Climbathon Challenge

Saturday at 7:00 am, I’ll be pushing my physical limits to the biggest challenge of their 48 year history – the 28th Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon Summit Race.  With a total distance of 33 km (20.5 mi.) with a finishing cut-off time at 6 hours 30 minutes, making it to the summit of Lows Peak at 4095 m. (13,435 ft.) before the mid-way, 3 hour cut-off time, will test my fitness, endurance, and will-power to their maximum capacity.  Last year only 23 of the 46 the elite runners who started were able to complete the course in qualifying time (even after they extended the summit cut off time by 15 minutes).  I’ve done the math, crunched the numbers, and charted out the elevation gain/loss for each of the 33 kilometers . . . I need to have a very good day and everything must go perfectly to meet these cut-off times.  At this altitude, one must also factor in moderate to significant effects of acute mountain sickness – extreme fatigue, headaches, dehydration, etc.  I have trained as well as I think I possibly could for this, now it is time to see if that is enough.

Mt. Kinabalu - viewed from the Park Headquarters.

Mt. Kinabalu – viewed from the Park Headquarters.

Why do this?  I’m taking this extreme challenge to raise funds for educational scholarships for bright students from economically disadvantaged families in the developing world.  A large part of my past 16 years of work in Asia has been focused on education; teacher training, building schools, equipping schools with books and resources, and partnering with Ruble International Education Initiative (RIEI) to provide scholarships to high school and university students.  I have interviewed dozens of students applying for the scholarships, I’ve heard their stories, seen the passion on their faces, and watched tears well up in their eyes as they talked about how important it is to them to go to university.  They are at the top of their graduating high school class, but they have done the math, crunched the numbers, and were confronted with the harsh reality that there is just no way their family could pay for a university education.  It is tough narrowing down candidates for limited scholarships when so many seem deserving and eager to pursue higher education.  I’m committed to helping as many students as I can – You can join me in this effort by donating $1, $2, or $3 for every km I run in Saturday’s climbathon.

Race details:

The race starts at the park headquarters (pictured above) and participants must make it to the summit 12.72 km (7.9 mi) in 3 hours, then down a different trail and an additional 10 km of downhill running to reach the finish line 33 km (20.5 mi) later in under 6:30 minutes.  Mt. Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, at 4095 m. (13,435 ft.) and the elevation gain from the park entrance is 2,532 m. (8,307 ft.).  With this elevation, the Summit Race is not just a fitness and endurance challenge, but the altitude and thin air can cause significant fatigue and even acute mountain sickness (AMS).

Climbathon Map

Climbathon Map

Climbathon Elevation Chart

Climbathon Elevation Chart

Last year I did the Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon Adventure Race, a 23 km course which only went half way up the mountain before turning off on the Mesilau trail and down the tar road to Kundasang Town.  I completed it in 3 hours and 49 minutes feeling good, but with little reserves left in the tank.  It was challenging, exhausting, and exhilarating.  I placed 23rd in Men’s Veteran category and this qualified me to attempt the Summit Race this year.

I’m still not sure if it was love at first sight, but after my first climb in 2011, I was smitten by the majesty of Mt. Kinabalu.  Apparently I’m not the only one – this is a UNESCO World Heritage mountain and general climbing passes must be booked 2-3 months in advance.  Most people overnight at the Laban Rata lodges, then summit the last 2.7 km of rock-face in the pre-dawn hours to view the sunrise from the top, before the clouds roll in. But at least a third of the time, weather does not permit climbers to go to the summit.

In 2011, my Burmese friend, Aung Moe, cajoled me into joining him for two days of climbathon training hikes up Mt. Kinabalu.  At the time I had never heard of a climbathon and I had no clue what Sky Running was.  Heck, I had barely broken in my first pair of trail shoes.  Fortunately, we had spectacular weather and I surprised myself and made it to the top in just over 4 hours.

Aung Moe and I at the summit

Aung Moe and I at the summit

Not bad for a novice, but nowhere near the required cut-off times for the climbathon.  I didn’t end up joining the climbathon that year, but the following year I trained and ran my first 100 km ultra trail run – The Most Beautiful Thing.

Aung Moe - hanging 10 during the decent

Aung Moe – hanging 10 during the decent

The "Fin"

The “Fin”

This year I have continued my training and was pleased with my 14 hour finishing time of the Penang 100 km Ultra Challenge in September (which included a 5 km steep hill climb at the 83 km point).  I’ve done a lot of stair training over the past month in preparation for the Mt. Kinabalu Summit Race as the path up is dominated by relentless stairs cut into the mountain and secured with iron wood.  I feel like I am as prepared as I possibly could be at this point – now it is just time to put on the race number and JUST DO IT!  Help make education a matter of just DOING IT for those who don’t have the resources to do so on their own.

Should you accept this challenge to help make education a reality for kids in the developing world, donations of $33, $66, or $99 can be sent to:
P.O. Box 1036
Rome, GA 30162

Please make checks payable to RIEI*

Or you can make a contribution via PayPal
PayPal Donate Button

* RIEI is a registered 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization. EIN #26-1525304
For more information, please write to or call (706) 802-8307


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