Its been over a month since the race. Wow. But I traveled for 10 days after the race in Malaysia/Brunei, went to work for 8 days, then traveled to Bali, and then went back to work for 8. Now I am off and back in Perth (yep, soup of the day $11.50) so I can finally post this. I feel very fortunate to be doing what I do. Here is the race report:
I stood next to Ruth at the start to ease the tension and fear of a really difficult undertaking. We both came from a similar college running background and could share a laugh together at the quirkiness of the start.
A local (shirtless?) man with a loud speaker, not officially involved with the race committee, was unleashing some kind of war cry in Malay. The crowd acknowledged the man with a quick shout.
Two tiny local women who must have been several inches below 5 feet toed the starting line in front of us. They were wearing long sleeved shirts and plain black rubber shoes. The girl to the right, Danny, won last year’s race. Maybe I should wear rubber shoes? The oddity of the sight reminded me of the start line at the 2010 Imogene Pass run where I looked across to Jason Wolfe and smiled- Timmy Parr was wearing an old pair of Asics road trainers to run up and over a 13000+ foot mountain. Tim beat me that day. Rule #67 of distance running: it doesn't matter what you wear or how you look, winning trumps everything.
The horn shouted and 50+ plus adventurous souls took off up the mountain.
I started off at warm up pace for the first few minutes still not really knowing how to warm up for a 5 hour race. Two friends from last year were standing on the side of the road cheering and yelled for me. I hadn't seen them in a year and was genuinely surprised to see them. I took 20 seconds to give them a high five and hug before they urged me to refocus my efforts on the race.
A Muslim woman fully covered in head scarf and long sleeves/pants was running next to me. I admired her for destroying my silly prejudices but was more interested in how she would cope with the mid-day temperatures on the final road 10km. (She finished strong).
I worked my way up slowly from the start over the 4 km the road section eventually catching a glimpse of the two Kenyans way out in front (both DNF). I believe I was in 10th or 12th place heading through Timpohon Gate (4 km into the race) and onto the summit trail.
I took an opportunity once in the forest to stop and pee as I was feeling a stomach cramp coming on. Two dudes pass me while stopped. I started again only to find a camera man 25 meters around the corner. I looked down and realized I might have restarted my run a little too quickly. "Hey , Billy Peed his pants. The guy next to me remained stone faced my joke showing absolutely zero emotion.
I woke up at 5am in Perth on Thursday after 5 hours of sleep and 10 consecutive days of work to catch my first plane to Kuala Lumpur. I arrived in Kota Kinabalu that evening after 8pm. I met Alan and Tan Wei at the airport to share a cab to town. We checked into our hostels and went out to the night market to have dinner. Alan knew exactly where to go and what to order (and knew everyone at the race having run 13 Climbathons). He asked in Malay for a certain type of fish from a nondescript stall, and literally picked the fillet off a tray of ice. The man grilled it on the spot. Dinner was served. It was delicious. The mystery meat was Stingray. I like Stingray now. It would be the catalyst for a successful Kinabalu Summit.
On Friday, I caught the race bus from Kota Kinabalu to Kinabalu Park. The realization set in that this was going to be really hard when I looked up at the mountain during the uncharacteristically clear sunset.
I had dinner at the hostel along with several other runners. I had some sort of fried rice chicken then attempted to go to bed at 10pm after talking with some of the other runners. I was still buzzing with excitement as I tried to fall asleep.
There were 8 people in my room. Alan, Tan Wei, 4 Filipino guys and a lone Kenyan girl in the corner. She was lying on the corner bed shivering and not expecting the crisp mile high air. I gave her the spare jumper I brought. Her name was Carolyne, the eventual day 2 race winner. She had been living alone in a hotel room in hot and humid Kuala Lumpur since August racing the Asian road circuit for a few months before heading back to Kenya for Christmas. It must be a challenging lifestyle but admired her sacrifice and commitment to keep the running dream strong.
The morning couldn't come soon enough because I was ready to get this show on the road. Carolyne gave me a slap on the hand. I have been running races for 10 years but her preface advice astounded me with the shear simplicity yet positive vibe it gave me…"Success". No good luck, or run smart, or quick feet or stay focused or what ever other catchy, useless moniker. Success. Just get the job done and do it well, however you define it.
