Beauty Borneo – 100km Ultra Trail Run

Crossing one of the hanging bridge - Borneo Ultra Trail Marathon

I heard so much about this popular event. Not that my first trip to Sabah is well-justified with running 100km in challenging jungle setting with total elevation of 5000m, this beautiful land situated on world’s third largest island and its unique culture really deserve to be explored.

The Borneo Ultra-Trail® Marathon 2018 (BUTM) attracted runners to enjoy the views over surrounding ridges and valleys, including the view of magnificent Mount Kinabalu from afar. While the course was tough, I’ve enjoyed for the most part running on wide gravel, dirt tracks, and back-roads through villages and river crossing via numerous hanging bridges.

The Race Experience – 10th & 11th March 2018

Start line

Bib pick-up was done at Avangio Hotel, Metro Town about 20 minutes taxi ride from city centre. We were given 2 bus tickets; one for going to start line and another for a return to the hotel. The next morning after not having much sleep, I boarded the bus at 4am. The journey took an hour before we reached Kiulu, North of city centre. We entered a big hall where registration took place. I left my drop-bag for 50km checkpoint and then walked to the start line by the riverside.

100km Course and Elevation Chart. Source: BUTM Website

The race started 10 minutes after 50km runners took off (at 6:10am) which was great to avoid congestion. I aimed for the first 50km to be completed before daylight which is highly recommended given the most technical section of the course; such as narrow trail with ropes was between W2 and W3. Spotted few pigs at a nearby village, I ran down the hill as quickly possible to Lokub (W3). After a few handfuls of sweet and juicy pineapple, I braved the sunny hot day ascending the highest hill on the course while putting my iPod on. I ran down to Kelubaan Baru (W4) to enjoy a village coffee as afternoon tea break.

Reached 50km mark in Kiulu (W5) well before dark as plan. I left Kiuli, after fueling, legs spray and change of cloth, which then followed by a heavy rainfall. It was slow going to reach both W6 and W7 on a rainy dark night – a signed of fatigue kicked in. What made things worst apart from very slippery and muddy slope, was being stung by a bee (I saw this creature on my left knee lit up under bright headtorch!)

At Pukak (W7), a short break was needed for a quick shut eye, a  few sips of coffee to warm the body, and a first aid volunteer applied some cream on the bee sting area. It was really hard to get going, not till I heard the magic words of a nice chap there “remember why you come here for!”

Off I went to Kitapol (W8) – had to stop along the way due to vomiting and dizziness. I slept here for 1.5 hours in order to gain back energy. Lost the first female position in my age category and top 50 overall position due to this stop, but it was a strategy that deemed to be a necessity in order to remain in this race.

Climbing the next hill was another challenge. As the sunrise marking a brand new day, I appreciated the pristine jungle even more. Passed by the lush green of low canopy forest among rubber tapper plantations and rambling rattan or palm trees. The descent to Namadan (W9) was steep and slippery.

Reached Rangalau (W10), a lovely picnic area by a river – I was disappointed with no cold drink to be purchased given a very hot day. After asking few people on the road (if any shop around), finally there’s one shop in the village closer to the finish line. Ordered a cold can of Coke which was the savior of the day, and then powered on along the final stretch of a jungle trail, pineapple plantation, and dried paddy field. A lovely music played in the air sending message that the finishing line is getting closer and closer.

I crossed the last hanging bridge of the day to get medals and finishing Tshirt. Didn’t use the food coupon, instead swap it with an injection for anti-vomit in the medical tent.

Obviously not a strong finish and took longer than expected due to the condition I was in – but delighted to cross the finishing line (85th over 270 finishers, 13th female, and 3rd in age group) because it displayed determination, resilience, and endurance against all odds. My 20th finishing ultra event and no better race to celebrate than in a well-organised race like BUTM. Thank you to friendly volunteers along the route and at the finishing line. This has been a good introduction to Sabah’ adventure – I will be back!

Finisher medal – Borneo Ultra Trail 100km

 Sign Up And Accommodation:

2019 entry can be done at BUTM website once it’s open for registration, but if you keen there’s a  sister race of The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT) in the coming September.  There are options for 12km, 30km, 50km, and 100km.

As for accommodation, there are plenty of choices though recommended to stay close to the 3 locations of bus pick up/drop off points to race start/finish location in Kiulu. I stayed in Kinabalu Daya Hotel which given the opportunity to explore the town and it was situated nearby the bus departure point in Downtown Kota Kinabalu. Alternatively, should you want a closer accommodation to the race start/finish and at the same time support the local communities in Kiulu, consider staying at newly constructed, basic, A-frame huts (sleep 5 with kitchen and toilet facilities). An option to camp also available.

Tips:

  • Compulsory mandatory kit – the only thing I need to purchase is the red/white blinking light (to be fixed to pack after dark). While no checking prior to the race, this is randomly checked during the race.
  • The facilities such as rest area, basic toilet, showers (at the finish), drinking water, food (pineapples, bananas, instant noodles) were adequate. At the 50km checkpoint, the hot meals provided may be spicy for some, therefore recommended to bring your own.
  • Bring some cash so you can purchase some cold drink along the way or at checkpoints that sell fizzy drink. Much needed on a hot day.
  • For safety, do not run across the hanging bridges. A maximum of 10 people is allowed on the bridge at all time (depending on bridge condition as they are varied).
  • For finisher during the night, after the last bus (midnight) if required to rest/sleep in the hall you may bring own sleeping matt/sleeping bag. Camping options available too.

Equipment & Fueling

  • Shoes – My old Saucony Peregrine 5 for the first 50km. Changed to The North Face Ultra Endurance in the second half
  • Clothing – Compression CEP tight, Headgear, Bridgedale Speed Diva Women’s Technical socks. For night; a lightweight jacket. 
  • Backpack – Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin with shoulder pad which I stitched on to minimise shoulder pain.
  • Watch – Garmin Forerunner 235
  • Poles – Black Diamond carbon fibre
  • Headlamp – Black Diamond Spot
  • Fueling – PURE Sports Nutrition Hydration Electrolyte, Primal Pantry Paleo Energy Bar

Getting There:

By plane, Kota Kinabalu is the entry point to Sabah.

Final Word:

This race brought together talented local runners and it was pleasing to see the young one thrive in the wild of their playground. The event management ensured any broken hanging bridges being fixed not only for runners to cross safely but remain as benefit to the local community. 

Finisher Tshirt – can’t be any brighter and exotic
Cool design of local tribe, Sabah flag, and race elevation.

 

 

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