Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nuptial Marathons

A number of people I know got married in recent months, including my own brother, Harry. I can't help but notice that all these weddings are celebrated in almost the same way. The fashionable thing to do these days is to take up a "wedding package" which usually includes inter alia the making or renting of the wedding gown, a photography session which may or may not include the video compilation, and of course the grand wedding reception in a famous hotel where hundreds or even thousands of family members and close friends are invited to grace the occasion.

If anything, these days weddings are not a cheap affair—they can cost up to a pretty down payment for a house, or maybe the full price of a car. And in almost all cases, I also notice that most of these young people who're struggling to build up their careers would have to sacrifice quite a lot to raise the money to cover the cost of the wedding celebrations. In fact, it is almost expected of them to throw a big party!

I found myself looking back at my own wedding some 19 years ago. When compared to what's the norm today, it pales in comparison. We had the church thing, of course; and then after that we proceeded to the hall at the back of the church for some light snacks and soft drinks. Later that evening, we invited some friends for a party. But far from a grand wedding reception in a famous hotel, we decided to set up tents in the front compound of my uncle's house. We did not pay astronomical amount for professional photographers. Instead, we sought help from some friends to take photos and videos. Everything was kept very simple and down to earth. I dare say it was one of those boring weddings based on today's standard!

I think it would have been nice if I could afford a grand wedding, but the cost of such was far beyond anything that I could afford. I used up quite a bit of my savings for the celebration, and I was determined not to borrow money for that purpose.

Actually, it's strange that people in general have the habit of having grand wedding celebrations, really. Admittedly, it's a very special day, but I see marriage as something akin to running the marathon. Too many people celebrate their arrivals at the starting line, and then after the race had started, too many of them find that it's a very unpleasant experience. So they struggle; they suffer when they reach the undulating surfaces; their knees and ankles turn into jelly when negotiating bends; and ultimately many of them suffer cramps and give up long before reaching the finish line!

I celebrated my arrival at the starting line over 19 years ago. But it was a very simple celebration. And as I started running the race, there were many, many tough moments when I had to climb hills, when I had to overcome exhaustion and thirsts and cramps all over my body. But overall, it's been an enjoyable run anyway. With my arrival at each new milestone, I felt there was a bigger reason to celebrate. I'm happy that I've reached this far in my race, and I celebrate the fact that I'm still racing up to now. I've seen too many people who celebrated excessively at the starting line who've long since given up on the race. All those grand celebrations seem such a waste.

As I run my marathon, I feel blessed that I still have it in me to continue running. I'm still enjoying the race, and although I do not throw a big party at each new milestone, I celebrate grandly in my heart and mind. But perhaps 20 years is a good distance to pause for a grand celebration before continuing with the race again. I think 2012 will be an exciting year...

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Week Dominated By Apes & Shooting

SEVERAL weeks ago, I found myself at Centrepoint one weekend for no apparent reason. I think I went for my long run first thing that morning, and then decided to walk for a bit to relax my legs. I ended up at the Growball cinema on the 8th floor. I did not plan to watch a movie, but I eventually decided to watch Rise of The Planet of the Apes anyway. I know the title of the movie may give you the wrong impression of what it's all about, but let me hasten to assure you that it wasn't a documentary about our politicians.

I would have brought JJ along to watch the movie, but she was then preparing for her exams, and mommy just wouldn't allow it; not even on a weekend.

Earlier this week, I was in Wisma Merdeka during lunch break when I saw the video CD of the same movie. I decided that it would be a nice movie to buy. JJ could watch it at home now that her exams are over. As I had expected, JJ liked the movie. She was intrigued by all the apes, and she asked me if those were real apes trained by humans. I explained to her that those were in fact not real apes; that those were actually the results of computer-generated images based on impressions of human actors. The main character in the movie was an ape named Caesar which was modelled by an actor named Andy Serkis.

When you come to think of it, it's quite amazing that a man who looks like this...

can somehow be transformed into something that looks like this...

But that just goes to show how far the technology in movie-making had progressed over the last few decades.

