I first set my eyes on the BIM in 2011 during my first visit to Kota Kinabalu, en route to climbing Mt Kinabalu. There were banners all over town promoting the marathon, which was just a few weeks away from my climb. As we drove along the scenic coastal road just outside town that would be part of the Half and Full Marathon routes, I was even more determined to come back one day to run in KK (as the city is affectionately called). That trip would come 3 years later, on my fourth visit to KK.
I would say that the BIM 2014 was my first ‘proper’ 21K; my maiden Half having been run in hazy conditions at the 2014 Malaysia Women Marathon just some weeks back. ‘Proper’ly-run, yes, though probably not too properly-trained, I’ll have to admit. As I gingerly told my running mates over our first seafood dinner in KK town, I only managed a short 5K outdoors jog during the time between MWM and BIM, largely due to bad weather and fatigue from some medication I was on. I figured I would take it really easy on the Borneo route, and take photographs for the blog. However, I eventually only managed one shot of the coast, as the thought of having to use very sweaty fingers to negotiate a smartphone in the bright glare of the noon-like sun wasn’t a welcome one. If I were to do a photo-marathon, I’d probably pack a compact camera (into a waterproof pouch!)
But first, a word on food. (Without which no Malaysian holiday would be complete!)
You can’t visit KK without sampling some of the local stuff that is unlike anything you’ll find in Peninsular Malaysia (or ‘Semenanjung’ in Malay).
We were fueled by at least five carb-filled meals in KK. Pasta, you ask? Despite the thoughtful discount vouchers from Little Italy in our goodie bags, hell, no! Our list of must-try local fare in KK include Tuaran mee at the Seng Hing Coffeeshop in Sinsuran, bakuteh at Yu Kee on Gaya Street, beef noodles from Kah Hiong Ngiu Chap at Hilltop (topped off with the famous coconut pudding nearby though that’s only available at night), and fish noodles at the Sin Houng Kee Coffeeshop at Bandaran Berjaya.
Sabah boasts great fresh seafood at affordable prices. There is quite a choice of seafood dinner locations in town (some more targeted at tourists than others). Our friends in KK recommended the Welcome Seafood Restaurant at Asia City, and at the Kampung Air/Sedco Square food centre – we had both!
Margie, Shoon Hooi and myself were in high spirits as we shared a cab to the Likas Stadium at 4am on Sunday. We didn’t sign up for the designated transport shuttles as we weren’t sure yet of the locations of our accommodation at the time we registered. As the taxi leisurely got onto the main roads that would take us right to the entrance to the stadium, it struck us that such a luxury would not be possible during any major run in KL, where road closures would probably divert traffic to awkward detours, leading to traffic snarls, parking woes and long warm-up walks to get to the start line.
The taxi dropped us off right next to the start line! We were 45 minutes early. Lingering around at the fringes of the pitch, we took in the unusually (well, to us city slickers anyway) relaxed atmosphere, amid warm-ups and final loo stops. We walked to the start line where a small group had gathered, moving to the beats of the Zumba warm-up soundtrack.
The flag-off was a simple, fuss-free affair, and off we went, running out via Jalan Kompleks Sukan and Jalan Istiadat towards the roundabout that would join the coastal road (Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen). There was a constant breeze; light, yet bearing the humidity of the South China Sea waters. My playlist shuffle started off with this one by Coldplay, and I remembered making mental note that this was a lovely song to start a run with (I turn the music up, I got my records on / I shut the world outside until the lights come on / Maybe the streets alight, maybe the trees are gone / I feel my heart stop beating to my favorite song..)
It was blissful and serene, running by the calm sea, with the coastal route dotted by lights of streetlamps leading to the Tun Mustapha Tower that marks the end of the cove before the road leads inland towards the hilly terrain in the grounds of Universiti Malaysia Sabah.
Oh, the hills
Universiti Malaysia Sabah has a lovely, green, hilly campus.
Any happy thoughts from the flat terrain in the first 8K would be quickly dashed. Upon entering the university grounds, we approached the first incline after the main roundabout, where runners on the other side of the road seemed somewhat relieved to be heading downhill. I thought the route would just loop around the crest and head back down shortly after. Nope – the incline was followed by a steep downhill almost akin to some of the terrain at Bukit Kiara back home, before levelling out at the midway checkpoint of 10.5km. The hills would take up 3km of the route. I told Margie and Shoon Hooi after the run that if I were a student at UMS, I’d be pretty darned fit!
The water station staff were pretty generous with their rations, obliging requests from many of us to fill our handheld/waist bottles, though I hope there would be sufficient stock left for the later runners. Not many runners took bananas at the 13K banana station. I took two – one for immediate consumption and the second for a boost later on (I had realised during Powerman that bananas tend to work a bit of magic on me not unlike a sugar boost, though I know many others aren’t able to scarf down a banana mid-run).
It wasn’t even 8am yet, but the early Borneo sun was out in full force as if it was 11am already. The amount of distance covered used didn’t seem to be commensurate with the amount of effort put in. Back at Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen, there was no shade, and I could feel perspiration dropping from my ponytail down onto my calves!
The last 5K saw volunteers holding out boxes of watermelon and sliced oranges. In the scorching heat, they couldn’t have come at a better time.
The final five
The retracing of the route during the final 5K seemed endless. The morning traffic had started to build up to a slight congestion on the coastal road. Weekend revellers were out in full force, picnicking or fishing along the coast.
I managed to get my smartphone out for a shot of the coast before I resumed the sweaty battle with the asphalt.
The final roundabout was finally in sight, and we turned left, leaving the coast behind us. Another left turn took us to the stadium, and the last curve on the track, in the shade of the spectator stalls, was painless enough. I flashed a smile for the finish line photographers and nearly dashed past the volunteers handing out medals at the finishing chute.
I left my music on for a bit, just to bask in the satisfaction of the end of a perspiration-filled morning. This came on the headphones during the trudge into the stadium. Cliched, maybe, but there’s something about the sounds of an orchestra (playing an appropriate melody) that gives the mind a fresh break from pounding rhythms of a certain beats per minute.
My reverie was interrupted by a runner asking me if I could take a photo of her with the finish line in the background. I did, but didn’t ask her to return the favour – I had to look for Margie and Shoon Hooi as our initially designated meeting-place turned out to be a full-marathoners-only area. After at least 10 minutes of failed calls owing to congested phone lines, I found the gang at an adjacent set of stalls. I would find out later that Shoon Hooi had managed a sub-2 hour 21K (and was probably bored out of his wits waiting for me!)
A group shot followed (with thanks to a kind lady who helped stop the human traffic crossing the path of the camera). I was too beat to queue up in the sun for Milo. Back to the hotel it was, where a nice warm bath, freshly-laid bed, and a happily bouncing hyperactive 20-month-old, were waiting.
Loved the run. I’ll certainly be back. Possible venue for a first FM? We’ll see!