27th Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon 2013 – Adventure Race report

King Kilian Jornet did in in 2 hours 11 minutes last year 2012. And he said it was too easy for him. I did it in 6 hours and 25 minutes. So, nothing to brag about my performance. Yes, it was really slow for Men’s Open category. The cut off time was 5 hours. But it was really, really tough for me indeed.

Although I have climbed Mount Kinabalu 5 times, this was my first climbathon race. My preparation was very minimal. Apart from mentally ready, I only did around 5km per week of street running. I NEVER EVER had a session on trail, even more on a mountain trail. With all those excuses, no wonder I did poorly in this maiden race. This is my story.


I picked up my race kit on Friday afternoon, 18th October. I also bought a SPIBELT – a type of belt that runners always use to put their small items, (like smartphone and some energy bars) from one of their sponsoring booth. It happened to be one of my best running accessory. It function almost flawlessly during the race.


I went back to Kinabalu Park HQ on Saturday 19th October, around 6 pm for the race briefing. Its was really short and sweet. After sharing with the runners about the Adventure Race route and the timing chip, the organizing chairman wrapped it up in less than 15 minutes.


Adventure Race route is only 23 kilometers. 13 kilometers on tarmac section and 10 kilometers on mountain trail. Runners will start from Kinabalu Park HQ, goes up to Layang-Layang and then down to Mesilau route. The race will end in Kundasang town. So, it will be like this:

  • 4km on tarmac up, from Kinabalu Park HQ to Timpohon Gate
  • 4km on mountain trail up, from Timpohon Gate to Layang-Layang
  • 6km on mountain trail, mostly down, from Layang-Layang to Mesilau Nature Resort
  • 9km on tarmac down, from Mesilau to Kundasang

My family and I stayed in one of the lesser know chalet in Kundasang town. Luckily the chalet was in a perfect location – we could see runners climbed down the tarmac section, just around 3 kilometers before the finishing line. I should have “carbo-load” myself by Saturday, but I didn’t. I just had some steambot for dinner and slept at around 10 pm.


I woke up early on the race day, Sunday 17th October at 5 am. It was not a good sleep at all. With the anxiety of first time racer and my little girl who cannot sleep well that night, I managed to get things ready before 5.30am. I arrived at Kinabalu Park around 6 am. It was cold but clear morning. The mountain was there, staring at us and ready to torture those who were not ready for the race (Yup. In my face!). For my Open Men category, there were around 400 participant. I slowly munched my Toblerone chocolate (which stated that I could get around 2000 calories from it) for my breakfast.


At sharp 7 am, the race start. The first 4 kilometers was on tarmac section from Kinabalu Park to Timpohon. This section was quite okay for me, as I was quite comfortable with tarmac, although there was an elevation gain. But when I entered Timpohon Gate, the race changed a lot for me. I never had any training on trail, and climbing those unending stairs to hell (well, literally) really had a toll on both of my legs and knees.

The trail took 4 kilometers up from Timpohon Gate to Layang-Layang, and I really, really felt the pain. Just before I reached Layang-Layang,  my left knee started to get injured. I think it was my knee’s lateral ligament screaming. I cannot bend my knee without feeling any pain. That was not good at all.


The next 6 kilometers from Layang-layang to Mesilau killed my left knee completely. My right knee that had an existing ACL injury felt fine. I was lucky on that. I can’t even go down the stairs facing forward. I had to go down the stairs with my butt first. This had slowed me down so much, that even a 55 years old female veteran runners run passed me. We also had a chat and she said that she has a son who is my age!

I had bouts of cramping on both of my calf and thigh muscle. I had to stop almost all the time when the cramp starts. I was hungry, even after I finished  a bar of PICNIC chocolate at Layang-Lyang. Luckily there were a lot of paramedics on the trail who are happily spraying my legs with “painkillers”. I think it works temporarily.

After about 4 and half hours of running, stopping, walking, scrambling, sliding and falling down, I arrived at Mesilau Nature Resort in one piece. Long before I arrived at this checkpoint, I knew that I could not make it in 5 hours of the official cut off race time. My left knee gets more and more painful as I ran down those 6 kilometers of wet, slippery and muddy Mesilau Trail.


From Mesilau Nature Resort, there was another 9 kilometers to go. I could stop the race and had a DNF (do not finish) at this point by following my family vehicle (as they had waited for me there for sometime) back to the chalet, but I think – what the heck. Endure the pain and just finished what you have started! That remaining 9 kilometers of tarmac section was the ultimate test. It’s getting hot. Less checkpoint. No more painkiller spray, as they all have ran out of it.


