Organised by the Borneo Ultra Trails, the TMBT Ultra Trail Marathon, famously known as The Most Beautiful Thing, has been rated as the biggest and toughest ultra trail marathon in Malaysia.
Most commonly, the TMBT is described as the most brutal ultra trail marathon for its challenging course, which comprises steep, muddy, slippery, and technical climb and descent, and also for the unpredictable weather which can vary from a sunny, hot day to cold, blustery day.
Interestingly, the TMBT sees more than 1,500 participants every year, despite the physical and mental brutality, running across the foothills of Mount Kinabalu and the Bundu Tuhan valley.
TMBT – The Most Balanced Thing.
The race has a reputation for being challenging to complete. The 2019 edition attracted 500 runners to challenge the 109KM category, 460 runners to partake in the 50KM category, and 500 runners to run the 30KM category.
I was a little taken aback by the thought of running the TMBT. It was not a race for everyone, but it definitely took courage, preparation, and determination to finish it. Hence, I bravely made a decision to beat the brutal trail and stringent cut-off time.
Having run in the 30KM category, I had to climb an elevation of 2,000 metres in order to cross the finish line. The 30KM course took me through the breathtaking Kg. Lingkubang Kota Belud, the Bundu Tuhan valley and lastly, the Pekan Nabalu.
If I were to describe the TMBT, I would name it The Most Balanced Thing.
A perfect mix of everything.
The TMBT took participants into a part of wild and untamed North Borneo that not many get to experience. Indeed, the trail consisted of a mix of tarmac road, rocky road, ascent, gradient, muds, rocks, sands, warmth, and cold.
Running the TMBT, I got to taste different elements, in good proportions. As a beginner, there’s fear, not extreme, but it’s there. The 30KM category was nice enough to cure my curiosity about the reputable ultra trail marathon.
The TMBT started with a long stretch of concrete, flat road before taking the participants to the first water station at Kebayau Hill. There were four water stations in total for my category. I took every water station as my mark, and everything became slightly easier.
The first 10KM was manageable.
The first 10KM covered the remote villages, paddy fields, rubber plantations, vegetations, and farmlands. Apart from running very lush and abundant greenery, participants were also welcomed by traditional gong-playing by a group of village elderly.
Along the route, villagers were also ready with isotonic drinks in ice boxes. Not only they were selling beverages, but also serving some solid food. Since the establishment, the organiser has been working very closely with the native communities. The race has also encouraged and seen the development of various successful eco-tourism products emerging in the villages that the route passes through.
As I reached the second water station at Tambatuan, I was spoilt for the free refills of water, hot beverages, and fruits. Doctors and ambulances were on hand for any required medical assistance. Immediately, I gobbled up some bananas, gulped down some energy gels, and got my water bottles refilled, before resuming my way.
More to come.
After that, I was cruising alone in a long stretch of dirt and muddy road, which allowed me to steal occasional glances at the majestic view of Mount Kinabalu above and lush greenish landscape.
Due to the heavy rain, the trail turned extremely wet and covered in mud. I was feeling calm, comfortable, and still energetic to embark on the next challenging, almost inhumane series of ascent and descent.
The downpours also led to rushing river, drenched and slippery trails that made the run even more intimidating. I was trying to make every step more carefully and slowly, while holding tight to the ropes that were tied around the trees.
The last 2KM was insane!
Then, I encountered the deep valleys with dense jungle, crossed streams and rivers on hanging and bamboo bridges.
I was told that the last 2KM of the course was totally insane. The strenuous trails certainly tested the strength and mental resolve of the participants. With no easy escape, I was forced to move forwards the gruelling and mud-caked trails, pushing myself to the next level.
While passing through the very steep and seemingly never ending uphill and downhill sections, walking poles came into play. In addition to overcoming the challenging trail conditions, a good pair of sport sunglasses could maximise my performance.
Having worn the Ziv Rock Series helped me to avoid squinting, which in turn relaxed my eyes and faces, while forming a great barrier for my eyes against dust, sands, and light along the trail. What I loved most about the Ziv Rock Series was its comfortable anti-slip nose pad.
The Ziv Rock Series uses high-definition technology polarisers, not only the visual clarity jumps, but also effectively avoids the eyes being disturbed by the surrounding light, and the delicate lines and three-dimensionality of the objects are presented in front of the eyes.
TMBT, I did it!
As much as I pushed my physical and mental limits, the heat and dehydration had an effect on my body. I quickly drank the isotonic drinks down with a loud slurp. The local villagers were particularly warm, welcoming, and friendly. They smiled at and cheered on the participants.
In the meantime, children were seen lining up, giving ‘high-five” to the participants as we passed through. Eventually, I became more motivated, after mingling around and chit chatting with the other runners who happened to pass me.
After encountering countless ascents, I approached the finish line. There were a handful of volunteers waiting for the participants to record our timing and to put the finisher medal around our necks.
The iconic staircases leading the participants to the finish line could instantly put away the fatigue and lethargy. Apart from recovering from the pain all over the body, the only thing I probably wanted to do is to sit down for the rest of the day, reflect on the experience from the race, and think about the new goals and the next trail race.
Is TMBT Ultra Trail Marathon Really Brutal?
While tackling the elevation of 2,000 metres may sound scary, being trained properly and getting equipped with sufficient nutrition and fluids will sustain you along the way.
When you’re a beginner, running 30KM will surely feel daunting at first and you will be slightly out of breath when you start. Gradually, you will begin to cover more miles. Always remember: Practice always makes perfect.
To sum it up, the TMBT can also be dubbed The Most Balanced Thing.
The trail has everything – the off road, super steep climbs, super challenging downhills, jungle running, single track, and open road. The trail offers a few river crossing and suspension bridge crossing, overlooking the spectacular Mount Kinabalu.
The trail, with many obstacles, helps you to improve your agility. The movements are diverse, so your body gets stronger. Ascending gives your quad muscles hard times, at the same time, also helps to build strength on your core, calves, and hamstrings. You are able to utilise different types of workouts running in the trail.
In a nutshell, completing the TMBT for the first time is fun and surreal, and it absolutely gives you a lifetime of memories. The fear, anxiety, and jittery that you have at the start line, have now become your joy, pride, and fulfilment that could never be traded with anything.