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Features Borneo Marathon

18 May 2016, 12pm

Runners enjoy beaches, rainforests and escape tropical heat with 3am start

Running wild

Borneo International Marathon
Sun 1 May 2016

The Borneo International Marathon is fast gaining popularity among the races within the Asia Pacific region: this year it attracted over 8500 runners with 1000 of them coming from almost 40 foreign countries (it started in 2008 with a mere 529 runners). It was the first road race to be held in the East Malaysian state of Sabah after the ‘Daily Express Sabah Marathon’ back in 1984, 23 years ago.

The founder of BIM was a local businessman, Andrew Voon, who organised the race for four years before his sudden death in 2011. The race organisation was then taken over by his close friends who formed the Kinabalu Running Club and continued his legacy. In the five years since then BIM has become the third largest road race in Malaysia.

This year’s theme of ‘Running Wild in Borneo’ attracted 1000 international runners to ‘run wild’ on the streets of Kota Kinabalu. The ‘wilderness’ features a lovely stretch along the coastline overlooking the islands of the South China Sea and the iconic Mount Kinabalu looming in the East as the sun rises.

The race gets underway early to escape the worst of the heat which can reach up to 36C at its peak. The marathon starts at 03.00, but it is better for the runners — they just have to run faster to beat the heat. Apart from the Marathon — in which 1600 runners participated — there are also half marathon and 10km events with 2200 and 3700 participants respectively.

It is a good idea for runners to acclimatise to the weather in Sabah before the race. The heat makes personal best times unlikely but the organisers make sure that adequate water and cooling stations are available throughout the course.

Silke Teubener took the trouble to write from Germany after the race: “although none of us got near our best times — the heat was a bit too much for that — we all agreed that this marathon was well-organised with a nice route and sufficient water stations. The cool water sponges and water hoses were greatly appreciated. Running the final metres into the stadium was a nice way to finish. We truly enjoyed it and congratulate you on a job well done. Bravo!”

The course passes through the old part of the town, highlights two structures that were built 100 years ago during British colonial times: a clock tower and a government building which presently houses the tourism board.

The rest of the route takes runners into the University of Malaysia Sabah where BIM’s version of heartbreak hills greets the runners. They then pass through smaller satellite towns before heading back to the finish. The stadium finish, with the final 200m on the track, gives runners a different feeling.

Sabah is well-known in Malaysia as a tourist state. Its natural attractions include plenty of white sand beaches, rainforests and wildlife. It is a modern state with many brand hotels and shopping malls in the city of Kota Kinabalu, which was mostly ruined during WWII. But it has kept its quaint character in its people who are relaxed and hospitable — not your typical city folks.

May in Sabah is traditionally the official celebration month of the Harvest Festival. Local Sabah people observe the entire month in thanksgiving to the bountiful harvest of the paddy (rice). There is a lot of merry-making and ‘open houses’ which is a typical Malaysian custom of hosting guests all day long at their houses.

BIM is held close to the Sabah Fest, a three-day stage show highlighting local culture and history. Visiting runners and their supporters can take advantage of the festival to learn more about the locality.

“This year we introduced motivational quotes for our Chinese and Japanese runners along the route,” said President of Kinabalu Running Club and Race Director, Dr Heng Aik Cheng. “We are pleased that the Borneo Marathon brings such benefits to tourism in Sabah every year. We are happy to see overseas runners returning year on year, especially from Singapore (50), Philippines, Brunei (180), Japan (100), China (250), UK (100) and USA. One of the most notable foreign participants came from Japan, Mdm Noriko Sakota, who at 70 years of age ran her 1116th marathon.

BIM was established as a community event and remains so to this day, run by a small group of volunteers. Any profit from the race is distributed to charitable bodies around Sabah, including those committed to social improvement, education and conservation.

More than 600 extra volunteers help out on race day itself including the police for security and traffic control and the hospitals for medical support.

Next year’s 10th anniversary race will be held on 7 May 2017.

See the latest news from Borneo Marathon

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