Kinabalu Climbathon Adventure Race Report - Deo AH
Before this, I never given much attention to Climbathon due to couple of reasons. Firstly, I think I am not good enough to complete the 33km Summit Race, which you need to go up from Kinabalu Park (1,500m+) to the summit of Mt. Kinabalu (4,095.2 m) within the cut-off time of 2 hours and 45 minutes before going through the Mesilau Trail and all the way to the finish line in Kundasang town within the overall cut-off time of 3 hours and 30 minutes. Secondly, there is the Adventure Race category for people like me. It is a 23km race that only goes up to Layang-Layang Hut (2760m) before finishing off in Kundasang town. Obviously this category looks more doable with 6-hour cut off time, but i had to think many times to decide to travel to Sabah just for a 23km trail run. But, with the rumor flying around saying that this year would be the last year for Climbathon races and after getting Saiful the Catman to commit to participate in this race, I didn't hesitate to register and make necessary arrangements.
Flying to Kota Kinabalu is now seems easier that driving on a busy highway to my home town up north in Ipoh and this trip marked the third time I set foot on the "Land Below the Wind" this year after Borneo Marathon in May and Beaufort 100 in August. As soon as Saiful and I arrived at the airport, we made our ways to Kota Kinabalu downtown via the cheaper option of airport shuttle bus. While waiting for the free shuttle bus to take us to Kinabalu Park provided by the organizer, Sabah Tourism Board, we hang around downtown area to have our lunch and buying essential rations for our 2-night stay up in Ranau. Race pack and number collection followed our arrival at the Kinabalu Park before we attended the race briefing and finally, we were able to check-in at the nearby Kinabalu Mountain Lodge - our home for the next two nights. It was a nice and clean hostel-like accommodation with shared bathrooms, toilets, and common area and located within walking (or running) distance from the Kinabalu Park entrance where the start line is located. The only setback about the place is that it does not provide wifi connection (well, I have to learn to 'nature networking' than relying on 'social networking') and Maxis connection in the area sucks!
On Saturday morning, we woke up early and headed to Kinabalu Park for the start of the Summit Race. It was such a sight seeing many elite runners at the start line, although we didn't have persona such as Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg, who ran here in 2012 race. However, there were still the likes of Japan's Dai Matsumoto who were the runner-up in 2013 but emerged champion this year, local heroes - last year's champion Daved Simpat who came in 2nd this year and Safrey Sumping, 4th place finisher while in the women category, there were Everest Marathon champion - Nepalese Ann Chhutin Sherpa, 2013 Women Veteran and the recent Penang 100 winner Deborah Chinn, and not forgetting the Vibram HK100 winner Claire Price from Hong Kong. A total of around 70 participants took part in the race and I can say half of them were local runners.
After a short run around Kinabalu Park and transversing Kiau View Trail to acclimatize with the altitude and weather for tomorrow's race, Saiful and I headed to Kundasang town to enjoy life there - having breakfast while touring the morning market as well as the Pesta Kubis (Cabbage Festival) that was also happening on that weekend. Around noon, we waited for the first runner to come back to the finish line and soon followed by the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers. As it was getting late for us to wait any longer as we had to attend pre-race party organized by the TMBT Race Director, we had to leave Kundasang before we could see the rest of the runners coming home. By that time, we heard of news that many runners had to DNF the race as they couldn't reach the summit within the cut-off time.
After the party (and thank goodness I really had a good time carboloading!) we headed back to our 'home' for an early lights off as we need to rise early for the Adventure Race the next morning. It wasn't easy to get a good sleep as I was worried with the race, with what to expect from it, with the altitude, the elevation, and the cut-off time. One side of my head saying that it would be difficult to finish within 6 hours as I would have to deal with elevation as well as the high number of participants that will crowded up the trails (so I had to break away from the majority of the runners during the 4.5km uphill run on tarmac from the start line to Timpohon Gate) and I have not ran on trail since April except for one trip to Mt Nuang in August. On the other side of the head, I was confident to finish it well. The side of the head was even challenging myself to complete it under 4 hours. Reason being - I had done the route before during the Sabah Adventure Challenge in 2013 but it was done on reverse direction of Mesilau Trail where we started in Mesilau Nature Resort to Layang-Layang and went down to Timpohon Gate. So, I could not use that race to plan my race. At the end, I told myself to just be at the start line, soak up the atmosphere, run when I can run and walk when I cannot run and enjoy the race. After all, I would not be challenging for podium so why worry?
