Friday, April 25, 2014

SAC Day 1 : 15th Anniversary Race

7 Days since Sabah Adventure Challenge. This year's theme were the same as last year's "Long Live The Brotherhood". Perfectly good as the race is all about "togetherness".
SAC is a race that I've done 3-times. Once as part of a 2-men Adventure team and twice with my wife, in the Ultra trail category. 2014 marks the 15th Anniversary of the race; and many I know has "walk down the SAC path". 
I have no regret doing it in 2011, 2013 and now, 2014. Made a lot of new friends and often inspired by how they take lemon (or in this case, unpredictable race route year in and year out) and made lemonade out of it. This is my Sabah Adventure Challenge, SAC, race report. Like last year, it is only apt that I break the report to each individual day because each day is unique. Here goes.
Race Registration
The format this year changed slightly where the participants come in late a day before the race and only mobilise to race site the morning of the race. That has actually allowed myself and wifey to fly in the day before instead of two days earlier.
On the way to BKI (Kota Kinabalu)
Similar to last year, the Sutera Harbour came in to support the race and the race pack registration was at their auditorium situated in the Marina. classy place for a rugged race.
MIni gathering of racers
Registration was fast - indemnity form, handing over of copy of IC and insurance, event t-shirt from 2ndSkin and race numbers, including baggage tag. No frill and that was all that was needed and given.
Next up, the race briefing
SAC has always pride itself as a race that has been organised by a group of dedicated (and bordering crazy) people and the focus has always been the "race experience". 
Briefing starts!
Day 1 was introduced by Klaus and Aman. All participants were glued to the screen, understanding the turn by turn, elevation by elevation explanation - and I know many of us would not be able to remember most of the route, which was declared as 33km for Day 1.
"and CP1 here, we serve roast monitor lizards"
And of course, the approx 1200m elevation gain.
"careful of that drop there, we placed angry chickens at the bottom"
By the way, those captions above are just for fun. But the chickens are real. :)
I think they scared some of us instead.
The briefing ended soon after and we all went back to our respective hotels and prepare for the next day. ETD to race site will be at 5am. The bus ride to race start takes approximately 3hours and last race preparation ends at bout 11.30pm that night. Very little window for error in the prep!
Day 1 : The Race Begin
4am and we were up for final prep before heading to the bus and to the race site. The 3-hours journey was spent sleeping in the bus. Much needed.
A quick breakfast on board the bus before snoozing...
The bus stopped for a pee-stop and that was when I realised my Camelbak hydration bladder was leaking. First roadblock of the day and a crucial one. Quickly removed to assess the damages and found a small leak at the top of the pack near the twist opening. This hydration bladder is 12 years old mind you. Served me really well. Lucky for me, I have back up plan in form of 2-Podium bottles (Camelbak water bottle) and that would be sufficient for me to use and compensate for the liquid loss, or how much I can carry (max 2liters instead of 3liters) for the race.
As there were nothing much to worry about the leak, we went back up to the bus and continued our journey there.
Actually, we are still sleepy
The start for this year's race was at Kampung Marakau, Ranau. 
Gonna be a hot day!
Upon signing in, we all moved to the nearby community hall for one last briefing. It was also toilet break and opportunities for all to take photos.
And this marked the start of many more groupfies...
I believe there are feeling of uncertainties in the air as most of us know what can happen in SAC based on past experiences. It is a race full of surprises and some may think a 33km "run" can be completed in 4hours max of average paced running; true if you are doing a road run. Not true if you are in SAC and in the rugged Sabah.
Just some of the participants (and Nasier the photographer)
Loading up on secret liquid before race starts
With Doc Dev and Aman, Always in sight of the racers
With Kam. 2nd time in SAC for him
The beautiful kinabalu was in the background the race morning,  before the morning midst that comes circa 9am sweeps in to cover the mighty mountain.
SAC x 2 for wifey
Race was flagged off soon after. We all know there is a climb ahead with elevation gain close to 800m over the first 5km. Everyone knows to conserve energy as the day promises to be long and hot.
Everyone's hand on their GPS devices as Aman (with heller) count down
 The race started and it was a climb immediately. There was little mercy and this section will separate the strong and the average. The front pack took off and we lost them by the first turning uphill.
You can already see the elevation gain at start

