The TMBT stands for “The Most Beautiful Thing”
and as far as the scenery, the people along the way and the event as a whole are concerned, the title describes it really well.
And considering that this is a young event, only six years in existence, it is amazing how well established it is already. Credit goes to the organizers whom are doing an amazing job, getting the logistics done in most professional manner.
I had been looking forward to and preparing for this event for well over a year and so was Liz and sister Loritta, both of whom signed up for the shorter but no less cruel 12km distance. Liz is busy writing her own piece about the experience and you can read her story separately. Also along with us, our friends from Thailand, Khun Mam who attempted the 50km and Khun Prem who found himself on the starting line together with me:
This was going to be the mother of trails, covering the full distance of 100km over rugged terrain with cumulative altitude gain of approx 5,600 meters.
But back to the title, after a couple of hours in the searing heat of the mountain ranges of Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo, few of us had much appreciation left for much of the beauty surrounding us. Those who did, paid a bitter price as many runners ended up on the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish) list when too much time was spent, taking pictures, selfies and just generally not running along…, it is a race after all …
Unfortunately both Mam and Prem fell prey to the temptation and had to succumb to the cut off time when their timing chip got cut off their wrists at the checkpoints…, what can I say other than: “The Mountain will still be there next year!” Let’s be back!
But here is the story of my run:
Really enjoyable it started a little late at 6:55am to pleasant temperatures, just after sunrise and to beautiful blue skies. Accompanying us were the soothing rhythms of traditional Sabahan Gongs, which the local villagers kept on playing at the start.
Stage 1: Kg. Lingkubang to Kg. Kebayau WS1 (4,9km):
With the sounds of gong soon behind us and only about 2 km on the road we entered the first steep uphill, which was to lead us to Water Station (WS1). All happy at this stage of the event, this was the time for the field to sort itself. With the elite runners taking off, the Turtles taking their own sweet time at the back and the rest of us somewhere in between. I placed myself somewhere in the first third of the field, mindful that I did not want to burn myself too quickly, yet also not wanting to get stuck at the end of the field as we were soon to enter steep single trail, which makes overtaking challenging.
(Photo credit to Sherman Kam)
Stage 2: Kg. Kebayau to Kg. Tambatuan WS2 (6,5km)
By now we had well warmed up, not just from the run but from the sun, which was now up and quickly made us feel the heat with well over 40 degrees Celcius and a humidity factor of 85%. So, the first river crossing came as a “pleasant hurdle” allowing for somewhat of a cool down while we had to navigate across. This being a fairly wide (and well over knee deep crossing, I decided to take the two minutes it took to take my shoes and socks off and put them back on, on the other side. I have been on enough trails to know that dry feet are a good thing, especially early on when it is too soon to develop blisters. Inevitably those would come later in the day (and so they did… in great numbers).
(Photo credit to Sherman Kam)
Stage 3: Kg. Tambatuan to Kg. Lobong Lobong WS3 (10,3km)
The trail soon became rather indistinct in places and with steep uphill and downhills through rubber plantations we found ourselves navigating tree roots along narrow ridge lines. Several more river crossings, some over hanging bridges and some through water, shoes and socks now thoroughly wet and the first blisters forming for added cushioning.
Stage 4: Kg. Lobong Lobong to Kg. Kiau Nulu WS4
Back onto small trails, several smaller stream crossings. By now, late morning and some hours of running and trekking the heat was beginning to take it’s toll on some and especially as we made our way up “Pineapple Mountain” a steep and seemingly never ending ascend, designed to make us forget our good manners and use words, normally better left unspoken …
By the time I finally reached the peak of that Mountain approx. 40km into the event, I had almost lost my senses to the heat and was most grateful to three old Ladies from the village whom were sitting up there in their little hut, feet tangling, feeling sorry for the silly foreigner who comes to their country to torture himself. But most importantly they had a bucket of soft drinks, which they were happy to sell to the thirsty souls crawling up the hill. I have no idea how the three little old Ladies made it up there by the way…?
Minutes later and halfway recovered, I soldiered on and to my delight now downhill and to changing weather that looked as though rain was on the way. But first: what goes up, must come down, so we descended all the way to WS4. There, and after having looked at pineapple plantations for the past two hours we found mountains of freshly cut pineapple which offered sweet redemption and beautiful nourishment, much needed, seven hours into the run. But with the race Marshall quick to remind us of the looming cut off time, I was back on the trail in no time.
Stage 5: Kg. Kiau Nulu to Check Point 1 (8,2km)
And soon my wish became true in a sense I could have barely imagined. I barely had time to pull my rain coat out of my backpack as thunder and lightning struck and torrential rain set in. This brought much relief in terms of temperature but presented a whole new challenge as we continued to navigate the trails through heavy rain for the next hour or so.
The rain finally stopped but the steep uphill and downhill sections never did and at half way point I could not take anymore energy gel nor any of the power bars I had with me. My stomach had shut down and closed for any intake. With 50 more km to go and nightfall soon to be expected.
