Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mount Kinabalu Expedition 2009...

By Frank

About Mount Kinabalu.
Mount Kinabalu standing at 4095.2M at it's highest point at Low's Peak is the majestic summit of Borneo and also the focal point of the whole of Sabah. It is also the home to the highest Via Ferrata in the world. 2 trails lead to the summit being the Timpohon Trail (also known as Summit Trail) and also the Mesilau Trail. The latter being the tougher of the 2. Both trails meet at Layang-Layang approximately 4KM from the Timpohon Gate and 5.5KM from the Mesilau Gate.

The dream.
It has been my dream to one day conquer Mount Kinabalu. After 2 years of all talk and no action, finally someone step forward to organise an expedition seriously. He is none other than Chee Kong, runner cum hiking enthusiast. It took approximately 6 months to get everything into place and my hats off to him for what he has done. And not only that, everything was done by him alone. No easy job especially in coordination but he did it superbly. Bravo...

33 keen "mountaineers" whether veterans or wannabes were invited. And in the group, I had Choi and Wai Lam with me travelling all the way from Kuala Lumpur. And so, the adventure was set to start on 23 April 2009 and end on 26 April 2009.

23 April 2009. Arrival.
Our flight to Kota Kinabalu was an early one at 7.30am. Upon arrival 2.5 hours later, we were soon joined by Chee Kong and 7 of his friends and colleagues who came to pick us up in a mini tour van. Off we departed to the Kinabalu Park which took us on a 2 hours drive along the mountain roads. During the journey, we had a small ice breaking session in getting to know each other from Haruji, Angela, Esther, Grace, Mei Ee and Wai Sarn.

Upon arrival at a slightly wet and misty Kinabalu Park, we were then joined by the remaining hikers from the expedition group. And while Chee Kong performed the registration process for everyone, we all enjoyed ourselves to the magnificent view of the majestic Mount Kinabalu, covered in clouds before proceeding on to our next destination at Kinabalu Rose Cabin where we stayed for a night there. From here, 33 hungry stomachs proceeded to a small town call Ranau for a simple lunch which turned out to be a rather hilarious one when Chee Kong recommended us to an apparently rather famous "wan tan noodle" shop. However, after waiting for near to an hour, apparently the noodle that came out was actually "yee mee" cooked in egg sauce Cantonese style. And not only that, there weren't any "wan tan" dumplings. A quick check actually revealed that it was actually "wat tan Cantonese noodle" that was ordered.

With stomachs filled, we all then braved the strong winds and had a tour around Kundasang visiting the War Memorial, Desa cattle farm and also the fruit market before adjourning back to the lodge for dinner and an early rest.

Beautiful Kundasang...

Kundasang War Memorial...

Cows at Desa cattle farm...

Chee Kong and Choi having a bite at mountain durian at the fruit market...

From Kuala Lumpur with love..

24 April 2009. Hiking day.
I didn't have a good sleep due to the noisy neighbours who talk loudly and smoked throughout the night. And not forgetting the ever presence of Wai Lam's snoring action. Waking up in a very cold morning at 4am, I got myself ready with a warm and comfortable shower which led to a very sore pair of eyes due to the fact the heater was powered by gas! Soon everyone was ready and all 33 left for a simple breakfast before departing for the Mesilau Gate.

Reported in, collected our lunch box, geared up and attended a short briefing by Jemin our friendly guide cum one of our group's many porters. After a quick group photo together, expedition group MA24 is ready to go at 9am. A first timer with no hiking experience and with a 9KG huge backpack strapped on my back, I hit the trail!

My ID tag. Insufficient space to print the final alphabet of my name...

Jemin, our guide...

MA24 ready to go...

To the summit via the Mesilau Trail...

Choi led the way at the beginning before he decided to lead the middle pack. The route was up up and away for at least 1KM or so before disaster struck one of our hiking friends. Amanda was soon struck by altitude sickness which got those around her worried as it was still a long road ahead. Fortunately, Wai Lam was around as he had the cure for it in the form of Diamox. I offered my bottle of water, to help her keep going for the long road ahead. We all stayed together for a while before we decided that she was good to go with her boyfriend beside her.

The Mesilau Trail. Note the bags the porter is carrying...

