Participants gathering at the starting line of the 100km category in Sungai Lembu Eco Village during the 2015 Eco 100 Marathon.
In May, Penang hosts a running event of epic proportions.
Imagine running 50km, 100km or 100 miles – which is a whopping 165km. One could technically be running from Penang to Taiping and back, with a few kilometres to spare.
That is what participants in the Malaysia Eco 100 Ultra Marathon are willing to put themselves through. Planned for May 14- 15, it will be the first ultra-trail to be held in West Malaysia that has 50km, 100km and 100-mile categories.
And it will be held in scenic Bukit Mertajam, starting from “the eco village of Sungai Lembu, taking runners through oil palm, rubber and pineapple plantations; Malay and Chinese villages; Indian temples; paddy fields; and of course, the challenging hills of Tokun1.”
Ng Seow Kong.
Seasoned marathoner Ng Seow Kong thinks Bukit Mertajam has much to offer. “Being an alumnus of SMJK Jit Sin, I thought it would be great to promote Bukit Mertajam as a tourist attraction. Areas such as Mengkuang, Seraya and Hutan Lipur Bukit Mertajam also boast several challenging yet beautiful trails for runners.”
Ng is the CEO of Endurance Nature, the company organising the marathon. Besides organising running events throughout Malaysia, Endurance Nature also seeks to create a world-class running platform in Malaysia that draws both the domestic and international running communities, and provides coaching and training camps on running, among other things. The company was founded in 2014 by Ng together with fellow marathoner Allan Lee, and they have organised running events such as the TiTi100 Road Ultra Marathon and UM24, a 24-hour run at Universiti Malaya.
“We are pleased to have received five-star reviews for the events that we’ve organised. These reviews were based on the standard features of our races, such as informative rules and regulations, clear markings, well-stocked aid stations and, most importantly, the level of professional operation,” says Ng. To date, Endurance Nature has had an average of 520 participants attending its races.
But running is not the only item on the agenda. Eco 100 aims to give back to those living in the vicinity of the trail by bringing food, transportation and accommodation to local businesses. “On top of that, funds will be raised to support students of SJK(C) Kampung Sungai Lembu who are experiencing financial difficulties, and create awareness among participants about environmental cleanliness,” Ng explains, adding that the marathon also seeks to forge connections between five JKKKs and several villages.
Runners are taken through the scenic views of Sungai Lembu.
Ng’s passion for running has enabled him to accomplish amazing feats, such as being the first Malaysian to run marathons in seven continents – including the North Pole – and has seen him participate in more than 100 marathons and ultra-marathons in over 60 cities in 40 countries over 35 years!
“Running as a sport creates sufficient endorphins and excitement to drive me. Also, the quest for faster speeds and longer distances is what keeps my adrenaline flowing,” he says. It is this curiosity about how his body handles the challenges of extreme distances, climates, terrains, altitudes and exotic destinations – together with support from other runners – that motivates him.
Despite running around the world almost endlessly, Ng does not find it difficult to balance between his love for running and his career as a CFO for a Hong Kong company. “By the time I was running in ultra-races, I was not required to work on a hands-on operational level,” he explains. “Furthermore, I train only once in the morning and will have the rest of the day for my family and work. Whenever it’s possible, I even bring my family along with me for international races.”
The Eco 100 draws to a close on May 15, and Ng says that the next-planned destinations for the race are Fraser’s Hill and Pagor in August and December this year, respectively. There are currently no plans to hold a trail race in East Malaysia.
Unlike other marathons held in Penang, Eco 100 will be able to elevate the status of Bukit Mertajam and Penang internationally due to some of its features, Ng thinks. For one thing, the marathon was named a “Super Trail” by the Asia Trail Masters Series this year – the only race in Malaysia to attain that status. Only four other races in Asia have that honour. “As such, runners will get extra 50 points compared to other races if they finish the Eco 100 marathon,” he says.
Secondly, Eco 100 is also the only marathon that offers a 100-mile trail event in Malaysia. “Such a distance is still far and few in Asian countries. This will definitely attract international runners to take on the challenge,” says Ng. Last of all, the marathon is certified with points for those who complete the 50km, 100km or 100-mile race, which then can be used to participate in similar races like the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji and Ultra Trail Mont Blanc.
Participants at the start of the 50km category at Tokun Hill Car Park during the 2015 Eco 100 marathon.
Ng thinks that Penang possesses great potential to become a major location for marathons in the near future. “Penang has already been a tourist destination for many decades. If a great course can be designed and run in a professional manner, integrating tourism and cultures into a wholesome programme, Penang can surely achieve this goal.”
Sarah Yeoh is a student who enjoys winding down to a relaxing session of jazz and is a closet fan of Arsenal.