Tuesday, October 25, 2011

25th Kinabalu Climbathon Race Report

As i hobbled into office this morning, traversing 179 steps that took pretty long to finish, i was typing an imaginery keyboard as to how to write this report. Why is that so? This year was an awesome year for this race. Not only was it super-star studded, it marks the last of the Summit Race. Next year, it will be called "Adventure Race" and it won't be a "Race Up The Summit". The caption "The Toughest Race Gets Tougher" is a misnomer; how can racing up till Layang-Layang and down to Mersilau, with the final 14km on PAVED road, be tougher than running up the Summit to Low's Peak?
Every year, racers come back as they want to get better by that "200meters from where i was cut off last year" or to "touch the metal board again to get my U-turn band" and "race down the craziest mountain race ever".
Always in Awe of Her Beauty
This year is the second time i did the race with Wifey. What started off as a small "challenge" with wifey to get her to take up outdoor sports turned into a semi-obsession for both of us now. I see that as a good progress as our running now are not limited to chasing after the kids or walking in the malls. To instill good habit with the kids, we have to show it ourselves to them. Like a very close buddy updated this morning in his Facebook.

"Children listen with their eyes, not ears. So start showing instead of telling"

How true.
Last year wifey managed to get to KM5 with me in tow encouraging her. It was according to her, the "best feeling" ever. Her target this year was to get further than last year, even if that meant an extra step over the 5km mark before being cut-off in 3:30hours.
You see, the whole deal with Kinabalu Climbathon that has made loyal followers is the insane cut off time.
6:30 for Women and Men Veteran and 4:30 for Men Open.
Hence, you have 3:30 to get to the summit or 2:30 if you are men below 40 years old.
24th Climbathon 2010. KM5 @ 3001M above sea level. Can she do better in 2012?
This year, we have many friends attempting it for the first time. Adeline and Mac is just two of them. Powerhouse like Yimster that recently completed two marathon back to back within 24hours were present as well. So was accomplished runner/climber such as Tony Quay, KC Leong, Tey Eng Tiong, Raymond TomatoMan,  Zairin On Nom and humble legend such as Gavin Bong and Ng Seow Kong. Many returned after a year or two hiatus such as Luvis Phuah, Kam Kasturie and Bacin. Newcomer such as Cynthia Gan were there too to experience the absolute best the Mountain would offer. Brave women such as Helly (Zairin's wife), of which always follow and provide moral/presence support to Zairin took up the challenge and trained for the event. Remember - each and every one of them that was there respected the distance.
With so many friends around making part of the 600 strong participants from 40 countries, this Climbathon proves that the pain and suffering (of altitude sickness and walking like a crab the day after) was well worth it - even if it really meant going just ONE step further than last year.
One would be inspired. I know i am.
As with every trip, the excuse to load up a little more than usual plays a part to make the trip a more enjoyable trip. This time around, with Mac and Adeline in the travelling party, things got more fun too.
3Layer Coffee. Essentially Coffee with evaporated milk and unrefined palm sugar.
While really careful about what we put in our mouth and system, we often err on the more oily side. I can't resist a good bowl of noodle. What more if there are seafood as side dishes?
fresh enough, but could be better
The standard of living in Kota Kinabalu is slightly higher than KL. Myself an wifey always tell ourselves that if we are travelling, it is best not to skimp on food. There is only so much we can eat and best that we try to find the best possible within the reasonable price range to feed ourselves. Obviously no spicy food as an upset tummy while running up Kinabalu is not a good thing to happen - more so you will risk getting your butt freezing off, literally speaking.
This time around, we stayed at the Best Western Kinabalu Dayak Hotel. A name that is handful and at RM140/night/room (not inclusive of taxes), it is the best option for 5-star-like comfort with ease of getting to everywhere within walking distance. Definitely more expensive than the usual backpackers' hostel such as the favourite Borneo Backpackers, i always try to ensure wifey to have something close to the best if not the best.
The one day we had in KK was spent mostly at this shop called Tech City. It is essentially an outdoor shop that sell imitation (branded) items, licensed items and many other stuff that will ensure "comfort in the rough" at the backyard of Sabah wild outdoor. Even Luvis and Yim found the place.
Where to start looking?
If you are in KK and love outdoor stuff, drop by TechCity at Jesselton Point. They are open daily from 1030hours to 1930hours. Tell them you found out about this in my blog and they will give you good discount (usually 10% to start with and can be up to 20% depending on your PR skills ;-))
First thing the next morning, it was the early booking of transport to go up to Kinabalu Park courtesy of the organizer. Only catch here is that you must register early or risk not getting a spot. Transport up to the park cost anything between RM30 to RM100 depending on the type of transport you choose (Bus cheapest, private driven car, more expensive).
We initially planned to take the bus up like every year, but a re-calculation to see the possibility of ensuring Mac and Adeline to be able to catch their flight on Sunday says we can't hack it. Only one flight out to Singapore from KK everyday and that meant we need to cancel on the tourism Sabah bus and rent a car.
We managed to secure a brand new Proton BLM at RM140/24hours and with four sharing, the cost is worth the freedom to move from the hostel we will be staying near Kinabalu Park and the convenience of getting to the race start on the daily basis.
Gavin Bong - Accomplished runner/climber/skyrunner. Well done on Boston Qualification!
The drive up to Kinabalu Park from KK takes about 1:40 at a very slow 60km/h pace up the hilly mountain road. It is also an opportunity to stop where the bus won't. Like in Pekan Nabalu for toilet break.
or by the road side to admire the mountainous valley and to try reading Aman Avtar's mind for The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT) 100KM trail run in November, 2011.
According to Aman, you TMBT participants will hike over this peak, down the ridge to get back to Kota Belud. Good luck and happy racing!
