Saturday, July 28, 2012

King's Cup Pattaya Marathon 2012

Eric and I ran the King's Cup Pattaya International Marathon on the 15th of July. We had been planning it ever since finishing the flood-delayed Standard Chartered Bangkok Marathon and the 1st Thailand International Half Marathon in February. It just happened to fit perfectly between February and the next Standard Chartered Bangkok Marathon in November, so what better way to prepare for November than to run a marathon in between right?!
So, after running the half marathon in February, we had 20 weeks to prepare for Pattaya...following Pattaya we'd have 18 weeks to prepare for Bangkok. Since we have been using a novice marathon training schedule by Hal Higdon that covers around 18 weeks, it seemed perfect although we'd need to figure in a few weeks of recovery after Pattaya! There is a more advanced (intermediate) training program that includes hill workouts, intervals, 800 repeats, etc., that will help us to  improve our speed and endurance from another website that one of Eric's friends uses that we will probably try next time around, although finding hills in Bangkok is a challenge. Putting several marathons on the schedule in the same year might not be the best for some, but I had a buddy challenge me to run  1,000 miles before the end of 2012 and training goes a long ways towards achieving that goal! My second goal of the year was to finish a marathon below four hours.

Our first marathon experience left a lot of questions to be answered by the two of us thanks to an unfortunate illness and severe cramping that saw us walk the final 8-10 kilometers to the finish. I remember Eric swearing off marathons forever somewhere in that final 10km and I remember my "Dude, you'll never be satisfied with a 5 hour personal best". At the time, in the moment, it was half serious and half friendly encouragement...trying to bring a little positive into that situation where we were both feeling really down, having trained for our first marathon but not being able to perform and max out the challenge.
We weren't able, at Bangkok, to run at our best. We weren't able to push to the mysterious "wall" that all long distance runners speak of with fear and respect. We weren't able to see how our bodies would respond to the demands of the marathon, so Pattaya would hopefully provide this experience for us; valuable experience for our second Bangkok Marathon where we'd set for ourselves a sub-4 hour time goal. So, technically, Pattaya was a bridge marathon for us, for experience...decide on how we wanted to run it, stick to our plan during the run, wait for "the wall" and then see how we do and whatever happens, chalk it up as experience and useful knowledge for our Bangkok preparation.

We trained well, outside of a couple stints on the sidelines injured or ill, but we trained mostly small runs on weekdays and slow, long runs on Sundays. We didn't really do any speed work or hills. Eric did make it to the track a couple times for some sprints and I did mess around a few days on the treadmill running on an incline. At the park, we would do our short to medium runs pretty much above our marathon pace, haha, not sure why we always did that! I think we just got so used to running our three kilometer loop at about 15 minute laps or 5 minute kilometers that it was hard to pull it back during training. Same with our long runs. We would start out fast and slow down after some kilometers and always end up somewhere around 11kmh. I know we're supposed to probably run our long runs at a slower pace, but again, some days we just wanted to work hard. I think we need to be better at this for future training or we risk over training.

Leading up to the marathon, we did two 20 mile runs which we ran at about 3:07-3:13, so we felt pretty sure of what it felt like to run 20 miles (32km). The first 20 miler I got to choose the pace and I thought that we could go out and run 16:30 laps or 5:30 kilometers...We didn't quite make that pace, but came close with 5:52 kilometers average over the 32 kilos. Afterwards, I pretty much felt like crap. Eric chose the pace of our second 20 miler and I do believe that the goal pace he set was 18:00 laps or 6:00 kilos. It was good to change up the pace, because I found that I felt equally like crap after the two different paces!! This would lead me to my Pattaya Marathon strategy; run my half marathon pace for as long as possible, hopefully to 20 miles, then just see what happens after that!! Again, probably not the brightest of tactics!! Hahaha! Eric went with the more reasonable, less reckless option of sticking to a certain pace for the entirety of the race. We both had  no real goal time, but leading up to the day of, we decided that we'd like to cut some time off of our 5:17 Bangkok time. We had joked back and forth in emails and messages about a 3:59:59 marathon, but we knew in reality it would probably have to wait until November in Bangkok. So, a time of somewhere in the 4:15 range was probably what we were looking at based on our previous training runs. Any variance would be because of THE WALL, digestive issues, injury or an extremely good or bad day on the pavement. After a few of our runs, Eric would hit his race conversion calculator and tell me that I could run a 3:38 marathon according to his calculations...This kind of time seemed ridiculous to me but I knew that with good preparation and a good race I could break four hours...someday.

