The 15th Anniversary of the Sabah Adventure Challenge took place on 18th of April, a Good Friday. Well, a good day for the athletes from all around the world who came together to take part in this grueling multi-day Adventure Race and Ultra-Marathon.
Flying off, race registration & briefing
Since all the budget flights will only reach Kota Kinabalu at 8pm (meaning that we’d miss the briefing entirely), we didn’t have much choice but to fly by Silkair. The scheduled flight of 8.50am meant that we had to leave the house very early. Thankfully, our dear friend Anwar, agreed to drive the three of us to the airport (it did help that we all stayed in Jurong).
After checking in our bags, we headed off for a quick breakfast at Burger King. Once that was done, we made our way to the departure hall. After saying our thanks to Anwar, were off to the boarding gates. While waiting for our turn, we bumped into other Singaporean runners, most of them were taking part in the event for the first time (they have a Facebook page here!).
Upon arrival, I was slightly confused as to why the airport looked and felt different as compared to my previous visit. I was then reminded that I had reached Terminal 1, which made sense since I wasn’t flying on a budget carrier. After a considerable amount of time at the immigration gates, we finally got on a taxi to our hotel.
Andy and myself decided to stay at Pacific Sutera Hotel this time around, as it was near the venue of the race registration & briefing. The only downside was, there weren’t any convenient eating places nearby. Thus the only option was taking a bus or cab to the city area (20 minutes away) to have lunch/dinner as well as get food and supplies. Iris on the other hand, stayed at Megah D’Aru, the hotel I stayed in last year. While waiting at the hotel lobby to check in, we were introduced to Masami, a French runner living in Singapore who was taking part in her first SAC. We later found out that she had vast experiences in triathlons, mountain ultras, and that she would be taking part in this years Gobi March!
The race briefing started at a little past 5 pm as competitors were still streaming in to register. The registration process was much smoother overall and we got what we needed sorted out in a jiffy. It was great to see familiar faces from last years event too.
Day 1 began with a long bus ride from our respective hotels to Kampung Marakau. After a short briefing from Aman, we began the first day of the race hiking up Mt. Lontoi (about 830m of ascent) before heading back to the highway. We were introduced to river crossings as early as the first day of the race, thus we knew there would be more the next day. Day 1 covered about approximately 37 km in total distance.
To sum it up; the longest day. Covered the distance of almost a full marathon over punishing terrain and hot weather. The course notes and map were spread out over two sheets of paper, which was a hint of a long, arduous day filled with moments of getting lost.
The race started with a 13.5 km run/climb from the start line to CP1. This section of the race meant having to run on the edge of the Sabah Parks boundary, a forested area that were marked with red paint on the trees. The jungle was quite large and covered. And to be honest, pretty scary to run in.
After running for quite a awhile, we were surprised to run into the group of faster runners. They told us they had run an extra 2 km in and had turned back. We followed them and another group who were behind us, only to realize that we all had missed the marker, which was in front of a very large tree (because most of us ran on the left side of this tree, we failed to see that the marker was on the right hand side, in front of that tree).
Frustrations aside, we continued our way with the markers guiding us all the way to CP1, where we took a moment to cool ourselves in the river. At this point, Andy and myself were quite far behind from the pack. I blame it on myself as the injury to my Achilles tendon was making it painful for me to run. The journey from CP 1 to CP5 was a pretty painful walk. It was a endlessly long dirt road with a lot of vehicles passing through. Made use of the buff I had to cover my mouth when the vehicles passed by and once in awhile cover my head when it got really hot.
We had a scary moment where some dogs from a house charged at us, to which I held out my hand and held my ground and they backed off. We trudged along in the heat and after seemingly long time, we finally crossed the river to get across to CP5. A mandatory stop of 15 minutes was imposed, and Andy made me head up to the medical tent to get my feet looked at. The doctors cold-sprayed it and offered me some painkillers to ease the pain for the remainder of the race. We bumped into Beh as well, who has having blisters from wearing his Hoka’s.
