Sunday, November 24, 2013

Three Bangkok Marathons in Two Years

Sometimes I forget that we ran the Bangkok Marathon 2011 in February of 2012 because of the floods here in Bangkok. I looked back at all of the photos we've gotten from race photographers and I thought it would be funny to look at a collage of our past three Bangkok Marathons.

Our first one of course was quite anti-climactic, but memorable! For both of us it was our first and we ran it together. We finished in a miserable 5:17 and felt every ounce of pain the final 10-12km. We still laugh when we think of our faces as captured by the photographers near the finish line.
Our second one was much better and we both ran under 4 hours. Eric ran a smooth, steady race but I started too fast and paid at the end. I was feeling good though when the bridge photo was taken.

Our third one was just this past Sunday. We both knocked 10+ minutes off of our personal bests and had solid runs.

Can't wait to start training for our fourth Bangkok Marathon!

Random Things of Late

Here are a couple random things that I thought I'd throw up here.

On the way back from Chaing Kan, we passed a garden place near Bangkok. Yes we got sheep and yes they are happy in our garden! Never stop smiling those sheep!
Since I started running long distance, I can't keep the weight on. All of my pants and shorts and even skivies and boxers are falling off of me. My shirts drape over my shoulders and lately, my wedding ring has been falling off of my ring finger during runs and while I sleep. I had to wear it on my middle finger last night as I slept.
N'Geng moved in with Pae and me. He is one of the cousins and is going to school here in Bangkok for the next few years. He was living in a dangerous area, without a bed of his own and a long ways from his school, a commute that would require a walk, a motorcycle, a water taxi and subway and another motorcycle twice a day. Living here with us, we lose a little privacy, but we know that he is safer here, he has his own room, and his commute is now a bit less since we live pretty close to the subway. Life's all about family. One rule though, he must learn how to make the famous sausage and potatoes!! Hahaha!
Our orchid came back to life. Well, it never died, but it hadn't bloomed since we bought it. It's been with us almost a year maybe, but has not given flowers in like 10 months. They're tricky because they only like a certain amount of sunlight. Now it has four little sprigs from which orchids are currently blooming, and some cute ferns are growing out of the holes in the planter as well ;)
Our car got it's first flat tire. I'll have to take it tonight with N'Geng to get it fixed. I'll take Geng to make sure I don't get cheated on the cost of repairing the tire. Sad to have to do, but it's the smart thing to do. A white face here, in the eyes of a not so nice person, is a face that can be taken advantage of. We'll get the "Thai price" with Geng there.
And finally, I've posted this pic before, but with Pae home, the whole week or two has been a giant highlight, but having her waiting at the finish of my marathon was the icing on the cake <3 She had to get up (didn't sleep actually) to meet Eric's wife by 4:30am to get to the finish line around when we'd be showing up 5:30-5:45am (Crazy to finish the marathon before 6 in the morning!)

Loy Kratong 2013

Marathon day here in Thailand also just happened to fall on Loy Kratong Day (see here for our first couple Loy Kratong Days together, 7 and 4 years ago?) I had forgotten that Loy Kratong was usually on the November Full moon. I should have figured it out as I was runnning the out leg of the Marathon at 2:00 am, with the full moon leading the way. I looked at that shiny disk in the sky for some 20km until the course did a u-turn back into town. But it never dawned on me that it was Loy Kratong Day!

Later, after a long nap and some food, Pae asked if we were gonna Loy Kratong or "float" a Kratong this year. It's not often that we are able to do it together since Pae started working, so it was a great idea and I had honestly forgotten the holiday all together. I tend only to remember the holidays that fall on work days ;)

We have Loy Kratong'ed <----Thinglish--- in the Chao Phraya River, in Klong Saen Saep and in Lumpini Park. This year we didn't really want to go far but what do ya know, Pae checked on the internet and they were keeping all public parks open late for the festival. We live 2 kilometers away from the park where I run at, Chatuchak Park or JJ Park as I call it.

