Sandi Menchi Abahan: At Home on the Mountain

Sandi Menchi Abahan has proudly put her country and region on the map with a laundry list of medals. The multi-talented athlete also has big plans for the future, starting with the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Trail Run Championship.

Written by
Brittany Vermeer
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Sandi Menchi Abahan is what some might call a modern-day Renaissance woman. She’s a highly accomplished trail runner having completed over 24 ultra marathons, more than 50 marathons, and 8 skyraces. She’s summited Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro. In 2028, she’s hoping to represent the Philippines in Modern Pentathlon at the Olympics. Just recently, she was crowned the first Asian medalist at the Spartan World Championship. 

“Participating in very competitive international races always feels like going to war, or being on a battlefield,” she says. “I need to survive until I cross the finish line. Standing on the podium with those known athletes [at the Spartan World Championship] was very surreal. It’s one of the most incredible things that has happened in my athletic career.”

However, despite the long list of accolades, she doesn't consider herself to be a world-class athlete, yet. “I saw, and felt, how far I was from [the other athletes’] level of strength and athleticism. I see it as an opportunity to improve and more room for growth,” she says.



Representing Filipino Culture   

Sandi grew up in Baguio City, a mountain town in northern Luzon, Philippines. Nestled in the Cordillera Central mountain range, the cool climate of Baguio contributes to a lush highland forest filled with mossy plants and plentiful pine trees. Sandi says growing up in this environment has shaped her into the athlete she is today. 

“I’ve always loved going to the mountains: making houses out of wood and pine needles, playing hide and seek in the tall grass, and sliding from the top of the mountain,” she says. “Growing up in a mountain town helped me master how to run the trails up and down. I’m actually more used to it than running on flats. When I’m on any mountain or trail, I feel like I’m just a kid again, playing. It always feels like home to me.”

"When I’m on any mountain or trail, I feel like I’m just a kid again, playing. It always feels like home to me.”

Sandi takes pride in representing the Filipino culture - a people known for their resilient spirit, strong work ethic, and “diskarte” or resourcefulness. With an optimism that stems from their deep faith, Igorot people have an uncanny ability to overcome obstacles with unfailing hope and perseverance. Combine that with the benefits of living at high altitude, and you have the makings of the ultimate trail runner.   

“Honestly, it makes me feel small sometimes when we join international races, because I know how advanced other cultures are in sports,” she admits. “At the same time, it makes me feel proud to be in the same crowd as them and to be able to keep up with them.”

Sandi started running when she was 15 years old. She placed 8th in a local 5K, got her first medal, and was hooked. She joined the running club at her high school and represented her city and region in competition, which helped her earn a college scholarship. 

In 2014, she competed at her first sky running event in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and placed fourth. The next year, she set a personal record. “That was my first international trail running event, and it made me want to train more to be in bigger trail running events,” she says.



The Ability to Endure

Besides her pure athletic talent and humble character, there’s something else that sets Sandi apart from her fellow competitors. She has the ability to endure. She can suffer more than most and keep going. She says this skill is a learned one, and it came about as the result of a realization she had during her first 100km race.  

“Aside from being able to endure pain, I can talk with my brain,” she says. “I learned how much of a mental game ultra marathons are. Since then, I’ve slowly learned how to manipulate my mind.”

"As long as I can still see the trails and the way, I’m okay.”

For example, when her mind is screaming out that she has to stop running, she thinks, “We can do it, one aid station at a time.” When she realizes she has blisters, she tells her mind, “It’s just a blister. It’s not a broken bone or an injured knee.” When she feels like she’s going to pass out from fatigue, she says, “As long as I can still see the trails and the way, I’m okay.”

Her ability to live in the discomfort, focus on the positive, and push through the pain is the ultimate weapon for an elite trail runner. “I agree with Courtney Dauwalter when she says that our bodies can do amazing things that we can never imagine,” she says. “Taking risks are tests for myself in pushing my limits and finding out what more I can do.”



Trail Running Humbles Us, and Helps Us Find Peace 

Everyone has their own reason for running trails. For Sandi, it’s a means for self-discovery and a method to attain mental clarity. 

“Trail running, for me, is a very humbling sport,” she says. “It feels like it takes you to different sides of the world, or even planets. Trails have always been very grounding for me. It helps me think more clearly.”

“I find peace in the trails and mountains. I’m able to think better when I’m there.”

However, she admits to using running, and sports in general, as a way to escape the trials and tribulations of life. It’s only recently that she’s learned how to sit with her feelings and face her problems head on. “It felt like I had to, because whatever I ran away from just compounded over whatever problem I’d avoided before,” she says. “I still have a lot of healing to go, but it’s a good path to be on. For now, I want to be in the present moment and overcome one obstacle at a time.”

It’s a good life lesson she can pass on to her son, Logan. He’s ten years old and wants to do everything that mom does. Naturally, he’s similarly competitive. 

“Whatever I do, he wants to try as well,” she says. “Whether it’s triathlons, OCR, or trail running, he wants to try them all,” she says. 



APAC Trail Run Championship

Coming up next, Sandi will take on the 2024 Asia-Pacific Trail Run Championship in Kenting, Taiwan. It’s a technical course with fast flow, tough climbs, and mind-blowing views. There’s even a rocky section with rope assistance, and athletes get to climb the infamous Menmaluo Mountain, which has a 360-degree view of the ocean. If in the mountains is where she feels most at home, perhaps yet another title awaits in Southern Taiwan.

The event is a double-header, featuring the APAC Triathlon Championship and the opening of the XTERRA World Cup on the Saturday before the trail runners take center stage on Sunday for the APAC Trail Run Champs. Sandi will be competing in the 36K Marathon, set to start before sunrise to beat the heat and get ahead of the 21K Half Marathon runners. There will be 116 slots available in each distance for top age group finishers to earn their place at the  2024 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in Maine.

Hậu Hà Thị (VNM) crosses the line to to become the reigning APAC Trail Marathon Champion / 2023 APAC Trail Run Championship

It’s all set for March 23-24 in Kenting National Park, and we can’t wait to watch Sandi Menchi Abahan find her place on the mountain.  












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Author Bio

Brittany Vermeer

Brittany Vermeer is a writer and photographer who lives in Florida with her husband, Matt, and pup, Ellie Mae. A family of triathletes, you will often find them swimming, cycling, running, and enjoying the outdoors together. Check out her website or follow her on Instagram.

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