Friday, May 23, 2014

Suanpruek 10 hour Ultra Marathon 2014

This entry is not complete but it's been sitting here in a state of incompleteness for several days, I have other things on my mind right now and have writer's block ;) and I just want to get rid of it! Haha!

May 4th had been a day marked on my calendar for a couple months. Whenever I looked through my calendar, at my planned races, this one stuck out as one that I didn’t want to miss; The Suanpruek 10 hour Ultra Marathon.  Sounded crazy at first, but then I figured that there was no crazy distance that I’d have to finish, just run as far as I could in the time limit of ten hours.
Crazy, no, but  running for ten hours did sound like a challenge as the longest I had run was 6 hours for our run club’s president’s birthday. On that occasion, I ran/walked 55.5 kilometers.  Eric has been to 50+km before, so this race would see if we could go farther. The challenges that I expected for the ten hour ultra marathon were as follows:

1.       The body’s response to ten hours of running- busted ankle and the usual muscle breakdown during long-distance (endurance) events- kind of a mystery how the body would react.

2.       The mind’s response to ten hours of running- I know I can hold it together for an easy-paced 6 hour run. I know I can hold it together for a hard 3:30 marathon, but 10 hours is a different story. I find it hard to even sleep for ten hours!

3.       Temperature- It’s summertime here in Bangkok and that means that the mercury pushes 100 degrees almost daily in April and May. As this race would end at 4 o’clock pm, we’re talking about maximum heat exposure for hours on end.

4.       Hydration and electrolytes- the physical exercise along with the expected heat would make hydration crucial, not just for doing well, but for finishing healthy and in a car to home rather than in an ambulance to the hospital.

5.       Nutrition- How much to put in the body before race day? How much to consume during the early stages and late stages of the race? Not enough, the muscles quit…the wall. Too much, the guts are twisted, bathroom breaks, feeling ill for hours and you tend to skip a few opportunities to hydrate and take in electrolytes…this is when the dominoes start to fall.


Lately, Eric and I have been almost slacking on the training. Not slacking per se, but just running a big race every month, leading to about 30-45 days between events. In a normal marathon training schedule we’ll usually try to get in two long runs at this point and then start tapering for the race. It turns out that our previous month’s event has pretty much fallen at where we’d normally run our long training run…so when we finish the race, the next week is recovery and then suddenly we’re easing off for a few weeks in preparation for the next race.  It’s funny how it has worked out like that. I guess you could say that we aren’t slacking, but we’re just cramming what we can into our year and using the races as training also. Check this out- November- Bangkok Marathon, December- Ayutthaya Marathon, January- Columbia Trail Masters 25K, February- The North Face 100 (50k)…so, you see, there’s really not much time to get into any kind of training program…just maintaining fitness.

With this ten hour race being held during the Thai school summer vacation, during April and May Eric and I weren’t able to train together too often. Between traveling, differing schedules, kids and family, we got some runs in together but also did a lot on our own. We were both out of town for a week or two and found places to run while away.

I ran four or five times (and walked and rode a stationary bike) while visiting family in Ubon for a week. Part of the training for me was to get used to running midday, in the heat (point #3 above), so I would go out and run in the Ubon sun. It was hotter than hot, but running several times in those conditions (hot and humid) really did prepare me a little bit mentally for the challenge of the weather on race day. Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation for these longer endurance events. A few times in the heat didn’t make race day easy for me, but it prepared my mind by knowing what to expect, knowing how it feels to run in such heat and knowing how  I respond both physically and mentally to the discomfort and most importantly, knowing when it’s time to slow down and accept the heat for what it is…a big meany that can slow me down but can’t stop me!