We got dressed, me in my goofy Marathon Finisher shirt that I had earned much earlier that day, and took the subway two stops to JJ. We weren't sure if there would be people selling the banana tree Kratongs or not, but we figured that where there was a chance for someone to make money, they would be there.
We emerged though, out of the subway, to the beautiful sight of Khom, or lanterns, rising into the dark night sky from JJ. Khom are very traditional in the north, but people bring them down to Bangkok this time of year also. You can see the occasional khom or two in the sky, but never quite the quantity like in Chiang Mai up north. But the sky above JJ had a steady stream of 20-30 Khom the entire time we were there! It was quite pretty.

We immediately found a Khom hawker and got a larger one for under $3 US. We decided to send our Khom into the night sky with wishes and to take away some of the bad from the past year, and then go get a more traditional floating Kratong. It took our Khom a little while to heat up sufficiently to float away as the basica structure of it is wire wrapped in paper.
Ours was a little heavy, but as soon as the fire got going pretty good inside the Khom, it floated slowly moonward. We watched, staring into the surprisingly clear night sky, as our Khom danced upward and in a southerly direction, dodging other Khom along the way and adding to the beauty of the Festival's night sky.

We also watched as some Khom came perilously close to getting stuck in tree branches, while some took dives into the JJ ponds and while others caught fire half way up into the night and came down in a slow, firey nose dive into whatever or whoever was below. That's one of the things people dislike about the Khom is that eventually it has to come down. SOmetime it comes down and is still on fire. Sometimes the fuel that burns in the center of the Khom drips fire on spectators below. It was kind of a nervous time every time one went overhead.

As we lost sight of our Khom, we went outside of the park to find a Kratong to Loy (float). Wee picked one that looked like it wouldn't capsize, paid our $2 US for it (60 baht) and found a relatively quiet and not crowded part of the pond to Loy it.
As is tradition, we cut fingernails and placed under the bed of flowers on the Kratong. We also cut a lock of hair and positioned it likewise.
We lit the candle and the incense, said a prayer/made a wish and sent out Kratong on its journey to the other side of the pond ;) We kinda forgot to thank the Goddess of Water during our prayer/wish, but that's okay, we meant well ;)

It was a very nice evening and unexpected fun was had by Pae and Guy, Puppy and Piggy.

Chiang Kan- Flowers and Such

Here's another post related to our trip to Chiang Kan. While Pae and I walked around the boardwalk area and Walking Street, we took some photos of the trees and flowers. It was right after the rain, so it was really fresh and pretty.

Included are photos of mostly flowers that we saw. The boardwalk area is kind of a little cruddy and worn down looking, but even a beautiful flower can grow among the litter and dilapidated concrete structures that are nothing more than eye sores that nobody wants to take care of.

To be fair, there was a sign near a riverfront park that appeared to show a construction project that would clean up and widen the boardwalk. That would be great, Boardwalk during the day and Walking Street at night. They run parallel to each other, only separated by a row of businesses and hotels.

The camera on my iPhone is pretty useless these days so I kept borrowing Pae's phone to take pictures ;)

We looked at a lot of the homes or buildings that had trees and flowers and vines growing up the walls or hanging from the terraces. We are kind of getting an idea of how we want our eventual house to look, not the house necessarily, but more the garden outside and a veranda-type area at the front or sides, of course, well decorated with plants.

We even caught some of the local wildlife out perched up on a car, hunting its morning meal ;) Fun walk with my Pae.

Standard Chartered Bangkok Marathon 2013

Here we are again in November, and that means two things: The Marines are a year older and it's time to run the Bangkok Marathon!!

This year's Bangkok Marathon was kinda in doubt due to continued political unrest and protests in Bangkok. The protests are (still) taking place in and around the government area right where the first two kilometers and the final twelve kilometers of the marathon take place. **Here's Eric on race kit pickup day, in front of the riot police and concertina wire.
So, we were a little worried that it would be postponed like in 2011 when the Marathon was pushed a couple months forward into 2012 due to the floods. I checked the running websites several times a day to make sure it was still on. The organizers insisted that they would not postpone or cancel it but said that they would make a course change. The course was indeed changed to exclude the area near the protesting and to add an additional 10ish kilometers of elevated expressway, which in fact ended up being the end of the expressway that turned into a normal road with cars and everything on both sides.

