Seow is a friend of a foreign friend in FB, his post of an ultramarathon pictures in Antarctica caught my attention. I view his pictures with excitement, if it's talking about extreme sports, this one is an extreme adventure. And as I look at his posts, he has been to several races all over the world, one thing I also wanted to do as well. His races and the way he answer comments especially my comments inspires me to aspire for more especially on running. And on the Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon, he was there. All the more I can say, he really is an inspiration, he reach the cut off for the Men's Veterans, the same to that of the Women's Open he really is an amazing guy. I posted his write up in FB, just to constantly remind me that in this sports, age does not matter, for as long as you want it, you can do it. You constantly amaze me Seow, your strength in running and determination really inspire me to do more. Thank you for being one of my friend.
I have looked forward to meet up with so many FB 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 skeptism though. Climbathon- The World's Toughest Mountain Race- Are you tough enough? 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 21k mountain race be tougher than a 166k Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (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 requires you to ascent almost straight up from about 1800m to a high altitude of 4095m (a gain of almost 2300m), and then to descend immediately to about 1500m (a loss of elevation of 2600m). 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, which could mean Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) for some runners, and also lesser oxygen in the air.
Those were the tough parts. In other longer mountain trail races, most will ascent for at most 1000m, and then will be followed by descent. These undulation allows muscles to recover, thus avoiding fatigue.
It seems that quite a lot of runners are repeating participants 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 mile 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 6k 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.
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 2.6k to the peak within the cutoff. I snapped pictures whenever I felt the compulsion to do so. I mean, 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 ascent is certainly an interesting experience, and yet at that altitude of around 4000m, it was tough. Low's peak could never seem to be near enough. I reached it in 3:09:11 (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 scaringly fast and out of control if you're not careful. That km 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 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 strecth of 4.5k. It was quite demoralizing to have my leg muscles so thrashed that little spring power was left. That last 4.5k of asphalt road seems to be so long and winding that when the Finsih Point came into view, I couldn't quite believe that the end was near.
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 5:45:11, 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 higest altitude is 3152m, the terrain varyies from earth to gravel (so much easier than Climbathon), and distance is 22km. Yet the winning time is 1:50:55 as compaired to 2:33 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 2300m and descent of 2600m, 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 Climbathon also marks the end of the race to the peak of the second highest mountain in South East Asia. What a pity! Should we lobby for the current route to be maintained as it is?