Brutal and beautiful in Borneo

The sixth TMBT Ultra-Trail Marathon saw 1,300 competitors from 35 countries competing across four race courses. Courses ranged from a 15-km beginner’s route to the 102-km full course with more than 5,000m elevation gain.

Held in late October 2016, the race began in Lingkubang, a small village in the foothills of Mt Kinabalu. Participants quickly got a taste of what was in store for the day on the climb up to the first aid station. Though steep, and to some, seemingly unmerciful, the first climb also offered good views of the majestic mountain, hovering over the race course. Wide roads on the first stretch allowed overtaking as the hill sorted out the ranks of racers, before they ventured into the narrow, technical trails that the TMBT is known for.

The steep next section turned into a mammoth test of willpower and strength. The combination of afternoon showers and hundreds of pounding feet turned the steep dirt trails into mudslides with some participants sliding as much backwards as making progress uphill. The standby mountain rescue team had to be mobilised to assist stranded competitors past the slippery section to reach the stage’s finish line.

The second half of the 100-km course marked the race’s return to a vegetable farming area up on the eastern flank of Mt Kinabalu. Although there was no rain on this side of the mountain on race day, the tracks through the ‘cabbage patch’ were slippery and challenging with deep mud holes and slow progress in the dark. Competitors who are still on the race course at dawn would therefore have been especially grateful to see the sun pop up to light their way.

A fierce battle for the podium places was played out over 15 hours with rarely more than a few minutes separating the top four contenders. Eventually Phairat Varasin of Thailand pulled clear for a convincing win in 14 hours and 35 minutes. Norway’s Jan Nilsen produced a steady run to take second place ahead of James Tellias from the Philippines.

In the women’s 100-km race, it was an all-Malaysian podium with Christine Loh Woon Chze in the first place, completing in 19 hours and 46 minutes. Marjilah Rebid steadily worked her way through the field to finish runner-up, less than two minutes ahead of Elvina Jimin in third place.

Registration is open at www.borneoultra.com/tmbt1/ for the next TMBT scheduled for September 16-17, 2017.