Pae came home from flying for a while and I was also able to go out with her for some speed walking. For her, we were just trying to get her body used to the elevated heartbeat of exercise, so the brisk walks (9:40 minute kilometers) did that for her and are an ongoing thing we do together to build her up to perhaps running eventually. For me, the walking was not only the perfect way to spend some time together, but also great practice because during a ten hour event there will be walking. Walking fast, keeping the body moving forward, would be important for us to achieve our goals. Our walks in Ubon and here in Bangkok leading up to race day really helped in the taper and were a great way to spend time together. I hope to add more of these walks into future training cycles. ;)
Riding bikes in Railway Park near home together during the taper

The race was unique in that they didn’t give finisher medals or participation medals like most races do. Instead, any runner who ran 63 kilometers or more in the ten hour time limit would receive a participant trophy. This was perfect for us! It gave us a goal to shoot for. I called it the soft goal. If nothing else, we were leaving the race with some trophies, haha! And hey, 63km would be new territory for both of us.
Eric and Guy right before the race...Ten hours later, Eric would have gone through three shirts!
We actually figured that walking the fast walk pace would get us pretty close to the 63km trophy, so we were pretty confident that we’d be walking away carrying some crystal. But once I put a little pace chart/race plan together with 6:00 minute kilometers with lots and lots of short walking (nutrition and hydrating) breaks, 84km was starting to look like a challenging yet attainable distance to attempt. That would be basically two marathons in ten hours. In previous years, 84km was enough for an overall trophy given to the top 15 male and top 10 female runners.

Another fun thing about the race was that they were giving a (long sleeve) Top 100 Finisher shirt to each of the top 100 finishers. That’s actually about 1/3 of the solo runners. (309 solo runners and 58 four-person teams competed)

Race day

We stressed a little bit (at least I did) about proper nutrition and hydration on race day, so we prepared coolers full of drinks and snacks. We lugged them to the taxi and from the taxi and carried them to the park where the race was being held.

The race started at 6:00 am and ended at 4:00 pm, straight up ten hours. We got there almost an hour early so that we had time for the traditional emptying of the lower digestive system. I made the trip once and listened to a bunch of Thai runners chatting while waiting for the two toilets. Chatting, greeting, wishing each other luck, talking about running shoes and getting some of the jitters out before the long race…all the while, standing in queue outside of the toilets, smelling each others crap! Yeah, the sounds and even the smells emanating from the toilets are drowned out by the nervousness and anxiety of the race.
Bib 141, hydrating and fueling along the way
We set up our three coolers next to a tree and next to a tent that was set up by a group of supporters from another run club. Pre-race food and drink, final check of timing chip, phone, bib, shoes and application of some sunscreen and we were off to the start line. The start line had two electronic clocks. One which switched between the temperature and the current time and another that showed race time in hours:minutes:seconds. The one that showed the temperature was the one that was of greatest interest to me. I wondered how high it would climb during the afternoon hours.
Keeping the sun off
The race actually started quickly, without much of the speeches by VIPs that often delay the start time or make the runners have to enter the starting chute way too early. Seemed that we got in the start chute and ten minutes later we were on our way.
Suckers for pain?
I’ll not bore you with a minute-by-minute recap of the ten hours of racing ;) I’ll let the pictures speak to the feelings and emotions that I feel when I’m out there for a super long run, loneliness, boredom, goofiness, super mood swings, peace, focus, confidence…the list goes on and for every runner it is different.
In a groove...a slow, conservative groove
The race started and immediately a good 60 runners zipped past us at quite fast paces. I knew that most of them had to be team runners. There were two categories; solo and team. The solo runners would run for the entire ten hours. The teams of four runners would each run 2.5 hours in a relay. So, these guys and girls (relay team runners) were basically running at half marathon pace because they’d be finished in just a couple hours and hand off to the next member of their team. No matter how much I had it pounded in my head that I should expect this type of a start to the race, it still bothered me a little to see so many runners in front of us. Even the winners of the ten hour solo couldn’t keep a half marathon pace for ten hours…you just have to accept that you have to pace yourself and trust in your training and when the pain hits, just hold on…for however many hours remain, haha!
The Cookies train coming through. Toooot Tooooot
Eric and I have always gone into races with different strategies and race plans…I can’t get away from starting fast and slowing at the end (translated- struggling to the finish) while Eric goes with the more conventional approach (translated- smart approach) of running a steady pace throughout. From what I saw during this race, the winner who ran 111km ran fast at the beginning and slowed down towards the end. Others in the top five men and women seemed to just run steady for ten hours and rack up some major kilometerage (I love using that non-word when talking about running distance).