Also within this week, we have had quite some excitement in the front pages of our local papers, concerning two politicians who've long ago passed their heydays, but refused to fade gracefully into retirement. Instead, they're still fighting very hard to remain relevant today. So they are reduced to pointing fingers at each other—both trying to say the other made mistakes to the detriment of the people of Sabah.

On the left-hand corner, we have Tan Sri Datuk Harris Salleh.

And on the right-hand corner, we have Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee.

And just in case you're wondering—no, the above pictures have not gone through the same computer modification thing to make them look like apes, even if that seems to be the case here. I swear, that's how they really look like in person!

In the heat of the debate, apparently Yong offered to shoot himself if he's found to have committed any criminal wrongdoings. I think that would have been such a waste. I'm guessing maybe there are people who're willing to pay a lot of money to have the fun of pulling the trigger on him. I mean, why waste it? Why not turn it into a fund-raising affair; if Yong deems it fit to shoot himself, he might as well let someone else pull the trigger for cash, and then donate the money to charities. That would be an awesome, albeit dramatic, means of doing something good for the people.

After all, it won't be the first time a man is shot because he's mistaken for a monkey?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sabah Adventure Challenge—TMBT: My Ultimate Race (Part 2: Final 50km)

After dinner at CP5, we embarked on our journey to CP6. A short distance down the gravel road, we turned to a junction on the right and went up a hill that seemed like there's no end. It's usually not such a good idea to climb steep hills with a full stomach, but well, I'm not sure if climbing a hill with an empty stomach is any better! We spent quite a long time on an earth path which eventually connected to a crude concrete flight of stairs, leading to a house at the top. Passing a metal gate, we arrived at a gravel road, and a few metres to the right, there was a signboard with the TMBT logo and an arrow indicating to proceed uphill. The road finally terminated at a house at the very top of the hill, which was CP6. It took us well over an hour to reach there from CP5.

It was then about 9pm, and we were already very tired from about 14 hours of torture. Remembering that we had to complete a loop through the dense jungle around Miki Camp before we could leave the area back to CP4 (which would by then be referred to as CP8) by 7 am, we decided not to take chances—we would immediately proceed to get over with the dense jungle first.

At 9:11pm we set out from CP6 up the hill—a long way up—on slippery paths because of the rain. On the way, we met a number of other participants on the return leg from the jungle. Many of them were complaining about getting lost because they were unable to spot the route markers. This, we eventually found to be quite untrue. In fact, I think the organiser did exceptionally well as far as the route markers were concerned. However, one would have to be extra careful and alert when trekking in the jungle at night. The three of us worked well together, but because of the slippery paths, we had no choice but to walk painstakingly slow. We had a good dose of hills—very, very steep hills (any steeper, it would have been wall-climbing), dense jungle, trees which looked all the same in the dark, bamboo and hanging bridges, even crossing shallow streams on foot, and very, very confusing paths before finally arriving at that forsaken checkpoint, CP6A! Throughout that jungle workout, I was also beginning to suffer blisters in my groin. But there was no time to worry about blisters. After signing the check-in list, we immediately continued to find our way back to CP6 again. The entire loop eventually took us 4 hours 45 mins!

We found ourselves at CP6 (now referred to as CP7) again at around 2am. The original plan was to catch a few hours sleep to rest our exhausted bodies. But alas, I did not like the prospect of missing the cut off time at CP8 at 7am. We reckoned the distance between CP7 to CP8 was just 8km, but in the dark and unfamiliar territory, that could be a very long distance. We sat down to plain tea, and some left-over chicken soup, made visits to the toilet, and finally at 2:44am braved the cold rain from CP7 to CP8.

Although I was basically reduced to the role of a babysitter, I must admit that Mia and Felice are very strong women. They are very strong fighters—no throwing tantrums, not much complaints. They rose to the occasion and fought till the end!

