This race in Malaysian Borneo is billed as the toughest in the world, but that was the previous version to the 4095m mountain top; this edition was somewhat tamer to allow more participants. It was the last skyrace of the season and the skyrunning elite were in attendance, as well as Asian competitors including an under-the-radar Nepalese contender in my hostel, being talked up by his ebullient coach.
The race started at 1500m in the Kinabalu national park with the mountain looming above the rainforest. A steady climb for the first 4km on the road to the gate at 1900m then onto the summit trail for another 4km to the 2700m high point up a rocky tourist path with lots of steps. I was watching the vet runners, identifiable by green race nos, and was 4th at the gate slipping to 6th vet at the Layang Layang top as spritely locals skipped on past up the trail. The foliage thinned out to smaller trees and a short section of ridge running before descending the 5km Mesilau trail to 1900m but alas no view in the clouds. This trail was much rougher, winding down rocky narrow drops and tree roots, with many wooden slatted steps, too fast for my eyes. More and more green vets came past nimbly and shot away never to be seen again and I stopped counting once I dropped to 12th. To make it worse, the trail climbed up again and I was past caring for a while as I slogged along. I could hear crowds cheering in the distance at the road head as I counted down the trail markers. Perversely, it was a relief to get on the road for a final 10k to Kundasang at 1200m … 10k road? in a mountain race? I doubt the skyrunners will be back. I pegged back a few, keeping ahead of the nearest vet, and slogged some more uphills to the finish crowds at 3:15, about 45th overall.
Killian Jornet won in 2:11 for the 23km, beating the Nepalese and a Japanese while oor ain Tom Owens was 4th at 5 min. The ladies was won by Emelie Forsberg about 2:40. The day after, Tom and I walked to the top of the mountain, up to a spectacular granite slabbed moonscape and back down the 2600m descent, a scary thought to have to have raced that.