For this race, since we both had a goal of 63km, we decided to run together as long as possible and just go for whatever was left whenever we split up. The course being a loop made it easy to see each other throughout the race actually. We had access to our coolers every 2km. We had access to a toilet about every one kilometer. There were tables with cold water and electrolytes every kilometer. Rice, watermelon, bananas. There were supporters set up in tents all around the race course from many of Thailand’s running clubs, cheering, massaging, encouraging. There were “misters” every kilometer spraying a fine mist on the runners (and also a shower head!). The timing pad which records your laps and your cumulative distance and time was part of the loop, so you felt like you had small victories every time you stepped across the start/finish line and heard the mat beep, recording your lap. Eventually, later in the afternoon, our families would be there to cheer us on during the toughest part of the run.
Pisal, fellow Bangkok Runner, gutted out the final lap to get his 63km. The man looked like I felt! Excellent work!
We ran with the plan to stop about every ten kilometers (roughly every hour) at our coolers and to grab an energy gel, a jelly drink, a cracker or slice of fruit, electrolytes, etc.. We figured that taking in food every hour or so would keep our digestive system in balance and allow the energy to be constantly flowing through our blood to our muscles. We also tried munching on Gu Chomps, Jelly Beans and Gatorade bites. 

A lot of the nutrition went down easy early on, but after several hours it became difficult to keep pumping food into my body. My body started rejecting the dry crackers after about 40km, I started skipping the jelly drinks about the same time. The chomps and Gu’s started to make me feel sick so I scaled back and just went with the Gu Gels for the last 4 hours. That’s when I started munching on three or four cherry tomatoes per stop.

Our coolers also served as a spot for us to change shoes and shirts, a place to grab a wet towel and wipe some of the sweat away from our eyes and a place on the grass to take small breaks and stretch. For me it became a very important place because I had prepared 16 bottles of electrolytes. Funny, I brought ZERO bottles of water…just Gatorade, Pocari Sweat, Sports Water and a bunch of self-mixed rehydrating powders in different concentrations. I even had two bottles for people dehydrated from severe diarrhea. Couldn’t hurt right?
Twelve bottles of hydration powder mixed in different concentrations
We had planned a lot of walking into our ten hours and when the bodies started to hurt or when the temperature got too hot we did just that, walked. As much as it bothered me to have so many people pass us at the start and to see the second leg of the relay sprinting past us with fresh legs, walking didn’t bother me at all!!! It was so welcomed. After walking pretty much a whole lap around the 30-40km point, I found myself in “shuffle mode” just one foot in front of the other for most of the rest of the race. Eventually I started walking most of the bridges (two bridges on the course) to save my ankle as it is still not able to do inclines and declines without pain. Almost four months already and no improvement, but more about that in another post.
Working hard in the first few hours of the race
The temperature on course steadily rose from 26 degrees Celsius at the start to a high of 43 degrees Celsius around 11:00am if I remember the time correctly. Every time I passed under the clocks, I would make sure to check the temperature. I tried not to let the numbers psych me out. I had prepared to run in heat so I was confident in my body and hydration strategy, as well as walking strategy! Now, that big fat 43 degrees number looks harmless in Celsius, but when converted to Fahrenheit? 109 degrees Fahrenheit! ONE HUNDRED AND NINE DEGREES! Not hot compared to these ultra heat runners or desert runners, but hot none the less! I don’t even want to know what the heat index was if factoring in humidity.
High temperature of 109 degrees made walking the smart thing to incorporate into the race plan
Humidity actually probably saved the day for many of us runners. After a while hovering in the 100’s the temperature started to drop and level out at about 36 degrees Celsius, about 97 degrees Fahrenheit…much more agreeable!! Haha! The sky became overcast in the late afternoon and we even got some sprinkles and a breeze on the back side of the course.
The brain is still in it at this point ;)
Eric began having pain in his feet after the marathon distance and eventually changed socks. The socks he had chosen for the race were cotton and very thick. You figure you’d want nice, thick socks for such a long time pounding on your feet. But I think this was the first time he had worn these socks to run in and they tore his feet up…Not “torn up” literally, but gave him freaking golf ball sized blisters in the middle of his feet…He suffered through the blisters until he got to the 63km goal and then did another lap with his family to get a solid, but painful, 65.1km.
A lot of people put a lot of heart into this race, something I always love to see
Finishing that much on busted feet, I know the feeling and I got nothing but respect…when people say that I’m crazy or not so smart for continuing to run after busting my ankle I’m usually like “Whatever” but after seeing Eric’s feet I was like “That’s crazy” hahaha.