While the others hit the road, I decided to stay put with Wai Lam as he started to struggle as the terrain got rougher with a mixture of rocks, moisture and mix gradients. It really slowed me down for the next 1.5KM or so before I decided to hit the route myself when I saw other hikers with Wai Lam. I gave chase to the leading pack by running through the route, but of course in a smart way choosing to walk on downhills as I didn't want to injured myself with my big race coming soon in a month's time.

Soon in about slightly more than hour's time covering 2KM or so, I managed to catch up with Choi's group at the Lompoyou Shelter where we all rested for a light snack while enjoying to a few Kadazan folk songs brought along and played via Choi's mobile phone.

I continued on alone before joining in with Eng Chuan and we spend a lot of quality time together getting to know each other, enjoying the scenic view and not to mention helping each other out. At slightly more than 5.5KM, it was the Layang-Layang junction where we took another breather. Choi joined us and it was the start of the golden path, named after the terrain's brown soil. The 3 of us hiked together here before Eng Chuan suffered a slight cramp and fell out. But he soon picked it up and off he went alone. Salute!

Myself with the golden path...

As the air got thinner and thinner, I began to struggle with Choi. I too had ran out of water leaving only 500ML worth of Endurox R4 with me. Yes, 2.5 liters of water I brought along and it was all gone! Although I did refill it with mountain untreated water, I tried not to take it for fear of tummy upset. Yes, I do have a weak tummy. However, we kept each other occupied by chatting, taking photographs and even managing simple jokes along the way to keep our minds away from the strenuous hike.

At about the 7KM distance, it was the Paka Shelter and I know I was close already. And at about 4pm+, after 07:08:35 since the start of my journey, I found myself three quarter up the majestic mountain at Laban Rata, the rest point for the night before the final summit attack.

The Laban Rata rest house...

True enough...

Haruji and Khairul had already arrived since 2 hours ago and was waiting for dinner to be serve. Choi returned from a warm and comfortable shower and I was really tempted so off I went only to enter the wrong cubicle. Not only there weren't any warm water, the shower head sprayed ice cold water on me. Imagine those water taken from the refrigerator and you will know how I felt. To make matters worst, the pressure was low thus it takes longer time for me to wash off the excessive foam. Brrr... Exiting from the cubicle, Eng Chuan had the first hand experience of seeing me tremble. I bet he was laughing till the max. But at least I know that a good cold shower is at least better than a warm one in helping ease the muscles after a long hike. Science at it's best. Haha...

Buffet dinner was served. As we indulged in the spread of local food, we didn't forget to cheer those who came in through the door. Fueled up and chilled out, I soon realised that it was 9 hours since the start and I have not seen nor hear from Wai Lam yet. Message him but there wasn't any reply. Though I got worried, I'm pretty sure he will at least make it up to Laban Rata.

From here together with Choi, we made ourselves to our hut at Panar Laban. A small little non heated hut with the toilet located outside. My head was already spinning here and although I took a couple of Paracetamol tablets, it did not help much. What I needed was oxygen! And as the weather turn from cool to cold (was about 5 to 8 Celsius I think), I changed into my long track pants and put on my winter jacket with gloves before collapsing on to bed like a sick person.

At 8.30pm, Wai Lam messaged stating that he has arrived at the Laban Rata rest house. Although it took him 11.5 hours, it was a sign of relieve indeed as I fell back into sleep only to be awoken an hour later with Wai Lam knocking on the door. But it did not disturb much as I was really sick at that moment and quickly fell back into sleep again.

25 April 2009. Summit attack.
After a very uncomfortable and unproductive sleep, I woke up at 1am to prepare for the final summit attack. My body was really heavy and my head was spinning. It was telling me to quit. I let my mental strength take over here as the thoughts of my friends filled my mind. I told myself that I did not come this far just to quit with another 2KM+ to go. Took another couple of Paracetamol tablets before running out into the cold night to the nearby toilet. I was freezing! As Wai Lam was too sick to continue, at 3am together with Choi and with no breakfast at all, 2 very shaky person started the attack with and estimated near to 200 or maybe more "mountaineers".

