Chinese-Bidayuh ultramarathoner motivated by satisfaction of a job well done

Yap competing in the 2021 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo courtesy of Sally Yap.

By Ashley Sim

“The finish line. The satisfaction of completing the race and crossing the finish line.”

THESE words echo in the mind of Kuching-born ultramarathoner Sally Yap on every run, propelling her forward to complete physical feats many, if not most people, couldn’t even dream of achieving. Yet, by her accomplishing what others may see as inconceivable, she inspires them to do the same. ‘Them’ meaning people like me. In the wake of hearing her sum up what drives her to run, I felt empowered and motivated, ready to conquer anything that comes my way.

The 30-year-old Chinese-Bidayuh athlete fearlessly takes on ultramarathons (distances exceeding a standard marathon of 42.195km or 26 miles 385 yards), even in the face of her biggest fears—slithering snakes and clingy leeches.

Despite her past experience of being bitten by leeches during an ultratrail race at the 2022 North Face Malaysia Mountain Trail Festival in Taiping, Perak, Yap refuses to let anything hold her back from achieving her goals.

“My only fear when running ultramarathons is snakes and leeches, and nothing else,” she said with a chuckle.

I am absolutely blown away by her fearless attitude and impressed by how she’s totally unfazed by the extreme distance and high altitude. The weather up there is no joke—lower humidity, stronger winds, and colder temps—but she’s still (to use a term popular among the younger generation) ‘slaying it’.

I’d say it’s pretty inspiring, and whenever I think about runners and their ability to train and compete, I’m filled with awe and respect for them.

Leeches were a constant hazard during Yap’s ultratrail race at the 2022 North Face Malaysia Mountain Trail Festival in Taiping, Perak. Photo courtesy of Sally Yap.

Recently in an exclusive interview with DayakDaily, Yap revealed that she will be jetting off to Sabah next month for more intense training prior to taking on the highly anticipated 2023 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships (WMTRC) in Innsbruck and Stubai in Austria this June, where up to 1,400 competitors from around the globe will compete with guts for glory in the heart of the Austrian Alps.

When asked how she plans to mentally and physically prepare for the high altitude (the Austrian Alps are approximately 4,049 metres in elevation), she anwered that preparation is still ongoing.

“I’ll be doing high altitude training in Sabah next month as part of my preparation so that I can acclimatise before the event.

“This is my second WMTRC appearance, and I’m also hoping to qualify for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in August, which will be held in France,” Yap said.

UTMB has been dubbed the world’s most competitive trail ultramarathon, with a distance of approximately 171km and a total elevation gain of approximately 10,040 metres. It is one of several Ultra-Trail World Tour races held during a week-long festival in Chamonix, France. The races have stringent entry and qualification requirements that must be met by accumulating sufficient race points in qualifying trail races over the preceding two years.

“During the week, I will typically do road running on ‘flats’ and ‘uphills’ as part of my training routine. On the weekends, however, you can find me running on trails or mountains.

“If it is after a competition, I will take a few days off before returning to training.

“Occasionally, it depends on my physical condition. Avoid injury by listening to your body, knowing when to stop, and not overdoing it,” Yap said, described her training regimen.

The endurance athlete also said she never suffers from leg cramps during ultramarathons, a remark which caught me offguard.

“So far, I’ve never experienced leg cramps during an ultramarathon. That is why preparation before competing is critical.

“Consistent training is essential, as are focus and discipline, as well as proper nutrition. Always pay attention to your body and know when to stop to avoid overdoing it. Rest is also essential as part of the recovery process.”

Yap also described her experience of climbing Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines. She made history by finishing in second place at the Asia Trail Master Championship in 2022.

“Aside from the obvious beauty of the landscape, the experience was gratifying.” — DayakDaily

Yap making her way up Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Sally Yap.