Langkawi Climb and run preview

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I was contacted via Marlina by the folks from Minds@Works who are behind the upcoming BDB Langkawi Climb and Run race. They were looking for runners blogging to go to Langkawi to try the route of the race and give provide feedback before they finalise everything for the June 4 race. The main title sponsor is Bina Darulaman Berhad (BDB) which is a well established GLC in Kedah. The technical part of the race is provided by Minds@Works who have engaged Ariff Syafik from NM Galaxy as Race Director. He has been organising couple of races around Kuala Lumpur in the past few years.

This race is the first race of a 3 races series that spans over the second half of 2016 to support the Discover Kedah initiative. As such there will be 2 other races in Jitra (more on this later). To be noted, the race is also sponsored by Brooks who provides the race TShirt.

We got to Subang airport (a first for me, I usually only go to KLIA2 or KLIA) to take the Firefly flight to Langkawi on the saturday. Once landed, the program was the following:

  1. Quick visit to the race site (the stairs seem to scare a lot of people !)
  2. Learn more over dinner about the BDB Langkawi Climb and Run Race but also about the 2 others BDB races in Jitra
  3. Learn about the Langkawi area we would race (Gunung Raya)
  4. Run the race course and share feedback with the organisers.

About the event

The race will be held on June 4, 2016 in Langkawi. The start of the race is in Hutan Lipur Lubok Semilang, a small and nice park along a small river, right beside the Langkawi MARDI area. It’s of course right at the bottom of Gunung Raya, which is the highest peak in Langkawi at 2890 feet / 881 meters. The race is set to be 18km with 3km of uphill stair cases followed by 15km of road running to go back to the start of the race.

For those not familiar with Langkawi and where Gunung Raya is on the island, it is pretty much in the middle of the island. It’s not where you have the famous cable car, going to the top of Gunung Machinchang (where you have the famous suspended bridge). Gunung Raya is in fact a little gem: not too well know by tourists, a beautiful forest surrounding it and a breathtaking view of part of Langkawi. And boy… it has a giant stair case !!!!! Kudos to the organiser to let the runners discover this rather not well known part of Langkawi…

In term of organization, the stairs can be quite narrow and to cater for this, they will launch the race by waves to prevent congestion (it makes sense when you go there).

Pricing wise the fee goes from 79RM (non elite) to 99RM (elite).

The other 2 events in Jitra are:

  1. Extreme Jitra – September 10, 2016 – obstacle run in the popular format like Viper Challenger, Commando Elite Challenger, …
  2. Marathon Jitra – November 26, 2016 – a road race with 5km, 10km, half marathon and full marathon

They also have a bundle for the 3 races of the serie at 200RM (Langkawi Climb and Run, Extreme Jitra and Jitra Marathon). That’s actually not too bad compare to the prices of races you can start seeing (at least around KL). If you complete the 3 races, you also get a special TShirt and a special medal. You can find more information on the race on their portal web site. Registration can be done at this link.

During the dinner, we had couple of people talking to us: the organiser, the Race Director, BDB people from the title sponsor, Damian from Brooks and Pak Den from Langkawi who is a medical doctor living and practicing in Langkawi with a passion for the flora and fauna of the island. He spends a lot of time hiking and researching about the traditional plants of the region for medicinal purpose. Listening to him, you could feel he was such a passionate and knowledgeable person on the topic !

Some of his advices:

  1. Drink well it’s very hot,
  2. Stay on the stairs as the vegetation has some surprises, in particular one tree that would give rashes for 10 days if you touch it,
  3. Watch out for the birds, particularly the big hornbill which is quite recognisable with his large and heavy wings doing a big FLAP sound,
  4. The last section of the stairs is VERY steep.

The Climb and Run !!!!

On the group photo, from the left to the right. Front row: Razis, Ariff, Deoh, Zaini, Sam, Zi-Shen, myself, Damian. Back row: Lofti, Evelyn, Dennis, Elena, Marlina, Razif, Azait, Max. Some are missing on this picture.