I stayed with Choi throughout the journey. It was pitch black but we helped each other out by shining our headlamps on to the rocky trail. It was a steep long route up to the plateau and what I can see at the top front is just a trail of light, like a shiny serpent on it's ascend to the summit.

The Sayat-Sayat Hut soon appeared and it was the check point for all of us. It was also the start of the plateau climb. Caught up with Chee Kong and I witness his hiking and climbing skills. Simply amazing! The start of the plateau climb was pretty technical and requires both leg and upper body strength. Then it was on to the flat but yet steep terrain on the main plateau. Really cold and dark here, myself and Choi took a few steps before stopping for a short breather. And this repeated till we hit 8KM where we had a long rest waiting for sunrise while enjoying the surroundings. This is also where we caught up with Haruji, Angela, Esther, Grace, Queen Zee and Wai Sarn. With the summit in sight, an aura of new found energy suddenly flow through us and together, the 8 of us filled with determination did the final attack on the summit. To Low's Peak!

Resting on the plateau...

Donkey Ears...

St. John's Peak (it's on the RM1 note)...

Low's Peak...

The hike up Low's Peak was very tricky, steep with rock formations all around. As I led the attack by tackling the rock formations in finding the best place to step on and to proceed with the climb, Haruji was helping out the others, and through this teamwork, we all managed it. And in about 4 hours time since my start, I accomplished one of my dreams. I conquered Mount Kinabalu at it's highest point, Low's Peak at 4095.2M above sea level! And I did it with Choi! Boy, the achievement is something I can't describe. Although it was short stay about 5 minutes or so up there, it's just an unforgetable experience. The view was simply amazing. Oh and yeah, my left foot was actually stuck in between rocks during our photo taking session. If it's permanently stuck, I'll probably be in trouble of being freezed up there only to be found 100 years later. Haha...

We came, we hike and we conquered...

The plateau seen from Low's Peak...

And so, it was time for our descend. No easy task as both my big toes were hurting badly as it was rubbing and knocking against the shoe's toebox. Though being at the top is simply amazing, I just want to get back down. Therefore, bearing the pain wth Choi, we took a step at a time and soon arrived back at our hut with Wai Lam welcoming us. Before leaving, we did not forget to check out those descending from Via Ferrata. It sure looks scary.

Via Ferrata...

After a quick breakfast at the Laban Rata rest house, all 33 of us started our descend with many others. Though I started with Choi and Wai Lam, we did not descend together as I slowly broke away from them. I was with Mei Ee for most of the journey before we were joined by Amanda and her boyfriend and 2 others. 6 of us travelled, chatted and joked all the way down via the Timpohon Trail. There was this "Pau" (bun) joke but is way too complicated to describe here. I'll just keep it within my memories. The journey down was pretty tough as the steps were pretty steep and not to mention slippery too with moisture forming on rocks. Just had to be careful as I did not want to injure my knee. With 1KM to go, I broke away from the 5 of them and went for it.

The Timpohon Trail...

After 04:21:52, I completed the descend at the Timpohon Gate greeted by Haruji and Khairul before making our way back to the Kinabalu Park for a late lunch. Soon, all 33 made it back safely and we collected our certificates while exchanging our experiences. Though only 23 of us made it to the summit, at least all made it to Laban Rata, three quarter up via the Mesilau Trail, the tougher route compared to Timpohon Trail. That's certainly something to be proud of. Congratulations everyone!

The Timpohon Gate...

We did it...

The Mesilau Trail and Summit certificates...

Grab our luggage back at Kinabalu Rose Cabin before making our journey back to Kota Kinabalu town where we stayed at Lavender Lodge, a pretty well equiped and clean backpackers lodge. It was light's off after dinner at a pretty famous indian banana leaf restaurant.

26 April 2009. Post hiking trip.
Last day at Sabah. Woke up with a weird feeling on my shoulder. A quick check revealed that both sides were burnt! Sigh... And while Chee Kong and the others went for island hopping and snorkeling at Manukan Island, I paid a visit to the highly rated Gaya Street and Filipino Market with Choi and Wai Lam under the blazing hot sun. Somehow, the weather here is just so hot and humid with barely any clouds seen in the sky. Completing our tour in the small city, we headed back to the lodge where we bid farewell to Chee Kong and the rest while the 3 of us waited as our flight back to Kuala Lumpur was at 6.40pm. And soon, it was time and we bid farewell to the "Land below the winds", Sabah.

