Borneo International Marathon
[This blog is only about the Borneo International Marathon. Section links within (round brackets) optionally hyperlink to the author’s other experiences, description of flora, fauna etc. enjoyed during the travel linked to the marathon. You may continue to read on without visiting these links. If you choose to visit the links, you will be seamlessly hyperlinked back to the main blog.]
A young officer of the British East India Company, born in India, gets injured in Assam in India while fighting the Burmese. He goes to England for treatment and there inherits a fortune. With that he buys a hip, equips it with men and cannons and sails off to Far East Asia. In a mysterious island he meets a Sultan who asks him to crush a rebellion in the country. There follow boat chases, sea battles, ships attacking river villages and pirates, and storming of a jungle stockade. Finally the rebellion is put down. The grateful Sultan gifts the officer with thousands of square miles of rainforests occupied by cannibals and head-hunting tribes. And when the young officer nurtures an affair with the Sultan's daughter, the Sultan crowns him the 'White Rajah' of the land.
And what a wonderful land does he inherit!
It has the largest of apes seen nowhere else in the world.
It has plants whose leaves trap and digest rats.
The caves therein are so high as to fit in one-and-a-half Qutb Minars. Every evening long smoke shafts emanate from these caves, without anyone lighting a fire.
Cave men climb up ropes and in classic Indian rope trick tradition, just disappear.
There are flowers one and a half metre in diameter.
There are huge trees which just gobble up other trees.
Human skulls crowd a basket hanging from a pole from where weird sounds emanate on dark rainy evenings.
Deep underground rivers snake along for hundreds of kilometres, in which blind fish keep swimming.
If all this unwinds like long yarn, take a flight to Kuala Lumpur and board AirAsia and within two hours, you will be in the wondrous land called Borneo. Here’s where James Brooke found a kingdom.
As late as the 1950’s, headhunting was practised in this wild equatorial land. When a young Dyak tribesman comes of age, no maiden will accept him, unless he has a couple of 'heads' to his credit. Once a head is taken, the victor will chop off hairs from the victim’s head and tie a strand as trophy on his sword handle. The head will be burned at the altar in the longhouses where the tribes live, and the skulls preserved. Even today, one can see a row of skulls hanging at entrances to longhouses. But once the Iban and the Dyak found tourism more rewarding than headhunting, this practice stopped. Young guides enthral tourists with valorous anecdotes of their ancestors.
In 2005, I trekked the ‘Headhunters’ Trail’ in a place called Mulu in the state of Sarawak, south Borneo. My guide David, speaking fluent English told me that his grandfather has a parang (long sword) with 62 strands of hair. After my first trip there, I found Borneo so enchanting that I visited four more times. There are endless avenues for adventure amongst the equatorial rainforests of Borneo.
Spin forward to the Seven Continents Club. I had completed runs on four continents and was looking for a run in Asia. I had run on the Great Wall of China, but that was only a half marathon. Having run three half marathons in Mumbai, I had planned I will run a full again in Mumbai for the Asian leg; till I got a mail talking of a marathon in Kota Kinabalu. Kota Kinabalu is the town one usually lands from Kuala Lumpur for onward travel to Borneo. I had been here earlier. This town is the launch pad for the Mount Kinabalu trek which I did in 2006.
Once the Borneo bug bit me, I had gone there for jungle trekking, caving, summit ascent, rock climbing, white water rafting, mountain biking and bird-watching. Why not round it off with a full marathon? Running in one of the last few destinations for adventure and eco-tourism in the world greatly excited me.
"Borneo is the best-kept tourist secret," commented a veteran Australian tourist, who travelled several decades to Latin America, Africa and Asia in search of jungle and adventure, before discovering Borneo, lying just next doors! A pristine land of exotic flora and fauna, light years away from plastic and pollution.
Borneo International Marathon
Exactly five years later, when Shivram and I again landed in Kota Kinabalu, trekking or caving were the least of my worries. The Borneo International Marathon was to take place the next morning and we have to dare the scorching equatorial sun over a full 42 kilometres.
The marathon route was to be a two-petal clover. Starting from the Likas Stadium, the first loop of 24 K would run along the picturesque Likas Bay and then turn towards the University upon elevated land. There was turnaround at Km 12 coming back to Likas Stadium, whereupon the second petal would run towards the airport.
We had booked an apartment within walking distance of the stadium. After collecting the race kit at the community centre, we walked over to the Handicrafts Market along the waterfront. This place is my favourite haunt where there are innumerable shops welling a multitude of Borneo handicrafts from palm leaf wallets to huge conches and jade shells.
On the 1st of May, we were at the Likas stadium by 2:30 am. The race was to start at 3 am, because it is very difficult to run in Borneo as the sun advances in the skies. Around 200 runners partook in the full marathon. I found one barefoot runner. When I mentioned I am from Mumbai, he immediately recollected our Guinness World Record barefoot marathon. He had read it in barefoot ted’s status updates.
His name was Rich Chai and I saw him completing the Borneo marathon barefoot.
It was still very dark when we were flagged off. But there were sufficient street lights and we ran along the Likas Bay towards the University. Though a bit sultry, the weather was cool and pleasant. The breeze was wafting in the healthy marine aromas from the South China Sea. That reminded me of some other memorable odours I have smelt in this land of exotic creatures.
After passing the Tun Mustapha Tower roundabout I started running towards the Universiti Malaysia. Now the course had left the flat seafront and a gradual climb started. It was still dark. On the other side of the road I saw the ubiquitous Kenyan front-runners returning after touching the turnaround point. At my speed, I will have to run for a long time to reach that place before I too can reverse.