We reached the park at about an hour before the Sabah Tourism bus arrived and got the registration done without a hitch. Not many knew that the Sabah Tourism's server crashed and all the previously registered participants database got wiped out. Actually, this happened every year ;-). So, this time around, we registered via hard copy fax and followed up with email. No glitch there! Somehow, i must say that the anxiety of not being able to race should the name wasn't in the registry is pretty daunting.
The Reciept. :) Simple.
Those that did not have their name in the registry can always just re-register again. It is the waiver form tht is the most important to be signed to offload any possible mishap/injury from the organizer. Mac decided to try his luck to register last minute.
Easily the heaviest at the race but braver than those that just talk but did not start. Well done Mac! I know it's for the T-shirt only ;-) 
While we were getting our race kits, we noticed a few professional SkyRunner was in the room too. We did the next most logical thing - get them to autograph our bib!
356 and 069 blessed by King Kilian!
And of course, the compulsory whoring with the superstar.
Keep Smiling Alright!!!
Lucky enough to be in the same Van with Anna Frost and another pro from US.
I must say that these supermen are really humble and has no air about them. Super accommodative and with great PR skills, it's good to see them being cool!. The only biggest differences between them and me is the VO2max as theirs might be easily 30 points more than me. But in the heart, we ALWAYS DO OUR VERY BEST!
Even Mac can't resist to be SuperStar-Strucked. Signed by King Kilian.
The race briefing was done at 1800hours and we returned to the Registration area to look for friends. We were not disappointed as Tony Quay brought along 47 Pacesetter members to brave Climbathon!
Tony will get many Good Karma points for his action. He missed his return flight as he was too busy sorting out every one else's return journey!
With all things sorted, we headed back to D'Villa, which is about 500m away from the Park's entrance towards Kundasang. it is a Hostel styled lodging where each room has 6 double decker to accommodate 12 people. With a shared bathroom and toilet, it could not be everyone cup of tea, but at RM30/night inclusive of a simple breakfast, that is hard to resist.
Thanks Leonard Lim for arranging it for us!
The lodging is sufficient and clean. The food served ala-carte was reasonably priced and the variety and portion is big too. Value for money at 5000 feet. That evening, it rained and the temperature dropped to close to 11 degree where we were and it was not really fun to be in the open eating with the wind and chill blowing.
The humble piping hot Milo never tasted that good. RM2.00/mug
Soon after dinner, we set out to get our race items ready. Adeline's hydration pack had leaks. Not a good sign. But Gavin brought along some medical plaster and that solved the problem. An engineer will be an engineer i would say.
Happy Hamster
Lights off was at 10pm that night and we were awaken by 4am to a simple bread (two slices) and two hard boiled egg breakfast. Sufficient enough with the compulsory hot coffee that help opened the eyelid and warm the tummy on the cold  windy morning. Bliss! We got ready and were at the park by 6am.
With pinkish hue in morning!
We caught up with our buddy Yusran and after a short chat, moved to the starting point of the race. Photos at this point will be limited as i requested to help Mac with the photo taking and i was excited with the D700 and the 24-70 F2.8 lense.
Thank You Tey!
I set out about 30minutes earlier to position myself better to capture the participants racing up.
It turned out that the 30minutes only allowed my fitness to bring me up to KM1.0! With heart rate touching maximum of 180bpm, i was already without my Salomon windcheater and sweating.
So, the rest of this post will be with minimal photos and will be uploaded separately, later.
It took only 5minutes for the top runners to reach where i was. Among the fast one that caught me within 20minutes were the like of Gavin, Yim, Seow Kong, Cynthia, Pui San, Yusran, Adeline, Wifey, Raiha, Helly, Zairin, Tony, Tey and a few others. All in good spirit and in good shape, they are on their way to try reaching the elusive peak!
I tried following them for a few hundred meters and decided to drop back to wait for Mac. While i respected his ability, i told myself that i must look out for him. I know he will too if he is ahead of me. I keep moving slowly and steadily and after at about KM3.5, i called Mac and found out that he is doing great and was at about KM2. Not too Shabby sir!
In about 30minutes later, Mac called to inform me that he is making his way down. Great effort Mac. That 2.5KM is horrendous with that steep climb from KM0.5 to KM1.5!
From there onwards, i race to try catching up with Wifey and the rest. I bumped into Dr. Pui San at KM4 as she decided not to go through the same ordeal as last year where she had to battle her fear of height coming from from Villosa to Layang-Layang. Peppered mainly with rocks and slippery surface, it is easy to see why.
from 2010 Race Report
She told me wifey should already be at about KM5 or beyond. Shifting to higher gear and with about 3kg load on the pouch and the wonderful D700 setup up of about another 3kg, it was sure extra workout i was doing. I managed to reach KM5 in 3:15 and "bluff" my way up and was stopped at KM5.5 by a ranger that was coming down. With Laban a mere 500m away, i had to make my way down to Villosa at KM5. I spent about an hour plus at Villosa chatting with the rangers and taking photographs of friend coming down the misty mountain. It drizzled and the wind was strong. It was cold and my body cool down. I saw Seow Kong, Gavin and Yim amongst the friends i know that made it up to the peak within the 3:30 cut off.
That got to be exhilarating. To be at the peak. Touching the board. Getting your return Band marking 25th Climbathon. This is what this race is all about.
seriously misty, rainy and cold compared to last year!
As wifey made her way down slowly, i found out that Adeline has went beyond Laban Rata and has managed to touch KM7 near Sayat Sayat. She got cut off there. I then saw KC Leong, Tony Quay and a few others as they happily made their way down, knowing that they did better than what they did the previous year.
With water running low, i had to share my water with some of the running friends. The hyperventilation and the cold weather made you dehydrated without you actually knowing it. As they are in a race, i have to share it - it's only fair that way.
Wifey came down about an hour later and we slowly made our way down. Here are some photos taken by her at 11,000 feet, where the weather was better and she was above cloud, literally; both on her achievement and also the bench marked Laban Rata in 3:30. Along with her was Zairin which escorted Helly up and helped to flog wifey to high cloud.
By moving to the right of the board, she effectively went higher than last year!

