Friday, December 14, 2012

1st Banana2U Marathon

This last weekend I was able to participate in an interesting running event organized by a local running club. It was called the Banana2U Marathon and involved running between Thailand's two top universities and rivals; Chulalongkorn University and Thammasat University.
The start and finish points weren't the interesting part of the marathon, but the way in which it was run. It was not a race, but a run. There were no trophies for top finishers. There was no competition (not really). The run was to be run as a group! The same event had an option for 21km and 12km as well.
In order to register, you had to be able to hold a 7:00 minute per kilometer pace over the course of a full marathon, a requirement that was not met by many who ran as some lagged behind for large portions of the run and others confessed that it was their first marathon.
As it was a point to point marathon and there were half marathoners and 12km runners also, each of the shorter distances would merge with the marathoners along the run route. So, when the marathoners got to 23km (21 km away from Thammasat University) the half marathoners joined in with us...same with the 12km runners. The funny thing was that the pace requirement for the 12km runners was a slow 8:00 minutes per kilometer. I guess this was because they assumed the marathoners would be spent by that time and slowed considerably, and because a slower pace would allow more people to participate from all levels of fitness and running experience.

This run was not highly advertised or promoted, but there were invitations sent out through Facebook. I got an invitation from a fellow Bangkok Runners member and even though all of the information on registration and all of the followup was in Thai, with Pae's help, I registered and kept up with the banter and passing of information online before, up to and after race day. And check out the really cool, personalized BIBs that they made for us! I, of course, am PIGGY!
The race itself began at 2:15am Sunday morning, so I had to try to get some rest Saturday evening. Luckily there weren't any good football matches on Saturday, so I was able to shut things down after dark and get a couple hours of sleep. I got up at midnight to prepare, get a quick snack and to try to get to Chula by 1:30am. Subways and even motorcycle taxis were shut down by that time of night, so I walked the kilometer or so to the main road.

I arrived at Chula right on time to use the bathroom, stretch and put on the blinky armband that the race gave to marathon runners, who would be negotiating the most traffic in the dark. It was a great idea and made us very visible during the 2-5am darkness of night time period. The thing I didn't think about when I put my blinky armband on was that I'm in a country that drives on the left side of the road, as opposed to the right side like back home. I placed my armband on my my left arm...I noticed, about 5km into the run, that nearly all of the other runners almost all Thai runners, wore theirs on their right arm. We ran with traffic, on the left side of the road, with our right arms nearest to traffic...so I should have been wearing mine on my right arm like everyone else! Oooops!
The entire route we had a dozen or so bicyclists leading us, following us and providing a little protection on our flanks from passing traffic, oncoming traffic and vehicles entering the main road at intersections. The race also organized several off duty police officers to stop traffic at major intersections. I knew that they were off duty because a motorcycle cop would normally ride a Tiger motorcycle, whereas these guys, although in their police uniforms, were zooming back and forth past our running formation on mopeds ;) The bicyclists and police officers did a great job with only the random motorcycle or bicycle getting close to hitting any of our runners.
The organizers also got a volunteer ambulance and volunteer driver and nurses to attend to runners along the route, throughout the morning. You have to realize how much work goes into organizing a race in the middle of a giant city on a (basically) Saturday night, Sunday morning. And this was just a running club doing the organization. They did a great job.
We also had a water truck, pickup with big canisters of ice water in the back and 4 people helping to distribute the water to the runners. One interesting thing about hydration during what would end up being a nearly 6 hour run, was that each runner received a plastic cup at the beginning of their distance. Each runner would have to carry their cup and use it for drinking for the entire race, reducing the use of plastic cups, litter, etc. Environmentally conscious organizers! This was a great idea but I may have gotten some carpal tunnel type pain from holding my cup up to my chest for several hours! Although it was a great idea, it was the source of my only real complaint about the event.
In a normal running event, you would run and there would be hydration points set up at certain intervals during the race. Volunteers would have a bunch of cups and a bunch of water and would keep their little tables filled with half cups of water (and ice here in Thailand). As a runner, you just run past and grab a cup and keep going. Some choose to use water stops as a chance to walk a little or stretch. The runner usually has no interaction with the actual water or water container. The first few water stops during the marathon were a learning experience for the water volunteers I believe. Right before we started the run, they opened up the top of the giant stainless steel water cooler and the 30 marathoners just walked by and dipped their cup in the water and drank up. As we started the run, everyone was getting loose, trying to get into the pace, adjusting their clothes, adjusting their blinky lights, and basically just trying to get into some kind of groove that would feel comfortable for the next 6 hours.
One "groove-affector" was figuring out just how to carry the plastic cup. I also carried a bottle of Gatorade, so I just stuck my cup upside down on the top of my electrolyte drink. I saw people take a pin from their bib and pin their cup to their shirt. One guy had a piece of plastic twine that he tied to his wrist and to the cup. The dude in front of me, however, took the cake with his method of toting his cup...he stuck it down his spandex, down his butt crack! NOT EVEN JOKING! Sweaty Crack (the nickname given to him by yours truly), running at the head of the formation and carrying the King of Thailand's portrait directly in front of me, proceeded to pull his tainted plastic cup out of his crack at the first water stop and dip it directly into the water. All of us dipped our cups into the water and took off again. After Sweaty Crack finished drinking and wetting himself with his cup of water, the cup went straight back down his crack, held snugly there by his highly absorbent CW-X spandex running shorts.

