Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Toughest Mountain Race In The World

I have accomplished the mission by racing in the 20th Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon 2006, rated by some as the toughest mountain race in the world. I reached the 4095m summit in 3hr44min, 14min off the qualifying time of 3hr30min for the Veteran Category. I made the descent in about 3hr05min, and completed the whole race in 6hr49min, 19min off the qualifying time of 6hr30min, and recorded my first DNF ever. Yes..Did Not Finish (DNF)...as long as the qualifying time was not met, we were termed as DNF...Only about 40% of the participansts complete the race within qualifying time...thats how tough it was...hmm. However, I was happy to have completed the race, and was allowed to summit (since I was at the final cut-off before the time was up).

Team NTUC did very well, with Yulan, David and Sim summit-ing and completing the race in regulation time for each of the Women's Open, Veteran and Men's Open categories. The rest of the 5 team members of Timothy, Henry, Roland, Hee Sheng ad Rodney all did their best climbs too. We were a happy team. Thanks to the great support and cameraderie provided by the NTUC Club management who put together a 10-man entourage to go along with the participating team. Met lots of elite sky runners, the incredulous Ricardo, the sleek Czech lady champion, Anna, and the sky running teams from Spain, Italy, France...and many superb mountain runners from Japan, Nepal, and even from Kenya.

Pre-Race (Mt. Kinabalu Park)

We arrived to The Rose Cabin, the lodge we stayed at when we last went to MK in July for the prelim training. Other than the nine runners, we had a team of NTUC managers...Mr. Ang, Jane, Yusof, Lingam, Hamidah, Carmen, Imelda and press people from Radio News (Jeremy) and the Malay media (saiful). We checked into Rose Cabin, after a direct flight into Sabah, and a 2-hour coach journey. I was pretty smooth. We got changed, and went down to Mt. Kinabalu Park at about 3pm to register. There were a larger list of participants this year, and we understood that the MK Climbathon was into its final year with the SkyRunner World Series, and would have to re-bid for another 5-year term after that. After registration, we went down to the offcial start point, a few hundred metres to Tipohon Gate, for a series of photo-taking with our press photographer. We attended the Race Briefing conducted by Balwant Singh, Race Director at 6pm, and watched a series of very interesting videos of past year's runs. We had an early dinner, and after a pep-talk by Yuosf and Hamidah, retired early to bed at 9pm. As usual, I could hardly sleep in a foreign bed, and stayed mostly awake till dawn.

Race Day 1 (Men's Veteran, Women's Open)

I awoke at 4.45am, put on the long-sleeve dri-fit shirt with another running singlet on top, showing clearly the bib no. Took raisin bread, downed with hot coffee, and away we went to the start point. The weather was nice, and at the start point, many of the international women's and Men's Veteran runners were gathered. After our numbers were called out by the Organizer, and attendance taken, Yulan, DO and myself did a brief warm-up. At 7am, the race started. I hoped I brought enough fuel for the day in my fuel belt. The front elites immediately dashed for Tipohon Gate, while I joined the mid-pack at a slower-pace. Once past Tipohon Gate, it was down the flights of stairs, across Carson Falls, and the start of the action...a series of climbs that will stretch 5km to Laban Rata, taking about 2hours. The beginning pace was a tad fast, and I was trying not to go too fast lest lactic acid built up too fast. There was a bit more space this time. As I past the 1km mark, I found myself pacing along with this triathelete, whom I found out later was Wendy, and also another 2 male participants. We were toing-fro-ing for most of the next 2-3km, before they moved ahead of me. I guess I sarted off too fast and was paying the price (panting).

The legs were feeling fine, and I wasn't sure when I passed Layang Layang Hut. Still, it was smoother as I moved near to Laban Rata, and I reached in about 2hrs. Someone was clapping and cheering me on...heh, it was Lingam, our trainer, who had gone up the previous night with the press photographer to capture us doing the race...nice. After acknowledging Lingam, I moved on quickly past the gate into the flight of stairs to Sayat Sayat hut. I had recovered by then, and with my relatively strong cardio, I was able to overtake a few people along this stretch. It didn't feel as hard as when I went for the recce. Just as I was doing that, the leader of the Women's, Anna was dashing back, followed by the Men's veteran ang-moh. Then there were 3 more gal runners...wow, they were FAST! Already touched the summit, and on their way down....WOW! I meandered out from the long flight of stairs, onto the rocks and pebbles, and then to the granite slab surface. I overtook a few more along the way, and finally hit the ropes (literally) and manouvered to Sayang Sayang Hut in about 2hr30min. I was still feeling good, as I moved past the gate and into new territory (I did not past this point during the July prelims/recce). Along the way, I could see more elites and Sky Runners bounding and leaping down...waah...these were real mountain runners, like mountain goats jumping about...*kudos*

