Overseas Race Review : Matanoi Group – 12th Sabah Adventure Challenge 2011

Looking for an adventure holiday of a lifetime, exploring new beautiful places, being one with nature, meeting new friends and lots of running, then don’t look no further, Then the Sabah adventure Challenge.

This year was the 12th time they organize the Sabah Adventure challenge, which had been long known as one  of the toughest race in the region due to its unpredictable mix terrains and climate. This year, the Sabah adventure Challenge introduces a new category  especially for runners – A 60km Solo Ultra Trail run that will take place in a village in Tambunan over a 2 days period.  This is a challenge not for the unprepared.  Equip with just a compass and a map, participant would have to navigate and run from checkpoints to checkpoints. This is one race that I will not miss to be apart of as being an outdoor Instructor and an avid marathon trail runner, this event have lot to offer to an adventurer like me.

The race had been capped to accommodate only 80 runners. Runners from everywhere from Peninsula Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and even as far as Holland, united States and Australia made their way down to Sabah to take on the challenge.

Competitors flew in from everywhere to Sabah on the 20th & 21st of April and check into Mega D’Aru resort where race registrations took place.  It was great to see some familiar faces from Singapore taking part in the event.

On 21st April; Pre-race day, Competitors was transport from Mega D’Aru to the race venue at TVRC  which is located in the city of Tambunan which is  about 3hours drive from Kota Kinabalu city. This was going to be headquater for the competitors.  Race briefing was conducted that evening, this was the first time the competitors got a chance to meet the rest of the other competitor.

Race briefing was conducted on every night and this will be the time, the race director will distribute race map for the following day and to brief on the safety and also on what the competitor would expect to overcome  the next day.

22nd April, the first day of competition,  participant or rather competitor had been brief that they would be running about 31-35km that day. There were many competitor all gear up and ready to take on the challenge.

Race start promptly at 7am competitor made their way out of TVRC and crossing the bridge and off they go towards the  undulating mix terrains. As there will only be 2 water station setup and distance between them could  be about 11- 15km apart, water hydration pack was a must to bring along.Competitor was also have to bring along several items with them such as food,  whistle, rain jacket, cap, first aid kit and a headlamps along with their normal recovery gels and drinks.

The race on day one, took competitor to across an old logging road, terrains changes with plenty of steep uphill and downhill. From rocky roads, to tarred road and to super muddy terrain. Because it rained heavily the night before competitor were ask to take extreme cautions when going through the route.

Part of the route that I can never forget was the sections was the jungle sections where we have to scale downhill on a muddy slippery route, elevation was almost down to about 120 – 160 degrees and the only way down is to slide down on our butts or in all fours, it was possibly the toughest thing I did yet,  after the jungle section it was more uphill and downhill run for the competitor, some competitor had come prepared with trekking poles to aid them through this sections, other pickup branches as they scale down, then its back to more stepping running on muddy roads toward a downhill road, it was so steep running down this part of the section toward CP4, a single miss step could spell disaster.

While descending down the slippery hill a competitor has experience a very bad cut on his finger, thankfully one of the competitor happen to be a doctor, dochisyamsalleh, with the use of the compulsory first aid kit brought, he was able to dress his cuts. In fact, throughout the race I meet 2 Doctors and even a Professors through the race.

From CP4 it was about another 9-11k of gravel road to the finishing line. It rain heavily while I was running half way in this section, Visibility was poor and roads were getting more slippery making it harder to run uphill and especially downhill, decision had to be made – together with another competitor, NSW, we seek shelter at one of the Kampong houses, this was a great opportunity for us to talk to the locals and also get to know each other slightly better. We rested as we waited for the rain to lighten up a  little bit before continuing our run.

Every once in a while a the safety vehicles will pass us by to check on the competitor well-being, providing water for our hydration pack. NSW and I crossed the finishing line together for day one, it was strange to see how the weather in Tambunan can change in an instance, from scorching hot to wet and back to hot again. We rest for a few minutes and cheer on the adventure racer (120km Duo category) competitor that when by.

