the most difficult.
A sporting event to bring revenue to the people
Never a winner but a regular on the podium, Wardhani, who also carries a spirited entrepreneurial mind, still competes up to today, although she has become the renowned organiser of different race series in Bali. When asked about her motivation to step into the business of sports events, she answers: “When COVID-19 struck in Bali, I went to Kintamani, where I used to train, and talked with the people there. The island had been shut down to outsiders and I realised how bad the situation was for them financially. I told them that something could be done through sports events. ”
In 2020, with the help and active participation of famous Bali-based German trail runner Thimo Kilberth, she organised a charity event labelled “9 Marathons for Bali”, aimed at raising money for nine regions of the island. This was a unique fundraising event created with the support of the Bali Trail Running group. Thimo Kilberth would run a marathon in each of the nine districts of Bali, all within nine days, covering a total of 380km!
Except for the Goat Run races organised at Mount Agung, Bali had never been on any runner’s race agenda. Hence, her original idea in 2018 was to bring Bali’s name into the annual Asia Trail Master race calendar. Wardhani was indeed at the foot of a huge mountain to climb. Not to mention she had to contend with the pandemic that soon got in the way of her project… That is why the first edition in 2020 was only on invitation and aimed at the runners locked on the island by the health restrictions. A mere 45 people attended but she and her team learned the ropes.
All officials were very supportive
As you can imagine, you don’t just decide to set up a race in the mountains. All the more so in the time of a pandemic. She had to deal with countless meetings with all sorts of government officials, the vice-governor, the bupatis, the camats, the banjars… to get approval also from the military, the police, the Forest Department, the sports associations, the tourism board. “From the start, they all accepted the idea and were very supportive,” she recalls now with a bright smile.
Did learning to organise a major sporting event go as fast for her as learning trail running? “I learned of course from the many races I attended before as a runner. I spent a lot of time with the organisers of the Mantra Summits Challenge in East Java for instance. They gave me this advice: communication is the key, work this out constantly,” Wardhani explains.
The second BTR Challenge in 2021 was this time open to any runners in Indonesia and more than 300 people went on to compete around Mount Batur. The third edition this year gathered more than 550 participants from all around the world as health restrictions eased, crowning Malaysian Mohamad Affindi Bin Nudin as the magnificent overall winner. Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiago Uno came to Bali to give the starting signal, and he even ran a few kilometres to show his support.
Now starting the Altitude Run Series
After five years of devoting her life to the launching of the BTR Challenge, Wardhani explains why she has now shifted her focus to new projects: “I’ve quit the BTR Challenge now that the race is part of the calendar because it’s good for me to work on something less demanding where I don’t have to sacrifice my family life,” she explained to Indonesia Expat. Indeed, the Altitude Run Series and Sky Races will be of a humbler size in ambition and mostly aimed at discovering the next generation of Indonesian trail runners in Bali.
“We’re going to start the Padang Dawa Series by Altitude Run on 4th September. It is an open nature race with quite challenging natural obstacles, the route passes through public roads, concrete and asphalt, rocky roads, dirt and mud roads, rice fields, rivers, tea plantations, and forest,” she explains. This new race is suitable for both beginners and advanced trail runners, from those who are just trying it for the first time to those who are experienced, as part of their preparation for other more challenging competitions. There are two categories, covering a 10km and 30km trail length. “Registration is limited to 100 racers only,” she adds.
As we can see, Bali is popular among trail runners for obvious reasons. First of all, because of the many hash clubs on the island, no international race had ever been set there except for asphalt marathons run on the heavily urbanised Southern highways! A heresy if we consider the beautiful mountainous nature of the island! Thanks to pioneering Indah Wardhani, this anomaly now belongs to the past. Her next mission is now to bring runners of Bali to the top of the timesheet. Beat your time!