I am envious and i am happy, proud and amazed by her. Only a year and that 1km distance is a benchmark for more inspiring things to come!
The journey back was long. With the legs tired and the effective 2extra KM that she travelled, she can be forgiven when she start going down the big steps one by one. Adeline caught up with us by KM 1.5 and the three of us made our way down and back to base.
This is the same stairs that the Elite flew down in the previous posting.
By then, i already know Mac is safe and sound back at base camp and the like of Gavin, Yim and Seow Kong has completed their race to be official Finisher. We walked slowly towards Timpohon and the last ordeal was to climb the seemingly endless stairs back to the Gate.
Last Suffer!
As they were already outside of cutoff time by the time they reached Timpohon Gate, a sweeper van took all of us back to the finish line for that last hurrah. They DNF, but there was nothing shy of DNF-ing. This race is a tough race with failure/DNF rate of no less than 75%. Only 100 of the 400 that started reached the peak and of which, less than 80 that managed within cutoff. Those that DNF were awarded a Participant's medal, to reward them for the attempt to complete the race. My hats off to all of them that are official FINISHER and my salute to all of you that had tried.
Reloading after race. Well done!
The next day was my race. Suffice to say, i did not do as well as Wifey. I stopped at KM2.5 with about an hour to cut off to spare. I was awaken up at 3am race morning with gastric. In my tiredness from the hike up to KM5.5 earlier, i managed to pop in two Maalox Plus to control the gastric and caught an extra hour of sleep before waking up to prepare for my own race. Legs were surprisingly fine and strong and i thought i could actually reach Km5 like last year.
My Turn.
At the starting line, i was feeling good as well. Friends of familiar faces helped to contain the nervousness a little bit.
Sharp at 7am, the gun went off and everyone ran towards Timpohon Gate. Wifey, Adeline and Mac was there to see me off. :) I was among the sweeper and has decided to stop at KM2.5 and made my way down slowly to see the Elite run down the stairs.
Did i regret not pushing? Perhaps i did. It is unlike me to quit. But between the tummy and the glory to reach where i was yesterday, i decided that i will save my battle for another day when i am better prepared - lets hope they bring Climbathon back as a Race to the Summit, and not as a pseudo-trail run with the Majestic Kinabalu as the backdrop.
I found this as i was looking at the miniature ferns. Someone from the previous day could had throw it away in frustration as he/she knew he/she won't be able to meet cutoff at the finishing line. For me, this band is a keeper simply because it proved that you have reached the top. While not rightly mine, this band shall be used for future motivation for me to get my own - when there is a race to the summit again.
Until the next Climbathon - all of you movers, shakers, aspirator's, finishers, participants, keep training and keep aiming to better position and faster timing. Lets hope the Race to Summit will happen again!