Although there were route markers between CP7 and CP8, they were quite far apart. And when one is desperately in need of sleep and exhausted, it's so easy to miss them. Such was the case with 3 other participants we caught up with along the way. They stood in the middle of a gravel road aimlessly not knowing where else to go in the dark. Having studied the map prior to the trip, I realised that we would be making a return trip to CP4, and I carefully made mental snapshots of key landmarks along the way. That proved to save us, although we still made several wrong turns. Because of exhaustion, we walked at snail's pace, finally reaching CP8 at almost 6am, barely within the cut off time at 7am! That journey between CP7 to CP8 was quite an epic challenge, as we were under time pressure; a race against time, under a lot of stress.

But once we made the cut off time, we felt a big relief. It was then 23 hours since the flag off, and the exhaustion was beyond words. I entered the hall and found a table. I pushed the stuff aside and climbed onto it. Using my backpack as my pillow, I decided to close my eyes for a minute or two. I could hear people talking in the background, but I couldn't actually make out what they were talking about. And then I closed my eyes for a minute.

Just a moment later, I was awaken again when Felice was exclaiming her admiration of a girl named Cynthia Gan, who made it back to CP8 within minutes of the cut off time, all on her own. Apparently Cynthia conquered the horrifying loop of dense jungle in 7 hours! I looked at my watch. Although it felt like I closed my eyes for just a minute or two, actually 55 minutes had elapsed! How time had passed that quickly, only God knows!

I made a visit to the toilet, brushed my teeth, washed my face and changed my shirt; finally leaving CP8 at about 8am. At first the road was a pleasant downhill for almost 1km. But that was followed by a 3km climb on a gravel road to reach the main road. So punishing was the climb I consumed 2 packets of energy gels within an hour. I was also trying very hard to endure the blisters in my groin; I could feel the biting sensation with every single step.

I finally reached CP9, which was about 5km away from CP8, at about 9:15am. I was happy to see Rudy at the checkpoint. I asked him how much further to the finish line, and he replied less than 20km.

And at this juncture, folks, let me give you all a very good advice: never ever trust information given by any person throughout the race; only Aman Avtar Sandhu's information is accurate. The rest are just too dumb to know anything about the race. The distance from CP9 to the finish line is about 24km, not less than 20km. By giving the participants a distance shorter by 4km, that could upset time planning. In fact, that almost happened to me in this race. Thinking that I had a cushion of 4km, I reduced my pace again, thinking that I had plenty of time left to reach the finish line.

We spent close to 4 hours to make it to CP10, the last checkpoint of the race before the finish line. Estimating the distance based on our pace, we knew that it was about 11km to 12km. It was a very long journey comprising hilly terrains before a very, very long downhill road which absolutely punished both knees. When we arrived at CP10, I thought we had only 7km to 8km left to run to the finish line. Imagine my surprise, and disappointment, when we were informed by the staff that there's still 12km to go!

My heart sank. My legs felt like jelly; the blisters in my groin felt like there's an open wound the size of Singapore! Looking at our watches, we realised that there's less than 6 hours to the time limit. It's quite embarrassing, really, I have run a 12km workout in Likas within an hour, but the 12km ahead of me now was like a 120km feat!

At 1:15pm, just as Cynthia Gan arrived at CP10, we started out for the finish line. I told Felice and Mia that I might be unable to make it because of my blisters. We crossed a paddy field and a hanging bridge and started to climb a very steep concrete driveway. With every step I could feel the biting pain in my groin, but I had to focus on the finish line. After an hour or so, Felice started to build up her lead. I remained with Mia for a bit until I remembered that it's quite safe for her to walk alone on a major village road in broad daylight. We might not make it to the finish line in time, but if there's a chance that one of us could, then there's no reason to hold back now. Thus in spite of my weak legs and horrible blisters, I started running again.

I kept running for a good half an hour until I caught up with Felice, all the time thinking that I could barely make it to the finish line on time. From far I saw Felice stopped to ask some villagers how much further to reach the finish line. When I finally caught up with her, she said we had about 3km to go. Looking at my watch again, I was pleasantly surprise to see that it was just about 3pm. We had plenty of time to 7pm, so I decided to slow down again and wait for Mia.

A few minutes later, Mia emerged from behind, shouting pathetically not to leave her because she's afraid that she'd lose her way. With 3km to go, I waited for Mia and briskwalked with her, while Felice left us again.