Eric and Henrik. Henrik was flying for his relay team
I was able to get through 86.1km for the ten hours. I was lucky that my shoes lasted the whole race. I had brought three pair of running shoes, all very old minimalist shoes that I’ve worn for most of my marathons and training. Normally a runner should buy new shoes every 500-800 miles or kilometers? Anyway, I didn’t need to change shoes. Awesome considering they’re so old and have holes in the toes, hahaha!! I had the mind to finish my 80km lap and walk the last lap in like 20-25 minutes.
Their was a little cover on the back stretch of the park, but not fully shaded
Instead, I took one last stretch break at the coolers where Pae and Eric and his family were cheering from and decided to try to run one more lap. The effort felt like a solid 5:00/km pace but it ended up being a 13:00 lap so somewhere near 6:00/km. Funny how after that long running the same perceived effort would net a minute difference in pace!
Did I mention that it was hot, hot, hot!?
I passed the timing pads/finish line with 23 minutes left on the clock. I knew that if I stopped at the coolers that I’d not be able to finish another two laps for sure. In my head I knew that I had just ran a 13 minute lap and that I’d have to do something pretty special to run two more laps in 23 minutes! I passed and blew a kiss to Pae and just went as hard as I could until the bridge. I walked both bridges and looked at my watch as I was going up the second one. I knew at this point that I wasn’t going to be able to get another lap in, even though my mind wanted to try. I would finish this final lap just under 13 minutes even though it felt like a 10 minute lap. I sprinted to the finish line with ten minutes and change left on the clock…I wanted to go for that last lap and get 88km…I had the desire to go fast. I was motivated to go fast, but my body wouldn’t go fast! Haha!! If I had continued around the course, I would have only been about 1.7 km into the 2.1 km loop and would not get credit for the lap, so I shut it down, returned my chip and walked to the coolers. Inside I felt good but outside I felt like I had just ran for ten hours.
Post race, feel like crap, but can still smile for my wife :)

There were two trophies on offer for this race. One, discussed earlier, for all runners who completed thirty laps of Suan Nawamin Pirom or 63km+. There were also top ten men aged 50+, top ten women and top fifteen men under 50 years old. Overall trophy recipients would not get the 63km trophy though.
Before the trophy presentations they gave out the Top 100 Finisher shirts and everybody grabbed and took the obligatory photos. The organization was a little off for the shirts and trophies, but that’s to be expected I guess. We weren’t sure what place I had finished as the results were slow to be posted on the board. Long story short, I was the 14th overall finisher in the race. Three women and one man from the older category finished ahead of me, so that made me 10th place overall in my category, meaning trophy ;)
I actually took home the 11th place trophy and prize money because they had made a mistake and forgot to take out the 50+ man and gave him I think 8th or 9th place. The mistake only affected the under 50’s by a number on the trophy (11th place vs. 10th place for me) and a couple hundred baht difference in prize money ($3-6 difference only). Who I really felt bad for was the 50+ dude who was awarded the 8th or 9th place trophy and prize money…when actually he deserved the 50+ category champion trophy!!
After the overall trophies, they started calling names for the 63km achievement trophy. After a while it was just people lining up and grabbing a trophy and they started running out of trophies! I guess last year, not so many people achieved the 63km so they estimated the amount of trophies based loosely on that. I hollered at Eric to get up on stage before they ran out and not to wait for his name to be called. When in Thailand…
And of course we got to share our success together, take pictures together, pat each other on the back and heck, pat ourselves on the back too.
At the end of the day, I’m happy with being there, taking the challenge, achieving my goal and sharing the experience with family and friends. I’m not concerned with the prize money but it was a nice touch and it was enough to take Pae out for our 3rd anniversary dinner at Big Mama Pizzeria!! Love that place!
So happy that Pae was able to be at the race
By the Numbers

