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I Left My Shoes in Sabah: The Most Beautiful Thing 100 km Race Report by Mariela Botella

Enjoy as TALON athlete, Mariela Botella, shares her beautiful and challenging 100 km trail adventure on the island of Borneo.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run the Colourcoil TMBT ‘The Most Beautiful Thing’ 100K Ultra Trail Marathon in Sabah, Borneo.

When I was informed back in March that I would be going to Malaysia for work in September, I got on the internet and started looking for things to do and places to run. I came across the TMBT 100K and I was intrigued.

The course was kept secret until about two weeks before the event at which time we found out there would be about 17K (5200 meters) elevation gain and nowhere near the equivalent in loss…maybe 6K?

Completing this run would also get you three points towards qualifying for the North Face Ultra Trail Mount Blanc in Chamonix for 2014.

Elevation Profile:

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.

This would be its third year in existence. It had grown over the years and it looked well organized. The required ‘mandatory kit’ insinuated the possible dangers of being out in the jungle. One had to carry with them at all times an emergency blanket, whistle, headlamp (80+ lumens), food, mobile phone, at least 1.5L water, reflective vest, blinking light, compass or GPS, sunscreen, cap, basic medical kit, and a rain jacket. Highly recommended were other items, but the one I took to heart was the spare socks! I packed four sets, two for the first half and two for the second half of the run.

The run was also self-supported. The event only offered water at the aid stations; one had to carry their own nutritional needs. Yes, there was a bit of food…at the 25K finish there was food and soda for the finishing runners – I took advantage of their hospitality and helped myself to coke and bananas.

At the 50K check-in you were given a voucher so you could get some hot food at the pavilion. Honestly, I was more interested in getting out of wet clothes and socks to think about a sit-down dinner, so I skipped it all together and made do with my own supplies.

Let’s talk about pace. I thought the cut-offs were very generous; 15 hours for the 50K and 30 hours for the 100K. It turns out there was a reason for those generous cut-offs!

I also found out during the event that the course changes every year, so one year can be more difficult than the other. This was a difficult year and not only because of the course but because of Mother Nature herself.

I just couldn’t believe that at the 25K mark I had been moving for 7 hours and 45 minutes! I found myself checking out of the 50K station right at 14 hours! Slow, heck yes, but it couldn’t be helped. The course was a monster; I crossed the finish line in 25:10 per the events calculations.

I’ll just mention some highlights and share photos.

Suspension bridges throughout the run did not allow for more than six runners at a time to cross without overburdening the bridges. Within the first 10 minutes of the start we had a queue of 15+ minutes to cross the first bridge. There would be more to cross throughout the day, but the runners were now spread out and lines were much shorter.

Courtesy TMBT Facebook Page and Nasier Le, Rahim & Sham

Courtesy TMBT Facebook Page and Nasier Le, Rahim & Sham

The first water crossing had a rope suspended and the current was swift. Why did I bother to remove my shoes?!? Unbeknownst to me at that time, there was NO WAY of keeping your feet dry. After the first 30 minutes of the run my feet were constantly wet with the help of water crossings, torrential downpours, and copious amounts of mud and standing water. As I’m going though this river crossing (photo below), the mantra going through my head ‘Do not fall, you must NOT fall…’ and I didn’t.

When on single track, the trails were either, rocky, rooty, muddy, or all of the above.

When on pavement, there was plenty of road traffic to fear!

Photo: Courtesy of Nasier Le

Photo: Courtesy of Nasier Le

The Weather

Well, this is Borneo and September marks the start of monsoon season. The forecast called for rain. No surprise there.

The run started at 8:00AM, one hour behind schedule due to several reasons, but the main one again, being the traffic on a suspension bridge to get everyone to the start line. 800+ runner and only six at a time could cross the bridge…yup. A few delays.

The temperature and humidity climbed quickly as soon as the sun came up and no matter how heat acclimated you are, you are going to slow down during these conditions.

I found myself climbing through the jungle and onto the ridge section through padis, pineapple, and rubber plantations. I sure wanted to take a bite out of one of those pineapples!

You can see the clouds starting to roll in, but this section was hot, exposed and a relentless climb.



This hot and exposed section gave way to Miki’s Camp in the jungle. I was probably half-way to check point #2 when the rain started at ~1:00PM. Sweet relief from the heat and humidity.

The sky overcast, the temperatures dropped, at the time it felt heaven sent!

It turned out to be the end of a lot of runners event that day. Out of 330 starters for the 100K distance only 120 finished.

