A Test of Strength

28Dec05

As published on VirtualMalaysia.Com [Editor’s Pick]

Fit people fascinate me. Super fit people amaze me. And as such, was I struck by the sheer celebration of the human strength at the Gua Tempurung X-Challenge 2005 held recently in Gopeng. With almost 60 teams of two in four categories – expert men, expert mixed, novice men, and novice mixed – the race challenges participants in a variety of eco-adventure disciplines.

The race begins with a level grounded jog, where most teams started pacing themselves from other teams, both inadvertently and strategically. A number of participants tried to get lead advantages, while there were many others jogged steadily with the crowd, conserving as much energy as possible for the more demanding tasks. About two kilometres later, the participants arrived at their bicycles and cycled to Gua Sanding for the first bike drop.

The task required participants to climb, trek and pick their way through the thick shrouds along the steep side of Gua Sanding, following the route of red and white zebra markers. They climbed trees and hung on to roots, finally exiting at the back of Gua Sanding, picking up their bikes, and continuing their journey through an abandoned quarry.

Over 30 kilometres later, the cycling route bends into an off road trail, comprising mostly of dirt and rocks with sheer uphill and downhill gradients. Straining from exhaustion, many participants struggled to cycle their bike uphill, while many others pushed, and even carried their bicycles as the mid-morning heat beats down onto them.

All along the running and cycling route, participants were required to complete five mystery tasks. The penalty for refusal or incompletion of any of the task was a thirty-minute time freeze. Among the mystery tasks was catching two kilos of catfish with bare hands and performing pair push-ups while drinking from a straw.

One of the disciplines challenged in the race was orienteering i.e. navigating through several checkpoints using a compass. In this competition, participants needed to orientate through a rubber estate through six checkpoints, before making their way to Itik River.

Itik River, which runs through rural Gopeng is a favourite family picnic site, with plenty of swimming among its gentle rapids. There was not splashing about for the race participants though, as they made their way down river as quickly as they can via rubber tubes. Uneven currents, slippery stones and patches of shallow water might have slowed the participants in the water, but it fuelled their spirits to push on.

From the river, participants made their way to the back of Gua Tempurung, a gruelling dirt trail hike under the dead of afternoon sun. Anyone would have imagined that be this leg of the race, participants would be walking slowly up the rocky terrain. So it was to my utmost wonderment to see participants jogging and even running this leg of the race, slowing down only occasionally to sip some fluids from their water packs.

The race is not without its share of injuries. At almost every leg of the race, I saw participants slowed down by cramps, sprains and muscle pulls. This is why fitness and stamina is of utmost importance in endurance competition, and not just physical vigour, perhaps what’s far more important is mental. Despite injuries, I saw many participants strive on, assisted by their partners, unrelenting and refusing to be defeated by physical whims.

The final two disciplines were abseiling and caving. Participants made a 40-meter abseil through overgrown roots before a free drop to the bottom through two rope stations; a task certainly not meant for amateurs. The back of Gua Tempurung was pitch dark and participants had to use torchlights to manoeuvre through the many caverns and tunnels.

Exiting Gua Tempurung, participants made a dash for the finish line with their last ounce of strength. A meek crowd gathered to welcome the participants, but that was not what was cheering them on at this very last sprint. It was that little voice inside them whispering that the goal was just ahead of them; telling them that after all the disciplines are done and all the tasks completes, the glory is just a few steps ahead. The little voice whispers of success within reach; not just to the first three teams that arrived at the finishing line, but to every single participant whom have made it this far.

They tell me that endurance races are not for everyone. Following the organisers and participants as they endeavour the trail, I begin to understand why. I saw stronger members in a team cheer on their partners. I saw weaker members of a team push themselves beyond limits that they can only imagine themselves going. All this is strength. Embarked only by the chosen few. Dare you?

Words by Majidah Hashim


The writer, one year later, abseilling down Gua Tempurung

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