Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Khao Yai Trail Marathon 2014

First and foremost, I want to thank Pae for switching up her flight schedule to make it possible to go to the race with me this past weekend. I always love when you are there. It's a great source of motivation for me and makes every run just that much more enjoyable and special for me. Running may not be your thing, but the fact that you support me in something that I love and am passionate about means the world to me ;) I love you!

Now for a quick purge of thoughts about my last race...perhaps not much organization, but again, just stuff pouring from my head onto the computer screen at this point ;)

I'm starting to notice a change in my running. The past few years I feel I've been running on a curve of sorts. I won't call it a roller coaster because that is so positive vs. negative. In the beginning, with the marathon, as a goal I was very happy to just finish. As the marathons racked up and I got used to the distance, seeing how fast I could go gave me different goals. Now that I've been through a year of injury and still running and running my first three trail races, I've really gotten more enjoyment from just being there and enjoying the atmosphere. I still race as hard as my physical condition allows and I still have some soft goals for each race, but it's not important where i finish in the pack or time or rank when it comes down to "why I run". I just want to keep enjoying the sport as it benefits me so much more than just physically.

My latest race, The Khao Yai Trail Marathon, was such an opportunity; an opportunity to participate and enjoy what the race had to offer.

Khao Yai National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site here about two to three hours north of Bangkok. Beautiful. I mean, really all you have to say is "National Park" and you can already imagine how beautiful it was. We ran The North Face 100 trail run earlier this year, but it was in Pak Chong just a few kilometers away and not in the National Park. Pak Chong was a little dry for my liking, sun-baked, open spaces. The Khao Yai Trail Marathon was not actually "in" the national park, but right at the edge, foothills as the race guide suggested. Trees, trails, foliage, tweeting birds and insects all around as the sun was rising higher in the sky...just beautiful.

The race had four distances; a fun run 3.5km, a 10k, a half marathon and a full marathon. One interesting thing about the race, and one that had me worried at first, was that it was pretty much an out-and-back course. Out-and-backs tend to be messy at the tail end when there are also shorter distances with staggered start times (any race really). This usually results in the marathon runners coming into the half and the 10k u-turns and having to weave in and out of these runners. And since distances like the 10k tend to be the most heavily participated by both serious runners as well as recreational (fun) runners, there is a lot of selfie-taking, groups of six or seven friends linking arms and walking down the road and just a much higher volume of bodies to try to negotiate in general. Trust me, when you're 38k into a marathon, the last thing your knee joints and hip joints need it to have to make any sudden change of direction to avoid some over-exuberant, unaware (clueless that there is actually a race going on) selfie-taking clown in the middle of an already over-packed road.

I ran slow enough this time and totally avoided these crowds, perhaps only passing about four half marathoners and two 10k runners along the entire route! Seeing the race photos, maybe a couple of the marathon front runners had to mingle with the other distances, but I had no problem with that, hahaha! I think this must have been because of the lower turnout for the race. The Bangkok Marathon will have over 10,000 ten kilometer runners, which means that if you're a 4 hour marathoner you're likely to encounter this mob near the end of your race. This event had only 454 ten km runners, 306 half marathoners and 144 full marathoners. To be fair though, I think BKK Marathon has a different start/finish for the shorter distance runners, but you get the idea, it was a worry before the race.

Another thing that worried me was the rules. There was mandatory gear (rain coat, hydration pack, etc.) but that was not really a problem (forgot to buy my raincoat the night before but made a nervous pre-dawn drive 20km to get one at 7-11 before the race). There was also a rule that said to smile and thank the volunteers on the course, no problem there ;)

The rule that seemed like it would be the most difficult for me to follow was a "no spitting" rule. The race was an environmentally friendly, save the wildlife motto race. So, phlegm and spit, goobers and loogies carry bad things that can cause animals to get sick and since we were running in their back yard, it would be nice of the 900 of us not to plaster the trees and brush with deadly microorganisms. No comment on how well I kept that rule although I will say that I spit a lot of water from my hydration pack quite often.

So, the race. There was nothing to the race other than running so I hesitate to get too long winded about it (twenty paragraphs to follow), but there were some things that I thought I'd share...or just type here on our blog so I would remember in the future. Actually, strike that. As I enjoyed this race so much and since it was the first edition of this race, location, organizer, I think I'll do a Pros/Cons, Good points/Bad points and suggestions for an even better race next year (because I'll be there!)

Let's start with positive feedback and alternate...

Good 1) Location
Even though the race didn't actually enter the national park, it was LITERALLY right on the edge. I mean, the beauty of a natural park doesn't just end and the other side of the fence or imaginary boundary becomes ugly right? I enjoyed this course much more than The North Face, of course I prefer green to orange. I prefer closed in spaces to wide open spaces.

