Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mount Kinabalu Climbathon's New Route - Pluses and Minuses

The 26th Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon in Kundasang last Sunday was historic in a sense. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak flagged off the race, the first Prime Minister to have done so.

Reputed to be the world’s toughest mountain race, the Climbathon had in the last 25 years, followed a well trodden 21 km trail to the mountain summit from Kinabalu Park headquarters, and back down again to finish at the Kinabalu Park Headquarters.

Unfortunately, the Park management found that they could only allow 250 participants at any one time to ensure safety and proper supervision.

This year, the route was altered to start from the Kinabalu Park entrance, and follow a forest trails to Layang-layang Hut at 2703.3 metres above sea level, and down to Mesilau Nature Resort. The participants then ran for another 10 kilometres on a tarmac road that goes through Kampung Mesilau, Kampung Indah Permai and Kampung Cinta Mata before reaching the end point at the Kundasang village township. The total distance of the race is 23 kilometres long, an extra 2 kilometres.

With the route change, the race organisers were able to allow more runners to compete this year. 663 runners from all over the world took part, which is a 20% increase.

Unexpectedly to many, most of the foreign contestants who were familiar with the old route did not like the new one.

Kilian Jornet from Spain, the winner for Men’s Open category, said that he preferred the summit trail that he took previously. However, the four-time winner conceded that the new route was no less challenging, but was very different from similar mountain runs in Europe. First in the Skyrunner World Series, Jornet completed the race in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 45 seconds to reign supreme yet another time.

Winner of the Women’s Open category, Emelie Forsberg did not think much of the tar-sealed portion of the run.

“I hate roads. I am not a roadrunner. My strength is technical downhill where there are slippery steep rocks,” the 25-year-old extreme athlete from Sweden explained.

“I climbed the Summit last Friday and it was amazing. It was so much more beautiful away from roads. I wish they could bring the summit back, or else I may not want to take part in this race again next year,” she added. Forsberg, who also ranked the first in Skyrunning World’s Series women’s category, said that she started racing this year and that her first race was in April in United Kingdom. She finished the race in 2 hours, 38 minutes and 35 seconds.