As I past the check points, I noticed the marshalls recording down our bib nos. and timings. I was given 3hr30min to reach the summit, and when the time is up, participants would be turned back and disqualified if they have not reached. I went to the 7.5km mark, and was faced with quite a steep slope. No problem..I started to walk up. I saw Wendy and the few other guys who broke away from me just in front....Great, I had caught up. After a short while, I was seized with cramps in my quads...first left leg, and then the right...Yikes! What a time to get cramps (Later found out that it could be the cold winds that were the cause). I persisted and went on, occassionally stopping to massage my legs. That slowed me down, and I met another Singaporean, Steven (a trifam guy) at that point. He too was trying to make the summit within the time, but was catching his breath. I was about 30min from the summit, and there was another 1km or so. I was looking out for DO and Yulan, whom I knew was ahead. Soon, I spotted DO running down...he had touched the summit early...yeah! DO said that I was close, but I told him I had cramps and he recommended I take a powergel. I moved on after taking a Gu gel, but damn....left my glove behind. It was cold, maybe about 5deg up there, and I trudged towards the summit. I reached the 8.2km mark with about 15min to spare, and then saw Yulan coming down. She was happy, and old me that I was just very close. With my frozen legs, I struggled along, at least passing the final cut-off point. I was allowed to summit, and finally touched the 'plate' at Low's Peak in 3hr44min. The marshall recorded the timing, and I had some photos taken by an official photographer....hopefully, he will send me the photos...haha.

I was elated to have summitted. I was off the official time by 14min, and didn't think too much about making up for it. I was chatting and encouraging the final few who were summit-ing, until it became a little crowded. Then I decided to move back down, and after getting some more cramps at the hamstrings and claves area, it dawned on me that I could make up the shortfall by recovering on the down-slopes, which I was given 3hours. I had wasted at least 30min!! I quickly set my watch to 2hrs, to reach down, leaving another 30min for the 4km run from Topohon Gate. I picked up speed and started to run down to the 7.5km area, and then to Sayat Sayat Hut. I was feeling quite good. When I hit the Sayat stairways, I was surprised to see 2 guys who had summited earlier than me...that meant I had caught up some. They mentioned their knees were feeling the strain, and would be slow. I moved on and then saw Wendy, the malaysian triathelete. She told me she decided not to summit and she was showing symptoms of hypothermia (too cold that one's heart can get 'cramps' and die). She told me that one person just died from hypothermia at last year's Climbathon05.....*sweat*. No wonder she turned towards the support tentages at the 8km mark for food and hot drinks. On the descent, she was also cautious since she was not going for any timing...she would try again next year, she said. I took off again from Laban Rata, and met with Lingam and our photographer. Lingam congratulated me on my summit-ting, while the photographer snapped away. I continued my way, and was feeling good. I had 2 more hours from that point. It was smooth-going until I hit the 4km mark. The long series of down the stairs and rocks were taking its toll on my legs. I felt tired, and I felt irritated by the countless stairs I had to get down. In what seemed like eternity, I reached the 2km mark with about 1hr to go. I knew then that I would probably miss the 6.5hr mark. I continued to push on, and after much 'mindless' stairs climbing down (it was a wonder my knees held up), I reached Carlson Falls and then Tipohon gate. A check of the time showed it was 6hr25min. I would not make the cutoff. I could finish the whole race, no doubt. I ran the final 4km downslope tarmac road in what will be a 'crawling' speed. My legs hurt from the downslopes. With about 400m to the finish, I spotted DO waiting in front...he cheered me on, and as I turned the bend, the whole NTUC contingent cheered me to the finish line, where I received my finisher's medal. It was great to have the whole team cheer me, and I was relieved and happy to finish the entire race in one piece...hehe. After many congratulatory handshakes, the news people did a short interview with me to enquire if I was disappointed. To be honest, I was happy to have summitted, as that was the objective I set for myself. Though I was close to completing the race in 6hr30min, I knew I had done my best, and I would just take that as a good first experience, my first experience in a mountain race, what more one of the World's Toughest! When the dust settled, and I had a good lunch, I was happy to hear the David and Yulan came back below 6hours...wow, these regular training kakis of mine did really well, and I was proud and happy for them. Roland and Rodney, my other team-mates for the Vereran did reach to Sayat Sayat Hut and they too were happy with their longest distance achieved.