Then, the one and only picture stop I made on the entire run – I could not resist Mt. Kinabalu from this unique and amazing perspective:
Stage 6: CP1 Ranau Highway to Bundu Tuhan WS5 (7,1km)
A road section leading to WS5, this is where our reflective vests came on to dodge Traffic (or rather vice versa). And with our half way point and our drop bags now within reach, we motored through this section best we could. And what are the odds, I am trodding along and my family passes by me in the car on their way up the mountain where they are headed for their overnight stay with intent to see me at the finish line. Inconceivable at this point in time to think that this (finish line) is about 18 hours away…
Finally, half way point! Here I was pretty beaten and decided that a quick 20 minute power nap was in order. At this point I had plenty of time ahead of the cut off and needed to give the system chance to recover. Hence a quick change into dry socks and a dry pair of shoes (we had drop bags at the half way point), a cup of vegetable soup so kindly provided by the organizers (we carried our own cups 🍲) and back on to the track!
Stage 6 continued: Bundu Tuhan to Tegudon Lama WS6 (6,1km)
All on the mostly sealed road and for the most part downhill, this section offered some form of relief. That is until the next river crossing, this time over the ridge though (another hanging bridge that is). Yes, we had quite many of those along the way. Numerous rivers and little streams had to be crossed through the water, others via these hanging bridges that gave some runners a good dose of vertigo.
Stage 7: Tegudon Lama to Kg. Toboh Pahu WS7 (12,2km)
Some 62,5 km or 15,5 hours into it and now at WS7, I was not in a good place. Exhausted and really hungry by now my stomach had shut down yet again. An unfortunate condition I experience on every long run, especially during hot weather. I am yet to find a way to get over this as it really ends up draining the last ounce of energy out of me at the time when I am burning most and should be replenishing. And so I stumbled into the station to suspicious looks and questions of the marshalls. Afraid that they would take me out of the race, I plunged right down for a quick 10 minute power nap. That and a small plate of fried noodles later I felt like a new man (well, almost) and the marshalls acknowledged that I looked much better and good to go.
Only now my GPS watch had given up on me (out of battery!) and so I headed out into the jungle of Borneo and in the middle of the night, without guidance on distance, time or any other waypoint, aside the way markers placed along the route by race organizers. Thankfully those were plentiful.
Stage 8: WS7 at Kg. Toboh Pahu to WS8 at Kg. Sosondoton (9km)
Throughout the night, small groups of runners developed as many were not comfortable alone in the jungle. I thought this would work for me until we had a runner in the group who could not stop talking. No idea how he did it but I guess different things make different people tick. He seemed to get energy (or perhaps it was his way to displace the pain and exhaustion) by talking non stop. That’s when I decided that the jungle was mine to continue alone and in tranquility throughout the rest of the night.
Navigating the course had been made relatively easy by the organizers whom had placed sufficient course markings along the route and with our headlamps strapped to our foreheads we tangled through the night like little groups (or sometimes individual) fireflies, only a little slower …; and for those who ran out of steam, there was no alternative but to drop wherever they were and hope to either find a spurt of new energy or for the sweeper to come and scoop them in the morning …
(Photo credit to Glen N Florian)
Stage 9: WS8 at Kg. Sosondoton to WS9 at Kg. Keranaan (11,7km)
More uphill along a narrow dirt road with steep drop offs before descending back down towards WS9. Here it seemed as though the end was finally within reach!
Stage 10: WS9 at Kg. Keranaan to WS10 at Mohimboyon (10,5km)
Lucky for us, at least it did not rain during the night and we made it through sunrise in dry conditions. 22 hours into it and with the sun rising again, the temperature quickly rose to previous day’s levels.
And when I saw a fellow runner ahead, waiting for me, I knew what he was after. True enough, he had run out of water and asked if I could share. Lucky for him, I did have sufficient reserve and was able to help him out, which quite literally saved, well perhaps not his life but surely his run. We went on together for a while and with the final water station not far. At least so we thought but it seemingly just would not appear. Who did appear instead and out of nowhere was a little Boy with a large bottle of ice cold water!!! First I thought I was hallucinating but then he stood in front of us sticking the bottle into our face. My fellow runner even asked if he was offering that to us for free to which the boy nodded. Almost at the end of our reserves and boiling in the sun we accepted and he happily filled our bottles. I could not help but give him a MYR10,00 tip, which the boy quickly put away and ran away. Before we could even gulp the water down he was back, guess what, with his sister and another bottle of ice cold water; this time we politely declined his offer and let him know that there were other runners behind us. But of course he knew that because just around the next corner was our water station. Kudus to the little Boy, he will make a good entrepreneur one day.
Stage11: WS10 at Mohimboyon to Finish Line at “Perkasa” (6,6km)
From here, a mere 6,6km to the finish line seemed attainable. That was until we met the next Marshall who promptly diverted us off the road and right back into jungle terrain and a very steep uphill climb on difficult trail. Not what any of us were hoping for at this stage of the race. And although I was making good time, the clock was ticking, so, one step at a time, up the hill …
After that final eternity I could hardly believe it when I knew that I had barely 1km to go, my friend Prem had come towards me to get me fired up for the last stretch and 200 meters out Liz and sister Loritta joined the cheering squad. With a mere 50 meters to go, I could not even see the finish line in front of me until I somehow stumbled through to cheers from a sympathetic crowd.
I was not about to stand anymore nor pose for this picture but with such a big welcome committee waiting for me at the finish, the moment definitely needed to be eternalized.
(Photo credit to Alvin MY)
A truly glorious moment and a great feeling of achievement that is very hard to describe.
I don’t feel like running right now but since next year, the same run will take a different route but still end up at the same mountain, I am thinking about it …