  1. Excellent report Stupe and I cant help shed a tear or two reliving the memories. Big congrats to you and Aileen too, a step further is definitely a step in the right direction!

    Thanks for the company, the chit chats, banters and for the gulp of water coming down, real life saver that was!!!

    It's a pity this is the last and somehow deep down me secretly, I wished the event will still be there next year. No words can describe the feeling being at the peak caressing and molesting those 2 sign boards :D

    Good going guys!

  2. Yim - my hair still stand whenever i imagine you all touches the two board and get your return band. It got to the a top of the world feeling - literally.

    I hope they bring it back in a year or two and i will promise myself to train hard to be up where not many could go in 3:30 or 2:30 hours!

  3. Awesome race report! It doesn't make up for not actually being there but at least I got to enjoy reading about it!

  4. Gracie - Being there is already an exprience that no words can describe. :)

  5. Just being at the peak already world feeling although I wasn't race on the first day. Too bad they changed the route for next year :(

  6. Kam - and reading your status update on BB while you were on the way up was also exhilarating!

  7. Makes me just want to be there !! Kedai runcit anak Mami hihi ..great report stupe!! Gives an insight and also motivation to others to try ..

  8. Kak June - next year only trail run. No more to the peak. Highest one can go is to layang-layang or Km4. :(

  9. truly inspiring. kalau takde race pon I shall make it up there...one day...in my own sweet time...in a time span of 2days LOL

    if mantat can, i oso can :D

  10. Ezan - we are planning for one trip, hopefully within the next two years to get up to the peak in our own sweet time too... :)

    My only worry is that wifey might make it into a race to see who can run up to Laban Rata faster...ouch.

  11. Thanks for your blog! Inspiring indeed and making me wish I was there! ;)

    Congrats and salute to all whom tried this race. The keyword is always 'try' :D

  12. Jyn - thanks! as a Try-athlete, i constantly try. I never stopped trying and am still doing that.

  13. KLPenguin3 aka Tony QOctober 25, 2011 9:30 PM

    Inspiring write up Stupe... thanks to u and aileen at the airport ..hope Mt KK climbathon will be on in next few years and taqrget to get the wrist band

  14. TonyQ - you are an inspiration at your age bro! I hope i can still race like you at your age!

  15. Excellent report Tristupe! Am truly inspired by ur post! Will definitely not miss out on it next year! Would love to meet u one day too!

  16. Francis - ur too kind with your comments! Hope to see and know you too!

  17. Thanks for all the help Stupe. Knowing that you are around is already a good feeling. I truly appreciate Aileen and your company and it takes a good friend to be so accomodative. For that I am truly blessed to have a friend like you.

    I love the report as it is an accurate recollection of events which brought tears in my eyes. What most people do not see is the amount of sacrifice that you had done for the team, (me, Aileen and Adeline) in making our climb smooth. I also feel like a cheater for bailing out early and not be able to support you climb especially the finishing.

    Should you require any assistance and company in the coming races, please feel free to call on me, and i will do my utmost to support.

    BTW, thanks for bringing me to that shop, it was most enlightning.

  18. TheEditor - you are again too kind with your words and too selfless in your action. I did nothing actually, other than being there with friends and for friends. Of course having you, ade and of course wifey was the boggest bonus.
    Likewise, let me know what i can do and i will do it, because its you that asked!

  19. You really know how to make me "being there" again when reading your report!

    Let's go again next year!

  20. Tomato - u know better than Kinabalu is majestic and has it's charm. I am always in awe of her.