That wasn't the bad part! The water volunteers had not yet started using anything to pour water for the runners. In cartoon informational posts in Facebook leading up to the run, they had showed people (banana people actually) pouring water from pitchers into runners' cups. It wasn't until like after the third water stop that I saw them actually start using plastic pitchers and larger clear plastic cups to distribute water and pour it into the runners' cups. The really bad one came when we passed a 7-11 that had a public toilet in the parking lot. The water truck stopped here and many of us ran back to the toilets to relieve ourselves. Okay, boys bathroom...we have the standing wall, where we pee in the urinals. Normally there is a ledge for you to place your belongings or shopping bags on while you use your hands to zip up and down, aim and to control drippage (TMI?) and this toilet was no different. SO THERE I WAS, hangin' out with the boys, six or seven of us, no shopping bags, no mobile phones to set on the ledge...but we did have PLASTIC CUPS! I saw no less than five cups sitting on the ledge of the rest stop toilet...and these places don't ever win any awards for cleanliness. I then walked back to the water truck, where everyone was still dipping their cups in the water. I told the guy from Bangkok Runners that I ran with for a few kilometers that I was going straight to the pharmacy after the run to purchase a weeks worth of antibiotics (Amoxy)! I believe that it was the next water stop where they finally started ladling out water to us!