And suddenly you see the Mountain behind at higher vantage point, Take note of the small square signage below, that was just how far we went for this elevation gain
Many started walking, as that was the wisest thing to do. KM1 done.
The first portion of the race was almost a neverending climb. Often, I ask those around me to look behind, as the view was awesome.
So is the view up in the sky...HOT day ahead
Almost at the peak of the climb
Still can run, geng!
The strong ladies from PGiTD
even a 4wd spew smoke as it climbs up the hill
The body position tells how the climb was...
The climb finally comes to an end, and that signify another portion of the race where you need to jog and scramble down the steep declines. With gravel road, it is difficult to run/keep running without the risk of falling. One must (tip) tilt the body 45deg sideway and move down. This allow for a more controlled descent and save the calves, hamstrings and toes from too much hammering.
Loose gravels breaks havoc to your feet
Wifey then told me she may have a blister forming. As we were near to CP1, that would be a good spot to treat it before it turns nasty.
 The sight of the first Checkpoint (CP) for SAC2014 was a very welcomed sight. We went over to check in and wifey treated her blisters with the help from the medic.
the 5mins spent to fix the hotspot is worth 5hours of pain later
From CP1, we headed to CP2, which passes through a local's home. I sat there for a few minutes chatting with him and his dog (which sound more ferocious that he really is)
He said he was happy to see so many passing his home
We emerged pass a shop/warong. It just opened for business. I forsee a few people stopping for a drink.
Tuumbayaan bah!
One of the key highlight of SAC is always visiting small kampung that no tourist will be able to see. You just never know how other live - and that is how we forget what we have at home. Gratitude aplenty from races like these!
Heading towards the river crossing
Kampung Sedul 2
Soon, we arrived at the first river crossing at the end of Kampung Sedul. Between the worn out hanging bridge and the river...the choice was obvious. I took the photo below from the top of the hanging bridge.
Imagine raining season where the water rises up another meter
The bridge condition - dangerous looking. Aren't you glad the concrete bridge you use to cross the small monsoon drain is in way better condition that the one below?
We continued onwards after the river and arrived at another kampung.
All in one line now.
The locals are always friendly. Can't resist a photo with them. :)
They are so amused with outsiders passing their kampung
Then we arrived at a second river...and found Rosli dipping to have his lunch!
Hello sir! (ps - yes, that chap behind there, yes...)
Then the route to the next CP was another climb over gravel road, just more gentle and appeared to finished faster. Perhaps we have all gotten used to the "distance".
Noon and the sun blazing down. See the short shadow on the ground
CP2 was where the Adventure racers drop off their bikes and head to CP3 before coming back to CP4 (which is CP2) and ride off. For us the Ultra Trail runners (or walkers), CP6 is ahead to your left in the photo below.
Adventure racers run downhill for tubing
We entered a section of trail and the shades under the trees offered good coverage from the afternoon sun
Local land. Need to respect!
And I've made a new friend. His cow did not fear me coming close; in fact, i got scared and moved away!
Hello! (you looked delicious medium rare)
The trail then moves into a bamboo forest. Always love bamboo forest. There is something mythical and magical about how they stretch high up and falls softly over the head.
Out of the trail, we were back onto the plantation ground. Young rubber trees and undulating terrains returned to greet us. Check the rolling hill below. Does scare the wits out of us sometimes.
All that is missing is a skateboard so you can roll down...not!
The best thing about SAC is the view. This is a panoramic view of one clearing we landed. The route goes from right to left, and the middle is what you see, as far as you can see!
Enlarge to view the effect

