Salomon TMBT Ultra Marathon 2018 – Adventure In Sabah

TMBT 2018 - One of the villages

Heard about this race when the ex-Dubai runner, Victoria Leckie blog about it in 2012. Since then I kept checking this race out and remembered talking to Clare Mullenger during our training run at the Fossil Rock years ago that she too was very keen to participate.

Celebrating its 8th year, this oldest ultra trail event in Malaysia has gained popularity, thanks to its catchy name “The Most Beautiful Thing”. In fact, some runners kept returning return year after year. The recent event in early September was over signed compared to targeted 2000 runners, according to the race director, Claus Pedersen.

My preparation was not the most ideal. Having some months off for a summer holiday and Ramadan brought to a new season of training of slowly building back. Few slots of stair climb session weekly, climbing nearby mountains one of the weekends, accommodating strength and conditioning with F45 were part of the training on top of the usual long runs.

The trip to Sabah was accompanied by few Dubai runners and friends. Honestly, I was more looking forward to spending time with them rather than the actual race itself.

With my favourite sandpit friends who made this trip beautiful. Before race pose with James, Clare and Mr E.

Sorted the race pack collection including mandatory gears checked the day before the race, we also collected the race pack on Jenna Wilkinson’s behalf since she could not attend the race.

I read the 100km course description (11 pages long)  to get some ideas of the route. After an early dinner at nearby Italian restaurant,  I went to bed early. Next morning, we boarded the 3 am buses from Kota Kinabalu and reached Lingkubang within roughly 90 minutes. Left our drop bag, then crossed Kadamaian river via hanging bridge to get to the hall where registration took place. Stunning morning it was, dawn in the sky with Mount Kinabalu in the backdrop – 100km, and 50km runners kicked off the race at a sports field of a local school.

Salomon TMBT Ultra-Marathon 2018 – A stunning dawn before race kick off.

We ran and hiked from one village to another. At Bundu Paka village we were entertained by gong playing – an important traditional instrument of Sabah indigenous people. Few hanging bridges and river crossing were part of the fun – some with guards to ensure safety. Mount Kinabalu was getting closer and clearer.

Some trails were narrow, by the ridgeline and occasionally we got to let fast 50km runners passed on the smaller trail. At one of the village, there’s a group of bees ‘blocking’ the route. I ducked into the left side behind a car parked there – yet still got stung behind my knee.

Picture courtesy of Pamela Sidhu: A quick pose against the mountain backdrop.

Stage 4 was the beginning of continuous climb (600m gain) with a breathtaking view of the highland. After 6 hours into the race, I rested at one of drink station where a girl with red Salomon cowbell cheered us. Fuelled with more sugar just what the body needed. Relieved to reach Kiau Nulu village (Checkpoint 4) after the tough climb, the next part I began to feel lethargic and dizzy but very slowly continued gaining 700m elevation till the main road (Checkpoint W5a).

Due to landslides, we were shuttled to the Checkpoint W5 with race time being stopped. Going to halfway point was not technical, but there were sections of steep uphill and downhill of gravel, sealed road, and farmed vegetable area. Got to 50km mark before dark, at Mount  Kinabalu  Heritage Resort and Spa (1500m elevation), my legs were fine but I felt sick, and the dizziness seemed to get worse. Shame that I couldn’t get food into the body from the buffet of hot meals provided.

Sabah highland.
The cabbage farm on top of a hill.

I plodded along to Checkpoint 7 just after remarkable local runner Daved Simpat arrived to claim the 1st position. Reached the main road between Kundasang and Ranau,  here I vomited and felt a lot worse. Decided to retire there and then. I didn’t want to race in this condition and wasn’t prepared to let myself stranded in the next vegetable farm or wherever it may be despite many hours left before the cut-off time. Plus, the last bus departure to the city was till midnight and nothing till 7 am next day.

Lesson taken for me is that I need to figure out my hydration and fuelling strategy precisely (or close enough) on race day taking consideration of the surroundings and weather. The body management part is crucial, other than training. Trail running is mysterious, extreme, full of uncontrollable factors and variables – yet it’s attractive which I’m drawn into. No regret here, there’s always another race.

Congratulations to all finishers – especially my awesome sandpit mates: Clare Mullenger took 1st place for veteran women (30th), James Constable (60th). Mr E, my other half finished strong despite weeks of no active running prior to the race due to torn calf muscles. In the 30k distance, Ellen Pavlovic and Elizabeth Routley-Driver both conquered the trail their own way and enjoyed the beautiful trail.

Picture courtesy of Izuan Siti – Mr E towards the finishing line

If I have to compare with the other sister race, Borneo Ultra Trail marathon (BUTM) which I raced in March – personally much prefer BUTM where I enjoyed the course better, plus there weren’t too many dogs on the route.

That said, Sabah is truly magical and this race deserves to be one of your bucket lists – or try the sister race. Would be a time well spend if combine with some traveling and a trip to summit Mount Kinabalu – just like Ellen Pavlovic and Liz Anderson did post their run.

 As for me, things may not turn out beautiful as plan on the trail, this trip overall was indeed one of the most beautiful things. Thank you to my lovely friends. And till the next trail adventure.

Live to thrive,x