There was more climbing but the scenery on both sides was good, especially nearer the University campus. At places there were dense forests. The equatorial rainforests have a unique identity of their own. The tall trees and the shrubs and the creepers are so closely woven that at ground level it always remains dark. And wet, for it rains often. I looked up at the tall trees. These trees did not have wildlife, but in Sepilok, I have seen orangutans performing acrobatics on them.
After reaching 1Borneo turnaround point, I stepped on the electronic carpet.
So the man with the desktop sitting there asked me to step back and run over it again.
Everyone around there was aghast. As a final attempt, I was asked to come a bit fast and jump over the carpet with both feet hitting it simultaneously.
On your march, Get ready, Go!
I landed on the carpet like an orangutan thumbing a branch. It returned a silent whimper.
Finally they agreed that my bib number will be noted down for some manual time-keeping. After I turned around and started running, I looked back. The man next to me had also morphed from runner to ape.
Haha, it wasn’t only me!
Running back from Borneo 1, I met Wong Melvin (now Barefoot Mel). He was running in huaraches that day. Maybe the shoe was giving problems. He had gone on the grass by the roadside and was runnin goon it. he was determined to finish the un in huaraches. Later I again met him in front fo the Handicrafts market and he did finish in huaraches.
When I reached back the Jesselton Point after finishing the longer petal of the clover, the half marathon and the 10K runners were returning from the opposite side and were entering the Likas stadium. Full marathoners were continuing in the opposite direction towards the airport. Everyone was using the same lane. So we had to artfully weave through the throng of returnees without plunging headlong into one.
Running against the current this way, it took some time to reach the CBD. This is a road I like. With the waterfront one side, there are beautiful buildings, shopping malls, oriental markets, Wisma Merdeka and Wisma Sabah, everything on the way. While in Kota Kinabalu, this is the best place to chill around. At the end on right is the Handicrafts Market that I have visited often. A very interesting junket one can pick up here is the Proboscis Money Mask.
I was startled out of my reverie by a shrill whistle. A very stocky and athletic runner, with a perfectly rotund head was running past. He had a plastic whistle in the mouth, which he kept on blowing ever so often. It added a lot of colourful noise to an otherwise drab run. As he passed by, everyone seemed to know him. In turn, he was whistling at everyone, either acknowledging their greetings or hooting out his own. After running 35K, when it was difficult to fill one’s own lungs with air, how was this man affording to blow a whistle and that too, almost constantly?
I took an immediate liking to him.
“Hey Buddy, what’s your name?”
He took out the whistle, lashed a wide smile full of large white teeth. “Mohan Marathon is my name.”
Next instant, Mohan Marathon was off, hooting away.
Later the course passed under some multi-storied apartments. I found Mohan Marathon standing below one of them and talking loudly to someone in the first floor balcony. Even as he talked, his four limbs were flying and flapping all around him and his rollicking laughter automatically made every runner laugh. Such astonishing energy storage at this hour of the race!
Later I met Mohan in several runs. It is usually not possible to miss him on any run in the Far East. He is a finance professional from Singapore and finds time and means to run so many marathons, that someone named him the “Kenyaporean”.
Why always whistle?
Mohan just shrugs off: “I am a loud person. Sometimes I also use a horn.”
Wow! Wait for the day when Mohan will run past you with a trumpet.
Rounding the turn-around point at First Beach café, I saw this man with a prosthetic left leg. He looked very strong and with such a happy demeanour!
“Bro, I am Singapore Blade Runner,” he rattled off, “I lost one leg while at age five, but I want to make a mark in the field of running.”
Shariff has been prosthetic since primary school, but suffered further amputation in December 2008 due to an infected stump. With three children to rear, he nearly 'gave up on life,' when, lying on his sick bed, he saw Pistorius running in YouTube. South African Oscar Pistorius is short by two legs, still made a name in Paralympics as the 'Blade Runner'.
"If this man with no legs can run, why not I with one?" From thereon Shariff started partaking in marathons and even ultras. Now he is preparing for an Everest Summit in 2015.
The return from the airport end was wretched. It was scorching hot by 9 am and the road offered no shade. Nearer the CBD, the traffic had also picked up and running was a skill game at dodging men and cars. My legs were not cramped, but I felt totally exhausted. The heat and humidity were unbearable. Some five kilometres still remained and for a fleeting moment I considered giving up.
‘Quits? Dammit. How come the thought even dared surface?’ Borneo was the Asian leg of my Seven Continents and if I back out with just five kilometres to go, I will have to wait out a minimum three months before I can run in another Asian country. Further, Borneo was not a place where I had accepted defeats.
When I entered Likas Stadium, I could see my son Shivram furiously waving from 400 metres away. He had completed the marathon much earlier.
When I crossed the finish line and collapsed into Shivram’s strong hands, I remembered with nostalgia that fateful night in Camp 5, when he had rushed to me with a bowl of noodles.
I clocked 6:31:50.
With my son Shivram (left) after the race
|MinM Admin-Borneo International Marathon|
|MinM Admin-Borneo International Marathon|
|First Full Marathon||
The Borneo international marathon was my first full marathon. I specially flew into Borneo for the marathon. The marathon kicked off at around 4 AM. The marathon route was the KK city route with some scenery here and there.
The first couple of hours were fine and I had already competed 16 kms, but it went downhill from there. And by the time I had completed 30k, I had no more stamina to run. So the final 12k I completed by walking. Also by around 9 AM the sun came out...
|In the land of Urangutans||
Borneo is an island near the Equator, under the administrative control of Malaysia. The marathon route was a two-petal clover. Starting from the Likas Stadium, the first loop of 24 KM ran along the picturesque Likas Bay and then turned towards the University, upon elevated land. There was turnaround and the route was retraced upto Likas Stadium, whereupon the second petal started towards the Airport. This route passed through all the city central points, and the busy market areas.