Course Description: start at Kinabalu Park headquarters (1500m), 4 km road uphill, 9km trail/steps/granite rock face uphill to Summit (4095m), 5km back down summit trail mostly steps, turn down Mesilau trail for km which feels like a never ending torture fest because of the steep ups thrown in the mix, and finally a10km really steep and hilly road section with a little more down than up but finish on a 1km uphill to Kundasang town.
I knew what to expect. I covered every bit of the course last year (hiking the summit portion and racing the short course in the lower reaches of the park). But I was still surprised at how hard it was. I have incredible respect and admiration for the best guys in the world, the Kilian Jornet and Marco De Gasperi. Who somehow made it to the summit on the old course in an hour 30 minutes and back down in under one hour over what seems to me a mostly non-runnable course. These guys run the same course but are playing a different game. But they were not here this year, just in spirit as whispers of Kilian were heard frequently throughout the race weekend.
The game I was playing this day was to survive. The relentless technical uphill and steps made my right arm tired from trying to pull myself up the hand rail. My back throbbed from the irregular effort and stride required to get my body up the mountain as fast as possible. But I just kept moving, walking if I had to, and boy did have to.
2:38 minutes to the summit. 30 seconds on the summit to soak in the views on such a clear day. I made a mental note to enjoy it, to take my mind off the racing aspect and look around. I was there in Borneo, with ruggedly beautiful landscapes and friendly people, doing what I love to do: expressing myself through motion and adventure.
I thought the hard work was over when I reached the summit. I was incorrect.
I know I am no downhill runner so I didn't feel too bad when a much shorter guy with thick quads blew past me heading down the granite slick rock in the top 1000 meters of the mountain. I stopped to tie a shoe and kept rolling down the mountain alone. A Filipino named Dino caught me on the Mesilau Trail portion. I stepped aside to allow him to pass but he encouraged me that we would do it together. I then did some of the best technical downhill running I ever had done and he was right on my back coasting along effortless. I was leading us down the mountain for about 2km when we caught a Frenchman named Guillaune. At this point, Dino was seemingly ill affected by the downhill and the overall duration of the race. He zoomed ahead. Guillaune was in a bad place mentally and physically. It was too much downhill running for the expat living in Singapore (and this guy living in Australia).
We ran together for the remainder of the trail encouraging one another. I think we both almost cried when we heard the crowd at the trail/road intersection signalling that we were almost off the hellish, never ending Mesilau. There were times on the Mesilau trail when I wondered I would make the deceivingly simple cutoff time of 6 hours for 33km. The trail just kept going down and UP DOWN and UP. It was not a cake walk.
Leading Guillaune on the Mesilau Trail, I thought I would pull away from him, But like a zombie in a bad horror movie he just kept coming back, he dropped me on the road downhill portion and kept clicking along steady to the finish. I fell into a bad place just trying to hold on to that spot. For the first time I noticed the pain in my foot that sidelined me for 4 weeks during my preparations. I wanted to eat something salty and drink something other than water as my head was pounding and the sun baking. But as per race tradition: “Road Marathon is 42 km and you only need water. This is only 33 km so all you need is water. ” I safety pinned 4 packets of Gatorade chews to my waste band at the beginning of my race given to me by Gatorade Ambassador Cody Angell who had a pallet of them sitting at his house in North Carolina.
I recognized the course from last year and just had to make it up the final 1 km hill at the end. Walk- run- Walk-walk- hold off Jeremy, hope Ruth is not close by – walk- RUN the last 200m and give out some high fives to the spectators. I was a bit dizzy after 5 and 1/3 hours of running. But felt very happy to finish and live to tell the tale.
I felt like I had more training under my belt this year but suffered more if that makes any sense. I finished last year’s 23 km course in about 2 hours 40 minutes. This year’s 33km course took me 5 hours 20 minutes. So it took 2 hours and 40 minutes to run that extra 10km to the summit? I couldn't really understand it. The only conclusion I reached was that this race is really hard and I was not ready for the duration. Just plain not in good enough shape to properly tackle it or let alone run for 5 hours. I was a little bummed about not being closer to the leaders but appropriately realized something as I looked back up the mountain from the finisher’s tent:
I was just happy to do it, and to be there, and to meet interesting people (what a global bunch!!!) and to finish within the cutoff time. I was a zero 6 months ago with needles in my back and hip wondering if I was ever going to recreate in the mountains again. And though I am still not 100%, I’m just glad to toe the starting line at any race and finish.