1.       2015- The year we will be back to run this race again

2.       43C/109F- High temperature for the race

3.       111.3- Number of kilometers the winner ran
The male champion (111.3k) in blue lapping us before 30km
4.       105- Number of kilometers the female champion ran
Female champion (105k) killing it after 8 hrs. Me (86k) taking a walk break
5.       6,615- Number of calories I burned in just under ten hours

6.       9:49:51- Hours of running for me

7.       86.1- Number of kilometers I ran and want to beat next year 

8.    2- Equivalent number of marathons I ran in the ten hours ;)

Looking back (and forward)

1.       This race will be on our calendars for 2015. I think we’ll both improve on our distance.
Eric, easily the best Ultra Beard of the day, collects some hardware!

2.       Running in a small loop helped the race to have a party-like atmosphere which helped keep away much of the mid-race loneliness that creeps in when you’re out there for hours on end, nobody in sight.

3.       The support was great. There were so many running club tents set up with supporters. They shared everything and cheered everyone.
This man stood the whole race, in the sun, cheering. He must have cheered my bib number and told me to "Fight, Fight!" like six times...and he did it for everyone! Amazing support!

4.       There were up to six Bangkok Runners participating in this race along with two guys (Iain and Robin) who sat in the sun and supported us all day with water, food, gels and cold sponges. Awesome to have them there, both pillars of our running club, one the founder and former president. Next year we’ll have to have a Bangkok Runners tent! Our wives and families made it to cheer for us too!

5.       One time Eric and I crossed the timing pad and the announcers mentioned Eric’s Ultra Beard. I caught it in Thai and laughed. The two announcers discussed how his beard gave him the look of an Ultra Marathoner, the real deal. Funny and random.

6.       There was a man with a bow and arrow running around the park. Odd!
7.       There was a man with a giant Thai warrior wedgie running the final leg of the relay for his team. We call him “Cheeky”.

This guy ran like this, but with a ripped up shirt. Here he's just getting his stretch on before his leg of the relay.
8.       One woman ran in a hijab and full makeup…and kicked our trash! 90km! Changed to a different color (and not sweaty) hijab, reapplied her makeup and accepted her trophy!

9.       The second place woman finisher, also 90km, was proposed to on stage as she accepted her trophy.

10.   Ultra Marathoners are a different breed.
After 9:49:51, this Ultra Runner called it a day!

11.   I love running.


mardenheyjude said...

Hi Guy: Congratulations!!!!!!
You are now an Ultra Marathoner. I can't imagine 10 hours in the hot sun. I am so proud of you. I know how much running means to you. I enjoyed reading the story and as always, I loved the pictures. Eric's beard reminds me of the 2013 Boston Red Sox season when all of the players had beards. Every time I came to a picture of Eric I said to myself "Fear the Beard". Just like some of the Red Sox t-shirts say. I hope you can get rid of your state of incompleteness soon. Just relax and take things slowly and in no time al all you will be back to being yourself. Take care and hi to Pae. Love always, Auntie

Pae and Guy said...

Fear the Beard!!!

Pae and Guy said...

Thanx Auntie, love from us to you!

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