Eric and I had prepared using a training program off of Runkeeper. I initially wanted to go for a 3:30 marathon and Eric a 3:45. Achieving those goals would have knocked like 13 minutes off of both of our personal bests. I looked at the 3:30 training plan and compared it to the 3:45. Some of the runs looked a lot over my current fitness and ability, plus as Eric and I would be training together, it would be nice if we could run together, doing the same run at the same pace. It's so nice to have someone to run with. My decision was made, I would run the 3:45 plan. I would go for the 3:30 someday in a cooler place like perhaps at the Hong Kong Marathon. Who knows, could happen!!

We both had an excellent 16 weeks of training runs with very few missed runs (four runs per week) and relatively injury free. We both had some missed runs right in the lead up to the big day and it shook our confidence a little, but we pushed forward and took the positive out of each little training run to try to go into the race with positive thoughts, high self confidence and a feeling that we could realistically attain our target times.

Pae actually asked me before the race what my expectation was. I told her that I trained for a 3:45 marathon. I'd be completely satisfied with that. On a bad day, I could very well finish the race and limp in at 4:30, as long as I took something away from it and did my best, I told her, I'd be fine with that. If I had a good day and didn't have to stop on the course to use the toilet (which there were no toilets this year along the course!! amazing) I would feel great to knock a few seconds off of my 3:42 personal best. If I had a killer day I think a 3:35 would not be out of the realm of possibility and if I had the best race of my life and everything went perfectly and I was farting rocket fueled fireballs out of my butt, I'd give 3:29:59 a go!! Haha.

Part of having a good day, which Eric and I debated countless times during our runs, would be to start out slowly and not go full bore from the beginning. That's what I did last year, started out running way faster than we had trained, getting to 36km in 3:00 and crashing and burning soon after. The memory of that horrible feeling, the lingering phantom pains that I could still imagine in my legs those gruelling final 6km...they all helped me to try to ease back this year. "Ease back" probably should have been 5:20 minute kilometers for the first 8 km...but I was only able to control my excitement and emotions to the tune of somewhere between 5:00-5:05 minute kms. This did get me to the 12km marker at right at the hour mark and where I thought 24km was by the two hour mark. I sped up when I hit 8km but people were passing me left and right. I didn't get it. I started counting all of the runners who passed me, just to keep my mind in the race...luckily it didn't destroy my confidence, because I knew that we're all running different races strategically and we're all running for ourselves at our own ability level. So I just started counting.

A runner I know from Banana Runners passed me at 12km and I sped up to run with him. His Garmin said we were going at 4:45 minute kilometers, which I can do but not for long if I want to have anything left at the end. We ran and talked for two kilometers. He was running the marathon as a tune up race for the Singapore Marathon two weeks later. He intended to stop at the 32km point and walk it the rest of the way in...his training 20 miler basically. He asked me what my goal time was then he said he would pace me the rest of the way at 4:45, he wanted me to get 3:30 even though I told him I was aiming for 3:35 (the time I chose before the race to give myself something to aim for). I looked at him and laughed...I told him the 4:45s were too fast and we shook and he disappeared into the distance after running together for ten minutes.

I slowed down a little after that, but still maintained an average of a 5:00 minute pace until 24km. At 24km another runner passed me (the first one to pass me since maybe 16km). I tried to stay with him and even used him to break some of the wind, haha. Eventually it was obvious that I was running with him and we passed the 26km signage. I looked at my watch and he looked at his Garmin...we looked at each other, having not said one word to each other prior to this. My watch said we had just done 2km in 6:00 minutes...I just laughed and a conversation ensued. Turns out that we are both American, both teach science in Bangkok and both enjoy running marathons and ultras (although I'm just starting that).