We started at 8am. It was actually nice for the entire climb as it’s under the shades but for the road section, it became quite hot half way down already. I would actually prefer to start earlier 7am max, even if I need to carry a headlamp ! I started slowly as it’s stairs for a long time. Ariff told us that running the stairs he could do it in 55mn. I was not expecting to run a good half of it. We should expect longer than that. The front runner were very strong, ie MUCH stronger than I (Razis, Razif, Deoh). So I went my pace, trying to do my best on the climb and not kill myself for the second part… It was a very good training pace I think but I need to have more practice on stairs. So that was a lonely moment after I lost view of the first group and overtook Sam and Zi -Shen…

The stairs section is quite long: 4287 steps and not all of them are the same… It’s fairly smooth concrete steps, nothing irregular (of course some sections are steeper and have higher steps, while some are more flatter). At some point, there is a small downhill to go down a small hill before going back up again, this time with bigger steps !

The view is beautiful: fallen tree trunk to climb over, greenery everywhere, mushrooms (do not eat !), ants colonies marching, sounds of birds, sun light reaching through the leafs of trees, … Only toward the end you can start to see the sky again. Prior to this, it’s entirely covered and nice to run/walk.

Below is a great shot taken by the organiser using their drone…. This shows the last section before the end of the climb and myself running. I have to say I quite love this photo !

Now for the second part, we did not take it as a race. After all that’s not the point… To wait fro runners, we decide to go uphill to the observation tower. It’s about 1km by road from the end of the stairs. This area is currently closed for renovation and it is planned to have a restaurant there from what I was told.

After that short section, we all stopped to wait for runners and chat with Ariff, sharing suggestions. For example, we were thinking it would be good to let runners run to the observation tower, have the CP/Water station there then only start the going down.

The downhill was quite smooth I have to say but still 12-13km of going down can be taxing on your knees or feet. I started with Zi-Shen but he was too fast. Later on I caught up with Sam who went down with Rafiz, Razis and Deoh while we were waiting for Evelyn. It was overall a good practice session for me as I’ve never been too good running downhill and it got worse wearing sandals ! Still, more work is needed believe me ! I saw and overtook cows going down… it seems very common there. And at some point, I was lucky and heard and saw a big hornbill. Quite a loud flapping I have to say !

Once I was back on the main road, it was rolling hills and flat. I made a wrong turn, so I got some bonus distance. Then I finished. It was very hot at that time however not yet enough to cover fully like at P100 or Route 68.

My race

What I got from my Garmin… seems the current firmware has poor GPS signal… I get longer by 3km, which is not right ! It took me 64 minutes to climb the stairs. At some point I was using both my hands on the rails in the last section ! I don’t do often stairs but this was not too bad. Have a look at the temperatures toward the end ! Hot !

I ran with the Xero Z-Trail from the beginning to increase my mileage. Still a little bit of chaffig at the back of the foot, but nothing major. Probably I need to tape a bit there. They were more wet than usual with the transpiration and that was a good learning session wearing them. I carried my usual Z-Trek in the pack just in case. I also tried for a long run the TShirt from Ash be Nimble and it was great !

Some of the folks photos toward the end or during the run:

We were joking about how many loops one should do… I kept looking at that barrier/gate… thinking about the Barkleys Marathons documentary I watched on Netflix ! What if… Maybe one day, some of us will be crazy enough to do 5 loops ! We need to find a sadistic RD 😀

Final thoughts

The route was enjoyable. Gunung Raya is a great place to run. I think I would love to have a LSD going up and down (no stairs, just road). Also I kept thinking during the downhill that there must be some trails around here… or in Langkawi in general. However after that, searching on the internet I could not find much… just few going to Gunung Machinchang.

I would recommend highly this race if you look for a challenge. You need to be fit for the climb and a good runner for the downhill. It’s also a great place to train for ultras in Hong Kong (they love stairs !). Heads up for registration, that’s really worth it in my honest opinion. Now if you are a beginner or a slow runner, it will probably take you 4 to 5 hours. Ariff told us for now there is no cutoff time, but maybe they might have to put some. We shall see.

Some of the group members just did the climb or did not finish the climb, some did a bit of running downhill. Kudos to them for trying, especially those who are not regular runners !

Photo credits to the organisers, some of the other bloggers/runners for their photo. It’s too late now to put the names, I’ll do this after sleeping a bit !!!


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