The best part during this time was only at Maple Brook villa. There were few third party volunteer (I think?) whom offered me some bread and 100plus. I think that was the most delicious (and the only) food that I had during the race. It was relieving and uplifting as I was really hungry at that time. I did not know you guys, but I want to thank you guys very much for your effort. Please reply this blog post if you read this!

My energy went up a bit, my spirit soars as I saw my wife and kids cheering for me when I passed by the chalet. I could not run anymore because of the tremendous pain of my knee, but I tried my best to walk really fast. It was like my left knee was pierced by a huge nail, every time I started to run.


At last, I arrived at 2 kilometers before the finish line. This was the ultimate test – the last stretch was uphill. I think I saw stars after walking few hundred meters or so – dragging both my feet up this stretch. I stopped few times, panting. Both of my legs and knees had refuses to move. Luckily I did not passed out. I dragged my legs up the remaining stretch, and just before the finishing line, the female veteran whom passed me on the trail cheered for me and even asked me to run with her to the finishing line. I think she did really, really well.




I clocked 6 hours and 26 minutes on my Garmin Forerunner 210, way beyond the cut off time for about an hour and a half. Anyway, they gave me finishers medal, the second medal after my 10k Borneo International Marathon few months back. My Garmin – the Forerunner 210 and Premium Soft HRM – were functioning flawlessly during the whole race. The watch battery remains another one bar when I stopped the timer. I was impressed. Even with some thick jungle canopy, it still can track my positioning quite accurately.

Today 21st October, I am back in my clinic typing this report away. I could not bend my left knee properly, so like, I was crawling up the stairs this morning. My movement was also deformed. But it really worth the pain.

Will I do it next year? You bet I will!

So, what have I learned from this climbathon event?

  1. Training
  2. More training
  3. More running on the mountain trail training
  4. Need to bring more energy and electrolyte source during the 6 hours race. I underestimated this section and end up hungry and cramping all the way down the trail.

During the run, all my race kit functions almost flawlessly. From head to toe, these were my equipment that I wear:

  1. Cap – a great cover for my head and sweat absorbent. It really covers my head during the 9 kilometers tarmac section in Kundasang.
  2. New Balance tshirt from the organizer. Luckily not sleeveless.
  3. Garson shorts – a cheap one will do.
  4. SPIBELT – a great addition to my running as it keeps my smartphones, PICNIC chocolate and Energy Go Stick in place.
  5. Garmin Forerunner 210 watch with premium Heart Rate Monitor – the best way to track and log my race.
  6. Galaxy Nexus Smartphone, with MapMyRun apps running – I think the app failed to track my run properly. I didn’t know why. Maybe because I ran trail in dense jungle. The GPS might not be able to track me accurately. It logged 30 kilometers of the track as compared to only 23 kilometers official distance.
  7. Cotton underwear – very comforting.
  8. Knee guard – for my existing injured right knee (ACL tear).
  9. 2XU PWX compression thigh – a great way to “tutup aurat” for muslim in a professional looking way, apart from protecting my legs from nature hazard, especially the slippery rock and mud on the trail.
  10. Anti-blister Nike socks – it works really great. I did not have any blister. I was really surprised!
  11. Skechers Go Run 2 shoes – the good thing about this shoes was, its comfortable and did not gave me blisters. The bad news was, this shoes was not meant for trail running. The sole was too soft for the soft and muddy ground, and slippery on rocks. It does not protect your feet properly, as there were no rock-stopper and the very soft upsole fabric for nature hazard. It hurts sometimes when my feet knocked some rocks and protruding tree roots. I think I will get a pair of Salomon for next year’s event.

*You can get almost all the items above from Amazon. Just click on the link and get something for yourself.

You can also check out my data logged with my Garmin Forerunner 210.

Last but not least, thank you for the organizer who has been very professional on organizing this international event for the 27th time! I hope to return to this event next year with better preparation. I will beat my time and my position, 2 hours and 24 minutes, 191th. And I am tough enough!

I have helped thousands of climbers of Mount Kinabalu to book their climbing spot since 2006. If you want me to help you, just fill in the form below and send it to me. Thank you very much! 

6 thoughts on “27th Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon 2013 – Adventure Race report

  1. ben phang

    Thanks for the account. This is very informative as i and a friend will be joining the adventure race next year. at least now i have about a year to prepare. cheers from KL.

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