The rugged Land Below The Wind
The route that was taken/used for this race are what and how the local travel in the interior of Sabah. Nothing fancy and the road gravel condition will break even the hardiest vehicle suspension. There is no doubt why 4wd remains the main mode of transport in Sabah interior and why the roadtax is cheap for this purpose. However, not many can afford these luxuries, and for most of them, they never leave the village they grew up in, until opportunity arise later in life (for work or studies, if they made it there)
Sunny day in Sabah. The could offer some coverage for us under the sun
CP7 was the shortest route we need to take on Day 1. And it also mark the start of a longish 800m trekking in the river. Many that did not read the instruction, or have bad judgement of distance and their moving pace end up missing the critical turn off and path out of the river.
The wet fun begin!
The race organiser actually spelt out the direction clearly in the guidance and map. Just that when some are tired, they tend to miss out clues. One must always be on the look out. Can you spot the tell tale sign that this is indeed the route the organiser wants you to take?
Spot it?
Some part of the river were dry due to the current dry season. I am glad for that. Won't be fun to be walking upstream for 800m at knee length deep.
The shade was a welcomed hiding place from the heat
The river cooling
After about 800m, the direction said to "look for the river confluence and turn left, walking 50m and arrive at CP6. Instruction very clear. But some went walking straight and lost some time there.
Spot the tell tale sign again? Notice the stones stacked next to my .com? It is also at the top pic before entering the river section. One must learn to read these signage when outdoor
CP8 was in sight and we did not waste too much time moving forward. it was already a hot afternoon and will only get hotter. Bracing for all possible heat coming.
Hello CP8!
Big tall 4wd. Like!
Despite coming out of the river where it's cooler, the temperature was on the high 37deg C. However, I noticed I wasn't really bothered by the heat. Could be the exposure a week before during Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya.
no wonder it felt like someone is hugging you whole day long. 37 Deg C out of the river!
The journey to CP9 was one where many of us already felt tired and low on energy. We then chance upon a big climb while talking and moving. Not knowing if the climb will be long or short, we decided to take a break and rest before the climb - while waiting for the next batch of participant to join us for the walk up. It was also there I got to know Kam's friend, Hanif.
doesn't look steep from here
until you zoom in to see the body position of each participants
We arrived at a paddy field to be greeted by a family with eager kids. I forgot to bring some sweets to share with them. Must make mental note for next year.
Always smiling!
I then noticed that they local improvised ropes and bamboos to use as a scarecrow system. Basically, there is a bamboo system with plastic bag at the end, and a rope that goes to the same spot where the farmer can tug and pull to make it move.
Ropes, Bamboo and Plastic.
Here is the "control centre"
:D A hut at the far end of the field.
The last portion of CP9 was dusty and longish. Some orientation needed especially after the last bridge crossing where some turn left instead of right towards CP9.
Catching up with those that got "lost"
CP9 has a sponging station where we managed to cool down with water over our head. Awesome.
Mandi station
Every water station has a medical van where a designated doctor were placed to attend to any emergencies. For these type of heat and race, that were comforting to know.
Hanif - cam whoring. :D
CP9 is where the Mamut mine site office situated. The signage was so rusted it took me two look to see what it was. Apparently, Day 1 had us running around the mine area. Thanks for the permission!
The site office main gate
From there onwards, we crossed the road and headed to CP10. We all know there is one more climb to go. And ahead of us was a hill in sight...and participant flocking to a house by the roadside...
Must be something ahead...
A local convenient store that has ICE CREAM, among other food. But it was the cold Popsicle that had many of us screaming like small kids. 
Lime Vanilla ice cream stick. Yummeh! Thanks Hanif for the treat!
The ice cream never tasted better
It's not a high-end ice cream, but it was definitely a divine intervention and forced us to rest that critical 5minutes in the comfort of a building and away from the sun - until we finish eating the ice treat.
I bet the shop sold off what could be once-replenished-every-6-months stock!
The sun was blazing down mercilessly and the hike over the open trail slowly force many along the way up to rest and hide under whatever shades they could find.
Likely the first gate we have to open and close back (or slide open/close) during SAC2014
The sky in the photo below may look overcast, but look at the shadow at Hanif's feet and you will realise just how high the sun is on our head.
Hanif calling for backup?
The climb over the last hill (for the day, we hope) took many by surprise as the heat climb to 41deg C on my Garmin. Again, I did not feel the heat. I actually wished it was hotter!
It was amusing to see three person hiding under a baby palm oil tree.
Sam. I can see through that eyes it's you
The scenery gets better the higher we climb
The one interesting portion of Day 1 was walking through the overgrown pathway where the grass is taller than you. 
Hot day!
We passed the top of the hill soon after. Check out the view from this spot below.
You could get lost in this tall grass field
Did i mentioned it was hot? We caught up with many along the way. Trying to hide from the sun. Any sort of opportunity to keep cool and stay cool were taken. Even if it was for 2-minutes.
Bad camo bro. :)