Soon after that, we came to a small road branching off the main road, with plenty of of route markers on it. We entered that road and felt very relieved that we're already approaching the finish line. We walked and walked until we came to what appeared to be a deadend!

There was a route marker leading to a jungle trail. And I was, like—again!? My excitement rose as I entered the jungle trail, thinking that it was a mere few metres leading to the finish line. But no, Aman made that final approach amazingly brutal—it was probably a total of 1.5km of jungle trail along the river bank through rubber estate, crossing a very long hanging bridge, off to yet more jungle path on the other side, passing under a fallen tree, before emerging at a school compound. Still a long way down the field.

I could see the finish line. I looked back and noticed that Mia had lagged behind. With the finish line just several metres away, I decided to sit on a rock while waiting for Mia. Felice came walking to cheer me on, but I wasn't going to cross the finish line yet. I kept an eye over the hill for some minutes, but Mia did not show. I was beginning to worry about having to go back to search for her. After waiting for 10 minutes, I decided to give another 10 minutes. If Mia's still not there by then, I would have no choice but to go back for her.

But soon after that, Mia emerged from the top of the hill, walking very slowly. She was obviously exhausted. I looked at her from a distance and felt a lump in my throat. The last time I felt that way looking at her was over 19 years ago when her dad walked her down the aisle in St Simon Church. It reminded me once again why I married this crazy woman all those years ago.

When she arrived, I took her hand—much the same way I took her hand from her dad many years ago—and then both of us walked the last few metres hand in hand together. As we approached the finish line, we were accorded with a big round of applause. Cameras clicking frantically, and I actually felt myself blushing, just like I did 19 years ago. We crossed the finish line and received our medals from Aman himself.

The following series of photos speak for themselves (courtesy of Dr Dev Sidhu):

I said at the beginning that I would go for a stroll in the park. Well, it wasn't a stroll in the park at all. Throughout the race, it was very intense—very hard work all the way; so much pain, and so much stress. The race brought out the best in its participants. The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT) was indeed beautiful and brutal to the very extreme.

I must congratulate Aman and his team for a very good job. I would not hesitate to recommend this event to any adventure addict out there. You just have to experience it to believe it!

Sabah Adventure Challenge—TMBT: My Ultimate Race (Part 1: First 50km)

I have conquered several marathons and shorter running events in the region; and I have recently conquered a sprint triathlon in Miri. In all of those events, I was racing to finish them in the best possible time. Simply finishing a 42km marathon within the time limit is no longer a challenge to me—it has never been—as I have no ambition to attempt the Boston Marathon.

When I registered for Sabah Adventure Challenge: The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT), a 100km ultra trail marathon event, I had a change of attitude. It was a distance far beyond anything I've done before. From the very beginning, I made up my mind to enter the race with the aim of finishing it; not for speed. Still, the 36-hour official time limit seemed very generous. I brought along a camera, planning to savour the beauty of the Sabah countryside. I was planning to enjoy the "stroll in the park" with plenty of rests in between.

Mia had also decided to join me in this outing; and although at first I tried to talk her out of it (I suggested that she should attempt the 50km category instead) I was secretly pleased when she insisted to try the 100km anyway. Our friend, Dr Felice Huang, who was at first doubtful that she could finish the 100km, was inspired by Mia, and then decided to take up the challenge too. Throughout the months prior to the event, too many people were trying to talk them out of the 100km category. But I kept on encouraging them both.

Apart from the challenge in the distance, Mia and Felice were very worried about the inevitable night trekking. At first, it seemed possible to try to race during the day; then sleep during the night; and finally race again to the finish line on the second day within the 36-hour allocated time. But it soon became obvious that that's impossible to achieve—running or trekking at night was totally inevitable.

The 100km was divided into several portions, and participants had to check in at numerous pit stops or checkpoints referred to as CP1, CP2, CP3, CP3A, CP4, CP5 (finish line for 25km/50km categories), CP6, CP6A, CP7, CP8, CP9, CP10, finish line. Of those checkpoints, there was a cut off time at CP3 (8 hours from flag off); and CP8 (24 hours from flag off).

