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Wan's Column - Borneo Marathon 2008

“Uncle Wan! I have just been informed that our factory is holding their budget meeting next Thursday, I will be unable to take leave for Borneo.” The above email came in from Kim who works for a MNC, one week before our trip to Sabah and she has to skip the Borneo Marathon. I am kind of disappointed but it did not surprise me, she has missed the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon and the Ipoh Road Runners event last year due to work. I guess this is the price when you an important member of the team in a MNC. Last year another PACM member, Seow Peng actually missed her New York Marathon and took part in this year’s edition. My conclusion is that these days, the ladies are critical staff members of the MNCs and rightly so with the equality in employment opportunities.

So my 4 member team is down to 3 members (Chai Weng Moon, Clara and I), we took off on schedule on 9 October 2008 via Air Asia flight, my preferred choice as it is cheaper alternative, an important consideration in our holiday runs. The flight was on schedule, an improved experience from my previous returned flight from Phuket in June 2008. Chai came equipped with a wonder gadget called the GPS and he is the chief itinerary officer who did all the bookings, from air tickets, rental car and hotels. Those of you who are less gadget savvy, let me explain what is a GPS, it stands for Global Positioning System that when fitted to a car is able to guide you to the destination you wish to go. As all 3 of us have not driven in Sabah for a long while, such a gadget saves a lot of time and fuel. We have pre-booked a Proton Saga Automatic from KMT Global Rent a Car and picked up the car at KK Airport. The car was very new, only done 5,000km.

To test out the GPS, our first stop is at Sunny Garden for some beef noodles. We got there without missing a single turn. This shop (Kedai Restoran Kuo Man) was previously featured in one of the Astro program on eating out and has been operating in Sunny Garden for many years. The quality of the beef noodles and seafood noodles lives up to our expectation and cost us RM27 with drinks. A good start for a good holiday so I feel!

After driving out of KK town, I took over the wheel to drive up to Perkasa Kundasang, a hotel own by the state government situated 6km from Kinabalu Park. I have not driven a Proton for many years since Clara sold her Proton Saga in 1997 and I must say my views about Proton got better given the low price of the vehicle (less than RM40,000). The vehicle demonstrates good strength when we climbed up the hill with 3 person, good road holding even when it was raining when I drove up to Kundasang, a good buy for first time car owners.

Our choice of Perkasa Kundasang was engineered by Chai, he used to work in this hotel when it was first opened in 1982 and some of his old colleagues who remained behind are now approaching retirement. It is a good time to catch up with them in Kundasang before they retire. The key person Chai was looking for is Alex Ong (Mountain Ong as he is known there), the Executive Chef of Perkasa Kundasang. He is due to retire next year and has served the hotel since it was opened in 1982. He has cooked for many national and state leaders who have their functions in this hotel. Chai has booked a chalet for Clara and I fronting Mount Kinabalu. The chalets were completed early this year and were built in between the pine trees that were planted by the previous state government under Datuk Harris Salleh. The pine trees blended well with the temperate climate of the highlands and the feel is that we are in a temperate country, walking around without sweating.

Beautiful chalets at Kundasang Perkasa, fronting Mount Kinabalu. We stayed in one of these units.

Wan with Kundasang as the background.

Mount Kinabalu View from Kundasang Perkasa

As it was already 4pm by the time we checked in, we did not attempt to go anywhere but just to enjoy the environment and a cup of coffee. I checked out the BBC news on TV and found that the Nikkei index had the biggest single day fall and all the negative news on the financial crisis that came with it. The whole global market was in a meltdown. That night Chef Ong, planned our dinner menu and his boys cooked us a nice dinner of local mushroom, fish curry, braised oxtail and local vegetables, day one of excessive eating!

