6 May 2012 — Marathon running during the first quarter and by the end of the year, I think, is pretty achievable. I wanted to try running a full marathon or an ultramarathon in Singapore for the past two years, but the opportunity kept eluding me. Either the time to go there was not right or that my training wasn’t enough prior to race date. I decided to forgo running there indefinitely.
By coincidence, the prospect of running in Kota Kinabalu (KK), Malaysia just happened early this year. Thanks to a colleague of mine who informed me on airfare promos. With a marathon race still in mind, I reserved a flight to KK for the Borneo International Marathon (BIM). It was some sort of a spur-of-the-moment choice. Marathon training for me would take four months, at the very least. Who would have thought that Ellen, a fellow runner (and take note: a fast one, too), would say YES to my invite even on such short notice. It sparked her interest to run the KK marathon, and voilà she reserved her ticket right away. I was elated with this turn of events, especially, when Ellen invited Jinoe, owner of Takbo.ph blog, to join us. We signed up for the full marathon. Surprisingly, we never trained together. There were times though we bumped into each other during our weekend long runs but that was it.
With just a few weeks left prior to travel date, in our e-mail exchanges we’re far more excited with the edits on our itinerary than discussing about the usual stuff about race preparation, training, target, etc. I, for one, didn’t have any clear-cut goal in mind. All I looked forward to was what KK can offer and how the race there would be conducted and organized.
Arrival and Exploring Kota Kinabalu
Taxis are readily available at KK airport and the standard rate from the airport to the city is RM30 or MYR30 (1 Malaysian Ringgit = PHP 13.6614502 or PHP14).
We arrived in the early evening and had enough time to go directly to Suria Sabah Shopping Mall, the venue for race kit claiming. The race staff was very accommodating and claiming our race kits turned out to be real quick. We stayed a bit to take some photos and dined at the food court before going to our individual hotels.
Malaysia is a right-hand drive country, which means they drive on the left side of the road. Initially, it was a bit confusing, especially, when you came from a left-hand drive country like ours. You only needed to remind yourself how and where to properly cross the streets and eventually you’d get used to seeing cars coming from the opposite side.
The hotel where we stayed is relatively new, modern, and strategically located within minutes to financial business centers, close to main shopping, dining, some tourist attractions that can be reached on foot, and the area is lovely to walk around.
Across our hotel is the Sabah Tourism Board. We visited this office on our last day in KK and we found out more about KK’s rich culture from the free brochures and maps on display. Also, what a surprising delight to discover that Sabah Tourism Board is situated in KM0 (Kilometer Zero), a landmark etched outside the building.
With the limited time and to ensure we wouldn’t be that too tired before race day, we had to pare down our visit in KK city and decided instead to take a journey of rediscovery and appreciation into the heart of Sabah history by spending the whole day of Saturday visiting two great tourist destinations, the North Borneo Railway and Sabah State Museum.
We were told by the hotel staff that early booking is required prior to taking a ride in the steam train since it is always full with tourists, but nothing could damp our adventurous spirit. We only get that one chance to do it at the time and place, so we took our chances, hailed a taxi, and went to the railway station to check whether we could still get a ride or not, and if we couldn’t, we’d just content ourselves taking some pictures as memento.
North Borneo Railway is the oldest running steam train in Sabah and Borneo. The railway train runs twice a week, Wednesday and Saturday. Passengers board the train at Tanjung Aru passing three more towns: Putatan* (sounds familiar?), Kinarut, Kawang, and ends in Papar, an agricultural town.
*Putatan – We also have this name in Manila, Muntinlupa City, and Rizal
But for some reason, the heavens and the stars cooperated with us that day. Once at the railway station, we were greeted and accommodated by friendly train stewards. The ride offered us a unique and interesting experience in Sabah. In the train, we met newfound friends and we’re treated with a free upgrade to a better seat by train stewards. It was also here where we had a photo op with the ever friendly Miss Universe Malaysia 2012, Kimberley, who joined the Borneo International Marathon 10K category.
The Sabah State Museum, just like what you would expect in a museum, showcased the history of the island. The visit was purely an educational one, discovering the island’s rich history and age-old traditions.
Sabah is also known as The Land Below the Wind due to being below the typhoon and monsoon belt. On Saturday morning, the sun shone brightly and hot, yet later in the afternoon and for a few hours in the evening it rained.
