Two hundred meters up the road from my house, Debbie Chinn and I started into the jungle on a newly cleared trail. I’d be hard pressed to find better training ground for the TMBT — access from my front door to the network of trails traversing Penang Hill. This new trail cuts back and forth a few times before making its way up the ridge above Tanjung Bungah. After 850 meters, it joins up with a much broader mountain bike trail that skirts around the side of the hill. We break into a brisk paced run on this relatively flat mountain bike road. The random bike-jump ramps along the trail are like cross-country obstacles giving extra opportunity for short bursts of hill sprints. After 2 km., the path narrows back to a single lane foot trail which leads up the ridge and eventually to the abandoned, but nostalgic, 1920′s Crag Hotel. The trail gets too steep to run, so we fall back to a brisk hiking pace. As we gain elevation, the forest gives way to a heavy fern flora. At the first rain gauge clearing, we pause to catch our breath and take in the beauty of dawn breaking over Georgetown. Street lights are beginning to fade into the morning light.
It is a pity our respective spouses don’t share our crazy passion for distance running and predawn jungle treks, but we rest assured their day will start better having slept in on Sunday morning as is the habit of sane people. Headlamps come off and we pack them away in our hydration backpacks. I couldn’t think of a better place to be at 7:00 am on a Sunday morning. Nature has a way of recharging and rejuvenating the soul. Nature + physical exertion is the ultimate runner’s high.
So here I am, at age 47, signed up for my first ultra event — the TMBT 100 km. How did I get here? My 14 year old daughter recently cued me in on the current generation’s acronym — “YOLO” (You Only Live Once). Surely YOLO is part of my decision to tackle the TMBT. I figure I’m midway through life so I had better make the most of the years I have left. Being physically fit and spending time in nature are certainly high on the priority list! When I registered for the TMBT 100 km ultra in January, I had completed 5 marathons over the past 5 years, with my best time being my last one — Callaway Garden Marathon, 3:41:28. However, I have cramped and had to walk in every single marathon. This last one was in the U.S. in ideal 1-5 degree centigrade February weather, I still cramped in the last 4 miles, reducing me to a stiff legged shuffle to cross the finish line. I just wasn’t cut out to be a marathon runner. Making the Boston qualifying time of 3:25 for my age group seemed unobtainable. I came away from this last marathon with a nagging ITB pain, and a big mental let down. It took several months before I got back into running in earnest, and it was largely due to my running friends in Penang and the silent, but persistent beckoning of road that got me back to serious running about July of 2012.
Aung Moe, a Burmese friend, kept posting Wikloc and Garmin Connect training runs and treks that made me envious. The previous year, he tried to talk me into joining the Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon, but the scheduling didn’t work out. In July, I put a training trip to Kinabalu on my calendar and began training toward that goal. Aung Moe and I went to Kota Kinabalu the last weekend of September. The previous 5 days had seen a steady deluge all across the Malaysia, but Saturday morning when we arrived at the Mt.Kinabalu Park entrance, the weather was beginning to break and the rain had subsided. This year would be Aung Moe’s 3rd attempt to make qualifying time for the Climbathon. By 7:40 am, we hit the trail. We had obtained the necessary permits, hired a mandatory guide for a one-day climbing pass, checked our gear and taken the pre-hike photos. Dawat was a great guide with an easy going personality.
Aung Moe led the way with a brisk pace up the trail of relentless steps. The weather cleared as we finally conquered the steps and rose above the forested tree line. Near the Layang-Layang hut, I got my first glimpse of the majestic summit of Mount Kinabalu outlined against a jet blue sky. I was smitten.
It was love at first sight. Growing up in Indonesia, I had climbed many amazingly beautiful volcanoes: Semeru, Rinjani, Kerinci, Merapi, & Singgalang, but nothing had prepared me for the majestic granite dome which topped Kinabalu and her jutting fingers of stone hewn from some crazy geological process eons ago. I reached the summit at noon and was the only person on the entire mountain top for 30 minutes before Aung Moe arrived with the guide, having been slowed by altitude fatigue. I never feel more alive and more connected to life than when viewing the world from the summit of a mountain and with a full hour at the 4,095 meter summit, Kinabalu and I came to an understanding together.
I would be back as frequently as opportunity allowed. The following day, we set out to run the new 23 km Climbathon route along the Mesilau trail. However, upon reaching the spine ridge of the Mesilau trail, our run was abruptly halted by the spectacular panoramic views of Mount Kinabalu and her many and varied angles, ridges, and ravines on a second crystal clear day.
TMBT 100 km Ultra Trail Marathon circling the base of MountKinabalu provides the opportunity to explore different aspects of my new found love while also giving me a challenging goal to see if I have what it takes to complete a 100 km trail ultra. Why did I not sign up for the TMBT 25 km or the 50 km? YOLO. I choose the challenge of pushing myself to my limits and connecting with my soul on the tracks, trails, steams, ravines, and ridges of Mount Kinabalu. My success will hinge on the quality and quantity of my training. Three months of training to go!