I made it through Miki’s Camp before the rain caused flooding, but many were not so lucky. Posted on Facebook on the TMBT site:

‘TMBT 2013 UPDATE: All runners out of Kiau valley and heading to half way point. Some runners have DNF due to fatigue and cold due to the severe storm that hit the race course after lunch time…a large number of runners were pinned down in the miki camp valley and on the hills above the valley as the rivers swelled up in a space of 15 minutes and had terrible currents and volumes of water making it impossible to safely cross the rivers. Evacuation carried out by village guides and search and rescue teams. Race course markers affected in some areas due to strong winds and the storm and markers have had to be re-added twice in the space of 8 hours…’


Checkpoint #2 / Miki’s Camp – Out of the rain and in good spirits!

The Adventure

On my way to Water Station #3 as we are exiting the jungle section I feel some debris slapping up against my shin. I glance down and try to wipe it off, it wouldn’t budge. I think to myself, ‘hmmm, I think I have a leech on my leg.’ Not just one leech, I had two big ones! We were warned about leeches in the jungle section and I thought I had out-smarted them by wearing gaiters. The gaiters actually worked great for keeping them off my socks, but they conveniently suctioned themselves above the gaiter line.

As I arrived at Water Station #3, the first line of business was to get rid of my two hitchhikers. Leech #1 and Leech #2 had made themselves at home on my left leg. I had one on my shin and the other on my calf. Wish I had taken a photo…but I was more focused on getting them off me!

One actually dropped off by itself by the time I got to Water Station#3, but the one on my shin was getting fatter and fatter as I stood there contemplating the best course of action for leech removal. It sure liked O negative!

A guy used a drop of hand sanitizer to remove it and it worked well. I didn’t think twice about it. No leech and hand sanitizer to kill bacteria what else could you ask for? Well, I later learned from a local that it was the wrong thing to do. The alcohol causes the leech to get sick and regurgitate back into the wound. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now 12 days later, I’ve been on antibiotics for three days and have been prescribed a second antibiotic to take along with the first. The bite became infected; then the groin lymph nodes in my left leg became swollen and are working overtime. Geez…the adventure just doesn’t end.

I have to admit that for most of the distance between Water Station #3 and the 50K mark (~12.5 more miles) I had this song running through my head and I found myself singing it out loud to the chagrin of the runners around me. I also couldn’t help but change the lyrics to describe the rain and leeches that I had experienced so far.

Somewhere in these 12.5 miles the rain stopped and views of Mt Kinabalu started coming into focus.


By the time I rolled into the 50K Aid Station it was dark and I had already donned my reflective vest and red blinky light. On the way here I had debated with myself about what to do once at the 50K mark…if it was still raining I would stop, BUT if the rain had cleared, there was no reason why not to keep going…right?? Little did I know what lay ahead!? The dreaded Cabbage Loop!!

Looks pretty nice in the daylight, eh? Nice rows of cabbage with pretty views. Trust me when I tell you that ANY section dealing with cabbages (and there were several) during this run was nothing less than a slippery, slimy and stinky mud bath.

As I started this section, two runners were making their way out of the loop. They wished me luck. I thought…’Good Luck?’…what a strange thing to say.

As I’m running, slipping, staggering through rows and rows of stinky cabbage (which have left me scarred for life by the way), I came to the life altering decision that I would never eat cabbage again!

(Don’t worry; I have already broken that oath with the consumption of some red cabbage in a salad.)

There were a couple of sections through here, usually at road T’s with no markers where you had to do a bit of scouting to find the right road. At this point I understood the other runners message, they clearly meant to say “Good luck making your way through the Cabbage Patch and finding your way out!” but were struck mute by the effort and could only get out “Good Luck”. Ha!

For the most part though, the course was very well marked. It was easy to tell when you were off course because the reflective markers would disappear…this left one going back to the last seen marker to find the correct route.

Through the whole event, this was the only section of the course where I found myself completely alone, in the dark and surrounded by cabbage.


Photo: Courtesy Fadzlee Matsitum

Leaving the Cabbage Loop we had a long downhill section which was made up of rocky road transitioning to muddy road and then transitioning to asphalt road. I made some good time here on the rocky and asphalt sections, but the mud road was slow going as usual.

Early morning view of the mountains in the clouds and the mud road:


At the bottom we start our final ascent to the finish line ~7 miles to go from Water Station #10. I was power hiking to the best of my abilities, but I was running on fumes. I needed food!

I was too stubborn to stop and dig in my pack so I just kept moving forward and I kept slowing down.

Just before I decide to curl into a fetal position and cry by the side of the road, I turn a corner and there is a truck and a photographer from the run. He snaps a couple of shots of my lowest moments in the event…and in exchange I ask him for something sweet to drink. He pulls out a huge bottle of Minute Maid orange juice!!! He fills my water bottle and I proceed to chug it all down in seconds. He refills it again. Wow. I’m almost a NEW person. Goes to show you what a little sugar can do for the attitude!!

