Challenging climb to the top

By DURIE RAINER FONG

KOTA KINABALU: Billed as the ‘World’s Toughest Mountain Race’, the Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon has come a long way since its inception in 1987.

What started as an all-Malaysian affair and avenue to select and enroll members into a rescue squad to carry injured climbers to safety has now grown into a popular race, attracting top-ranked men and women mountain runners every year.

Test of endurance: One of the participants at the summit of Mount Kinabalu.

As the participants would attest, the challenging conditions and steep slope up the 4,095m high granite mountain would certainly test the endurance and will of even the fittest of runners.

The 25th edition of the run drew to a close at Kundasang, about 75km from here, recently, marking the last time the race would be held in its traditional format of running up to the peak of the mountain and down.

Next year, the run will be different — state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun promising it would be more challenging — with changes to the race route and distance.

Runners will not take on the 21km up the mountain from Kinabalu Park and down anymore.

Instead, they will race through a new 23km track, from Kinabalu Park to Layang-Layang Hut located up at 2,702m before heading down to the Mesilau trail, an alternative and tougher trail for climbers to conquer Mount Kinabalu, and ending in Kundasang town on the foothill of the mountain.

While many are eager to see how the new race — to be called Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon: Adventure Series — will fare,

Others including some top men runners are not looking forward to it, saying the organisers should retain the original format.

Among them are Italian Marco de Gasperi who considers the race to the summit and down as “tradition” and local runner Saffrey Sumping who prefers the old run maintained while the new one held as another race.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Datuk Bolkiah Ismail said the initial reason for the route change was to enable runners especially the foreign ones to have a feel of the community.

He said the proposed new route would also require runners to go through the highland village of Mesilau before completing the race at Kundasang town.

Victory signs: Jornet (centre) posing for a photo with second-placed de Gasperi (right) and Hernando who came in third after the run

Despite the doubts over the new format, the just-concluded Climbathon was an eventful one, with Sabahan runners victorious in the women’s and men’s veteran categories.

Rubber tapper Danny Kuilin Gongot notched the women’s title beating top women runners New Zealander Anna Frost and American Brandy Erholtz while Danny’s cousin Yusof Sumbad won the men’s veteran title.

The men’s event was however dominated by foreign athletes yet again — Spanish runner Killian Jornet taking top spot, beating second-placed de Gasperi by a mere 44 seconds while another Spaniard, Luis Alberto Hernando finished third.

The men’s and women’s champions received US$4,500 (RM14,000) and gold pendant each while the men’s veteran winner received RM3,000.

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