The Most Beautiful Thing 2013 - The Euphoria
It is official - I am the fastest male, Malay runner, age circa 35-40 years in my condominium. Hey, possibly the entire of Taman Melati. Perhaps, until the next Ultra Marathon event where Catman will avenge - in Taman Keramat too, next to Irina, who is the fastest female in Taman Keramat AU5.
TMBT 2013 is my first attempt at 100K - after few 50K distances in the TNF100 Singapore series. It was something I had in mind for some time now, and this year was when I have to walk the talk.
Truth be told, I was lured to this event back in 2011 but the years preceded with no real chance to register due to sheer reason that the stars were not aligned. So September this year, I found myself in the corral - a lot scared, only to be comforted by the sights of running friends and familiar strangers. To say that was not intimidating is an understatement, given my kamikaze-attitude this past years. But at that point, I have not gone beyond the sacred 50K mark, of which I had nothing to be proud of anyway.
But the trails are nothing short of picturesque Sabah – deep within Kinabalu, Ranau and Kundasang remote locations not accessible to the general tourists. I was told this year’s edition is lacking the beautiful hotspots they enjoyed in 2012 but I can’t complain.
The pics in this blog are a combination of my (very limited) own, and Leong Kwan Meng's, Abdul Rahim's and main TMBT's, plus some random from friends - of which I'll try to give due credit accordingly.
The Organiser has arranged for a centralised pick-up from Kota Kinabalu itself, with tonnes of buses and minivans transporting most of 25, 50 and 100K runners into Kg. Lingkubang, with few customary piss-stop along the highway.
|Speedster Erwan and his (2 of his) kids, with Mount Kinabalu in the background.|
No. 849 - Calm before the storm
|Look what the Speedster Erwan has in his bag - boiled eggs!|
|The registration (inside the hall) and breakout space in the Padang|
|Happy faces, happy thoughts(photo credit : Leong Kwan Weng)|
The race started uneventfully, as runners huddled and moved ahead. It was close to 8:00 a.m., and the sky was opening up. The increasing humidity level rises with uplifting camaraderie, and as crazy as it sounds - runners were smiling, and chatting away.
|Gambar lenglui for McIjam(photo credit : Leong Kwan Weng)|
The thoughts of the next unforgiving terrains are oblivious to these hardcore and experienced runners. I ogled at their confidence (and gears) with envy.
|This bridge, I heard, held back runners for hours|
(photo credit : Leong Kwan Weng)
We passed through Kg. Lingkubang, and through to the first hanging bridge. As it allows only 5 runners to pass through at a time, all runners are bundled in a long queue but not without few inconsiderate ones cutting queues, who seemed to be chasing their own inflated egos. Nonetheless, we passed the bridge that spans a beautiful river, which is equally identical to many endless rivers and streams we had to pass along the race eventually.
In between my nervousness calculating the unbelievable miles ahead of me, I can only remember very vaguely of the race routes between Kg. Lingkubang, WS1 at Kg. Tambatuan and WS2 at Kg. Lobong-Lobong except for the many breathtaking (cold) streams, and passing through the padi fields painting a bright green carpet alongside the river with commanding view of the Mount Kinabalu and the blue sky.
We intertwined between many fields, and through few treacherous ravines which will send you off at least 20metres below. The thrill factor is max!
|Gorgeous, didn't I|
Many of these river crossing against the riverine. Rugi tak bawak goggle!
(photo credit : KW Leong)
(photo credit : KW Leong)
|CP1 - The 25K Split Point|
The mental block was to keep moving up the elevation and I was at that point not enjoying the experience but getting more adamant to quit. This is echoed, even amplified when passing WS2 en-route to WS 3 at Kg. Kiau Nulu – runners have to run in between the rubber plantation, much similar to Kiara trails. The rubber plantations, although briefly transported me back to my childhood days, did not do wonders, especially when the elevation keeps going higher. I cursed at my lack of training for that delusional obsession to throw in the towel. Instead of breaking down the race into smaller CPs and WSs as laid out by the Organiser, I zoomed at getting to the 50K mark with only 16K in! The end, even at that point, is not near.
I dropped down few times with my tongue sticking out just atop after the countless hills within the variable plantations – partly pineapples, padi fields, after having to go through endless climbs. Running on top of the ridge of open vastness offers nothing short of spectacular open landscape with mounding hills as the sun stands directly above our heads when I could see few huts dotted along the way – a simple shed for the farmers to rest. The wasted coals and ashes at the centre are evident that they probably cook water, or grilled tapiocas for lunch.
I reached one empty hut alongside few runners and stopped to rest (I stopped to lay on my back for some minutes). We exchanged swear words of how tough the trails had been, and share a mixture of nuts, dates, chocolates etc amongst ourselves. So after 20 minutes or so, reluctantly I got up and left.