Only a couple of kilometers to go…and I get to a marker pointing down a single track trail. I follow it. Half-way down I see other runners heading back up the trail.


I start speaking ‘French’ $$%#@@@##&#…..%^$%$##$$$….lol

In the process, we see four other runners coming down that had done exactly the same thing. At least I was in good company. I wasn’t the only one to go off course with LESS THAN A BLOCK to the finish line!!!

I can laugh about it now, but I was not a happy camper at the time.

The finish was uneventful, people were lined up cheering for us, but I didn’t really hear them. I focused on getting this over and done. As I cross the finish I’m handed a medal and a t-shirt. No one there to take my time…does anyone know that I finished?? Hello??

Well, couldn’t worry about it at the moment because I didn’t have any time to worry. After speaking to the RD I’m informed that the next bus for the airport leaves in 15 minutes and if I want to be on it and catch my plane back to Kuala Lumpur I have 10 minutes to get cleaned up and on it.

Super charge mode – activate! I think this was the fastest I had moved in the last 15 hours.

I lock myself in the men’s bathroom (only one available at the time), strip and splash myself with water to get rid of the stink and the mud. I put on cleanish clothes and shove everything into my duffle and backpack. I make it to the van with a few minutes to spare.

The Shoes

They only had about 150 miles on them (counting the adventure at hand) and they served me well.

They used to be blue, but now they were a yellowish shade of brown and about five pounds heavier. I left them in the men’s bathroom to be adopted by someone…someone that maybe needed a new pair of shoes. They would clean up real nice…maybe, and they did have a good tale to tell to whoever would listen.

I’m hoping they found a good home.

Here’s a professionally done video for the run. These guys make it look really easy, it wasn’t!!

The Most Beautiful Thing from Sabah Adventure Challenge on Vimeo.



– Mariela Botella

About the author

Guest Author A groovy member of the TALON tribe excited to share some trail/ultra running goodness with you! Are you interested in sharing an article that will inform, inspire, or entertain our tribe on Endurance Buzz? Use the EB Contact Page to start a chat.

9 Responses to “I Left My Shoes in Sabah: The Most Beautiful Thing 100 km Race Report by Mariela Botella”

  1. on 03 Oct 2013 at 8:18 pm Eric

    Great writeup! Funny how much different the race looks from the middle to back of the pack. I intentionally took my sweet time getting to the first hanging bridge, and as a result, I waited not 15 minutes, but an hour 15 minutes! So then I ended up getting deluged by the rain when entering the Miki Camp loop, and got turned back just before the water crossing prior to CP2. What a memorable day.

    I wrote about my 50km experience on my blog, so feel free to check it out as well!

  2. on 04 Oct 2013 at 11:16 am Mariela


    Sorry to hear you got caught by the flooded river.
    Count your stars you didn’t have to do the cabbage loop!! lol
    Will check out your report. Thanks for the kind words.

    run strong!

  3. on 06 Oct 2013 at 6:53 am dan b.

    Great report. That sounds like a really hard finish, particularly through the cabbage. Wow. Usually “in the cabbage” is just an expression.

    See you at Cajun Coyote?

    Dan B.

  4. on 07 Oct 2013 at 7:13 pm Mariela

    Thanks Dan!
    I’ll be at Cajun Coyote if all goes well.
    Tell Peter to get off the fence…lol
    See you there!!

  5. on 09 Oct 2013 at 2:46 pm SCottieB

    Zoinks! Whatta crazy adventure! Thanks for the terrific write-up. I might try reading it again after I douse myself with water and cabbage mud – to get the full affect. That photo of you at the water crossing with the rope is awesome. You were so focused!
    I hope the antibiotics are working!

  6. on 11 Oct 2013 at 7:54 pm Mariela

    Thanks Scott!
    Antibiotics seemed to have done their job properly!

  7. on 14 Oct 2013 at 1:18 pm Kathryn

    Great adventure, truly unique! Only time I’ve ever seen leeches and cabbage in the same experience. All I can say is wow!

  8. on 03 Dec 2013 at 11:15 pm Rizwan

    Haha, wonderful ‘report’ Mariela! Will you be coming again next year (2014)?

  9. on 17 Dec 2013 at 3:23 pm Mariela

    Hi Rizwan,

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Alas, the 2014 event is earlier in the year and my travels to Malaysia usually take place in September.
    Can you recommend another adventure?
    I was contemplating the Mnt Kinabalu Climbathon if I can push the trip back to early October. =)

    Good luck to you in all your future running!