We tried to adjust our diets for the week leading up to our race which was difficult for me, but I tried to eat as much as possible and as much carbs as possible...I think I went a little heavy on fruit juices rather than breads, pastas and potatoes...but it at least gave me a little reassurance knowing that there was something in there even if I went a little too heavy on the quick burn carbs. I had a bad stomach the two days before, but that went away before the race.

Eric and I decided to take a two hour taxi ride to Pataya, run the race, then hop back in the taxi and return home. Hotel is the obvious smart choice, so you can relax and get proper sleep, but I had to consider Bunbun being home alone for over like 20 hours with nobody to take care of him (rabbits don't do so well in the heat).  Eric was a little concerned about transportation but I assured him that "I know a dude, he's very dependable, he's always early". You see, we were leaving Bangkok only a few hours before the start of the race, so we were pretty stressed out when dude didn't show up, I called, and he had just woken up at 1:00 AM when we should have been heading south already! Eventually he showed, drove and got us there alive. I was kinda spacing in and out in the back seat, but I do remember hearing Eric say to dude in Thai, "We have plenty of time, I have a wife, I have kids, I love my family, I want to see them again, drive slowly, I don't want to die, no more than 120 kmh". Haha, that had been the agreement all along, but since dude picked us up an hour late, I think he was trying to make up some time. I had to tell him that the only reason I wanted to leave so early and get there early as because I always have to spend 30 minutes in the toilet before races because my guts just erupt with anxious streams of digested stuff...and it's not nice for the URGE to hit you when you're 10K into a race.
We arrived in Pattaya with enough time to try to put on our clothes, contacts and adjust nipple bandaids, etc. We scoped out some of the people at the starting line, which I like to do so I have a couple people in mind that I want to pace off of. In Thailand it's not like in the States where there are pace groups or people with signs on their shirts with their expected pace on it...you're just out there on your own with your stopwatch and the sites and sounds of early morning life. One dude started talking to me in the starting chute about how his heart just started hurting...ouch, bad timing...but he insisted on running still and said that he was gonna start out at a 5 minute kilometer pace...I was like "Perfect" I'll be right behind you. Then he continued his thought..."Then I'll increase it to 4:30 kilos" Doh!! I immediately started looking around for someone else to follow!!
I hadn't been able to "eliminate" since the previous day and wasn't able to "perform" in the toilet buses that were at the starting line. I was pretty stressed about that but I had my big wad of tissues in my small pocket with my gels and pocket money. I knew that I would eventually have to stop somewhere on the course, stop and waste 4-5 minutes using the toilet. Eric noticed the stress on my face and I told him that it wasn't really the pre-marathon jitters, but the inability to take a dump that was really putting me in a negative frame of mind even before the time clock started!! With that in my head, I abandoned my deep-down desire to run sub-4, knowing how my body is before and during long runs...I was bound to drop 10 minutes due to bathroom stops during the race. So, at least that loosened me up and put me back in my "whatever happens, happens" frame of mind and freed me up to just go out there and give it everything with no regrets at the end, even if I had to do number two! Turns out a positive outlook and positive mental images and visualization is so important in an event like this! I was lucky that Eric brought my sour face to my attention!

So, the wheelchair marathoners started and the people in the chute filled the 5 meters where they had been. Everyone just scrunched forward to the starting line. Eric and I, both on only a couple hours of sleep, shook hands, gave the "good luck bro, see you in 4-5 hours" look and waited for the starting horn to blow! 5-4-3-2-1

