I heard so much about this popular event. Not that my first trip to Sabah is well-justified with running 100km in challenging jungle setting, this beautiful land situated on world’s third largest island and its unique culture really deserve to be explored.

At start by Aida Othman

The Borneo Ultra-Trail® Marathon 2018 (BUTM) attracted runners to enjoy the views over surrounding ridges and valleys, including the view of magnificent Mount Kinabalu from afar. While the 100km course was tough with 4,890m elevation, I’ve enjoyed for the most part running on wide gravel, dirt tracks, and back-roads through villages and river crossing via numerous hanging bridges.

Finisher medal by Aida Othman

The Race Experience – 10th & 11th March 2018
Bib pick-up was done at Avangio Hotel, Metro Town about 20 minutes taxi ride from city centre. We were given 2 bus tickets; one for going to start line and another for a return to hotel. The next morning after not having much sleep, I boarded bus to Kiuluat 4am. The journey took an hour. We entered a big hall where registration took place. I left my drop-bag for 50km checkpoint and then walked to the start line by the riverside.

Writer’s picture crossing one of the hanging bridge

The race started 10 minutes after 50km runners took off (at 6:10am). I aimed for the first 50km to be completed before daylight given it’s the most technical section of the course; such as narrow trail with ropes was between W2 and W3. Spotted few pigs at a nearby village, I ran down the hill as quickly possible to Lokub (W3). After a few handfuls of sweet and juicy pineapple, I braved the sunny hot day ascending the highest hill on the course while putting my iPod on. I ran down to Kelubaan Baru (W4) to enjoy a village coffee as afternoon tea break.
Reached 50km mark in Kiulu (W5) well before dark as plan. I left Kiuli, after fueling, legs spray and change of cloth. It was slow going to reach both W6 and W7 in rainy dark night – a signed of fatigue kicked in. Things got worst from very slippery and muddy slope to being stung by a bee (I saw this creature on my left knee lit up under bright headtorch!)

Rolling hill of Borneo

At Pukak (W7), a short break was needed for a quick shut-eye, a few sips of coffee, and a quick first aid treatment from a volunteer who applied a cream on the bee sting area. It was hard to get going, not till I heard the magic words of a nice chap there “remember why you come here for!”
Off I went to Kitapol (W8) – had to stop along the way due to vomiting and dizziness. I slept at Kitapol for 1.5 hours in order to gain energy. Lost the first female position in my age category and top 50 overall position due to this stop, but it was a necessity in order to remain in this race.

Jungle setting

Climbing the next hill was another challenge. As the sun rise marking a brand new day, I appreciated the pristine jungle even more. Passed by lush green of low canopy forest among rubber tapper plantations and rambling rattan or palm trees. The descent to Namadan (W9) was steep and slippery.

Reached Rangalau (W10), a lovely picnic area by a river – I was disappointed with no cold drink to be purchased. After asking few people on the road (if any shop around), finally there’s one shop in the village. Ordered a cold can of Coke which was the saviour of the day, and then powered on along the final stretch of jungle trail, pineapple plantation, and dried paddy field. A lovely music played in the air sending message that the finishing line is getting closer.

Trail run in the land of sacred mountain

Finished at Kiulu just before the last hanging bridge where I crossed to get medals and finishing Tshirt. Didn’t use the food coupon, instead swap it with an injection for anti-vomit in the medical tent.

View of Mount Kinabalu

Obviously not a strong finish and took longer than expected due to the condition I was in – but delighted to cross the finishing line (85th over 270 finishers, 13th female, and 3rd in age group) because it displayed determination, resilience, and endurance against all odd. My 20th finishing ultra event and no better race to celebrate than in a well-organised race like BUTM. Thank you to friendly volunteers along the route and at the finishing line. This has been a good introduction to Sabah’ adventure – I will be back!

Another view of Mount Kinabalu

Sign Up and Accommodation:
2019 entry can be done at BUTM website www.borneoultra.com/butm once it’s open for registration, but if you keen for its sister race of The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT) in this coming September, visit www.borneoultra.com/tmbt1. There are options for 12km, 30km, 50km, and 100km.

As for accommodation, there are plenty of choices though recommended to stay close to the 3 locations of bus pick up/drop off points to race start/finish location in Kiulu. I stayed in Kinabalu Daya Hotel which gave the opportunity to explore the town and it was situated nearby the bus departure point in Downtown Kota Kinabalu. Alternatively, should you want a closer accommodation to the race start/finish and at the same time support the local communities in Kiulu, consider staying at newly constructed, basic, A-frame huts (sleep 5 with kitchen and toilet facilities). An option to camp also available.

• Usual compulsory mandatory kit except for red/white blinking light (to be fixed to pack after dark). While no checking prior to the race, this is randomly checked at selected location during the race and at finishing line for top 15 runners.
• The facilities such as rest area, basic toilet, showers (at the finish), drinking water, and food (pineapples, bananas, instant noodles) were adequate. At the 50km checkpoint, the hot meals provided may be spicy for some, therefore recommended to bring your own.
• Bring some cash so you can purchase some cold drink along the way. Much needed on a hot day.
• For safety, do not run across the hanging bridges. A maximum of 10 people is allowed on bridge at all time (depending on bridge condition as they are varied).

Female 100km winners

Male 100km winners

Equipment & Fueling
• Shoes – My old Saucony Peregrine 5 for first 50km. Changed to The North Face Ultra Endurance in the second half
• Clothing – Compression CEP tight, Headgear, Bridgedale Speed Diva Women’s Technical socks. For night; a lightweight jacket.
• Backpack – Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin with shoulder pad which I stitched to minimise shoulder pain.
• Watch -Garmin Phoenix 3
• Poles – Black Diamond carbon fibre
• Headlamp – Black Diamond Spot
• Fueling – PURE Sports Nutrition Hydration Electrolyte, Primal Pantry Paleo Energy Bar

Getting There:
By plane, Kota Kinabalu is the entry point to Sabah. While there’s no direct flight from UAE you can fly with Etihad, Emirates or Malaysia Airline (stopping at Kuala Lumpur). Or via Royal Brunei and stop at Bandar Sri Begawan. ■

Words by: Aida Othman
Photos by: Borneo Ultra Trails Sdn Bhd by photographers – Dev Sidhu, Pamela Sidhu and Tony Chiffings

Aida Othman (@_aidaothman_) is a lifestyle writer and content creator behind the website, Slice Of Torch Ginger. An avid ultra-runne, her longest run was the 7 Emirates Run in the UAE, covering 575km in 12 days to raise funds for the medical bills of a toddler born with deformed legs and the only woman to achieve this distance two years in a row.