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Kadaimaian Nature Challenge

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I've always have a fascination for new runs specially here in Malaysia. In the last 2 years or so, they've been a mushroom phenomenon for trail runs. Nothing bad about it really, in fact it's even better for us trail runners. I chanced upon this Kadaimaian Nature Challenge rather late. It wasn't heavily publicised even and I got to know about it accidentally through a friend's posting on FaceBook. That's why I love Facebook. Not for the gossips but well, for the wealth of information available on new runs and old.

Last I ran a trail in Sabah was for TMBT back in 2014 and haven't been back there. So when this opportunity came up, I said why not right? Basically consist of a 55km, 25km and 10km category. To me a distance of 50km or so is just about right. Not too short like a full marathon distance and nary too long like a 100km run. Some where in between. Furthermore, the fees for the 55km was just RM90 for early birds and RM120 for late birdies. Cheap! Typically you'd pay anything from RM250 to RM300 for a 50km trail run elsewhere. Yeah you might say the air flight will add in but these days, there are bargain flights to be had on MAS, AirAsia or even Malindo. Plenty to choose from really and I snagged a return flight of less than RM300.

Kampung Taginambur in Kota Belud was where the start and end line was. Nestled some 1.5 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu, it wasn't all that hard to be there if you have your own transport. I've opted to stay in the Kota Kinabalu town and enlisted the help of a local friend, Mohd Jumat, to ferry me as well as himself to the starting line on Saturday morning. So everything was checked proper from registration (which was 2 days before the close!), to airflight to a cheap hostel stay costing me RM50 for 2 nights. All that's left was to train well.

As I've not run a 50km distance for a very very long time now. Generally favouring distances of 100km or 100miler. Hey, these are bang for your bucks since it does cost quite a pretty penny signing for them, so to me it's go all the way or none. I got into Kota Kinabalu mid day on Friday via AirAsia. My friend, Jumat helped me to pick up my race kit on Thursday ... with a lot of persuasion required.

Yes, that's the mandatory items for this ultra. They sure mean busines with so many items for a 55km but I'd have to say always, safety comes first. Anything can and will happen in an ultra that spans for very long hours. I didn't quite agree to the sunblock being mandatory ... hmmm.

And it was told that there'd be a spot check on these mandatory items during the race, at an unprescribed checkpoint. Which didn't happen at all as I found out later. Duh. I guess that's a scare tactic for the runners but I'd wished they did do a simple spot check for some of the important items like headlamps and rain/wind jacket. Not all, but some.

The route map and elevation profile. It pays to do a bit of prior research on this as it helps you to plan where's the difficult bits during event day. Well it sort of gives me peace of mind knowing what's ahead and what I've accomplished during the run. It will help ease some of your stress away too and not get too agitated wondering what's ahead. With a nearly 2,000m elevation gain for 55km, that's certainly not little in my books. I can already see there'd be quite a few small steep climbs peppered throughout the route and a massive big climb by about 15km. Quite a good bundle me thinks in terms of distance and climbs.

Dinner with my host, Mohd Jumat, his wife Ilie that played photographer on event day and a new friend who will also be running. Then it was lights off before we adjour to Kota Belud at 2am ... zzzz.

2am came, my sleep was a bit restless as with every event I've done before. Just couldn't calm my jitters. Oh did I mention the organisers are very generous with the cash prize? For men's open, the champion gets a whopping RM2k! So it wasn't strange to see all the elite locals out in full force for a chance of the prize money. We got there safely after some 1.5 hours of driving and it was about 3.30am. Some rest in the car, and them some preparation for myself before we got going at 5am.

One of the many 'fan photo session' lol. Some how I can't help feeling like a star just participating for this event. Word got out when the name list was published that a KL runner will also be joining. Dang, I got more stressed out hearing that. Word has it that ... I'd be some sort of a competion in the Men's Veteran Category that I'm placed in.

