Sabah Adventure Challenge 2012

13 Apr 2012

Sabah is a beautiful country, especially the Mesilau area which is right next to the towering Mt. Kinabalu. The evergreen valley of Mesilau is dotted with kampungs made up of a network of steep & hilly roads, smiley & curious kids and many of natures gifts. This is the setting for the Sabah Adventure Challenge 2012. I took part in the “solo” 60km ultra trail marathon event which requires you to endure 60km of almost unending trails and roads for 2 days, approximately 30km each day, and yes you can rest in between, but one might argue whether it is a good thing or not. The race was made more interesting with the orienteering aspect: You are given a map with some notes and with the help of a compass you will need to find a way to each checkpoint.

The idea to take part in this race came about after Vincent, who I raced with in The North Face (TNF) 100km Duo 2011 Singapore, told me about it enthusiastically. I was quite psyched about it and when I told JJ she was too and that was 6 months before the race day. So began the discussions, planning and training for this race. Finally the race day is here and I am totally distracted with the beauty of this place. JJ and I were put up in the very nice Mesilau Nature Resort at the foot of Mt. Kinabalu about 1800 metres elevation. The resort is almost 3 hours away from Kota Kinabalu and the drive gave me a good chance to see Sabah by car.

Photo of SAC2012 Day1 - Start (Photo is from one of the photographers that we snapping up the action at SAC2012, Rabani Ayub)

There was a lot of energy at the start of Day 1. We were driven to a very beautiful spot with a great view of Mt. Kinabalu to start the race. The race for Day 1 began with a nice downhill. We were going at a nice pace until we hit the river section. At first it was pretty fun and exciting to be in the water. They even selected a section that is rather deep and you had to swim a bit while carefully placed photographers snap your candid moments. The river section was more than 3km and after 2km my feet were quite tired from navigating the rocky river bed. The check point above a bridge was a welcome sight because by then our feet was getting a bit sore. After that the route is pretty much uphill and a very long walk to the finish. I cramped quite badly at the beginning of the last 6km climb to the final checkpoint for Day 1. I was thinking to myself how I could push further but with some motivation from JJ I managed somehow. The cramps were manageable to an extent by changing my gait slightly. Eventually I completed the race for Day 1 in about 7 hours and 22 minutes, though I can’t say it was without a hitch.

Photo of SAC2012 Day 1 - River Photo of SAC2012 Day 1 - Steep Finish

On the ride home and also during dinner I was thinking about my cramps, the muscle soreness and about a full day of running tomorrow. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if I am able to run tomorrow. I remembered my condition the next day after TNF 100km Duo 2011 Singapore (which is a 50km race) and I could barely walk. After the race briefing though I felt a bit more positive about tomorrow because it seems there are less uphills except the last section. JJ and I were discussing about this more and she said it is better to race anyway and DNF (runners speak for “did not finish”) if we really can’t continue. I agreed with her and with that in mind we went to bed in preparation for tomorrow. The next day, my muscles definitely felt stiff and the area that my muscles cramped felt quite sore. After breakfast, I felt a bit better as I got to move around a bit more to flex my muscles. As we boarded the bus to head to the start point for Day 2 my mind wander to think about yesterday.

Photo of SAC2012 Day 2 - Happy Start

Day 2 started in relatively good spirits as we could start running at an okay pace. The roads at the beginning were not that nice but at least it is not very steep. Soon we hit some trails and the ground was softer to run on and we got a bit more shade from the sun. The first section loops back to almost the starting point and we entered this kampung which is where we met a pack of angry dogs, about 6 of them. We didn’t back down and moved forward slowly until we are out of their area of influence. It was quite a tense moment as they might have bitten us. After that we encountered a group of buffaloes with a very anxious mother who is safeguarding her child. We had to stay away until the group left. The place we are in now is an area meant for buffaloes with an intricate network of trails and rather beautiful landscape, quite different from the other trails we’ve been to so far. Lucky for us this part of the trail has been marked and we just need to look for the red ribbons. Soon we reached the last 7km section which is a 3.5km hike up to a waterfall and back to finish line of the race. I was quite anxious throughout the whole climb up as I was quite worried that my cramps would haunt me again. I did it at a slow pace to avoid any cramp attacks. I was quite motivated by the people I met who were on their return trip as a few of them told me to hang on as there is just a bit more to go. Finally I reached the top and the waterfall was quite a lovely sight. The waterfall is quite tall and it helped provide a nice cooling breeze so I rested and stretched for a while before I headed down. JJ was ahead of me and I didn’t manage to catch up to her as she was going at a good pace both uphill and downhill. I sprained my foot one time on the climb down and almost fell but somehow found a stable footing and avoided a crash. And on another occasion at a river crossing, my ankle or foot cramped (can’t remember exactly) and almost lost my step and I would have fallen into river. Phew! Again another close encounter. As I was completing the final stretch my pace improved and I finished with high spirits in about 6 hours and 32 minutes. It was definitely a good way to end the race.

Photo of SAC2012 Day 2 - Buffalo Trail Photo of SAC2012 Day 2 - Waterfall

I learned a lot about myself by participating in this race and I also got the opportunity to meet with the trail running and adventure racing community in Malaysia and in the region. I am definitely looking forward to the next race by the Sabah Adventure Challenge team and more trail runs in the future. Many thanks to Aman, Claus, Dr. Sidhu and their team for making this a really good event. I am hooked!

If you would like to learn more about the Sabah Adventure Challenge, check out their main website for their events and also follow updates on their Facebook page.

Here is a news article about a brief review of the race.

NOTE: Photos are sourced from Kian Chong, one of the SAC2012 participant’s public Facebook photo album (day1, day2) of the race from his perspective. I have to say that his photos document the race quite well.

UPDATE: Seems one of the participants, Abdul Haris compiled the results and blogged it. His blog post is quite long and pretty descriptive of what happened throughout the 2 days. And many thanks to him to link back to my blog post. By the way, I took his PDF and converted it into a Google Docs spreadsheet, so that it is easier to view and compare the data. So here it is, if anyone is interested: SAC2012 60KM Ultra Trail results.

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