It’s been troubling times as I’m sure many readers are aware. Covid19 has amongst many things, wrecked travel plans, events and races all over the world. Many races in the region had been cancelled or postponed. Translantau, 9 Dragons, even Sundown Marathon, to name a few.
In spite of all that, I had other pressing issues at hand; work. I was helping to run a work event that week, albeit with restrictions. It meant that I could only fly into Kota Kinabalu on Friday, which was cutting it close. But I was running the 50km race, so it was doable from a scheduling perspective.
Upon arrival, we went straight to the race expo to collect our race packs and see what’s on offer. There, we met up with Paviter, who had arrived a day earlier.
We didn’t hang for long at the expo and was keener at dropping off our bags at the hotel and getting food. I had a quick chat with Vlad Ixel who was also running the 50km, before leaving.
After checking in to our rooms, we went to find food. We headed to a nearby Italian restaurant that I patronised at TMBT, as it was the most convenient. It was quiet and had a pretty good menu.
A routine stopover at the 7-11 next door, and we were back at our rooms to freshen up and pack for the race.
Unlike TMBT last year, the bus pickup time was at 3:45 am instead of 3:00 am. Thanks to Ben for pointing it out, so we could sleep just a little bit more. Unfortunately for me and Jiong, who roomed in together, our room was next to the main road. The noise from those aftermarket exhausts from vehicles passing through every 15-20 minutes kept us awake almost the whole night. Sleep was nearly impossible.
After a quick breakfast, we met downstairs and walked over to the pickup point just across the road. After an hour-long bus ride, we arrived at the start area. All runners had their temperature before registration.
After registration and depositing our drop bags, we walked over to the start line. Along the way, I bumped into Beh, a friend I met at my very first ultra at the Sabah Adventure Challenge in 2013. He was doing the 100 miler! I wished him luck before continuing rejoining the group.
After the usual pre-race announcements, the race began at about 6 am. All categories started together except the 30 km runners.
I started out conservatively being the mid-packer that I’ am. But early on, my right glutes got quite tight from the early climbing. I was concerned about it, but as the first hour passed it became less of an issue. The weather on the first two climbs was surprisingly cool and windy so I ran reasonably well through the second climb.
By about 11 am the weather got really hot and I knew it was going to get worse. Occasionally I would glance on my watch and see 36 to 38 degrees celsius registering on my watch. It was a scorching kind of heat that you could feel through your bones. If there is no shade, you’re pretty much exposed to it, especially the partially shady climbs that lead into the forest.
Along the way, I just had to take some rest stops during the climbs. But I spent probably 5 to 10 minute or so each time and got up quickly to continue moving. The sections leading into W9 and W10 were physically draining for me.
But throughout the race, villagers had set up little shops selling drinks to passing runners. I think without them, most of us runners would have had an even harder time running the race. Considering the checkpoints were spaced out between each other and the heat of the day made it further than it actually was.
The heat was also a source of cramps. I was lucky I didn’t cramp up but had a moment or two when it could happen. I was running a particular section of a trail and spotted a runner lying on the floor, grimacing in pain. He was running when he trip, fell over and then cramped. I stopped to lift his leg to try and alleviate the cramp. Shortly, a few other runners came on to help and we advised him to get some rest in the shade.
No race would be complete without river crossings and Borneo had plenty of those. I don’t remember exactly where they were on the course. But I remember taking the time to soak myself in the very last one before the last checkpoint.
I reached W10, the last checkpoint at around 3:20 pm and I knew this was going to end soon. The problem now was how fast did I want to do it? After a sit-down at the aid station to contemplate my action plan, I willed myself to one last gel, refilled my flasks and headed off. By now, I was on the walk-run-walk-run metronome.
At that point, I constantly referred to my Suunto 9, which had an ETA counter on the watch face that showed my estimated finished time depending on the current pace and effort. This was linked to the GPX file that I loaded for the race. Based on the effort, I could, in theory, finish it under 11 hours.
With that information and a second wind, I charged forwards on those last few kilometres, crossing the bridge and finishing under 11 hours with 5 minutes to spare. A new personal best for the 50k mountain ultra for me.
As I was looking around for the booth to return my tag and collect my finisher items, I spotted Paviter. He was still around, but pretty wrecked. I texted the lads and managed to catch up with them after collecting my bag from the main hall.
All of us boarded the 6 pm, hour-long van ride back to downtown KK. Those with energy continued chatting, while some of us slept through. After a much-needed shower, we reconvened for dinner back at the Italian restaurant, checking up on our messages and sharing moments for the race. It felt good to be able to race again and to do it the company of friends.
Free and easy
We had an extra day in Kota Kinabalu on Sunday, but without Ben, as he left for home that morning. Much of the day was spent eating, visiting cafes and ending the day hiking up to Signal Hill Observatory Tower.
After an agonizing hike, we spent some time taking photos and just enjoyed the sunset and the moment we’re in. It has been a privilege to travel, race and spend a day exploring another country given the current circumstances of the world now.
Later that night, we tuned in to the news about Covid19 back at home to learn about the stay home notice that was to be imposed on Monday night. That made us thankful that our flight was the next morning.
The last sunrise
At 5:30 am next day, we got up promptly and went to the airport. Most of just wanted to get home before the deadline. No surprise that the rest of the Singaporean runners were on the same flight as well.
It was a roller coaster of a trip. From the timing of the trip to the lack of sleep to the race itself, it all sort of came together.
From a race perspective, I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished for this race. It’s my best time for a 50k mountain ultra since my first (and last) one in 2014. I placed well, coming in at 5th Singaporean behind the other lads. And I felt that I didn’t slacken too much in this race and always conscious of my objectives in the race; to do my best and finish well.
One new element of my race is the use of the Stryd foot pod. I started training with one since after TMBT with guidance from Coach Andy Dubois (listen to his interview recently here). Throughout the race, I referenced the power readings that he had set for me. I’m not very good at explaining it, so check out this video by Coach Andy or this video here.
I found it fascinating that the power reading, in a way, helped to drive my pace and effort so that I know when to conserve and when to push. It is my first race with it after all and I’m by no means an expert at using it. But it’s worth a look into and experimenting it.
Of course, the pod must be attached to a shoe. So the shoe chosen for this race is the Salomon Sense Ride 3, the latest offering from Salomon. I hope to do a dedicated review on this sometime soon. But prior to the race, I’ve only run in this shoe for 1.5 hours at Bukit Timah. That says a lot about how much I trusted the shoe to deliver, and it did.
My feet didn’t tire out for the duration of the race, and the grip was more than good enough to handle the diverse terrain; bridge crossing, roads, dry trails, semi-technical descents and river crossings.
In summary, I’m just thankful that I got to travel and race for this. Even if it was for the 50km. It’s an experience I won’t forget, given the circumstances. Thanks to Salomon Singapore for welcoming me and the lads as ambassadors and athletes for 2020, and Coach Andy for the progress I’ve been making over the last years.