I asked him what the pace was when he looked at his Garmin. We were cruising at 4:56. We stayed under five minute kilometers for a while and he kept me up to date on the actual distance from his GPS. The marathon route distance signs were about two km off...which would have been a mind killer later in the race when we had to make up those two km, had I not know our exact distance. He walked through a couple water points and told me that he likes to walk through them after 28km for twenty seconds for a little lactic acid relief. I walked with him through a couple and just slowed up to wait for him through a couple. The lost time was worth the company that I had for those kilometers and who knows, it might have helped like he said!

We passed 36km at about 3:04:00 gun time. This was four minutes slower than I had run last year up to that point. But I felt good and my mind was not on running for such a long time and there wasn't the loneliness of previous long runs, because I was running with dude from 24km to 38km. That company for that 14km was great. Just like running with Eric in training. Here's a funny picture (from last year's marathon I think) but they were holding the same signs again this year! Gave me a little boost, even though it seems a little less than motivating at around the 36km mark!

I felt the pain start creeping in around 37k and reached over and shook his hand and thanked him for running together. He was cool, but we still stayed at 5:00 minute kms. He then said "4km to go". I was happy. I felt good and felt like I could continue a 5:00 pace the rest of the way. But then he said "Dude, I'm done, good luck" or something like that, we shook and I figured I had to break for it and use up the rest of my energy and see if I could have that great day and hit the 3:35. I assumed that I would slow to 6:00 minute kilometers and come in at around 3:36 and if I could kick the last km maybe hit the 3:35.

I started digging into my little box of happy thoughts as I was now alone on the course and actually passing half marathoners. I was running very close to 4:25-4:30 minute kilometers, probably the fastest I've run in a very long time over a 4km distance. I was feeling excellent leg wise, but I was drained and tired, I was hot and sweaty and I was waiting for the wall to hit. That punk never came and I sprinted the last 400 meters to the finish line.
I was in a daze when I crossed but Pae was right there, somehow she had gotten into the finishing chute and was about 5 yards from the finishing line with a couple Army guards and marathon staff who were there to cut off our timing chips from our shoes.

I looked at my watch and I had run a 3:32:16. I was over the moon. Pae kept telling me that I had ran so fast. I was happy to be able to share that with her and happy that she knew just how great of a run I had. Not just a number or a time, but since we had talked about it earlier, she knew exactly where I would be finishing in every possible scenario ;)

Pae and Eric's wife had come to the race to meet us (and Eric's wife to run the 10K at 6am) together and we waited at the finish line for Eric to finish.
And what do you know...before the race Eric and I talked about training plans and pacing and how cool it was that when we would see someone say "I wanna run a 4 hour marathon", that often they would finish like just a few seconds under the goal time.
Guess what Eric ran? Yup, 3:45:00 EXACTLY!!! Holy crap! Like, three hours, forty five minutes and ZERO seconds, timed by chip, exactly 3:45:00. We both just ran our plan, we both just knocked 10+ minutes off of our previous personal best marathon times! Our wives were there to meet us AT THE FINISH LINE. Could I have run a 3:30? Not on that day. It's still out there for me to chase! Could I have had a better day? No, it was perfect.

My motto going into the big day was "Don't poop my pants" from a youtube video a guy made of what he thinks of while running a marathon. I'm happy to report, although it took me until I got home and ripped my running clothes off in the shower, that I did indeed NOT "pants my poop"!! (much)

Standard Chartered Bangkok Marathon 2013
Finish time- 3:32:16 (PB)
Overall finish- 77/1904 runners
Age category - 26/506 runners aged 40-49

Finish time- 3:45:00 (PB)
Overall finish- 147/1904 runners
Age category - 37/446 runners aged 30-39

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bangkok Trail Ultra Festival 50K

I have two or three running posts to catch up on and I will do them in separate posts just to stay organized with my runs.