We found ourselves at the starting line of the race near a bridge, some 9km south of Kota Belud town. A beautiful sunny morning, and we were treated with a clear view of the majestic Mount Kinabalu from the bridge.

There were many familiar faces at the starting line. Claire and Lawrence were there, and you won't be surprised, of course, that Claire beat Lawrence in their 50km category because she had the unfair advantage of extremely long and sexy pair of legs.

It wasn't a very big crowd, but I think it was a correct decision by the organiser to limit the size of participation, since the race route brought us to some eco-sensitive areas in the hills.

Mia and Felice walked together for the most part of the earlier portion of the race. From a perfect asphalt road, it very quickly broke off to a gravel road and some crude concrete driveways. But some portions were of loose gravels.

I told them that I'd go a little faster and wait for them at CP5, and then tackle the night trekking part together with them beyond that point. I did not know the ridiculous rolling hills, rivers, narrow paths along cliffs that we had to pass before reaching CP5. I had estimated that Mia and Felice would reach CP5 at 3pm at the latest. Oh boy, I was in for a big surprise!

As I continued down the endless road, labouring my way up and down countless hills, it soon dawned on me that to reach CP5 by 3pm was not only impossible for Mia and Felice, but I seriously doubted that even I could make it there by 5pm!

Along the way, Jiki and Judy overtook me. And I also noticed that Jack was up ahead. Several more familiar faces from the numerous trekking outings up to Terian were also there; and one by one they overtook me. It was quite a challenge to suppress my inclination to run ahead. But I had to stick to my gameplan—I had to save some energy for the second 50km of the race; whereas they were only running a 50km race.

Well, I passed CP1 and CP2 within 3 hours, and I was quite happy to continue to CP3 when I accidentally stepped onto a loose gravel on the road and twisted my right foot. Immediately, I could feel a sharp pain. I paused for a brief moment and tested my weight on my foot. It was painful, but still bearable. Thus I continued my way to CP3, but reducing my pace just as a precautionary measure.

Many more hills later, I finally arrived at CP3 and was pleasantly surprised to find a grand welcome by the villagers, with gongs (unfortunately beating out of tune). I duly signed the check-in list and proceeded to get some water.

There, I noticed Tan Yoke Lee, a friend devoid of any muscle in her body. She had arrived at CP3 a couple of minutes before me. She was making final checks of her bag before continuing her journey.

Claire and Annie were also there for an early lunch. Claire looked a bit tired, though I still think her extremely long sexy legs were an unfair advantage (Damn! Just look at those legs!).

I grabbed some bananas, topped up my water bottles, and decided to sit for a bit on a plastic stool. And then the inevitable happened. Only a few minutes off my feet, and when I tried to stand up again, I could feel the pain on my right foot. The loose gravel had caused a bigger damage than I had initially thought. I tested my weight on it by walking around for a bit, but it was still throbbing. At that point, it seemed certain that I was not destined to even reach CP5. Luckily there was a medic team at CP3, and I managed to get a deep heat cream to numb the pain.

Looking at my watch, it was clear that Mia and Felice would not reach CP5 before nightfall, let alone 5pm. So I decided to wait for them at CP3 while at the same time hoping that I could rest my foot. A little over half an hour later, I was pleased to see Mia arriving at CP3.

But we had to wait a little longer before Felice turned up from the hills; her head bobbing up and down from afar. She seemed to be doing fine, and immediately after signing the check-in list, was obliged to dance a bit of Sumazau to the tune of the gongs.

But things were looking bleak for me. I did not have much hope for my right foot. It was throbbing still, although I could still walk. In accordance to our plan, we would break for lunch in CP3A, not at CP3. So after a very short rest for Mia and Felice, we decided to push on. As Mia and Felice walked down the hill, I was limping about 30 metres behind them. I had ponstan with me, but Felice said she had better, i.e. Celebrex. However, it's advisable to take Celebrex after a meal. Since lunch was not scheduled up till CP3A, I had to endure the distance up to that point before consuming the drug.

But the journey to CP3A wasn't as easy as one would expect. We had to pass several hanging bridges, scale steep hills, pass abandoned dirt roads, and wade through an icy-cold river.

