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!


Anonymous said...

I agree with you about Aman's sensitivity. I was not notified of a submission of form so I wrote to him and he replied to me "Did you bother reading the updates section of the website or in our face book group page about filling in a form and submitting it to us?". I mean before that, it was always by email now, he expects us to always go to FB? The saddest part is he ended his email with "Really fed up with this sort of BS". Definitely NOT "the most beautiful thing" from a guy who organised TMBT Run.

Cornelius said...

Thank you, anonymous friend, for your comment. I'm sorry for taking such a long time to respond, but I've just returned from a long vacation.

Well, I keep an open mind; of course it takes all sorts to make the world, and although perhaps patience is not one of Aman's strong points, what I have come to appreciate about him is his passion in charting an exciting and challenging routes for his events. But above all, I appreciate his greatest concern for the safety of the participants. There will of course be glitches in this sort of events which is at the mercy of the weather. Sometimes, there is nothing much one can do when the weather becomes nasty and turn on you!

That said, however, I'd probably have a lot more patience when dealing with the participants; and I'd probably try to delegate more of the inherent tasks in organizing these events instead of trying to do everything myself!