Gaya Street...

Filipino market...

Post mortem.
The weather was perfect in fact during our hike up. A day before the hike, it was a slightly wet day with cloud and mist seen up on Mount Kinabalu. But GOD was kind to us as it all cleared up on our hiking day revealing the true views and sceneries along the mountain.

This expedition has taught me the meaning of teamwork, companionship and preserverance. Even technology played a part in my hike as telecomunication was at full strength throughout the journey. I've sent out SMS and even MMS to my friends back in Kuala Lumpur during my hike and in return, I was rewarded by really motivating and even hilarious replies. Without these, the hike up will be dull and difficult if not maybe a failure too.

Conquering Mount Kinabalu especially all the way up to the summit at Low's Peak measuring at 4095.2M is certainly no easy task especially through the Mesilau Trail which is the tougher and longer route. Personally, I'm am OK with both routes though one has to be careful on their descend. The thing that got to me was the air quality espcially from Laban Rata onwards as it was thin and I was deprived of oxygen. Even as a runner, I find it difficult to breathe. Imagine those lacking of fitness.

Though tough, I seriously recommend everyone especially to those who have yet try conquer Mount Kinabalu to give it a try. Whether up to Laban Rata or even up to the summit, the experience is just simply awesome.

Upon conquering Mount Kinabalu, I told myself that I would not do it again. However, at the time of writing this entry, I am beginning to have second thoughts. Hmmm... We shall see.

Goodbye for now, Mount Kinabalu...

Thank you.
- Chee Kong. A special thanks to him for all the planning and hassle in making this trip a successful one. Not to mention the leadership quality in ensuring the safety of everyone.
- Choi. Thanks for sharing the experiences, stories, folk songs and more before, during and even after our expedition. It was great to hike together with a friend and someone who has successfully conquered Low's Peak a magnificient 7 times!
- Eng Chuan. Thanks for being such a great companion on our hike up from Lompoyou Shelter till Paka Shelter.
- Haruji and Khairul. Thanks for the great time together in sharing not only your hiking experiences but also your job backgrounds and also culture.
- Expedition group MA24. To the rest of the group, it has been a pleasure travelling and conquering Mount Kinabalu together. Till we meet again!
- Jemin and his team of porters. Thanks for all the help, guidance and laughter during our journey.
- Lynn and Chin Chin. Thanks for all the hassle in helping me buy a super cheap but yet realiable hiking pole. Not forgetting too the advices and motivation given to me which really helped a lot.
- Jasmine. Thanks for lending me the Deuter Atlas 55+10 backpack. Though it didn't suit me and caused shoulder soreness, it was certainly huge and it helped me save lots of money from buying one myself.
- And to others who had supported me in any way in making me realise my dream, you all had my sincere thanks.

For more photos, please hit this link.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Blacksmith" At Work...

By Frank

A night run in preparation for the upcoming Sundown Marathon 2009 was organised by Terence at Putrajaya yesterday night. It starts from 9pm till 6am this morning at Dataran Putrajaya. Anyone is welcome to join no matter the distance or the time. Being the pinnacle of my training, I would really like to hit 50KM though I failed to do so.

A good crowd of around 20 runners showed up. Some familiar faces were Alex, Keat Seong, Mohan and Victor. Even Jamie and Pueh Tian came for photo shoots. However, Luc got lost and decided to detour back to his place after a long drive. After a short briefing by Terence, off we went.

The run route will take runners around a 11.5KM loop. But as most of the runners do not know the way to the convention centre and back to the Prime Minister's office area, I had to lead the first loop as I ran here last year. Started the run at an easy pace with Keat Seong and Victor. Managed to chat while running till hitting the convention centre when we all started to break away. After completing my first loop, I stopped to refuel myself as my car was just park at the roadside which makes things really convenient.

I started my second with Victor. However shortly later, Victor had to detour back as the potty-pot was asking for him. With this, I had to run the second loop all by myself. Upon returning, I started to feel my legs and decided to change my Nike Air Zoom Vomero+ 3 to the adidas Response Control 7. The Vomero which already hit more than 800KM, is calling for retirement. During my change, Lawrence just arrived and we managed a short chat before taking off our respective self.