After a quick refuel stop at a kampung shop nearby, we waded our away back across the river and went up a fairly steep climb up to the next section of the race. From here on end, it was a westerly direction to the finish line. At some point, probably due to fatigue and the pain on my Achilles coming back, a group of us got confused when the instructions on the map said “do not pass hanging bridge”. We eventually crossed another metal fence, but I recalled not going that way. After losing much precious time, I crossed back out of the fence and ran slightly further only to see that a photographer was sitting at the edge of the house, and that the marker was not too far away from him (damn it!).
And so with whatever energy we had left, we jogged our way back to Poring. The light was beginning to fade away, but thankfully we reached the finish line at about 6pm. After dinner, I couldn’t sleep, so I sat down with a bunch of Singaporean runners, including Louis, whom I met at Translantau. We chit chatted about running when we heard the last team, the group of Singaporeans, finally crossing the finishing line at 10 pm; almost 14 hours in!
Despite having the shortest distance of the 3 days, the last day was by no means easy. The first part of the race began with an 800 to 900 metre climb up to Air Terjun Langanan, a breathtaking waterfall which pours from the top of the mountain. Most of us non-local runners stopped for a moment to take some pictures of the magnificent scenery and cool off in the river before descending back to the start line for the next challenge. While I struggled to get up to the waterfall, I picked up the pace during the downhill back to the start line.
The second part of the race involved an orienteering challenge. Both runners and adventure racers had to locate markers (a 1.5L water bottle with a piece of paper inside marked by a number and a symbol) that were scattered around the vicinity. Though there were 12 locations indicated on the map, runners only had 5 markers to locate within the remaining time after the first part of the race. A penalty of 30 minutes would be incurred per marker less than 5, while arriving late at the finish line would incur a 3 minute penalty for each minute late.
Andy and myself paired up with another runner on strategizing the order of the markers we wanted to head to. While still navigating to some of them, we noticed that some runners who had collected about 3 to 4 markers running back to the finish line. I guess they knew that they would run out of time and would rather incur the penalty than stay out in the heat. The both of us (minus the other runner) managed to grab hold of the last marker before grinding out the final run back to the finish line; we made it just a few seconds after 12 pm!
Post-Race and Final Day in Kota Kinabalu
After we finished the orienteering challenge, we headed back to our tents, packed it up, then took a shower before joining everyone else for lunch. The prize presentation was delayed due to some problems the race director had to settle before addressing the participants and giving out the prizes. I felt the prize presentation was fairly rushed, which meant that everyone didn’t have time to savour the moment, congratulate each other on their achievements and get a group photo together.
As soon as the prize presentation ended, we grabbed our bags and headed to the bus bay. We managed to say our goodbyes to some of the runners we met on the way out. Once the bags were loaded on the chartered bus, Aman came on the bus briefly to thank us for coming and to have a safe trip home. Soon we were soon on our way to Megah D’ Aru Hotel, where would be spend the final night in Kota Kinabalu. The journey there lasted about 2 hours or so, but thankfully, the bus was much bigger this year, which meant I snuck in a power nap or two on the way.
We arrived at the hotel just as the sun was setting. After settling into our rooms, Andy, Iris, Beh and myself went out to have dinner at one of the food junctions there. The meal wasn’t that filling, so we ended up buying some finger food and drinks from the super market nearby. I snuck into bed early after packing my bag.
The next morning, the four of us had breakfast together. At the same time we all said our goodbyes to some of other runners who were heading out the airport earlier than us. Soon enough, the three of us were on our way back home to Singapore.
The challenge for the 3 days were much different from previous years. I felt that it would have definitely been a faster race for me if I hadn’t injured my Achilles tendon before coming to Sabah, something I only have myself to blame. But, like the race the previous year, I rekindled friendships that I have made before, made new friends, and learnt more about myself, and more about the sport I was involved it. It was hard race, but everything else made it worth the suffering.
Here are some links to other galleries, taken mostly by the official photographers.
- Official Facebook Album – Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3
- Other race officials – Nasier Lee / Fadzlee / Dr. Sidhu