Race Day 2 (Men's Open)

I did sleep a little this time, and awoke to aching quads and calves. I was reliefed that my race was over. The weather was wet and rainy. It was time for me to join the rest to support our Men's Open participants; Sim, Timothy, Hee Sheng and Henry. At the start point was the reigning champion, Ricardo Mejia from Mexico, a veteran runner competing in the Men's Open...*salute*. A few of us watched the men from Tipohon Gate and had a chance to see the elites 'flying' down the stairs...it was an awesome sight. Yulan took some nice photos. DO, Jane and myself went down to Carlson Falls just to have a short recovery and to show Jane parts of the route we took. After breakfast, we were back at the finish line at about 9.30am, to await the arrival of the leaders. There were 'live' commentaries along the way, and we heard that the local Malaysian champion was leading Ricardo, although Ricardo had summit-ted first in 1hr44min (just look at that....I was not even at Laban Rata yet...hehe). Lots of local supporters were at the finish line cheering. In the end, Ricardo did emerge first, as he overtook the Malaysian in the final 500m road run stretch...a dramatic finish. Third was a Malaysian too. The Japanese came in 4th with a bad injury, and Spain was fifth. I had fun watching the top 10 finsihers. We later heard that Sim was the only one in our team who summitted, and was just 7min off the mark. However we were confident with his speed, Sim could make up for lost ime on the down stretch. The rains came, and poured heavily after the arrival of the first 5 winners. Sim finally came back within the cutoff time, and we were all so happy. The rest of the runners in our team came back shortly.

After some more interviews and meeting of friends we made on the course, we all attended the Prize-Presentation Ceremony. It was a buffet spread, and we were entertained with song and dance. It was great fun to see the various teams in their very nice attire, especially the European Sky Running teams. The Nepalese with the British Royal Army based in Brunei was there too, as were the Cebu Sky Runners. It was one of the best prize-presentation ceremonies for a race I've attended thus far.

We were all very happy to have 3 members of the team completing within regulation time, which far exceeded many people's expectations. It was a good result for all, and we had a nice BBQ celebration in the night. It was a great experience for all, and especially for me (who had not even climbed a mountain other that Bukit Timah Hill prior), to have raced and completed this tough mountain race. In the course of it, I had shared many moments over the 5month training period with the team and the NTUC Club Sports&Wellness Managers, and will recall with fond memories how I trained, sweat, and made it with the team. I am sure it will not be the end of our co-operation, and as its always true for me, The Journey Itself Is The Reward!

Photos & Articles will be appended as they are received....watch this space for them!

Lessons learnt

In addition to the common tips and recommendations for this mountain race, like AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), I did have my personal oberservations and lessons learnt from this Climbathon:

1. Wear skin-fit type of clothing, best to cover arms and most sections of the legs... the cold winds blowing could trigger off cramps easily, which was what happened to me. Cramps and seizure in the upper body could lead to hypothermia, causing death

2. Proper fuelling is a must, and bring double the dosage of fuel one would prepare for a full marathon. The first 45min of stairs-climbing would drain off most people's glygogen.

3. Hydration will be provided in the form of mineral water, which when drunk too much, can lead to 'washing-off' of minerals and salts from the body. Bringing isotonic concentrate along will be very useful.

4. A strong cardio base will be essential for a easy summit to the top. It will allow us to breathe easier as we manouvre the thinner O2 levels at higher altitudes. Strong quads and calves will also be necessary as there are lots of stairs (mostly high) to climb and step-up to. Upper body strength will be useful as there will be lots of pulling with the arms on ropes, and stair rails to aid climbing up.

5. Training for the Climbathon will best be done on a x-country terrain with stairs/slopes/rocks eg. parts of Bukit Timah Reserve. Training for going down the mountain will be in the areas of agility and light-footedness.

6. We noticed that the elie and experienced racers have a technique off 'putting their hands on their knees, and stooping low' when climbing steeper sections of the mountain. This could be one of the techniques to allow quicker ascent, and is worth considering to acquire

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At 7:54 PM, Blogger WeeSan said...

it was a good effort and race nontheless!!! well-done! :)

At 9:59 AM, Blogger drizad said...

Congratulations! Very nice commentary report on your experience.
I will make sure that every http://www.mount-kinabalu-borneo.com reader read about your story!


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