But wading through the river was a blessing in disguise after all. Coupled with the deep heat cream I had applied earlier, the icy-cold water soothed my nerves; and I emerged on the other side feeling much better! Putting on my shoes again, I braved the steep hill ahead, Mia and Felice not very far behind, until we came to a river.

A very brief stop for a photo before we continued along the river bank, finally arriving at a hanging bridge.

Felice was still doing great as she made the crossing into CP3A.

CP3A was just on the other side of the river. We were relieved to finally sit down to lunch which comprised kochung. Some guys from the village were at the next table, busily drinking beer. I fancy that they were wondering what these silly city folks were doing trekking all the way out here. After lunch, I took Celebrex, but I had to wait for about half an hour before the drug took its effect.

The journey from CP3A to CP4 was quite something, really. We had to go through very narrow paths along a river, high on the edge of a hill. A small mistake would lead to a long fall below, causing serious injuries or even death. Later, we had to pass through a steep climb up a hill. And somewhere in the middle of the jungle, out of nowhere, a race marshal was perched on a three stump. Gave the two women quite a surprise, he did. I don't know why I did it, but I asked him how much further to CP4. Of course we all know that village folks are never ever good in estimating distances.

"Oh... not too far, just a little bit of climb from here; then more or less level after that, followed by a bit of climb, before finally reaching the road again," he said, adding, "CP4 is just about a kilometre down that road."

OK, that sounds simple enough. So we climbed up the hill to the top. Then we climbed some more hills. And yet more hills...

Finally making our way down a very steep hill, hanging on to tree branches to support our weights to prevent from slipping down the slopes, and then finally finding our way to a gravel road. Climbing up that road, we met a bunch of villagers smiling happily upon seeing us approach. "How much further?", I asked one of them, though of course not really expecting an accurate answer.

"Ummm... about 2km," he replied, twitching his lips in the direction of Kampung Lobong-Lobong. He offered us some bottled mineral water, but we declined, since we still had enough water for 2km.

So we continued on the gravel road, feeling glad that we would soon be checking in at CP4. Then we walked some more. And yet some more, until we came to a dam. From a distance, we could see a bunch of guys waving at us and cheering and clapping their hands. I could feel the adrenalin surge in my system. The three of us approached those guys in high spirit, only to find that that was not CP4!

So again I asked them how much further to CP4. About 1km to go down that road. Fine, 1km it is then! We walked and walked and came upon a school field with plenty of route markers cutting across it. Some kids were playing football on the field. But as we were approaching from the road, a man came from the other side to intercept us. Without us prompting him, he went into an animated explanation with his hands flying all over, basically telling us that the actual route was supposed to have been across a river, but because of a heavy rain upstream, that river had since been flooded. Hence an alternative approach across the school field of which, according to him, would account for more or less the same distance. He then turned to one of the boys lingering around and gave short instructions to him. We were then ushered across the field through a fence, and passing several other kids who greeted us with "good morning", even though it was already way past noon then.

As we continued down the road, suddenly a black pickup truck came from the opposite direction. And again, without much hope of getting an accurate answer, I asked how much further to CP4. Not far, we were almost there; apparently about 1km to CP4. Felice, probably tired of hearing that same figure after walking a few kilometres, noted that the "1km to go" never seemed to end.

We then continued our journey on that road up a moderate hill until we came to a bridge on the left. Seeing a route marker, we crossed that bridge and began to go up a concrete driveway. It was a ridiculous climb, but somewhere in the middle of that hill, we saw a participant running from the opposite direction. We have not even done 40km, and here we have someone who'd finished about 70km of the 100km race. As we continued the journey up the hill, we saw a few more other runners, including my friend, Ahmadul Tahir (he eventually finished 3rd in the race).

Well, we finally conquered that "1km" which was actually something like 5km, and arrived at CP4. Dr Helen was there and was just about to proceed to CP5 the finish line for her 50km category. She told us that Dr Liaw, another friend in the 100km category had withdrawn from the race due to severe cramps in his legs.