Competitor gather for the night’s briefing, everyone was sore, limping and some was in their recovery compression or calf sleeves.

in Green, was so drain out that I fell asleep during briefing

Race Directors distributed maps for day 2 race, “The toughest part of the race is done” so that was told to us that night. Our attention were directed to the back as Singapore Blade runner, Shariff made a remarkable display of will power, completing the day 1 route in slightly before  12 hours,(No cut off time was impose but due to the weather & as it was getting dark some competitor had to taken out of the race).

The briefing was also a good opportunity for competitor to mingle around and share their race experience among the others.

Day 2, next morning, it was clear that many were still tired and limping from yesterday gruelling leg of the race. Despite being sore everyone was in high  spirit as we were transported to the start point. Everyone gather at the start point with a smile, at the back of everyone mind they knew that there will be at least about 25-26km of hard terrain to cross before reaching the finishing line.

Weather was scorching hot, competitor scale up a several steep slopes of elevation of at least 50- 60 degrees elevations up and the menu for the day is crossing over 3 major hills in Tambunan area. Some of the hills are above 600m which should have been call a mountain.

As the saying goes “we always remember toughest experience in life”, for day 2 there were 2 toughest but yet most  memorable of sections of the route was firstly when  returning back from CP2 to CP1, competitor have to climb up a very steep, slippery muddy wet hill appropriately name Hamburger hill, it was possibly the toughest thing anyone could every go through.

Some participant slip and roll down the slippery path while other try to grab hold of trees and undergrowth as to maintain their balance but it was all worth it as the competitor finally reach the top, such a beautiful panoramic view of the Tambunan.

Next came the final 11km of forested stretch of gravel road, this was the final sections of the race; tired, sore and sunburnt many find this last section absolutely dreadful. it was a straight long gravel  route that takes competitor back to the finish point at TVRC. With no water station in between, competitor were left with water from their hydration bags. This was a mental and physical test for all the competitor.

Along the way, I caught up with several competitor and we talk and share a little bit about our self and the race as we ran next to each other. Finally, TVRC was in sight, with whatever reserve energy left I ran on the road heading down and then crossing the final bridge to get to the ending point. There were a few competitor who were there whom had ran past me on the final stretch of road. It was a quiet finish but yet meaningful finish not much cheering can be heard. Every competitor that crossed the finishing line took a quiet moment of what they have conquered at the finishing line and celebrate and congratulate the other competitor for completing the trail challenge.

Finish NSW & I seizing the moment

That night, everyone gather for the final briefing and prize giving ceremony dinner. Race organizer had organize a showcase of the locals (Kadazandusun) dance and food. Prize giving ceremony came next every finisher was call up to stage and was awarded a finisher medal and finisher tee.

Race Director announced the first place winner whom will be win an entry to the Kimberly Ultra 100km trail run in Australia.

After the prize giving ceremony, Race director brief competitor on the agenda for tomorrow, where by there will be buses transporting competitor to Kota Kinabalu to either stay a day longer to experience Sabah and recover or to the airport for some of those who have booked an earlier flight out the next day. I opted to spend another day in Kota Kinabalu to explore the city area after being in the jungle for more than 3 days, it was a great opportunity for me to spend sometime with some of my newly met friends that I had made in the race.

fellow competitor, Faizal from Terrenganu. Myself & Race Director Avtar

Overall, it was an awesome once in a lifetime experience for me. Long, tiring and unpredictable the Sabah Adventure Challenge Trail run has taught me that a race like this is not all about competition, it about experience the element, trusting your capability, having the determination not to quit and most of all it was a celebration of friendship which I personally feel is the most valuable thing that I brought back from the race. The race has pushes myself to the limit overcoming the distance, elements and even overcoming the leeches. With a muddy shoes and a bag full of experience, I return much wiser and more determine to train harder and run further to return to this race again next year.

To the other competitors and Finisher, Good Job! It was fun let’s do this again!

Gear Use: Salomon XR Crossmax Neutral

Powersong: Fix you – Coldplay


Cheers! (:

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