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TMBT 2013 - Plan C or Act of God?

Posted Sep 18 2013 12:00am
So we found ourselves on the way to the biggest and longest race of our life. This was it. All the past few months of pounding up and down Mt Faber every Tuesday evening, the endless weekends training at Bukit Timah was climaxing here in the foothills of the highest mountain in South East Asia, Mount Kinabalu.

I have a very simple plan to do this. Cover the first 20 km in 5 hours and the balance 30 km in the remaining 10 hours. That should be doable. By my calculation, by the time it get dark, we will be out of the jungle and on the final stretch which was supposed to be a long long climb up on Jalan Kinasaraban to the finish line at Perkasa. But like all good story, the plot changes and the unexpected set in.

We set off on our allocated bus to the start line at 5 am. The journey took a fair bit of time even in the light early morning traffic and we arrived at our destination just slightly before 7 am. One funny thing happened along the way though. For some unknown reason, just barely 500 metres from the start line, the bus stopped along the road side and soon hordes of runners went down to 'water' the plants although seriously I didn't think the plants needed it. Runners helping to water the roadside plant. (photo taken through the bus window)
The thing is barely 5 minutes later we arrived at our destination. To get to the start line, the runners have to cross a small bridge and that when the first hiccup occur. The suspension bridge can only take 5 persons at a time so with a few hundred runners pouring out of the bus, crossing the bridge was pitifully slow. Runners queuing up to cross the bridge
By the time the last runner crossed over, it was nearly an hour later. And of course to make it worse, each runners still had to sign in. Why couldn't they use the attendance taken on the bus as good evidence and just ensure the few who drove there on their own need to sign in? That could significantly reduce the waiting time. Another view of the runners queuing up to go over to the start
The race was eventually start off without any fanfare at about 8. And surprisingly, everybody in the 3 categories were flagged off at one go. Which was a big surprise to most of us. Shouldn't they separate the 3 categories into say 3 different waves of maybe 30 minutes apart? Because of this, a big problem occurred!
For the 2nd time in 3 weeks, I got caught in a freaking standstill bottle neck. Just barely 1 km into the race, I found myself behind this queue of runners trying to squeeze through a small path next to some kampung houses. We were stuck there for nearly 1 hour!
The cause of the jam? Another one of the suspension bridge which was going to feature very prominently in the early part of the race. Here, again, only 5 runners can cross at any  one time and thus the jam built up. The organiser should have anticipated this and started the runners in wave to clear this but somehow it never seem to strike them to do so!
The course overview that we were given mentioned that Stage 1 which was start to Water Station 1 was 4.4 km and time estimate for the average runners would take about 30 - 45 minutes. Big joke! 1 hour into the race, and I was still at 1.2 km waiting impatiently to cross over to start the race properly.
Finally we were over and the next nightmare begin. We had to climb a series of short uphills. The slopes were wet, muddy and slippery and progress was painfully slow. The sidekick had a problem climbing up this first slope and she was holding back the runners behind her. That the sidekick in blue with a tail of runners behind her
Eventually, a local guy who I presumed was helping out as a marshal had to push her up all the way to the top. That slope got her rattled fairly badly. At this point, we took out our hiking pole but that didn't really help much as we soon found ourselves sliding and falling down as we went downward on muddy terrain.

And generally that was the sort of terrain that we had to go through in this first stage. Crawl up the hills and slide down the hills that inevitably will follow. The ground was so bad that my poor Altra Lone Peak couldn't find any grip at all and I fell left right centre and had the ignominy of having had to have someone else pull me up when I fell into a downward recess! But at least I could continue. Up on one of the slope, we came across our Singapore Blade Runner lying on the ground. Apparently, he had fallen and injured his knee and there was no way he could continue. After getting the assurances that help was on the way for him, we proceeded on.
And so we came to the highlight of this stage, another river crossing but this time we had to wade over a river. There was a rope to hold on to but it didn't help much as some runners slipped on the wet bottom and some shorter ladies like the sidekick had the water all the way up to waist height. The sidekick making her plunge into the river
Eventually after 1 hour 58 minutes we reach Water Station 1, almost 1 hour 15 minutes behind the average timing (at least according to the course guide). All in, not too bad considering that we were held up almost an hour at the first suspension bridge! At the Water Station 1, we asked about the cut off and a lady volunteer informed us that due to the bottleneck, the cut off was being extended by an hour. That was good news for us and so we proceeded on.
Water Station 1 to Water Station 2 is 10.5 km in distance. The cut off to reach WS 2 was 5 hours. I reckoned with the extension of 1 hour, we should be able to make it on time. What I didn't reckoned was more slippery slopes and this time on ridges. That terrifies the hell out of both of us and we proceeded very slowly and cautiously. We were constantly being overtaken by other runners but we never overtook anybody. That was how slow we were.
The sidekick going down slopes after slopes.

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