We decided to have an early night. I wanted to go to sleep but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t fall asleep. I think I only had a two-hour sleep before the race. The marathon started at 3AM, one hour earlier than the previous year’s marathon, which was a good thing. With the unexpected rains on Saturday night, early Sunday morning turned out much cooler.
Ellen and I arrived at the venue with enough time to have some photo ops with runners including a bubbly and energetic pacer named Mohan at the starting line. We later looked for Jinoe who happened to be just outside of the stadium busy taking pictures. Together, we did warm up exercises and other photo ops again with some participants.
Personal record or PR was far from my mind. All I wanted was to see KK on foot, finish within the cut off time, and just enjoy this run that I even brought my camera, which I never did in any race. Running at a comfortable pace at the start of the race, I decided to follow the 5:30 group from start up to KM28.
We were running through streets getting loud cheers and encouragement from the marshals themselves. Our pace group, though silent most the time, acknowledged the cheers by clapping our hands at them. The course was relatively flat with some slight downhill and uphill stretches. I’ve learned that the route and start time were changed this year. From Likas Stadium, we were running the wide road that runs along the beach and bordered by bushes, flowers, and trees; on our right the sea, on our left the trees. Except for the thudding sound of heavy feet on the ground, silence was broken occasionally by frogs that sounded like cows mooing. Hydration was not a problem, but I wished the organizer provided a hydration station much nearer the turnaround point instead of the standard three-kilometer distance since it was kind of hard not to drink something after eating a banana. I dropped from the group to be on my own when I started to feel heaviness on my legs and this uncomfortable feeling of being scratched by something on my right side thigh. I had no idea that the right side of my thigh started chafing after KM27 and the continuous chafing already led to an open wound. Really weird since this never happened before. I usually put an anti-chafing jelly on areas prone to chafing. The real culprit, I’ve found out later, was my camera which I placed in the inside pocket of my running skort (skirt + short = skort). I think the camera’s weight plus the sweat caused the fabric to rub heavily on my skin.
After the turnaround point, I think I was already running at KM34 when I could no longer bear the pain that I stopped as soon as I saw some medics and asked for Petroleum jelly, but found out this wasn’t available. The lady medic, however, offered a spray-on formula and when she sprayed it on my wound; I couldn’t help but yowl in pain. It gave me temporary relief though, which made me run again. I overtook quite a number of runners but I slowed down when I saw a very tired runner. I asked if he were OK, chatted with him, and paced him to just rev him up. Eventually, I had to leave him when he stopped running to check a friend who suffered a leg pain. Good thing a medic was with them.
I was about to run past two runners when I realized I knew one of them and decided to pace with them. We even stopped at the marker with “6 KMs to FINISH” written on it. Running and exchanging running stories with them made this marathon more enjoyable. In spite of the sweltering hot summer day, the run-walk strategy got the better of us and made us reach the finish line together. We congratulated ourselves and hugged each other at the finish line. What a way to finish!
Congratulations to the organizer of this race and to all sponsors for making BlM 2012 a successful one. Kudos to all the cheerers and volunteers as well! Thank you also to BIM Secretariat Arjie and Jeff for facilitating my request on name entry correction during the registration process.
Post Race and Departure
After receiving our finisher’s medal and finisher’s shirt, we proceeded to the activity area where runners can get some freebies like a glass of water to drink and a cup of cereal with milk.
And to our delight and surprise, Ellen’s name was announced. She won in her category! Jinoe and I beamed with pride and saw to it that a picture is taken when Ellen received her award. Jinoe went near the stage faster than I was. I couldn’t move well because of leg wound. We didn’t stay long and decided to go back to our respective hotels to rest and meet up later in the afternoon. We had our late sumptuous lunch at Little Italy, a pasta and pizza corner, and toured afterwards nearby tourist attractions like the Atkinson Clock Tower, and Signal Hill Observatory. We also walked our way to Jesselton Point ferry terminal to find out if we can still visit either Mamutik or Manukan islands, but with the limited time we had, we couldn’t risk being late from our flight the next day, and decided to go there next time. We had a light dinner at the Waterfront, a place where lively strips of restaurants near the marina overlooking South China Sea.
I still had an early breakfast the next day at a café across the hotel. We spent the remaining time before departure strolling around town.
My visit and race in KK will always be treasured. If given the chance, I would definitely come back to explore the rest of the old town and take a seat at a café or along one of the beaches.
[Related: Borneo International Marathon guide and race recap]