We rested for some minutes, and then noting that it was already past 4pm, we decided to continue to CP5 before nightfall. On the way out from CP4, we were already feeling the exhaustion but we kept fighting anyway. We went down a long steep hill, before crossing a hanging bridge to the other side. Then more gravel road ahead. A few hours of rolling hills, and eventually we had to put on our reflective vests, headlamps, and rear blinkers. We pushed on in the dark. Mia had to stop for a bit and Felice went ahead, eventually proceeding on the CP5 with another male participant.

Soon after, it started to drizzle, but we pushed on without bothering with our raincoats. Kilometres upon kilometres of gravel road until finally we heard dogs barking. We knew that we were approaching CP5. We signed our names and then moved to a nearby timber building where we saw some other participants having glorious dinner. It was already past 7pm then.

12 hours of hard work. We were deprived of sleep, hungry, totally exhausted. And then the thought that we had only reached the midway point of our race category. Remembering the race route provided by the organiser, we knew that the second half of the 50km would be even tougher. So while we were eating, we took stock of our situation.

The next challenge out of CP5 would be a climb to CP6, wherefrom we were supposed to go up, and then go down a valley on the Crocker Range in the dark of the night in a very dense jungle. That would be the mother of 'em all, but we had to start planning at which point we would catch our much needed sleep?

As we were chewing our ayam masak kicap, suddenly Claire emerged from a nearby van. They had apparently finished their race about an hour earlier. Teo was also there. It was tough watching other competitors all set to go home while you still have another 50km to go.

The three of us agreed that we should all go up to CP6 after dinner, and then tackle the dense jungle challenge first, before coming back to CP7 to catch some sleep. However, we have not forgotten that there is a 24-hour cut off time at CP8, meaning 7am the next morning. Felice was saying that if she felt too exhausted and couldn't continue after CP7, she may decide to withdraw from the race. But Mia and I said the least we should do is to try to reach CP7 first. Then decide what we want to do after that.

After dinner, we walked across to the checkpoint again to ask the marshals the distance from CP5 to CP6. The answer, as you may have guessed, was 1km only. If there is anything the organiser need to improve in future TMBT events, he should brief his marshals to get their distances right to start with.

With tired muscles, darkness of the night, cold temperature of the highland, and the annoying rain, we embarked on the second 50km of the race...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sabah Adventure Challenge—The Most Beautiful Thing: 100km Ultra Trail Marathon

Shortly after I registered for the 100km ultra trail marathon, The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT), a few months ago, the Race Director, Aman Avtar Sandhu, requested to be my friend on facebook. I did not really know the man, and I don't usually accept friend requests unless I really know the person. However, in this case, I made an exception and accepted the request because I thought it would be a useful means to raise questions or concerns about the race.

It was during one of those race briefings that I saw him lamented in his facebook that the participants were late. I commented that that was quite like us Malaysians; and then I said I hope the organiser would flag us off on time during the race, because we have limited daylight. The result of that comment was that I was immediately kicked out of his friend's list! Some people are very sensitive. However, I'm pleased to note that the organiser did change the flag off time to an hour earlier anyway, so I felt that I made my point somehow.

I did not like the way the organiser seemed to be unsure of what he's doing. Over the months leading up to the event, he kept changing the rules of his race. Mandatory items were dropped, and new items added to the list. Cut off times were then included, and even those were changed. Up till the last minute, changes were still made, including the necessity of buying a reflective vest for the 100km participants. All these changes were made or introduced on safety grounds, according to the organiser.

I became somewhat disturbed with the way things were progressing. It made the organiser look sloppy. After a while, I became quite annoyed! And I set out to criticize this event after it's all over!

About a week before the race, the organiser revealed the race route. It appeared like 70% of the course would comprise gravel village roads running along river banks. I had expected to see more jungle paths through the hills. So again I was disappointed. I was, like, I did not sign up for gravel roads! What challenge is there running on gravel roads? But well, since I've signed up for the event anyway, I reckoned I'd just make the best of it, even if it's not exciting.

The night before the race, Mia and I were still packing all our stuff and we took such a long time doing that. We ended up having only 3 hours' sleep. On the race day, we took a shuttle bus from Hotel Megah D'Aru in Tanjung Aru town to the starting point somewhere near Kota Belud town.

