Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon - Dress Rehearsal

Yesterday I went up to Mt. Kinabalu National Park along with a half dozen others to have a look at the race course for the 27th Mt. Kinabalu International Climbathon. Registered participants can get a training pass which will enable them free access to the park's trails; you only need to pay RM7 for insurance.

We assembled at the restaurant located across the street from the Park HQ. It was bitterly cold, windy and rainy and we struggled to stay warm in the kedai while enjoying a hot cup of coffee. Finally it was time to head out. The wet windy cold was so pervasive that I gave in and actually purchased a cheap poncho from the souvenir shop. This was literally the coldest I have ever felt in my 10+ years in Malaysia.

But of course, within 2 kilometers of setting off, the jacket came off and remained off for the rest of my run. The first 4km of the course is on the road, as you head from the Kinabalu Park HQ to Timpohon Gate. It's mostly uphill, with some runnable sections. Once you hit the trails, it's another 4km sharply up to just past the Layang-Layang hut. From there you start "down" on the Mesilau trail. I say "down" because on the elevation profile it appears that outside of a little 'blip', the course is pretty much downhill all the way to Kundasang. We were all quite surprised to find a good bit of uphill, and that 'blip' was a massive uphill that demoralized many of us.

...and these weren't even the worst ones.

Taking time for photos since on race day I may be busy trying to beat the cutoff time!
But the shocker came when we hit the Mesilau Nature Resort, which is where the trail ends (or begins, depending on your orientation). From there you still have about 10km to go on paved roads. And not just roads. Steep up and down roads. I suppose it is mostly down, as my fuzzy memory recalls lots of running. But by that point I was so tired and just wanted to be done, the last kilometers took forever.

At this time, the bitterly cold wind and rain returned with a vengeance. At times I ran with my head down simply to keep my hat from blowing away. I can't even think what the passing drivers thought about this crazy white guy running in such weather. One of my training partners could not proceed any further because of the wind and cold, and hitchhiked the last few kilometers in to Kundasang. Once I finished, I parked myself at a kedai, and within 30 minutes had finished a plate of hot fried noodles and three cups of hot coffee. It took me several hours to fully warm up.

All in all, it was another epic trail run. We said to ourselves afterwards, "Well, it can't get any worse!" And let's hope that's true. But the worst time was before and after we were on the trails. The time on the trails was actually perfect (to me) from the standpoint of the weather. Not very rainy, not very windy, not very cold. And there were also moments of spectacular beauty. At one point I just had to stop dead in my tracks, entranced by my surroundings. A photo will never do a magic moment justice, but it will have to do:

I do it for moments like these.

So now I know what I'm up against! I finished the course in 5 hours and 48 minutes, just 12 minutes under the 6-hour cutoff for veterans (over 40). I plan to write my splits down on my arm so I will know how I'm doing along the way. I should be okay but I expect the crowds may very well slow me down so I need to be ready for that.


  1. I thought TMBT was an "extreme" marathon - - and now the Climbathon! What an adventure! I'm sure you semi-appreciated the cold air that you probably thought never hit your island before. Exciting times - and beautiful scenery !

  2. Nice write up. During TMBT I decided that next year (if I found myself in KL again) I would tackle Mt Kinabalu instead...since it couldn't be any more difficult than TMBT...and it is a shorter distance!
    Look forward to your actual run report!