Was joined again by Victor for my third loop, his second. Really struggled here. And by the time I got back to the starting venue, my legs were already in a world of pain. To make things worst, there was still about 5KM more to run to complete 3 full loops. I decided to take a 15 minutes breather here. before continuing. Upon completing it which totalled to 34.5KM, myself and Victor decided not to push our luck and opt to quit. Though sad that both of us did not achieve our targeted distance, there is certainly no shame on it. Besides, there's still the second session in 2 weeks time.

So what made this run so tough? Concrete pavements covered at least half of the running route. Not only it was hard, it was also uneven at certain places where some pavements were raised or chip off. This contributed to the extra pounding my legs had to endured. And besides, the weather was just too hot and humid. I brought 4 liters of water but still, it wasn't sufficient. Running the regular Hartamas route wasn't as tough as this.

34.5KM ran. Another 50KM to go! How am I going to complete the Sundown 84KM ultramarathon? My legs isn't as tough as I would like them to be yet. How do I "reinforced" them to be as tough as "iron". There's certainly more work to do, but time is running out. Will the "blacksmith" be able to transform his legs? I do not know, but time will tell.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

BHP Orange Run 2009...

Event: BHP Orange Run 2009
Venue: Piazza, The Curve, Selangor
Date: 12 April 2009
Time: 7.30am
Distance: 11KM (10.65KM by Lynn's Garmin Forerunner 405)
Shoe: adidas adizero Tempo
By Frank

The fourth edition of the BHP Orange Run which also happens to be my third saw 2 changes. First being the distance having to be increased from 9KM (actual was close to 10KM though) to 11KM. The second will be the technical aspect of it, as the Selangor Amateur Athletic Association has been replaced by the Pacesetters Athletic Club Malaysia. I will guess it's pretty much due to what happened last year when a foreigner won the race but was then disqualified.

Initially, I have planned to run a 10KM run an hour earlier before the race. But since I haven't been sleeping well the past few days, I then decided to change my mind to have some good quality rest. Therefore, instead of a long run, I opt for speed work which turned out pretty well. And to do it in a race, that's killing 2 birds with 1 stone (no birds were harm though).

Arrived an hour before the race and soon hooked up with the Choi, Pueh Tian, Victor, Shih Ming and Pui San, just to name a few. Jamie who registered for the race came as a cameraman though. However, the shock of the morning was seeing Lynn turning up in her running attire! There were some inflammation on her ankle which is rather worrying as big races are fast approaching. I just hope nothing will go wrong. Take care ya, Lynn.

The start was rather punctual. But as I was chatting with Lynn and Victor far at the back of the crowd, and the loudspeaker that Tony was using was low on battery, we didn't know much about the staggered start though it has been all this while the during the previous editions. I saw other male runners around, so we thought for a change, we are all starting at the same time. The first air horn went off and I was still there with Victor. As I approach nearer to the starting line, we heard that the male runners are allowed to start while the women came to a halt. Both of us made our way through the crowd and officially started our race few minutes late and way at the back having the whole road for ourselves.

My strategy for this speed work will be to run to my fullest for 1KM followed by a recovery jog the next 500M before resuming again. I started slowly, slowly revving up my engines as I did not warm myself up earlier. As I hit the the McDonald's junction, I felt it was time to start my pace as I hit the first batch of runners who started earlier.

And so my strategy worked pretty well as the roads were wide enough to accommodate the number of runners. As I arrive at the main roads, the air quality got nasty as vehicle fumes were just polluting the fresh morning air. Victor has already disappeared from my sight here.

During the climb into the housing area of Sunway Damansara which I think should be the halfway point, a refreshment station appeared and I lost a few seconds gulping down a cup of isotonic drink. Soon after at Riana Greens, I spotted something pretty amusing though. A volunteer was standing at the road side with a 6.5KM distance marker written in marker pen on a piece of card board hung around his neck. Now, that's something new!

The road got narrow on the approach to Bandar Utama, and the vehicle fumes kept coming. I was just glad to arrive at Lebuh Bandar Utama as the road widen up. However, I felt some discomfort on my left ankle's inner ball. With this, I decided to call it a day with my speed work and just carry on with a normal run, grinding my teeth as I ran. And further down ahead, Lionel overtook me! Where did he come from?

