Brutal yet Beautiful

The Most Beautiful Thing – TMBT Ultra-Trail Marathon was successfully raced on the weekend of 17-18 September 2022, after a two year postponement due to COVID-19. This was the 10th Anniversary chapter. I had the privilege to be a part of this wonderful yet challenging race experience.

Here is a brief description of the race, taken directly from the organiser’s official website:

The TMBT is Malaysia’s oldest Ultra-Trail® Marathon with the inaugural race held in 2011. The acronym stands for “The Most Beautiful Thing”, and makes reference to the iconic Mount Kinabalu, which at 4,100 m is one of Southeast Asia’s highest peaks and a world heritage site. The TMBT course is set over the ridges and in the river valleys around the base of Mt. Kinabalu, with the highest elevation on the race course just under 2000m.

The event takes runners from the quaint native villages at the foothills on the western side of Mount Kinabalu towards the southern side of the mountain with the 30k and 50k categories finishing at the viewpoint to Mt. Kinabalu at the township of Pekan Nabalu. The 109k category continues around the base of Mount Kinabalu and to the South-Eastern ridges of the mountain to finish in the village of Kundasang.

The routes are challenging but beautiful and give runners an opportunity to experience remote villages and follow village trails through a varied landscape of forest and cultivated areas. Trails pass paddy fields and climb steep ridges clad in pineapples with amazing views to Mt. Kinabalu and over the surrounding ridges and valleys which are often shrouded in clouds. The routes cross numerous streams with refreshing water on a hot day, while larger rivers are crossed via hanging, bamboo or log bridges. Part of the trails follow the old heritage trails that used to be a part of the old buffalo trading routes linking villagers from Kota Belud to Bundu Tuhan.

The race has a reputation for being challenging to complete with a combination of steep terrain and technical trail sections, and the weather, usually hot in the first part of the day and with a good chance of tropical showers in the afternoon, often add to the challenge.

Special Friendship Edition

I was looking forward to this race not that it is the 10th edition, but more so because three of my childhood friends from primary school had invited me to travel to Sabah and join in the fun of racing together.

Two of them, Vincent and Andrew were tackling a trail race for the very first time. Since they are tri-athletes already with multiple triathlon races under their belt, they decided to challenge the 50km category for their maiden trail race. I had some concerns, but they seemed pretty confident of their abilities. They are used to endurance sports and training anyway.

The other friend, Kang, is a reasonable seasoned ultra trail runner. We started running trails around the same time and had built our endurance on trails from shorter and easier trails right to ultra-distances. We had participated in a few 50km range trail races together over the last few years.

Truth be told, I initially wanted to sign up for the 109km category. But the prospect of travelling, hanging out, starting and completing an ultra trail race with three childhood friends seemed cooler. I do have a number of trail friends (new friends made on trails and during trainings) going for the 109km glory, and many on their first attempt at this top distance category. I envied them, yet quietly welcomed the easier 50km task at hand. 50km should be fun and even quick, for me, so I thought.

Not a Walk in the Park

The 109km and 50km categories started together on that Saturday morning 6am at Kg. Lingkubang, Kota Belud. The event village and starting point has the beautiful backdrop of the imposing Mont Kinabalu. It was already bright at 6m and the weather was brilliant.

The first 9km or so was a undulating road section before we hit the trails. I was running strongly and trying to place myself as front as possible ahead before we enter the single line trails which can cause a bottle-neck at the trail head. 

The trails were alright but they were mostly of secondary forest with relatively smaller trees. We crossed numerous streams on foot and a few rivers via hanging wooden bridges. We ran village trails and literally shuffled through their houses as the locals greeted us with food and drinks for sale.

By late morning the clouds disappeared paving way for the sun to shine strng across the valley, setting up a hot day for the runners. The race route had us running through a varied landscape of mostly cultivated areas. We covered paddy fields and climbed steep ridges planted with pineapples with amazing views to Mt. Kinabalu. That also meant that we were exposed to the full force of the sun!

[article in progress]

Spread the love