I needed to go on and complete this race. What would I tell my kids if their dad is a quitter (no pun intended)? The faces of my kids ran past me and how I aspire them to be successful, and I cannot start with myself by being otherwise.
|See what you are missing!|
|All and around us|
|Watch those pineapples!|
|The last hut before getting into the trails towards Miki Camp|
(photo credit : KW Leong)
Almost immediately, the trail clears as we were kept walking on the ridge, and just a short while after fern bushes and few humming handmade wind-turbines later, we entered the rainforest en-route the “Miki Camp Loop” which is full of switchbacks and trails we had to share with oncoming runners, having done their loop. I found a spring with bamboo spout and quickly refilled my empty bladder and bottles. Still feeling dejected, I pushed on. Just before the CP2, we would pass series of small huts, and I saw 3 girls lining up in front of their house, clapping to encourage us runners. My spirit is suddenly lifted – I said thank you, smiled at them and headed on. Their positive spirit must have given me some kind of magic, that I picked up pace, and was flying in the Miki Camp Loop. The trails have been quite sploshy, even slippery at places but not quite like in Genting Trailblazer few year back. I have found myself a trusty wooden stick to help buffer any fall, and all sorts of stunts in the forest. After many exhilarating twists and turns, my then running partners and I arrived at the camp. No drama here, as we had our numbers crossed, and headed straight out. The volunteers warned us about the thousands of leeches are waiting for us and we laughed away (I did not get bitten from any single leech). There are many incidence I grabbed on thorny barks and horizontal roots with spikes but lucky enough not to cut myself. I suppose next time would call for a proper gloves, just to be on a safe side.
|Good to see you, KM!|
|One of the checkpoints (photo credit : KW Leong)|
Just before we exit the rainforest, the rain started to speckle the otherwise nice terrain, and we stopped to put on our jackets. And quickly enough, we headed out back into the open field to find thick fog encapsulating the hills around us. As I passed through a volunteer’s hut, they were calling out for us to stop and have some pineapples. Indeed this permits for a quick stop!
|The trails starts fogging and raining. The fun part starts!|
|Off from Miki trails towards WS3 at Kiau Nulu|
The trail dropped steeply into single-file tracks around the rubber plantation with giant manmade steps. All tracks are now puddled with cold water as the trail hugs closely along the hillside, and it was awesome! I caught up with a train of runners, and continued at their pace after passing through was not possible. After having gone through few private house compounds, I could see a trait similar to their homes – chicken coups and fish ponds are common to sustain their families. Soon we reached a tarred road, and this led us to a long stretch to reach WS4. I stopped temporarily at the WS4 to check my name. Currently listed at no.98, I signed, refilled my bladder and off I went back to the tarmac. Sprinting in the rain, I quickly missed a marker going downhill steeply, but thanks to the local boys watching us from their perching balconies some 10m above, I backtracked towards their pointing hands and lips. Phew, Lucky it was just a good 20m…
The trail dropped fast and my New Balance MT Trail worked well despite being fully dry running in FRIM the past weeks.
At the valley, we passed a school with cheering kids, before the deteriorated road climbs some 2.7km which does not seem to end. Luckily this track is combined with many numbers of 25K runners, so we killed time to chat away and make jokes about ourselves. Soon enough, the Finish banner for them (lucky bastards!) stretched in front of us, and we headed down for a water station.
There was a buffet spread, but all 50K and 100K runners were refused access to it, so I (accidentally) took solace to the few sundry shops with junk food. My reserves were running low with my tongue burning from the asam boi since morning. I must have looked like a complete idiot, eating Mamee packs, with a Coke can. I share this trait with Ashe EK as he gleefully chomped on his rewards. It must have fuelled him good because I lost him there temporarily.
Stage 5 “The Road Rage” starts with Kg. Kiau Taburi, and I have a companionship of Ashe EK again, together with few more. We did not talk, but moved in perfect sync between the necessity to walk, jog, or run. We quickly huddled past the overgrown bushes and waterfalls and dispersed when we hit the tarmac towards Bundu Tuhan. Here, the drivers are a lot more considerate and patient – no honks whatsoever. Even big trucks slowed down and gave us runners bigger berth to trot along. Passengers of one car handed out to a bar of Kinder Bueno!
|Mount Kinabalu peeking after the rain. One day I shall return|
We came at a junction towards Jalan Kinasaraban into meandering gravel road. I looked up and the sky is getting darker. It was around 4:00 p.m., and I hurried away, peeling from the group. The trail is wide, and knowing runners are within visibility both beyond and back gave me confidence to run alone. This went on passed WS5 at Kg. Kinasaraban, as we passed many deserted trails as runners as far apart now. I put on my headlamp after WS5 just before venturing alone into the remote homes. And their dogs are fiercer at night. There are times, when coerced, I had to stand my ground with headlamp straight into their eyes, and bark back.