HORRRRNNNNNNNN! SHINY CONFETTI!!! MUSIC!! ELBOWS!!
It was a celebration! They started us out in style! It was exciting...until we were a couple hundred meters into it. The music faded and a steady thumping and scuffing of footsteps took its place. This is when realized that we had another 4 hours to run!! Hahaha!
Eric had stayed in Pattaya during the floods last year because his home was flooded. He had told me that there was a small hill somewhere in the area of the start and when I asked him about it he told me that it wasn't any worse than a small bridge that we run over at our training park. I was like "Cool, no problem!" Yeah, I think what Eric may have been referring to was the grade of the bridge in the park. The bridge itself is a lovely stone bridge over a pond and spans perhaps 30 meters max. It is a steep up and down though (who knows...35% grade maybe?). I usually I have trouble on the UP later in our long runs and Eric takes it easy on the DOWN. Most of the hills on the Pattaya Marathon course were probably less than 20% grade but they went on forever. The Thai message boards all nicknamed the Pattaya Marathon course "The merciless course that slays the master".
It sounds different in Thai but the feeling of the words is the same no matter what language you read it in! And, a gradual rise over a kilometer doesn't look so bad to the eye...from the front seat of a taxi ;) but with the pitter-patter of the feet of your fellow competitors around you, the humidity of the early dawn hours in the tropics, another 4 hours of running ahead of you and "the wall" that awaits you somewhere between kilometer 28-36, the hills are not a welcomed site!
There was a race photographer somewhere near the 10K point of the race and the pictures he took had many people who looked like they were dying, including myself! It could have been that runners were really going for it and it showed on their faces or because of the nasty smelling and tasting water at the hydration points! Seriously, the water tasted like old tap water, which just the term "tap water" here in Thailand is like saying you're gonna go have a warm mercury, arsenic and pig urine cocktail.
This picture was one I took of a sign at the airport welcoming foreigners to Thailand. I laugh every time I see it. Okay, okay, Thailand is doing much better than India as far as water is concerned, I must admit...but still, I don't drink the stuff.
I was actually going a good little bit over my goaled pace of every 3km in 15 minutes as I reached 10K at 46 minutes. The 12K marker came out of nowhere just 9 minutes later and I was at 55 minutes, or 5 minutes ahead of where I wanted to be. I saw the Africans who had made the halfway turnaround already at about 18K, meaning they were probably somewhere around 26K into their race already! Amazing! I hit where I think the halfway point was at somewhere near 1:42 and the turnaround point (about 22K) at 1:47 so I was well ahead of my pace. I felt great and saw Eric soon after making the turn. He said something to the effect of "You're doing great" to which I simply replied "Hills! The hills are killing me!" as we passed each other going opposite directions. Eric looked good and looked like he was sticking to his race plan. I was pushing hard and a minute or two ahead of my planned speed. I was feeling fine, hoping the kilometer markers would come a little faster, dealing with the hills as they came, grateful for the ice cold sponges at every other water point and interested to find out how far my legs were going to be able to take me before shutting down!
Physically I was ready for hurt and pain. After training for several months, you know the hurt and pain is coming and you're used to working through it. What I hadn't expected to hit as hard as it did was the mental and emotional toll of the late kilometers, where every step brings with it another thought, another feeling. For me there were thoughts of self encouragement yet also anxiety, wondering and worrying about "THE WALL". There was the G-Shock wiggling around on my left wrist, making the one meter ascent to chest level much more often than earlier in the race...because once I got past 28K and still felt great, I started seriously thinking about four hours...and instead of checking my two kilometer splits, I was checking every time a faster runner passed me, every water station, every time I was feeling tired, every time I felt a twinge in my knee or top of my foot. Every little thing was magnified because I started thinking about breaking four hours.

As the number of marathoners was only around 640 and the organizers staggered the start of Wheelchairs, marathoners, half marathoners, 10K and fun run, we were pretty much spread out after half way and not too much passing was happening. I was running with a Thai Marine for a good 8K, an older fellow, retired perhaps but still wearing the colors and name MARINE (in Thai) on his run shirt. I took a lot of energy from following him early in the race and it probably went a long way to helping me run that first half in under 5 minute kilometers. After 30K, when we finally got off of the highway and took a left turn towards the beach, I was passed by 4 Thai women and one by one about 6 Japanese runners (recognizable by their black compression socks that mostly they only seem to wear). I was fine with that and just concerned with running my last 12 kilometers and not walking.