There were about maybe 60 to 70 runners for the men's veteran category so there were a high chance I'd do somewhat well. Hmmm. I didn't pay much attention to that really as I was here to run. Enjoy the terrain what Sabah has to offer and make new friends. End of story. We got off to a late start only at 5.30am. So here's the story. During race kit collection, the organiser's announced that the trails would only be roughly 10%. And I thought I'd signed up for a trail run! So my plans changed and I decided to run with my Altra One2 road shoes since the trail portions were too small and these babies will be fine for the trail portions. Emm... not what I found out later.

So we were finally off in the nice crips 23C temperature at 5.30am. Delayed by 30mins which also means the sun will be up not too long now. And if you know Sabah well, the sun can be quite a roasting affair. And no thanks to the Equinox happening that weekend, it will definitely be a barbeque affair! The 1st 10km or so was on roads, part of the highway and it was called Jalan Ranau bypass on Google Maps. It wasn't flat at all, it was sometimes on a steady incline, and sometimes a bit of a steep run up.

Started with a good crowd which thinned by about 6km or so. This is where you sort of know who's your competition but it was still early days. The fast legs ahead were long gone. Then came my batch about 5 or 6 runners, all huddling close together. At the end of 9km, we were routed to roads along the village. Smaller and rougher roads but still tarmac roads with some gravel bits here and there. Still fine and dandy for my road shoes.

By about 12km or so we headed in the trail head. Huh? Gosh, there I was in the middle of the jungle with thick foilage and trees and bush and all. Uh-oh ... I thought. My road shoes lack traction in such terrain so I decided to go much slower for fear I'd slip of the downs. That was the start of the climb up to nearly 600m in height of that hill. Don't know the name but it was step at some places and the only way was up! Fortunately, I got to the peak in one peace and it was down and out of the jungle trail. Phew.

What's next was basically gravel roads littered with small and big rocks. That's umm ... not normal roads I thought to myself. Dang. I don't know if my road shoes will last such rocky gravels given that it's only about 20km now. Pray. It was bright now at past 7am and things began to heat up quite fast. It can be felt already like it was 9am back home. And things got worse with the heat and never ending ups and down of the gravel trails.

Gravel trails everywhere! Not the toughest to run on really.

Then there was a twist. Surprise!!! From the route map, there'd be 2 u-turns and here was the 1st one. Heading in ... and all of a sudden the 1st and 2nd position runners for men's category was coming my way. Huh. I thought they'd be long gone. So i waved to them and in my mind I was wondering how far was the u-turn ahead....

It was about another 500m and that was the u-uturn. But not before we were made to descend down a very long series of man made steps to the waterfall below! It's called the Wasai waterfall, clear blue water in the stream and a magnificent waterfall providing the water source. I think it was a good 100m downwards before reaching the waterfall, got my bib number taken down and off I went for the climb up. If not for the race, I would have taken time to dip in the oh so inviting waters!

To the waterfall! Hot it was that time, tough conditions.

Took this from one the participant's FB. The climb up from the Wasai waterfall was seriously this bad and steep. I was huffing and puffing honestly and using the rails to haul my ass up!

Done. I was still feeling ok despite the heat quite blistering now. So I jogged onwards. Not many came my way, just a few and I urged them on. The route was just a roller coaster of ups again, and down. Story of the day. After a steady few km, I saw someone in front! It was the 2nd placer in my category and he seemed to be slowing down a bit. So i went on my usual pace and overtook him but I didn't dare to look at his face, just waved at him. Well he didn't want to give up that easily and gave chase behind me. Crap. Time for some psycho games I said. So i upped my pace a bit more seeing I was still feeling brilliant, fueled by them round banana ballz from MarathonBaker every now and then and plenty of drinking.

I even ran up the inclines hoping he won't be able to follow. But I still heard him behind me. After some 10 minutes or so I heard nothing from behind. I took a peak and no one there. Phew. But I continued on my pace to ensure I build up a respectable gap. Then I was alone again with the rolling gravely roads in the hot hot ho sun. At this point I was sweating a lot till my tights were white with salt disposition. Upped my dosage of salt pills too.

Then ahead I see someone again! It was the no 1 in my category and he seemed to be slowing down. Umm... what else but to just go on my merry pace and overtook him .. and turbo-ed on! Wow ... I was in 1st now. But it's only about 40ish km and I still have about 15 clicks to go. Still a long way to go and anything can happen. Didn't want my ego to get the better of me so I laboured on with my slower pace now, eating and drinking reqularly.

