Another Successful Story ...
Written by SK Ng
I have looked forward to meet up with so many Facebook friends & comrades in this Climbathon event, and it has turned out to be one of the biggest joy and satisfaction of this event.
I also came with some skepticism though. Mt Kinabalu Climbathon – Are you tough enough for The World's Toughest Mountain Race? That's a strong statement to make, especially to elite runners like Killian Jornet and Marco De Gasperi. Do we know what we are talking about?
I mean, how can a 21km mountain race be tougher than a 166km Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB; with close to 10,000km elevation gain and 46 hours cutoff), which Killian won?
I have to do this one for myself to find out. And find out I did.
Perhaps there is no other race in the world that will require you to ascend almost straight up from 1,800m to a high altitude of 4,095m (a gain of almost 2,300m), and then to descend immediately to about 1500m (a loss elevation of 2,600m). Aside from the continuous strain on same sets of muscles going up and down (this with continuous impact to the knees), the runners have to race against very tight cutoffs to reach the peak, and back down to the finish. Of course, there is the added element of high altitude and also lesser oxygen in the air, which could mean Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) for some runners.
SK at the rockface area of Mt Kinabalu
Those were the tough parts. In other longer mountain trail races, most ascent for at most 1,000m, and then follow by descent. The undulating hills allow muscles to recover, thus avoiding fatigue.
It seems that many of the runners repeat participation annually trying to crack the race. Apparently first timers like me will be considered as having done well to complete the race within the cutoff time (3.5hr to reach the peak, 3 hours to go down to the finish, a total time of 6.5hours for men veteran and women).
Having just completed my first 100 miles mountain trail race two weeks ago and Beijing Marathon a week ago, I wasn't sure how much gas I have left in my tank. Will I be tough enough? Will I reach Laban Rata at 6km within 2 hours? Will I reach the peak within 3.5 hours?
I sprinted as far to the front as possible right from the start just so that the trail will not be too crowded with slower runners. Of course I quickly found myself puffing for air as soon as the ascent began. Over these few months, I have conditioned myself to be comfortable enough with climbing up hills and mountains. I hardly stopped at all during the ascent, although it became tougher and tougher as we got to the higher altitude.
On cloud nine ...
I reached the famous Laban Rata in 1h50m, OK. Within what most people have advised – to get there within 2 hours. From then on, I was confident of making the rest of the 2.6km to the peak within the cutoff. I snapped pictures whenever I felt the compulsion to do so. This might be the only time I want to be on this mountain doing this race. There's got to be some thing more than keeping in my memory which will surely fade away over time.
Pulling rope on rockface to ascend is certainly an interesting experience, and yet at that altitude of around 4,000m, it was tough. Low's Peak could never seem to be near enough. I reached it in 3:09.11s (about no. 30 at that point), got the official to snap two photos of me at the peak, and promptly started my descent.
Wow, running on rock face can be so scarily fast and out of control if you're not careful. That kilometer run down on rockface was so tough on the quads that they were begging for rest and recovery. Of course, the downhill finish is far, far away.
I knew downhill on my Vibram FiveFingers sports shoes (VFF) would be my weakest link, and sure enough, and I was passed by many runners through out the whole downhill run. With my right knee (ligament reconstructed in 2004) still relatively weaker and unstable, I favoured my left leg during the descent. For so long that 4 days after the race, my left quads and calf muscles are still feeling sore today. In comparison, I have recovered quite completely 4 days after the 100 mile mountain race.
Coming out of Timpohon, a few more runners overtook me on this stretch of 4.5km. It was quite demoralizing to have my leg muscles so thrashed that little spring power was left. That last 4.5km of asphalt road seems to be so long and winding that when the Finish Point came into view, I couldn't quite believe that the end was near.
Yeah! what a feeling of elation!
All the sprinting to the finish, jumping with joy in my VFF, group photos with fellow finishers were of course part of the Climbathon story. I completed the downhill in a low time of 2:36 (although within the 3:00 cutoff for downhill), the whole race in total time of 5:45.11s, a position of 38 out of how many veteran? (no official statistic, but I think is over 200).
In another race in the Skyrunning Series, the Dolomite Skyrace in Italy, the highest altitude is 3,152m, the terrain varies from earth to gravel (so much easier than Climbathon), and distance is 22km. Yet the winning time is 1:50.55s as compared to 2:37.04s the record for this Climbathon.
So, yes, in terms of racing against the clock to reach the peak and back to the finish within the tight cutoff, in terms of continuous ascent of 2,300m and descent of 2,600m, I'll admit that this Climbathon is indeed the toughest mountain race in the world. As Killian admitted to the Salomon photographer (Greg) after the race, this win is even tougher than UTMB.
This 25th edition of the Climbathon also marks the end of the race to the peak of the second highest mountain in
South East Asia.
With the change in format for the 26th edition of Mt KK Climbathon
2012 where participants will descend at mid-point (Layang Layang Huts 2,702m) to
Mesilau trail and end at Kundasang town, the foothill of the 4,095m high
formidable mountain, we hope that it is a vibrant change that attracts more
Note by KC:
SK lives in Shanghai at the moment working as a Group CFO for an American-HongKong private equity fund. Mt KK Climbathon is his 79th marathon/ultramarathon. He has done the world's highest marathon – Everest Marathon in 2006, starting from altitude of over 5,300m.
He is the first Asian to have run marathons on 7 continents and North Pole. He has run self-supported multi-stage races in Amazon Jungle (222km) in Brazil and Marathon des Sables (250km) in Sahara Desert in Morocco.
The longest single stage race that he has done is the 240km Coast to Kosciuszko in Australia in Dec 2010. He has also run a few 100-mile mountain trail races, completing his first one in Italy in 7-9 Oct 2011.
He is also a barefoot runner, racing in VFF (Vibram FiveFingers sports shoes).
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Posted by KC Leong