I was very happy to pass 20 miles or 32K under 3 hours. I had never done a 20 mile training run in under 3 hours. Actually, I was a couple seconds under 3 hours when I reached the 34K marker! This gave me a lot of energy as I really knew that I should be able to hit that last 8K in just under an hour. I had also started to catch or pass some of the folks who had passed me before as well as the heart problem dude in blue and black spandex who said he was gonna run a 4:30/km pace...He stayed up in front of me, but I saw him in the distance which gave me a little extra confidence. He would go on to finish 5 minutes before me.

So right as I saw the time on my watch tick over to 3:00:00, right after 34K...right after rejoicing internally at the prospect of a sub-4 marathon...my left hamstring locked up...and by "my left hamstring" I mean that huge hunk of meat on the back of my leg under my butt!! And by "locked up" I mean that the bad boy nearly stopped me in my tracks! "I could stop and stretch for a minute" I thought to myself in that moment of severe discomfort and pain..."or I could try to run it off." Yeah, once the left leg got wind of these "keep running" thoughts, it collaborated with the right leg, and after about five more steps made my decision for me. Both hammies locked up, I found myself stopped beside a big bus full of people, stretching my hamstrings in the middle of the road. I heard a lonely clap of hands from the direction of the bus and then the annoying voice of a fruit vendor on the sidewalk of "Wing!" which translated means "Run!" I know he was trying to encourage me but considering my hamstrings were both balled up in my leg and telling me "Welcome to the wall brother!" I didn't see it that way at the time.

I stretched for under a half minute and started shuffling my way up a slight grade within the city. The 36K marker just never came! I wanted it to come so badly because each marker that came meant 2K less distance until the end of my suffering. I had Pae in my head during this time slowed at my "wall" telling me to keep going, to just do my best, to stretch, to run and that she was proud of me...It may seem cheesy, but in preparation for the marathon I had read a little about visualization (of the race and other things) and how a positive outlook during those hard moments in the race really help you to get through them...both emotionally and physically...so Pae was there cheering me on during those nasty final kilometers.
Eventually, I looked up to see a sign that said "5km to go" and felt better mentally. That bit of relief was as brief as it was welcomed. I looked ahead and saw a giant golden Buddha statue sitting on a mountain, facing the sea. I thought to myself, "Hey, a giant golden Buddha statue sitting on a mountain, facing the sea!" My legs and my heart only got "Blah blah blah, blah blah blah MOUNTAIN, blah blah blah!"