It is completely dark now, and I couldn’t see any runners around me, but felt completely safe (apart from the dogs) to run on my own. The reflective markers are sufficiently located at most places (easily spotted too), while unnervingly sparse at some selected stretches, and the trails are dry. All of a sudden, I found myself running into vegetable farms, and boy, the trails are tractionless! But thanks to my pole, I managed the downhills with no embarrassing fall, although by now my shoes are completely caked with mud. I passed few runners on the verge on quitting, as I was also reflecting to do the same. But I could feel the air of defeat in their response upon acknowledging me.
As the farm ended into a village, the gravel road brings me along muted stretches with guys smoking and watching the tales of runners streaming by. That road broke into main road, and I was on my way to WS6, which is the halfway mark – to look forward to warm food and hot coffee.
At the transition area, I signed in, collected the food voucher and went to the holding tent. The drop bags are sorted in a bizarre manner I could not understand, as the drop bags and finisher’s bags are mixed with no numbering sequence whatsoever. Alas, they located my bad within 2 minutes despite my unnecessary frustrated voices. Headed off to café, and sat down with a plate of steamed rice, black-pepper chicken, stir fry mixed vegetables and steamed potatoes. I topped that with some coffee, hot soup, and some porridge.As usual, I had to force fuel right after my 20K run, let alone this monstrous 50K.
But I caught up with Aiman, who was finishing his meal, so we made a pact to run together on this night stretch. By daylight next morning, we’re on our own. Sounds like a good plan.
|My trusted first 50K pole, and second half poles are waiting to get into action|
(LEKI Trekking Poles courtesy of CaptainG)
Note : Both Azlan Aiman and myself are virgin 100K runner, and 100K Ultra Trail at that.
We changed and geared for the cold night. By now, the medics have cleaned all my blisters and put on new dressing and it felt good. So without much drama, we signed out at 9:10 p.m. into the darkness, just as the winner came back in victory.
Stage 7 “The Outbound” saw us catching up on many running friends and adventures, mainly for me having been away for so long. The sky opens up, and we keep our eyes on a lookout to the many potential hills around us – all balmy and high, that we are about to climb.
We reached WS7 at Kg. Kauluan, and see our position improved to no.78 (I think). After re-fueling and nose-picking, we headed off on a pretext to catch the 2 guys who just earlier left water station. As we followed the 2 lights in front of us some a kilometre away, we entered a vegetable farm again with cabbages, spring onions and whatnots. The track is filled with medium-sized round stones, all slippery and coated with fresh mud from runners before us. Not my favourite stretch of road, but we kept moving forward, fast-walking mostly.
At an intersection, we veered left uphill to reach a tarmac section to proceed to WS8 where we encountered many strong kwailohs running down from WS9. As the road cuts through vast open land, the stars kisses the mountains and hills above us, and before long, we see dancing spotlights directing us into WS8.
WS8 is above Mesilau, and the hall has a black Mount Kinabalu behind it, and it is freezing there. We hurried in for hot coffee, and the medics runs their ritual on me – cutting skins, cleaning wounds etc. We didn’t stay long when Yimster came in and delivered to us a heartbreaking news – a 10K loop from WS8 and back to the same station, then a WS9 across more cabbage patches and cold wet muddy trails. Their shoes are telling a telltale of how nasty it was.
It was probably the loneliest stretch of the entire race if ran alone. But with Aiman, and 2 other guys, again we worked together to push through in powerwalks. At times when markers are so far apart, we spread ourselves out to spot them and bring the whole group together again.
But the trails were horrendous. The endless patch seems endless with shredded cabbage on the trails - a coleslaw with mud, if you will. We slid, switched left and right, and hopped to find a good footing, but our shoes took the brunt, and heavy with multi-coated mud.
After the patch comes long winding open track with concrete driveway, and some sections on gravel. It was already 3:00 a.m., and we all kept our silence and keep plugging away. We all wanted to get this done and out.
Nonetheless, we reached WS9 – all groggy and sleep-deprived. Our torchlight guides were snoring by the road side, wrapped in thick blanket as the temperature dropped. We were pleasantly surprised to see Zack still looking jolly and strong here, having just arrived at WS8. After few more shots of strong coffee, food and more clean dressing for the blisters, we headed down, now running and taking advantage of the downhills, full aware that this is the final stretch of the last 24K or so. Both of us were elated, and look forward to finish this in 24 hours. We were naive!
|Talk about self-sufficiency - mending my own blisters|
We ran the flats and downhills, and walked uphills. As the dawn breaks on us, we hurried to arrive at CP4 at Kg. Lipasu Baru. The villagers have just been awaken and rattling with activities, but we could see further down the trail – a long snaky tarred road uphill to reach the last water station. I think both of us gasped at that prospect but there was no time to assess the situation. Strategy was to run/walk and conquer.
