Thursday, October 24, 2013

Race Report: Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon

When I signed up for the Climbathon I thought the same thing as Mariela, who said, "it couldn't be any more difficult than TMBT." I figured since I would have completed a 50km trail run just 5 weeks before the Climbathon, I wouldn't need a whole lot more training in order to be fully fit and ready for this short (23.1km) little jaunt up and down Mt. Kinabalu. Boy, was I wrong.

I already blogged about my trial run on the race course just two weeks ago. I can't express just how helpful it was to have had an advance look at the route. Remember I mentioned how demoralizing it was to find that the uphill "blip" on the descent was actually a brutal 30-minute (or so) nasty ascent? Well on race day it really did feel more like a blip because I was ready for it. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me begin at the beginning...

I didn't notice when this picture was taken but I'm sure I was looking at Mt. Kinabalu (photo by Paula Blake)

The day started bright and sunny, with occasional clouds racing across the mountain. I feared a bright sunny day since I run much better in cooler weather. I was hoping for solid cloud cover, or rain, or wind. One of those would make for a good day. As it turned out, the race started out sunny but by the time we reached Timpohon gate, the clouds were in control and remained that way the rest of the day. In fact, through most of the race we were enveloped in a very light fog. Beautiful.

I had recorded my splits from the dress rehearsal and finished in 5 hours and 48 minutes on that day, so I knew that if I stuck to those splits this time, I'd meet the 6-hour cutoff time imposed upon veteran men (age 40 and up). The open class (younger than 40) had a 5-hour cutoff time for the men.

The journey from the start to Timpohon Gate, 4.5km, took place entirely on the road, and featured an ascent of about 600m, pretty steep at times! Predictably, most of the crowd rushed off down the road. I stuck to my pace, and hoped to get to Timpohon Gate before the 50 minutes it took me the first time. And I did it, arriving at Timpohon at 43 minutes.

The next leg was Timpohon Gate to Layang-Layang hut. Last time, it took me 1 hour and 21 minutes. I really couldn't see myself going that much faster than that, and this time I knew I would have to deal with race traffic - all those slow people who hadn't done any proper hill training. Sure enough, I found myself saying, "Excuse me" constantly as I swept past tens and tens of people. Thanks TMBT for the legs to tackle that ascent with no problems! I reached Layang-Layang hut in 1 hour and 17 minutes, almost exactly at the 2-hour mark. The crowd which had gathered at the intersections of the Timpohon and Mesilau trails was huge and energetic; I loved it!

Next came the descent: Mesilau Trail to the Mesilau Nature Resort. Last time it took me 2 hours and 11 minutes. And as I descended, I didn't feel like I was going particularly fast or slow as compared with the last time. But I was feeling great, and kept a good pace down. When I got to the river and the bridge crossing (where the "blip" began), I took off my shoes to clear the mud, and to rest a few more minutes before starting to ascend. And up I went. No problems. No pain. Tired, sure, but happy and feeling like I could go forever. It's just a hill. And before I knew it, I was over the blip and back down the hill. When I hit Mesilau Nature Resort it had only taken me 1 hour and 43 minutes. I was now a full 40 minutes ahead of my previous attempt!

After doing the math, I realized that if I pushed myself in this last leg, I would have a chance at a sub-5-hour finish. The last leg is all road, from Mesilau Nature Resort to Kundasang town. Most of it is a good semi-steep downhill, but there are a few uphills thrown in to keep you humble. So I picked up the pace and kept throwing one foot down in front of the other.

Flying down the road from Mesilau Nature Resort (photo by Erwan Kassim)

With every kilometer I adjusted my calculations but it always looked like it was going to be close, so I couldn't relax. And with 1.5km to go, while still being pretty tight time-wise, there came the nasty steep hill leading up to Kundasang. I power-hiked with all my might but saw myself slipping behind. At last I was only 200-300 meters away and could see the town, and I started to run. The official finish line photographer was pointing his camera the opposite direction, but never mind, I made it!

Just trying to get to the finish (photo by AShe Ek)
Hey cameraman, over here!!! Look, I'm sprinting, really, I am! (photo from Art Sebangkit)

Joyful exhaustion (photo from Art Sebangkit)

So I crossed the line with an official chip time of 4:58:39, which put me at 59th among veteran men, and 194th out of 374 overall. And I did it, I beat the under-40 cutoff time of 5 hours! The total elevation gain for the 23.1km course was 5700' (and 6700' down). Average slope was 15.9% up (15.1% down), and the max slope was  46% up (49.6% down). Quite the punishing course. Here are my times from my first two attempts, as a point of reference for those looking to meet or beat a 6-hour or a 5-hour cutoff time in the future:

October 7 (Test Run) October 20 (Climbathon)
Start to Timpohon 0:50 0:43
Timpohon to Layang-Layang Hut 1:21 1:17
Layang-Layang to Mesilau Nature Resort 2:11 1:43
Mesilau to Finish 1:36 1:16
Total 5:48 4:59

Personally, I loved the race. I went up and down the mountain trails with a perpetual half- to full-smile on my face, and even on the steep uphills I said (out loud, if I was alone), "This is easy!" Sure, I am a mere mid-pack runner, but I truly felt I could go all day. This bodes well for me as I seek to build my endurance and aerobic base (while increasing my speed, I hope) in the upcoming off-season. More on that next month.

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