Woke up early on Sunday morning. Started the day with breakfast at the Lodge. Headed to Kinabalu Park with Arfian and friend who checked in at the Lodge late last night and Saiful. By the time we arrived at the start line, there were more familiar faces. Some did the Summit Race yesterday. So, naturally it was a friendly and warm atmosphere when you have familiar faces around you and that helped to get rid of the nervousness. It was a cold morning but bearable and I could take off my wind jacket way before the start of the race. As there will be adequate water stations along the route, I went on lightweight for the race but still have my Ultimate Direction hydration jacket on for me to keep my jacket, a bun (in case I got hungry during the race), my Hammer Nutrition supplements, as well as to carry my water bottles (as I do not prefer to stop at water stations).
The race started at 7am and all the 600+ runners sped off like there is no tomorrow. I started maybe in the first quarter of the flock and with the thought to reach Timpohon Gate ahead of the majority runners, I ran from the start. But it did not take too long for me to start to walk as the elevation increases. Although it was not as nasty as Penang Hill, it was still tough to run at a decent speed as you went from 1500m+ to 1850m+ over the 4km stretch. It was all tarmac right up to Timpohon Gate. Reached there in 37 minutes. And then it was the start of trail section from Timpohon Gate towards Layang-Layang Hut at 2760m. This section will be about 4km long. Although it was a short section but the elevation is nearly 1000m and that really made my heart pumping like there is no tomorrow hahah... Although I have my Garmin FR910XT watch with me which accurately track the distance, I still could not stop wondering when will I reach Layang-Layang Hut? It felt like I was taking forever to cover the endless climb. The trail was a clear, with many 'stairs'-type of path that helped me with my footings. But I still had to put my focus on the trail so that I won't slip or miss my steps. It was also not jammed up with participants since (I think) I managed to get ahead of and arrived at Timpohon Gate in front of the majority runners. So it was about me chasing the cut-off time (or the crazy 4-hour target). Another thing to note, although we got higher on the elevation, it didn't feel as cold as at the start line since the sun was up in the sky and lighted up the open trail. So, it was just a nice weather and perfect body temperature for a run.
Layang-Layang Hut to Mesilau Gate. It was a 5.5km strecth and with a more, a lot more, technical and difficult trail section. The trail was a combination of man-made stairs and naturally rooted stairs and they were steep! As the man-made ones could be slippery when wen, the natural ones could cause you to tumble down the trail if you were not careful with and missed your steps. Focus is a priority here. And you can't move in small steps as one step of the stairs was too long or two steep for two of your footsteps. Taking two footsteps for one stair would slow you down. And at most times, you need to kind of hop down the stairs. I had to be careful with loose rocks too. Stepping inappropriately on them would not be a good thing. So, it was focus and foresighting on where would your foot lands next? It was not all downhill along Mesilau trail. There were nasty uphills too. Those were when I took my break, tackling the uphills a little slower than I went downhill. Thankfully the trail was dry despite the heavy rain the day before and that helped me a lot especially going downhill.
[official photo by Sabah Tourism Board]
[photo by Mino Ersyah Arshad]
Finally, after spending 1 hour and 25 minutes in Mesilau trail, I reached at Mesilau gate to start the final section of the race - the 10km run on a tarmac along undulating stretch from Mesilau Gate to Kundasang town. As one thought this would be easier section compared to the other two trail sections earlier, he/she must be thinking wrongly. After laborously overcoming the hurdles during the trail section, it was hard to keep the already-jelly legs to run at a decent pace on tarmac. And the undulating stretch means there was hardly flat section, just either steep downhill or steep uphill. And to make it worse, the sun was high up in the sky, and I could really feel the heat as if my hair was burning. At each water stations, I poured water on my head and refilled my water bottles when necessary. Even my water bottles were emptied in no time as I drank more than I did before in the race. There was only one motivation for me that time - to finish the race under 6 hours and I knew I would be able to do it with lots of time to spare. Finally, I reached at the last climb of the race. It was a 1km section and about 100m uphill to the finish line.
With about 100m from the finish line, I caught up with three runner friends from Sabah, Erwan whom I have been running with since my SAC debut in 2012, and newly-made friends Johnny and Donny. Four of us crossed the finish line together which another friend commented as "like seeing a row of horses running..." I finished the race, safely under the cut-off time but missed the 4-hour ambitious target. But I'll take the 4 hours and 16 minutes finish time very happily as I had completed it safely, ahead of 75% of other runners and achieved it without much and proper trail training.
[photo by Nicole Chin]
It was a great and unique experience taking part in the race. The organization was perfect with a lot of things being considered to assist the runners especially on the logistics arrangement. And thankfully this won't be the last year that this race is going to be held. It will continue to be held on 17th and 18th October 2015 but will be organized by a different organizer. My wish for the new organizer is to better or at least keep the standard of the organization and if possible, to attract 'big' names to run in the race. Would I be back next year? Not sure but if I would, it will be for the Adventure Race as the Summit Race (with the current cut-off time) would be too difficult for me.
For my race details at Garmin Connect, click here.
For full results, click here.