We arrived at the foot of that road, and I bid farewell to Aiman as I sat down to add more blister patches to prepare myself for the long track up, and more downhill runs. I reached the last water station – WS10 at Kg. Kibbas, and saw Aiman is just 5 minutes ahead of me. But the long climb before WS10 has a little bit of pull so I sat down at the water station where they served me a plate of steaming Maggi, some rambutans and water. A short break, but getting up was hard, and on my out crossing the highway, I stepped on a rock, and twisted my left knee a little. Not exactly what I need with the remaining 11.8K but I have no choice but to move on. My left calf was shutting down and stopped to cooperate. I chomped on my last asam boi reserve, ORS and gulped some water, and double-taped the left knee guard, and moved on.
|Thanks to the volunteers - I managed this simple breakfast|
(missing here are the rambutans)
|Off WS10 towards Kundasang|
|Thanks girls - hope you've enjoyed the candies|
I passed my last collection of Mars bars and candies to the girls cheering along the last house, and hobbled along as I grit my teeth whenever the pain shoots up with every move. Having passed the civilization near the mouth of the road, the tarmac branches off to a smaller, redundant road leading to Kundasang. The tarmac stretch is broken at few areas due to soil settlement, and evident that no traffic goes through here. It immediately stopped and continued on with gravels and turfing stretches.
This is not going to be easy!
Well, expectedly, few runners passed me, and one of them quipped how this year’s SAC experience taught him how brutal a hill we are about to climb – a sheer 5K of non-stop climb. And he didn’t lie. No sirree… he did not joke about this one.
After a river crossing where I made futile attempt to rinse off dirt from the Cascadia, the trail climbs gradually, and climb, and climb. It snakes along the many hills combined, sometimes bridging between them, crossing over, but climbing nonetheless. The markers are adequate, and I was surrounded by lonely trees on both sides with open sky above me. It must have been around 8:00 a.m. as the scorching sun pierced my eyes. Time and time again, I could see and hear the traffic from the highway below en-route to Kundasang. But apart from that stretch of road, the rest are green.
I have been cursing loudly at them hills somewhere along the way, as I sipped very little off my bladder to keep my reserves. My mental is failing, as I badly needed company. Few times I stopped and waited if Deo or Azhar or Saufi would come from behind so it won’t be so boring. But all didn’t work, so in between the cursing and endless goddamn turns, I finally reached the T-junction, and upon reaching a village, I was assured that the trails towards the Perkasa is not that far ahead.
But man, at this point, a kilometer feels like forever. However, my perseverance paid off, I managed to catch few runners, who were blazing before me at WS10 earlier, and I kept cursing at the hills and the never-ending curves. I could see a structure atop the hill, and the motion upward is set towards that while I visually focus on keep moving ahead. I arrived at a tarmac stretch, and soon a gated building, and slightly deflated knowing that it is not the Perkasa building. But I started to jog as I feel shots of adrenalin kicking in.
I suppose if I would have reserve energy in me, those wouldn’t be that hard. But the emotionally draining moments knowing I’m slipping past the cut-off time is really staggering. The final 500m, I had an officer who pointed me at the right direction, and I was on the home stretch! Then I could hear some announcement, and some music as I picked up pace. The mind shuts the pain and I temporarily forget my weak knees as I come through lines of pine trees. That corner! My heart is pumping! Damn it! why didn't this happen in the last 10K? I would have gotten back earlier!
|Digging deep! 200m to go|
(photo credit : KW Leong)
|Happy to be home! Finally!|
(photo credit : Vivien Tay)
|TMBT has one of the best medic team!|
And the best supplies!
Final bend is where I see Leong from KC & the Sunshine Runners with his camera – I was ecstatic! I turned left to more people by the road, clapping and cheering, perhaps Whye Yee calling my name. And then, I heard crowd calling me, and I looked up to see Catman, Aini, Sab, Aiman etc up on the terrace, and man – that was uplifting. In a matter of second, there was a sudden gash of emotional overload as I saw my kids inside my head, and the stupid hills I just came from – how relentless and unforgiving those were.
I entered the gantry, and it is over! The whole 104km of them trails are over!
I had the medal put over my head, and they shoved me my Finisher’s T-shirt as I stood at the registration counter – quietly sobbing and nodding my head down before the aunties. What, lah. I suppose there are things beyond your control, and this was one of them.
There is a saying that when you finish a marathon, it changes you. But I didn’t actually get that feeling, even when crossing my first marathon back in 2009, so I was wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
But last Sunday, crossing that line after all the struggle, pain and coming to terms with myself, it literally moved me. Damn you TMBT!
Almost immediately when we reached Kota Kinabalu, fresh from TMBT trails - I made a promise to return to this beautiful state. All the pain magically disappear into thin air, which is a deadly concoction with so many outrageous trails here in Sabah.