Dinner at Perkasa Kunsasang - spot Chef Ong?
Standing: Wan, Chai, Chef Ong and Sunny Lee
Seated: Yoon Leong, Datuk Chew, Ng Keng Seng and Clara

Our second day, after breakfast we drove down to visit the few places that tourist normally do not miss when they are in Kundasang. We visited the morning market, Kinabalu Park, Poring Hot Spring, the Golf Course, the War Memorial and Ranau. We did the canopy walk at Poring Hot Spring, a 157.8m long and 41m high. I was shaking throughout at the amusement of Clara……good! Laugh at your husband! The Kundasang War Memorial is a worthwhile place to visit with its pretty garden, English, Australian and Borneo. The memorial was built to remember the 2,428 Australians and British prisoners of war who died during World War 2 at Sandakan POW Camp. It was restored in 2005 during the 60th Anniversary of WW2 to its current state with its rich history.

Wan and Clara at the War Memorial

Chai and Wan at Kundasang during sunrise

Mt KK Half Marathon record, running up Mt KK and down....wanna try?

Kundasang morning market

That evening, we are expecting Sunny Lee, Hew Yoon Leong (two of my schoolmates from Victoria Institution) and their two friends, Datuk Chew Swee Hock and Ng Ken Seng visited us at the hotel. They will be climbing the Mount Kinabalu the following morning. We invited them for dinner at Perkasa Kundasang to sample the local meal we had that chef Alex Ong and his team cook up. After a good dinner and a cup of coffee at the garden terrace we got to bed early.

Having coffee after a good dinner

The next morning, we drove back to Kota Kinabalu to pick up our bibs. Chef Alex Ong also drove back to his home in Kota Kinabalu and he has invited us to have dinner at his house. On the way to Kota Kinabalu, we drop by at University Malaysia to pick up Chai’s daughter who is a first year medical student there. Now you know the vested interest here and Chai will be back the next 5 years to run the Borneo Marathon! We drop by at One Borneo to buy some stuff, in my case I need a watch, my trusted Timex just ran out of battery. I bought a China made Xinjia for RM20 and very functional. We met William Chin, the deputy group leader of PACM Kuantan there. One Borneo is a very large shopping complex situated at about 10km outside Kota Kinabalu, nearby to University Malaysia, Sabah. There are a few hotels there and the Tune Hotel is one of them. Opposite this massive development is a large new housing estate. My first impression of the development is that they may not have sufficient local purchasing power to sustain such a large complex. Well! That’s for the businessmen to worry about…….. I am here as a tourist.

Beautiful beaches of Nexus Karabunai, popular resort with the Koreans and Japanese.

We left One Borneo for a seafood lunch at Port View Restaurant (Lot 18, Ground Floor, Anjung Samudra, Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, Kota Kinabalu Tel:088-221753) at the Waterfront Area. This area was built up nicely to capitalize on the sea view. There are many watering holes and café along the 1km stretch all the way to the Filipinos market. In the pipeline is a number of high rise condominiums catering to high net worth investors, like those in cities such as Sydney. I think the plan is likely to take a little longer with the poor economic conditions. We had a good meal with a live fish, crabs and vegetables, the first light meal I had since arriving at Sabah. We are saving up for the lamb shanks at Chef Ong’s house that night.

Plenty of fruits sold at the Filipino market

Beautiful view of the KK Waterfront Area.

We arrived at Likas Sports Centre at about 3pm and we met Mohan and Seow Ping, our two globe trotting PACM members. Mohan just did his Berlin Marathon and Seow Ping is doing the NY Marathon the following month with Jamie and Geraldine. We went towards the collection centre and saw quite a large team of helpers for the relative small size of the run. I was told they have about 960 entries all in and I sensed the inexperience of their team right away. They have divided the collection functions into 3 segments, one for the bibs, one for the adidas event vests and another for the HSBC sponsored mini shopping bags. To get our bib number we need to check our names against the listing, printed in 8 point size I suspect. We were given a registration number and not a bib number after the confirmation of our entry. I feel the bib number should be communicated upon registration and as the official reference for all future correspondence. Our names may be listed the Caucasian way, surname at the back, so we have to check the two possibilities. It did take a while to get the bibs / chip then signed off. After that I got to go through the same process with the vests then signed off and finally the mini HSBC shopping bag then signed off. I told myself, I could use less than half the team and do a more efficient one stop collection system instead of a 3 stops collection system they practice there. I was later told that on Friday morning, it was chaos for the first two hours when the collection began. I think this is an area that needs attention for the 2009 run. In large runs like the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon with 40,000 entries, one does not spent more than 2 minutes to collect the race pack! I guess we have to be less critical here and they are a first time organizer. 