Well, I drank the water...cuz basically it was either fall ill on Sunday because of severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance or get sick sometime weeks later of Hepatitis hahahaha! Below is what it looked like for passers by when our water truck would stop alongside the road and we would gather around for some sweaty water ;) Hey! What better way to replenish electrolytes that an ice water/butt sweat concoction! Yummy!
Water, check. Pace. The first few kilometers were a little rough because I was up front with the guys carrying the Thai flag and King's flag, all experienced runners. behind us we could hear "slow down, you're running too fast" on occasion and would have to shuffle along or stop and walk to wait for the few stragglers. They weren't stringing the formation out because they were slow runners, but because they had not yet gotten warmed up and weren't in their groove yet.
Eventually, as we reached the halfway point of the run, we seemed to be running smoothly and faster than at the beginning with no cries for a slower pace. I think it just took some people a couple kilometers to get things under control with their bodies.
I personally never feel good the first 3km of a long run, but between 15km and 27km I'm on total autopilot and feel like I'm floating. I think that will be a little different for each individual, which makes it a little difficult when trying to stay together as a group. Eventually we were cruising between 6:30-6:40 minutes per kilometer. Quite slow, but that's still faster than advertised. For many of us who were using the run as training for 50-100 kilometer races, the time on our feet was the important part of the run, rather than pace or time.
After the 21km water stop, we knew that the hotel where we would join with the 21km runners was only 2km away. The guys with the flags took off at a high rate of speed and I knew that they were just gonna run hard until the hotel then wait for the rest of the group. I took off with them and we did those two kilometers in roughly 9 minutes, which was pretty fast compared to most other two kilometer stretches being run in 13-14 minutes. It was nice to stretch the legs out and to get to the hotel toilet before too many runners filled them up! My long distance run posts often have a good bit of poo humor in them, so this time I'll resist and just say that I spent a very welcomed two minutes taking care of business in the well appointed Amari Hotel toilet. There I also noticed, while washing hands, that the two other native English speakers from the marathon group were changing clothes and talking about catching a taxi and going back to Chula. I guess they were just in it for a half marathon distance but did it the first half instead of running Amari to Thammasat. They wished me luck and I did likewise. As I left the toilet I noticed that the larger group of marathoners was just arriving at the hotel.
The half marathoners, who had yet to begin running, were cheering and clapping and we all grabbed some watermelon slices, bananas, sports drink and water. We were taking some group photos, marathoners first (below), halfs, then full marathoners and halfs together, when I tried to open my sports drink, only my hand couldn't grip the cap and twist without pain. I had to use my teeth to open it, but my first thought was "arthritis" but then I hoped that it was something like carpal tunnel for the index finger from holding my plastic cup the whole 3 hours up to that point.
Our stop to pick up the half marathoners was a good ten minute stop, welcomed, and ended with us forming our little formation and taking off for the final 21 km of the run, but now instead of 30 runners, we had doubled our numbers! I ran the first half with Jeng, Bangkok Runners. I ran with several people, chatting, small talk, etc. for the next few kilometers.
After one of the stops, I ran with the race organizer who was running Sketchers Go Run minimal shoes and we talked about his shoes. We found out that we have similar personal bests for the marathon...right around 3:45. I also found out that the U.S. marathon champion (last year?) ran his championship race in Sketchers, which I always thought were skater shoes!
I also talked to several other "bananas" (race organizing committee members had nicknames) who I had contact with prerace on Facebook. It was good to see that "Big Banana" was indeed quite a large man who runs triathlons. There was "Fragrant Banana" and "Banana Smoothie" who were also nice to chat with. Chatting helped to pass the time and helped to forget about the hungry feeling in my stomach, an enlarged bladder and Mr. Sweaty Crack!
Eventually we picked up the 12km runners and had to squeeze into two columns to allow the morning traffic to pass on the narrower local roads. The short 9km stretch from picking up the half marathoners to the waiting 12km runners was very short and quick. The sun started to warm the air and killed the darkness that we had been running in for so long. Many of the fun run runners (12km) were not runners and stretched our group so much that they had to form up in their own formation and just run at their pace. There were jokes yelled from the back to the front wondering just how the marathoners, having run over 20 miles already, were able to outpace most of the still fresh 12km runners, leaving them in the dust in fact ;)
After we noticed that they had their own formation going further back, we stopped walking at water points. We would pour and go, form back up quickly and be well on our way. Before this, there was this super accordion action going when the front would stop and drink, then the slower runners would arrive in large groups, bottleneck things at the water truck, and we would have to walk for several minutes to wait for everyone to get water and catch up.
I mean, we didn't want to break from the concept of the run, running as a giant group, but there were a lot of people out just to socialize and really didn't have the necessary pace to keep up. So the organizers, I think, adjusted the concept and just let the front group go on our own.
And that's what we did once we hit the overpass that led to the Thammasat campus. The final water point and a left turn onto campus started what seemed like an all out 2-3 kilometer sprint. There were about 6 or 7 of us marathoners and a couple 12km runners who picked up the pace for the final bit of the run and we hit it pretty much as hard as we could.
Even sprinting after 43-44 kilometers, we were able to stay in a small group and only broke ranks when we saw the two race photographers in the middle of the road near the finish ;) People want to have their photo taken to record the moment!
The fun part after every marathon so far has been the sudden stopping, after several hours of moving forward (relentless forward progress) suddenly you find yourself past the finish line...where do I go now? The muscle fibers in the legs don't know exactly what to do and start to wobble like jelly...It's a great time to sit down, but really that's probably not the best idea as far as recovery goes!
So I headed straight to the food table, traded my plastic water cup for a souvenir Banana Mug, grabbed an iced green tea and a banana muffin and headed for the nearest toilet! Priorities man!
Most others finished within 30 minutes or so of the front group with stragglers eventually making their way to campus. There was a lucky drawing for prizes, some singing of the King's songs, photos and breakfast. The sun was really starting to beat down at this point.
After a big breakfast, I headed back home via taxi rather than taking the bus that the organizers had chartered. I just wanted to get home. The front guys finished in 5:42, from start to finish. I saw one guy's Facebook page said under 5:30 but I think he subtracted the time it took to stop and pick up the half marathoners and 12km runners and take photos as a group at those points. Either way, it was nearly six hours on our feet and good training for longer runs.
I'm still targeting February's 50km trail run, but my commitment to that race has wavered in recent weeks, mostly due to the cost involved in racing that race and the lead up to it. If I run it, great. If I don't run it, great also! I'll find a more reasonable substitute!
Overall, the Banana2U Marathon was a great concept, well organized and involved a bunch of really nice people. One of the organizers told me that it was a lot of work to organize and wasn't sure if there would be one next year...but from all of the feedback, good feedback, I think they will organize this event again! I'll be there!

2 comments:

mardenheyjude said...

What a nice way to end a year of competitive racing. Your post (story) is very interesting and has that "Guy Uda humor" that gets me laughing while reading. Even when you are describing the gross details, you make them funny.
Those Sketchers Go Run minimal shoes are really popular here. Used to be everyone wore Nike or New Balance but Sketchers, in all models, are becoming more and more the fad.
Since this will be your last run of 2012 (right?), I will be finishing my Book #2 on your Marathons, etc. accomplishments for this year. I had to create 2 books because of a limit in the amount of pages you can create on the web site I am using. The first book came out beautiful. It looks great and when I have company I will make sure I take Book #1 and #2 from my family book case and place it on the coffee table for my visitors to look at. Hi to Pae. Love always, Auntie

mardenheyjude said...

Guy: I forgot!!!! Is there anything you would like to add at the end of BooK #2 that would make it even more special to me? Love always, Auntie

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