A last minute decision introduced me to a remote place in Borneo that I’d never heard of before. My first trail race in Malaysia turned out to be a trip that was both enriching and humbling and at the same time, thanks to the weather and terrain very challenging!

Great Beauty of Bario:
Bario which lies at an altitude of 1000m is cooler than I expected and this is where the smallest ethnic group of the Sarawak, the “Kelabit People” live. It is a wonderful getaway to visit Pulong Tau National Park where Mt Murud (Sarawak’s Highest Peak) and the twin peaks of Batu Liwa are situated. The soil in this area is rich in the nutrients needed for cultivating Rice and sweet Pineapples and the salt springs here produce highly iodized salt for the International market.

The Organizer of the race is called “Runners Wild” and this was the 3rd year of Operation and the aim of the event is to sustain tourism in Bario. In addition to the race, they also run the “Bario Experience Tourism Website” and offer a selection of interesting homestay opportunities. Eventually, the aim of the Organizer is to hand over the Operations of the race to the local people.

The Junior Journalist Program, run in conjunction with “Bario Secondary School” is an educational initiative for students to tell stories about Bario. A photography workshop was also organized for the day before the race and was led by one of the competitor’s Paun Cher Chin. Personally, I enjoyed being interviewed by the students the day after the race.

The Race Experience 20th May:
•  Brief: The Runners attended a pre-race briefing at the Bario Secondary School. After a mandatory gear check we were told about the course condition and terrain.
Start: The next morning at 5am we all set off from the start line at the Bario Market place.
Checkpoints 1 & 2: The first 5km on the tarmac before making a left turn onto a muddy trail was an easy warm up run. Following the logging road, I had to be careful not to fall into mud holes. I find that running in the mud is like running on sand, it drains your energy much faster. When I finally reached Checkpoint 2 at Pa Lungan my shoes were wet and heavy with a mixture of mud and buffalo dung!
• Checkpoint 3: As the sun rose higher in the sky it slightly hardened the muddy sections which made life a bit easier. By now I had developed a pain in my back from a water bottle in my pack, I normally carry a bladder but it leaked the night before. I refueled my energy levels with a Cashew Nut and Date bar and by the time I reached Bario Market I was the Leading Lady! I took a quick toilet stop and changed my socks to try to stop a small blister that was forming from the dried mud rubbing against a pressure point.
• Checkpoints 4 & 5: After I left Checkpoint 3 it started to rain heavily. On the gradual uphill section, I had to throttle back to a slow hike. By the time I reached Checkpoint 4 at Pa Derong the rain had stopped and as I left the checkpoint the gradient became much steeper as I climbed up Mt Agan covering an elevation gain of 110m in less than 2km. I powered up and reached Checkpoint 5 at the top where I was greeted by a beautiful view!
• Finish: Very unluckily on my descent, I missed a left turn after the “Bario Asal Longhouse” which cost me an additional 2km. I came in 16th out of 32 runners and 3rd overall in the ladies division.
• After Race Party: Finishers were awarded a Certificate and a beautiful bead bangle crafted by the women from the village of Pa Lungan. We all then feasted over a banquet of delicious local dishes and enjoyed traditional dancing and cultural performances provided by the community of the Ulung Palang B Long House.

Would I do this race again?
Yes – Absolutely! I especially liked how beneficial this race is for the local community. It was a very well organized event, despite the weather conditions and a lot of credit goes to the smooth local community involvement.
Bario as a location is guaranteed to soothe the soul, nourish your well-being and to challenge you both physically and mentally!
If I can advise you in any way for how to run this race then I’d say; “Be graceful as the hornbill dancer and have the courage of a warrior when approaching the tougher trails.”

Lessons Learned:
1. Test new equipment prior to a race and have a back-up for important items in case they fail.
2. Prepare suitable shoes for specific conditions – so much mud on the course needed a better grip on the soles of my shoes.

How the Bario Trail Run Befits the Local Community:
The Race was created primarily as a platform for the local communities to showcase their culture and to attract tourism through the sport of trail running. The aim is to create Bario as a “Must Run” destination for the International trail running community. With the expertise learned from this event the local community will open up other sports in the area in the future and hopefully attract more tourists to provide a sustainable source of income. The Homestay partnerships and the Local Junior Journalists programs are all designed to allow tourists closer access to the local community and to help them to understand the culture of the Bario area. ■

Live To Thrive.x

Aida Othman
Ultra runner and blogger
at www.sliceoftorchginger.com
More details www.runnerswild.com

Photos by: Tan Seok Hui and John Huong