Entering the last straight at Dataran Bandar Utama, knowing it's about 1KM to the finish line, I went all out again keeping the sight of the finish line in my mind to keep myself occupied instead of thinking of my ankle. 00:54:26 after the start earlier, I crossed the finish line.

Grab the goodie bag, and went straight to my car to grab my camera as it's here where the fun begins. I wasn't in time to snap the finishing of the top women runner friends though as they have all returned. And yes once again, Pui San, Lynn, and Shih Ming dominated 4th, 5th and 3rd in their own category respectively! And like the previous Larian Amal Seri Sinar 2009, it was time for photo shoots and getting together. Had a long quality time together with friends before making our way home for a good rest over the remaining weekend. Rest well everyone, especially... (you know who you are).

Runners surrounding Tony, announcer and road marshall for the day...

Shih Ming, Lynn and Pui San with their prizes. Congratz...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Running Mindset...

By Frank

I'm not a fast runner. Even though I am faster now since the day I first started running slightly more than 2 years back, I still do not regard myself as one. Personally, being an effective runner is more important than being a fast one. Well, maybe I'm not competitive or maybe shall I say that I run for a better tomorrow, towards a healthier lifestyle.

However, I do hope that the running pace of each individuals will not affect the mindsets of other runners especially the new ones from joining seasoned more experienced runners. With Malaysians awareness towards running, this is something the running society don't need. A couple of week back, I saw a promotional video for the upcoming Standard Chartered KL Marathon 2009, where Malaysians were picked randomly to answer the distance of the marathon. Hilarious answers were given to a distance of even a 300KM! Not to mention a marathon world record of 30 minutes! This has certainly given the clearer picture of our local running scene.

Malaysian's knowledge on the marathon...

I remembered when I first met and ran with Choi, Daniel, Jamie and Geraldine some 2 years back when they intended to run 30KM. While all of them succeeded, I only ran a 10KM and had to walk back to the starting point as my knee gave up on me. Was I embarrassed about it? Frankly speaking, I wasn't and in fact I felt proud of myself of having the guts to join them even knowing I was a newbie at that time. I didn't even know who were they at that time too, except for Jamie as I have been a follower of his blog. Joining experienced runners like them exposed me to a world of advice, tips and many more stories that made me what I am today.

Each runner has their own running pace. Some are fast, while some others slower. My running mates are of no exception of course. However, I must admit that there are benefits from running with a group like this. We sometimes have to think from outside the box even when it comes to running. Think of it this way. Slower runners will benefit from the fast ones by telling themselves that they will want to be just as fast as their fellow friends. Take it as a motivational gesture. How about the fast runners then, you ask? And while running isn't all about going all out to run, training at each heart rate zone will produce different results. And running at a controlled comfortable pace will help in building endurance. Therefore, faster runners will benefit by running just a bit slower by accompanying friends. Therefore, it's a win-win situation for both fast and slow runners. Of course, there are more of it than what I just mentioned. In fact, the list is just long. We just have to be positive in taking up running and other sports as well too. Just don't be embarrassed by what you are incapable of. One day with discipline and persistence, you will be capable. Not a new saying, but remember, Rome isn't built in a day.

Besides running pace, gender is another factor. While females are generally the shyer gender, with the modern world now, there is no more a stronger side. GOD created both gender equally, with of course certain advantages and disadvantages to each. Though the Malaysian running society is greatly made up of male runners, more female runners are slowly appearing. And some are really strong ones too, strong enough to outrun the males. However sadly, the mindset game is playing its part again. Whether male or female, some are still too shy to approach the opposite gender. One important thing about running is all about friendship. However, if one is too shy to approach someone, they will feel lonely and will slowly leave the running scene.

I myself train with 2 regular female friends. Of course one has migrated to the land of kangaroos not too long ago. I do admit I was a little shy at first, but as time passes, our friendship grew stronger. Just like the running pace earlier, running with the opposite gender shares the same benefits too. Just share together the advantages and disadvantages GOD has given us, and in the end, all in all, we own self are the one who benefits from it. Therefore, open up and don't be shy.