What's great about the water stations were ... too many! A good 13 of them spaced out about 5km apart. Granted it's only plain water and a few had some watermelon, it was just too good to be true. Most trail ultras would only have water stations at least 10km apart. So in this event, you absolutely cannot give an excuse of not doing well or DNF by merely complaining no enough water. Most junctions had marshalls there directing the route and trails marked with a simple red/white ribbon. Good enough for me that I wouldn't get lost.

Also charming were the volunteers at the water stations, friendly and all. Even the locals set up little stalls seling cokes, 100 plus and even some food for a small token. Too bad I forgot to bring some money cause that iced coke looked so delicious in the blistering heat! A couple of stations had the locals making a whole deal of noises with the traditional instruments of gongs and such. Nice touch really and loved to seem the smiling at me and giving thumbs up. Part of the route were also what we went through during TMBT.

I was down to about km 47 now, it was extremely hot now. And towards the 2nd u-turn which was 3km in and another 3 out. It felt like forever in the hot scorching heat that reduced my pace. Finally, the u-turn station. Got my number down and off back again for some seriously wicked up climbs and down like a roller coaster. You could just stake a knife in me that time to end my misery.

The thing I don't like about u-turns were ... you'd see your competition or rather pass them along the way. Yes, this was the case and not long after that, I brushed past no2 and no3 and they were incoming. Emmm I could only give them a nice smile and when they asked how far? I said about 2km in. Which means I have about a good 2km lead or a bit more. And I was down with the u-turn, and then make a right turn for the remaining 6km or so to the finishing line.

Seeing my competition opened up my floodgates to be vigilant. What if they speed up? What if I slowed down now? It's still anyone's game really. But I kinda wanted this and dug deep. The last 6km was horrible, back to steep climbs and down, and up and down. Repeat it so so many times in the heat reaching up to 39C and I got burnt out. At the last few big hills, I had to stop momentarily up the hill to catch my breath and sky rocketing heart rate. So so bad. Kept on glancing back, praying no one was there. Met a couple of 25km runners but that was it.

Inched on I told myself, down to 3 more km now. End is near, this was it! More hills later, my gps showed 55km and the finishing line is no where! Dang. It was not for another 2km that I was back to civilisation, across that big pretty bridge, left turn and onto the finishing chute!

The last 50m approaching the finishing line at the field. Thanks to Ilie (Jumat's wife) for spending the whole day in the heat to snap brilliant pictures for the runners. Yes, customary tongue in cheek pose.

Last turn and straight to the finishing line on a high!

I was handed position card no 1! Stoked I was coming in as champion for the men's veteran category, battling some of the finest and strong locals all the way.

Crowned champion and RM1,500 richer!

My poor Altra max cushioning road shoes that took a beating through the 57km trails. Yes we all had a bonus of 2km extras recorded!

The finisher medal from MedalDepot. Pretty, and sums up what Sabah has to offer for trail runs. Oh, incidentally there's also a Mountain Bike event at the same location held the next day on Sunday. So it was a combo trail run and MTB event.

What could ever be better than chilling at the finishing line with good company, and a beer in hand? From left, Linda, myself, Javadius (Race Director), Jess (podium 3rd women) and Shamsul (10th men's veteran). Great peeps to be with.

To sum up, the 55km seriously tests you out as a trail runner. From a good combination of trails, pesky rolling hills and the great heat to oppress you from finishing. Although it does have a generous cut off time of 16 hours. I completed in a time of 6hours and 52mins, some 20mins ahead of the 2nd placer. Good enough for me. Not a perfect event, has some flaws here and there that can be improved next year for an even better experience for the trail runners. Overall, I'd say its a 70% trail and the remainder are roads. Trails are those light to moderate difficulty and some tough ones thrown in to stress you out. Organiser was also too kind to provide you with a drop bag facility at km 30 near the waterfall checkpoint.

One, I'd certainly recommend to up your difficulty challenge, should you be ready for it. But do make sure you make the heat your best friend ya. After all, off the beaten path is where you'd find some good gems.




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