Eric and I had just planned and started a 16 week training schedule for the 2013 Bangkok Marathon, one what we intend to run every year if possible, like tradition, since it was our first. During week three there was to be an ultra marathon of the 50 kilometer variety held close to Bangkok. Though I hadn't run in forever, I really wanted to run this race which would be my first trail race.

So, I had to adjust my training plan for the Bangkok Marathon as close to what I thought a tapering schedule would be since the race was only a couple weeks away. I was coming off of several months of not running due to vacation in the states and minor injuries and illnesses. Running a marathon would be difficult but I had no idea what to expect with eight more kilometers and trails.

Turns out that I enjoyed the trail aspect of the run as it was a 7.2km loop around a lake with rice paddies, relatively flat and not very technical. Perfect for a beginning trail runner. The thing that wasn't too cool was that I was out of training and that the race started when the sun came up, so by the time runners of the 50K were deep into their run, the sun was scorching hot.

This race had 50K, 21K, 14K and 7K events, all flagging off at different times. The week before the race, the heavens opened up for some good old Thailand rain and soaked the clay roads and clay trails around the lake. There were areas where you had to choose between running in the water or running through the muddy clay.
It made for some muddy shoes and even in the case of several runners I saw, lost shoes! Funny!
The 50K runners, 74 of us, started first and got about two laps in before the 21K runners started. Eventually the course would be clogged up (the trails weren't very wide) with 14K and 7K runners/walkers. Sometimes it's amazing that they don't "get" that there are people actually competing and not there for a "fun run" as some of these events are advertised. It's a complaint of many serious runners here, but it will never go away...people stopping mid-course, taking selfie photos, lining up across the course and walking and's cool to chill during a fun run, but when there are runners running in the rice paddies to go around you, you'd think it would be common sense or at least common courtesy to single file up while the faster runners are getting their run on. But...enough was a really fun race.

There was a hill that amounted to about a four story climb over about 20 meters, so pretty steep. I hit it hard the first two laps and struggled on my 21K lap. My legs were destroyed after the third time sprinting up it. I decided to walk it the final four laps ;)

The rice paddies were cool, although the area was wide open and flat. I have this thing, kinda opposite of claustrophobia, where I hate wide open spaces...puts me in a funk. So that portion wasn't the funnest, but it was probably only about 1 km of each lap. There was a farmer spraying pesticide on the rice plants off in the distance, I thought it was interesting and wondered what he thought as hundreds of runners were stretched out on the "farm" for several hours as he worked and sweated.
By 35km, the sun had come up pretty high in the sky and it was throwing down some serious heat. Not only was the air thick with humidity and hot as you know where, but the heat was actually coming up from the rice paddies. I felt like I was roasting in an oven for about 21 kilometers. That's one of the reasons why many of the marathons in Thailand start at two or three in the morning, to avoid the dangerous heat.

I saw a friend, really fast friend (3:08 marathoner) drop out after 35km and it kinda took a little confidence from me, but I kept going. I walked a little during water stops as I wasn't in shape and I wanted to avoid getting really sick from the heat. Amazingly, when I look at the results, I saw that about twenty runners finished the 50K in 8+ hours!!! Holy crap!! That had to be torture, because the sun was destroying my brain and my will to live at 4 hours, imagine 4 more hours of the hottest part of the Bangkok day!! Wow!

I thought that I might be able to finish the 50K in about 5 hours and I made that my goal. I was on track when I passed marathon distance at about 4:15, but the heat basically stopped me in my tracks (plus I started the race way too fast) and I just coasted in the final lap. I finished in 5:05. I think I finished 14th overall but I could be just totally making that up, hahaha, 6th in my age group? Something like that, but again, there were fewer than 100 of us 50Kers. I'd love to run it again next year if they hold the same event. I'd love to see if I could do the whole 50K in around 4:30.

This last photo is classic. I had just finished and I was sitting down getting ready to drive home and cheering on some other runners. I was eating some tomatoes and just letting all of the pain sink in. This is pretty much my running look for anything over 32km ;)

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