Jason Thiang, PACM’s captain, his wife Sook Ying and son Edwin Thiang were suppose to arrive at noon on Saturday. Edwin who is 12 and just got his IC did not bring his IC to the airport and they were prevented from boarding the flight. After another 2 hours delay to get home for the IC and RM600 penalty, they reached Kota Kinabalu at about 3pm. Jason text me his registration numbers and I collected for them, saved them the trouble of taking a cab to Likas Stadium. That evening, we went for a walk at the waterfront area, visited the Filipino market, we bought some fruits. We had a round of beer at one of the many café at the Waterfront area, courtesy of Jason.

That evening we drove to Chef Ong’s house for a quiet evening, dining in his house. Chef Ong stays in a semi-D at the outskirt of Kota Kinabalu. He has arrived early from Kundasang to do some shopping and has already cooked up a storm (figuratively speaking). Each of us was served a large juicy lamb shank as the main course. After the sumptuous dinner, I issued a preemptive excuse, I told Chef Ong that if I run slower than 2hr 8 minutes tomorrow, I shall hold him responsible for feeding us such a heavy meal. Of course the crux of the problem is that we have 3 solid nights of heavy eating since arriving in Sabah!

On Sunday morning, Chai arrived at the hotel to fetch us (Jason Thiang, Sook Ying, Edwin Thiang, Clara and I to the run site. There were plenty of parking space available, the small field of marathon runners have gone off at 4.30am. The half marathon runners are to be flagged off at 6am. In terms of day light, KK is one hour ahead of KL. If you could recall, many years ago, Sabah / Sarawak time is one hour ahead of us till the government decided that it is good to share the same time zone for productivity reasons. Therefore, starting at 6am for half marathon in KK is equivalent to 7am in KL. I was prepared with my cap as I expected the hot seafront sun after one hour into the race.

Our group before the run: Edwin, Sook Ying, Jason, Clara, Wan and Chai

 The route was well charted as we left the Likas Stadium and run along the coastal road towards KK town with the ocean to our right. The route is flat as some of the coastal roads are built from reclaimed land. Other than the runners, there were no spectators in sight till after 4km when we got to the town, near the Waterfront area, along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen.  After that we ran towards the scenic Sutera Harbour area and then did our U-turn at Tanjung Aru area. After the U-turn I could feel the heat and sluggishness due to the heavy dinner last night. I am fully aware of the mistake we made by eating so much meat the night before but given the hospitality of Chef Ong, it is kind of hard to resist and worse being impolite. After Tanjung Aru, there was another U-turn before we got back to the town area of Api-Api. When I got to the second last water station near Api-Api, the station ran out of cups but they have plenty of isotonic drinks. This is where I saw things gone wrong, the runners just take the whole 1.5 lit bottle and drink from it. Some runners took the bottles, ran on and discarded the three quarter full bottles along the road. I was thinking to myself, how could such a fundamental error be committed? The number of runners passing through each station can be easily calculated and the number of cups to be provided. I wonder if the slower runners, especially the full marathon runners are going to have drinks when they pass this station. When I was the race director for PACM events, I drew up a worksheet to calculate the number of cups required, I use a rule of thumb of 2 cups per runner and add 20% buffer. The lesson here is; the devil is in the details!   