There was no way to get to the finish line without passing this hill...I saw about fifteen runners ahead of me. I could only see them because they were going UP! There were several (4) of them walking in their compression socks...Perhaps the Japanese runners weren't so good with hills. I'm not the strongest nor am I the fastest...but hell if I'm going to walk up that beast hill, so close to the finish and with Pae in my head. Each pair of compression socks I passed was a tiny bit of energy to keep powering up the hill to pick off the next pair. I passed more than 10 people on the final two hills, half of which were Japanese runners, and somehow maintained a 6:06/km pace in doing it.
The final two hills opened up to Pattaya's famous Walking Street where runners had to negotiate their way through clouds of cigarette smoke, but surprisingly, the bars and restaurants there were pretty empty for a Sunday morning. Plus, I had been to Pattaya once before I moved to Thailand, and knew that the start/finish line was just down the road. I took a peek at my watch and the big number in front was still a "3" so I was pretty excited, but still struggling to get the body into a faster gear to finish strong. I saw a "500 meters to go" sign and a long straightaway and thought to myself, "There's no way this is ONLY 500 meters!" Haha...every step was a struggle even with the adrenaline of being so close to finishing. I saw a Russian dude ahead of me who I pee'd with prior to the start and I tried to match his pace, though he too was struggling. I heard little tiny footsteps behind me for several hundred meters and just wanted to turn around to whoever it was and tell them to pass me already, but just kept at my shuffle, babying my joints that were beginning to hurt. I passed several race photogs along that final 200 meters. That's where most of these photos came from. I kinda wait a week after races and go find the photos on the message boards ;) One advantage of being able to read a little bit of Thai!
I lumbered over the finish line and stopped the clock at 3 hours 48 minutes and 50 seconds! I felt relieved immediately upon crossing the timing pad and just kept walking forward, scared to stop moving. I even forgot to stop my stopwatch for about 30 seconds.  I had to stop for a volunteer from ChampionChip Thailand to cut my timing chip from my shoe. Right when I stopped my body seemed to not want to stop and I wobbled a little, dizzy from the sudden stop and the past four hours of exertion.
It may not have been pretty, but I finished marathon number two and it just happened to be under four hours. I'd have to say that I had a much better day than expected, meaning that I didn't have to go to the bathroom during the race (amazing), I had little to no joint issues, black outs, dizziness or loopiness from electrolyte imbalance, and didn't suffer too much, that I noticed, from any level of dehydration other than wanting to drink water at each of the last few hydration points. The hamstrings seizing wasn't a game ender. Between stretching and going straight into a big uphill section, I was able to work through the muscle problems. Funny huh, how the hill took the pressure off of my hammies and transferred it to my quadriceps right at the exact time when I needed the relief!
Eric had a similar wall experience, but he hit it pretty early in his race, at about 28K. He knocked over a half hour off of his Bangkok time and in doing so knocked that big "5" out of the front of his marathon personal best! Eric finished in 4 hours 45 minutes and 7 seconds. Only, this time, instead of Eric proclaiming the marathon (Bangkok) to be his last ever such event, it was me who was feeling like I never wanted to run another marathon ever again in my life! Haha, I told him that I was emotionally scarred from that final 8K. A half hour after finishing, he was already talking about and looking forward to November! That's what I'm talking about! It honestly took me a couple days to recover emotionally from the run. I just had to let the emotions play themselves out, experience them, and then look back and feel good about my run.
One of the biggest complaints on the Thai running web boards, other than the course's hills, was the late start time (4:30 AM) that mostly affected the more recreational runners (5 hours plus) which was about half of the marathoners. The late start meant that they were left to suffer under the 7:00 AM Pattaya sun for three or more hours. I was lucky and only had to deal with the sun for about an hour. Another complaint, and one that affected Eric, was that the course organizers planned the hydration stations poorly. Long story short, they ran out of water after about 34K! Many runners made side trips to the occasional 7-11 to buy bottles of water and Gatorade as they finished up their last 8K. Eric wasn't sure if he'd be DQ'd if he left the course, so he just sucked it up and finished dry mouthed and probably a little dehydrated. I saw a couple posts that mentioned the lack of toilets on the whole course...yup, only at the start/finish line! Luckily, I didn't have to pull over behind a trash can somewhere and drop my drawers!
Another funny thing was that all of the services at the end of the race such as meals, snacks, drinks, etc., seemed to be closing up shop after many marathoners finished. See, there were about 10 wheelchair participants, 640 marathoners, 1,100 half marathoners, 6,000 10K runners and a bum load of fun run walkers, all starting the course in half hour intervals. What this works out to, over the course of a race morning, is the fun run and student participants finishing before 6:30, the quarter marathoners finishing by 7:00, half marathoners finishing by 7:00-8:00 and between the 10,000 of those runners, they just cross the finish line in waves, a continuous stream of sweaty people. Prime time for the sales booths, free samples, free meals to be front and center. But the marathoners are out there, most of us, for around 5 hours. So we all would trickle in by ones and twos and finally as the 5 hour mark hit people started crossing the finish line every 15-30 seconds. The majority coming home around 9:30-11:00 o'clock. Everything is pretty much gone by then, nobody really waits around, the fun water sprinkler stations had been long shut down (even before I finished before 8:30). No bananas, no fruit, no hot dogs, no breakfast, no sports drink...the shorter distance runners got all of that...all we got were hills and sun.
The message boards echo one of Eric's first comments after the race..."Never again!" People, even the Thais who generally won't complain too much about these types of things,  were straight up like, "If the Pattaya Marathon organizers don't look at these problems and fix them, we're not running the Pattaya Marathon next year."
Had I known that the course was so hilly or had I been prepared both physically and mentally for hills, I think I would have enjoyed myself more. As it was, the hills came as a surprise to me and were a big challenge. I have been wanting to run The River Kwai Half Marathon here in Kanchanaburi, Thailand (some of you will have heard of the River Kwai from the movie "Bridge over the River Kwai") since last year. It is a popular half marathon here and is best known for being an out and back course with the first 10.5K being all uphill and the final 10.5K being downhill...Talk about negative splits!! I still want to run it, but the few days after the Pattaya Marathon I swore I didn't ever want to see another hill EVER!!