Before the race started, the Race Director went through his checklist to ensure that all the participants were accounted for. He then flagged us off, and we started our journey on a gravel road through many villages. Contrary to what was thought at first, it became clear very soon after the flag off, that the gravel roads were made of hills—rolling hills—and some were ridiculously high.

I had estimated to arrive at the 50km point at 3pm at the latest based on the maps, but it soon dawned on me that I'd be lucky if I could do it by 5pm. I had no experience in trail running, and I'm also pathetically weak on hills; so for this particular event I had planned just to finish the race within the allocated 36 hours. Mia and Felice were also in the 100km category; so I promised to do the night trekking together with them. So one way or another, I would have to slow down to their pace.

Running the race from one checkpoint to another, as the event progressed, my respect for the organiser grew more and more. Looking at the race course as a whole, it had a blend of rolling hills on gravel roads; river crossing on hanging bridges, bamboo and wooden bridges, and even wading through waist-deep water. We had night trekking through dense hilly jungle on the Crocker Range on very slippery hill slopes in the rain. Very steep hills overlooking beautiful rivers way down below; and the majestic Mount Kinabalu on the east.

I had also expected an anti-climax finish from a Race Director who did not know much about organising this kind of event, thinking that we had to run miles and miles of boring gravel roads to a school field where we would simply claim our medals. Little did we know that Aman had a last challenge in store for us; it wasn't gonna be that easy to get the medals!

In the end, in spite of my earlier impression of Aman, now when I look back at the 100km gruesome challenge as a whole, I think he has set up a brilliant and well-planned race. Never have I felt challenged to this extreme before. It deserves international recognition. I can honestly say that it was indeed the most beautiful thing to me! For those who love the outdoor challenge—and if you're not faint-hearted—the 100km TMBT medal is something you must have in your collection!

I shouldn't forget the very dedicated medic team for having so much passion in their job; teams of volunteers who handled the numerous checkpoints, though I just wished that they could give us accurate information!

I must congratulate Aman and his team for doing a great job!

I will post the torture of running the race in the next post, so stay tuned!

Friday, November 4, 2011

100km Ultra Trail Marathon—Pre-Race

Well, folks, most of you will remember that I have signed up for the 100km ultra trail marathon, dubbed The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT). The event flags off tomorrow morning starting from one of the villages off Kota Belud, which is about an hour's bus ride from Kota Kinabalu.

Based on the race briefing last night at the Hotel Megah D'Aru, the route will involve a good dose of gravel roads, several river crossings (two will be on foot wading through waist-deep water); village trails, a bit of leech infested jungles high on the hills, trekking in the dark at temperature hovering around 15 degrees C. The organiser mentioned beautiful views of Mount Kinabalu.

In about 12 hours from now, I would be in a bus on my way to the starting line. I'll report on the trip when I return probably on Sunday evening. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Train-Tanker Collision in Kapayan, KK

When the train service resumed recently, I thought it's just a matter of time before a serious accident would happen. The railway should construct proper fencing and gates, as there were many junctions and crossings along that road.

True enough, yesterday evening, just before sunset, the train hit a fuel tanker, causing a big explosion. Apparently 12 people were reportedly (seriously) injured. I'm not sure how it happened exactly; but searching through the net for possible answers, I stumbled upon this video clip from youtube.

As you will notice, there is no valuable information to be had from the conversation that took place, but for whatever it's worth, I've taken note of the dialogue anyway. See what you make of it...

First woman: My goodness, besarnya...shit!

Second woman: Apa dia t'bakar tu?

First woman: Train 'yo, Oh! my God!... SHIT!!... it's a train; I don't know! *panting*...NO!...

*Crying; panting; confusing conversation*

First woman: Oh! my God!... Oh! my SHIT!!!...[insert Omaticaya's language here]

*More crying...*

First woman: NO!—Oh! my God! *yet more crying*...SHIT!!!

Second woman: Orang di dalam mati?

First woman: I don't know!...

Well, I did say that there's no valuable information to be had, didn't I?