I felt very sluggish from the Api-Api area onwards with 5km to go, full blame on the lamb shank Chef Ong fed me the night before. I kept running under the hot sun with shorter strides and I can see that this is the first “turkey” I ran since the 2hr 11mins in Sydney Marathon 2004. I was having a cough then (good reason) but this time it was my fault for finishing the whole lamb shank. I pride myself to be a very consistent runner and clock very consistent time. This year my target time is within 2hr 8 minutes for 21km. I eventually clocked 2hr 14 mins (45th), a time that should be clocked when I am another 6 years older in 2014! Chai finished in 2hr 30mins (64th) and Clara was fourth in her category with a time of 1hr 3mins. We noticed something strange when we finished, we don’t get water to drink. We have to buy our own drinks at the canteen using the RM10 refund from the chip deposit. This must be the first road run I had taken part that require me to buy my own drinks after the run……can’t figure out the rationale for it. The medal we received for the 21km event is very small, they could have invested a few extra ringgit for something more presentable……… We left after our drinks for the hotel.

Chai getting his finisher medal after finishing 21km and a lamb shank the previous night.

Thiang Family (Jason, Sook Ying and Edwin). After the run, they climbed up Mount Kinabalu 2 days later.

Jason, Sook Ying, Edwin, Clara, Wan and Chai after the run with the locals in traditional attire

After our shower, we checked out and meet up with Chef Ong and went for brunch at Bandar Damai, famous for its fish noodles. We had some very fresh fish noodle soup at Kedai Kopi Houng, a welcome change from the heavy lamb shank the night before. We thank Chef Ong for his hospitality before we left for the airport. We got to the airport and returned the car to the car rental company. As we need to rest our legs, we ordered some coffee at the Airport Café. While we were having our coffee, a young man smiled at me as asked if I am the writer for the Footloose magazine. He identified himself as Chen Chee Kong, an engineer from Kedah now working with Shell in Miri. He is the only PACM member based in Miri. He just ran the BIM, 21km and finished in a time of 2hrs 5 mins. We chat for a while till he boarded his plane back to Miri. When it was our turn to board our plane, we saw the CEO of Air Asia-X, Encik Azran Osman-Rani boarding the same flight with a few of Air Asia’s employees who took part in the BIM that morning. Lily, the air hostess who ran 21km managed to raised RM21,000 donated by Datuk Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia.; good for her!

Chen Chee Kong, Chai, Clara and Wan at the Airport Cafe.

The Way Forward for BIM
Overall, it was a credible first time effort, it shows the lack of experience in some details that could easily be worked out the next time round. We can sense that the passion is very strong and this is important. They were gracious enough to invite feedback from the several emails they sent to the runners after the conclusion of BIM. This indicates that they are here to stay and weeks later they actually announced that the BIM 2009 will be held on 11 October 2009. Chai went ahead to book with Air Asia the tickets for October 2009 during the sale in November 2008……..11 months in advance. I will be happy to go back there but I will make the decision in July 2009.

It is great that 4 individuals having a passion for running, chip in money to start this event. These 4 individuals are Andrew, Chris Neilsen, Simon and Urs Weisskopf with Shan Sandhu as the coordinator. Kota Kinabalu does not have a large population, let alone a large running population. I can’t help but comparing it with Phuket where I did the Laguna Phuket Marathon in June 2008 where the support of the locals is lacking as the event is priced beyond the financial means of the locals. In the case of BIM, it is not the case as the pricing is affordable. What is lacking, I believe is the absence of a sizeable running population. I am not sure if they even have a local running club there. Using the BIM as the inertia and start a local running club would be a step in the right direction. BIM with their office set up could be the administrative support provider for the new club. In addition, BIM would need to lobby for the support of the corporate in Kota Kinabalu to support the event like what they have done with Air Asia. In Kota Kinabalu, the larger companies do have their own sports and social clubs, they should be a good starting point for BIM to market the event. During the year in the run up to the next BIM 2009 in October, there should be some shorter warm-up running events organized to build up the passion and interest. While all these suggestions are easy to reel out from my head, it takes commitment, passion and hard work for the running community to make it work……………… Please don’t let BIM be a one marathon wonder! 


Wan Yew Leong
24 December 2008


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