Here are our numbers, both Eric and I achieving Personal Bests for the 42.195 km race!

Guy- 3:48:50 (PB)
Overall finish           - 116 of 640 marathoners
40-49 age category - 34 of 168 marathoners


Eric- 4:45:07 (PB)
Overall finish           - 300 of 640 marathoners
30-39 age category - 41of 82 marathoners

I also went and looked at the race participant categories. I was interested to find that most marathoners were from 40-59 years old! 75% of the marathoners were 40+, is that pretty normal other places in the world? Just wondering. I think the younger kids here tend to run the Half and the Quarter. Here's the breakdown for men:

under 29 -  42 marathoners
30 to 39 -  82 marathoners
40 to 49 - 168 marathoners
50 to 59 - 185 marathoners
60 to 69 -   52 marathoners
over 70   -  15 marathoners
Many lessons were learned in Pattaya and the work up to Pattaya, physical, emotional and logistical. These are hopefully lessons that we will consider when preparing for Bangkok between now and November. Eric and I are both happy to have knocked that "5" out from in front of our marathon times. Now that I am the proud owner of a "3" I think I will put less pressure on myself for November...I guess from here on out (as I have no unrealistic dreams to BQ) I'll be marathoning for the overall challenge, for my health, an occasional assault on my personal best and of course the free T-shirts!!! Haha! The marathon is an experience for sure! I read somewhere that elite marathoners will often only run two marathons per year. Not because it takes them that long to recover physically, but it takes them quite a while to recover mentally and emotionally after that type of physical and mental challenge, plus the elites are absolutely HAULING!!
I posted on Facebook, shortly after finishing, a short "THANK YOU" to everybody who had supported me through training, injuries and actual race. The post never came up and disappeared somewhere in cyberspace...so thank you, everybody, for your support. I can do all I possibly can physically to prepare for one of these things, but achieving the emotional calm and the mental strength (bend but don't break, haha) that it takes to push yourself through the ups and downs of a marathon (and life for that matter) could never happen without the ones you love and care about, so thank you for getting me through those tougher kilometers. I'd especially like to thank Pae for all of the support and encouragement she gives me and the strength she gives me even when she's not physically here. I've shared these thoughts with you, Pae, and I hope you realize how much you helped me during my race. I love you!

And my training partner Eric, dude, we got out there for several months and hammered away at the pavement in the park and it all led to the Pattaya Marathon. It's great having someone to run with, to share the good days and the bad days with, to share the accomplishment with, and to watch each other improve...we've both come a long way and there's still a way to go for both of us...lots of room for improvement whether it be in the marathon, half or even our shorter distance times. Thanks for challenging me to run that first marathon last year, thanks for pushing me at times when I just don't have it, thanks for humbling me when we do the shorter, faster runs and thanks for being my friend!
I invited Eric to type up a quick debrief of his marathon experience which I'll post here sometime this week. A lot of the photos look the same as they were mostly taken in the last 500 meters before the finish line. I love looking at the message boards where the photographers post the pictures...I look at each of the 640 marathoners, their outfits and shoes, their musculature, their facial expressions, the stare...and I feel a part of a community, even though I don't personally know any of them, I feel like we share similar experiences, on the day, I feel like we all accomplished something incredible while at the same time suffering so terribly!! Haha!!

2 comments:

mardenheyjude said...

Thank you for posting your marathon experience. It is a wonderful story and the pictures were great. I have said this before and I will say it again; when I read your stories it is as if I were right there beside you. As for this story i am only beside you listening not beside you running.. hahaha Oh and as for the runners age groups for U.S.A. marathons the over 40 group is increasing. I look up some information on the web. More than half of the N.Y.C. Marathon runners are 40+ as of the last marathon. (N.Y.C. is a big marathon) Overall in the U.S.A. the 40+ age group continues to increase. They call it the "bucket list appeal". Thanks again for a wonderful story. Love always, Auntie

Pae and Guy said...

;) That's good to know about the running trend back home, Auntie! Thanks!

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