Yeap, the elevation was a contributing killer for Day 1 as well
Alas, you got to the top of the hill climb and was rewarded with the sight of mountains as far as the eyes could see.
It was then undulating towards CP10. With the side path being shrouded with some trees, offering some cover from the heat. 
Locals are often confused why we choose to walk this far
And the occasional river or water point created by the locals from the mountain were used as a cooling off point. Cold water brings the heart rate down and it relaxes us along. By this point, we were nearing the 7hours mark of the race and the last final sector will still be bright.
Cooling off.
The motivation for Day 1 is to finish while it's still daylight. Wifey hates the dark and we need to keep moving to escape the darkness. One would think a powerful headlamp will help, in my experience, your brightest will only be the dimmest in a totally dark interior of Sabah. You will not see beyond 5meters ahead. 
When you are tired, any elevation gain is a climb. This, last climb. Hopefully.
And right after the small climb, CP10!
The last sector back to Poring Hot Spring will be a short trail and gravel road. less than 4kilometers away. The heart want to run, the legs say "wait". 
OK. Now my shoes are dirty...
The trail section at the end of Day 1 continue to offer good protection from the sun. 
Hurry hurry now darling!
More so when surprises lurks at one corner in the form of a diverted water from a river to a junction box where the local draws water for their use at home.
Easy does it now...
Cooling river water splashing and cleaning the dirty Skechers GoRunUltra
Home run soon
We got out of the last junction and turn left, walked about 500m and were headed into the finishing line for Day 1. 
500m more!
Sightseeing walk to finish for Day 1
It was a welcomed sight. Daylight still, and bonus is that we are still feeling very strong to take on Day 2.
Day 1 8Hours 26mins. DONE!
The earlier finisher were back and already setup their tents. It will be night under the stars!
Day 1 Data
Total for Day 1 was 36.29km (briefing was 33km) over 8hours 24mins. Elevation total was 1280m. 
My Garmin Fenix captured all datas by kilometer, but failed to capture any map/route until KM30. I am a bit upset with that actually. 
I brought along the new Forerunner FR220 to be tested and it provided more data sets, except the battery did not past the 6hours 30mn mark.

Day 1 Debrief
Lesson learnt from Day 1 :
1. Be prepared for eventuality, in this case the leaking hydration bladder. I am happy I brought along two Camelbak bottles that served as back up. Having bottles allow an extra degree of freedom to mix sports drinks and electrolyte the way I see fit. The hydration bladder can store clean water for drinking or for emergencies. For that, I am comfortable to downsize to a 2-liter hydration bladder to minimise the weight.
2. Stay out of the sun as much as you can. Walk in the shadow of trees or bushes. Whenever possible, drench yourself in river. Don't worry, in the heat of Sabah, you be dry before you arrive at the next checkpoint.
3. Ensure sufficient fuel and nutrition. Hammer Nutrition was my top choice/brand. For this race, we religiously took 2tabs of Endurolyte to counter electrolyte lost through heavy sweating and 1tab of Anti-Fatigue that really did help. The Perpetuem Solid was a joy to eat. I brought along some snacks as well to take away the boredom of eating race food. Raisins, nuts, cranberries were superb mood-elevator. I brought along two Hammer Bar and shared them out. Some lucky participants got to share that with us and agree how nice it tasted. 
4. Fix your blister as it forms. By the time it goes full blown, it's too late!
Klaus returning after sweeping the course. Racers need to come back to rest as most staying in the tents.
The Day 2 race briefing took place at about 9.30pm. Everyone was anxious of the Day 2 program. At that point of time, it is obvious that everyone knew it will be a tougher day than Day 1. 
Listening attentively to Aman's briefing
Klaus returned from his sweeping duties and went straight to share the Day 2 route. There are a few critical junctions that are not to be missed. I made mental note and ensure I remember them all. Getting lost is easy, making up the time lost will be tough. More so if the wrong direction taken brings you all the way downhill, only to see you climbing up again.
Remember this location. Turn RIGHT!
Soon after, it's lights off for many. 

Unknown and unknown
It was a full day for the race Marshall and volunteers too. They in return get a bit more luxury sleeping in the hall of the dorm room with fans. 
Good night!
That is all for Day 1. Hope this gave a good insight to what the Day 1 of SAC 2014 15th Anniversary was like. Somehow, I did not feel burn or effected by the heat. I secretly wished for a hotter Day 2. 

Yes, that's just me wishing.
Next : SAC Day 2!


  1. No shot of your tent?? ;)) totally empathise with you that map route wasn't captured completely

    I still can't understand why anyone would wish for a hotter day while covering such distances over such elevation!

    1. we stayed in the dorm. Wasn't prepared for the tent-out :(

  2. Day 1 heat is still OK. . Day 2 is the real killer !!!!... ; p

  3. Great write-up! Enjoyed reading your accounts of the race.