Suggestion 1) Signage, route marking, marshaling
Wow, the full marathon started in a grassy area along side a ditch and a gravel road leading into a resort or hotel. The road went a good 100 meters before intersecting another road at a T intersection. Two choices; Left or Right?? We all had course maps and were all told to study it, but the map for the full marathon was not that detailed ;) All of us marathoners turned right as a dude pointed that way when he saw us, only 100 meters from the start, pausing and slowing down...we picked up the speed, ran another 200-300 meters to another T intersection where there were no route markers but only a chubby little man in uniform. An aggressive German (He's actually Danish, but German sounds cooler and helps me to keep the guy anonymous...uh...right) along with the Thais in the lead pack started yelling at the guy "Which way?!!" Shocked, he said "Uh, left" and we all ran left....only to hear a little voice followed by 80 louder voices yell, "No, right!", "Right!", "Wrong way, guys", "Right!! What the??" and then one unforgettable voice, "F**k YOU!!" from zee German.

I was in the front, so when we all turned around, I was actually dead last place! Hahaha!! Awesome! So, I spent the next 5 minutes running hard (4:15/km) back to the front of the pack. I got within 5 runners of the front when a motorcycle came behind us and told us all to turn back around. We had gotten it wrong from the 100 meter mark! Hahaha. Every other race I have run has had simple arrow signs tied to poles, stapled to fences or even held by race marshals. We had run 1.6km before the motorcycle came to get us and by the time we got back to the initial intersection where we had made the mistake, it was close to 3km total of extra running (for those who were in the front for those first two wrong turns). Needless to say, for the entire first 25 minutes of the race the German was greeting every person who looked like they might be involved in the organization of the race with "F**k YOU!!" at the top of his voice. I was embarrassed for him but could only keep running and try to ignore him.
There was a 1.5 meter wide cement "bridge" to cross the ditch 40m after the start. I figured, this is a trail run, lets do the ditch! Would have really sucked to do the ankle after 50m though!
I'm pretty sure he's a member of my running club because I see his name all the time, he's fast, but club loyalty aside, I honestly think he should have been DQd from the race because when we passed the little dude who gave us the bad directions that first turn, the dude put his hand out and smiled an apologetic smile to everyone only to be shot down by zee German's "F**k YOU!" and a swipe at his raised hand as he passed. If that wasn't bad enough, he then either kicked or picked up and threw an orange traffic cone and it hit a van (really hard) that was parked on the side of the road. Dude was fuming, but way, way, way in the wrong with his reaction to the messed up beginning of the race. I mean, I understand why he was upset, because we all train hard and put in a lot of time for a target race. We don't really train for 45 kilometers and we certainly don't fuel our bodies prior to the race with carbohydrates, etc., to last us that extra 3km either. These things matter in long distance racing, so yes, many runners would have been a little bothered by the mixup and would have to change their goals or strategy mid-race. But to be so aggressive, vulgar and loud, unacceptable. Not saying dude is a bad guy, just don't agree with his reaction to those circumstances on the day.

So yeah, the trail was also supposed to be marked with yellow ribbon tied to trees, branches, corn plants, etc. I remember running what seemed to be kilometers at a time before seeing a yellow ribbon. But when I did see one, it was like 2 meters long, haha! At The North Face (TNF) in February, there were ribbons probably every 20-30 meters along the whole 50km trail! I can understand though why perhaps they didn't go all out with the ribbon...as the race was billed as an environmentally friendly event. Makes sense, but there were several intersections where it wasn't clear which was was the right way to run. And after the botched start to the race, we runners were just plain paranoid when it came to directions ;)

Again, TNF was all, "Ribbon, ribbon! We have ribbon!" so we always knew if we got lost or turned around, to look for ribbon somewhere in the vicinity and we'd be fine. My group at the start, in the dark, got lost three times. We stopped, quickly located the nearest ribbon, hollered "Over here!" and got on with business.

At the Columbia Trail Masters in January and other events put on by AMA, the route organizers make very clear signs at almost all intersections on trails or roads. Arrows to show directions for all distances and little "x" placards in trails or turns that are the wrong direction. Quite simple and perhaps something that would make this run, next year and years to follow, a little less stressful for the runners.

Good 2) Mother Nature
Aside from being the perfect backdrop for a trail run AND the marathon distance (actual trail distance was 42.9km + our misguided 3km bonus), Mother Nature saw it befitting of a good challenge to pour monsoon rains on the area the night before the race! Awesome!
Credit Runner-Blogger
During the race it wasn't awesome though ;) If you've ever stepped in ankle deep clay mud you'll know that it sticks to everything and weighs you down. It's also very difficult to get off of the bottoms of your shoes, and even if you do scrape some off, it's still gonna be stuck in the treads of the shoes. I trained during the rainy season, but i trained on the roads...wet shoes every day...muddy shoes? Nope!!! I really like this aspect of the race, of the challenge. I was already wearing shoes that were too heavy for my skinny legs although the trail shoes were the right call based on the mud and other terrain we ran, but the added weight carried in each step during some 45,000 meters of running and the added technical challenge of uneven terrain, uphills and downhills in muddy shoes made this so much more of a challenge than I had expected. In the end, I'm glad it rained the night before! Makes it easier to explain why I didn't finish 30 minutes faster, hahaha!! Excuses are like a-holes, right!!

Good 3) Shade
The start time of the race worried me a little, as most marathons here will start anywhere between 2-4 in the morning for several reasons. One, traffic is easier to block off and two, heat! Traffic? No problem in Khao Yai ;) The Khao Yai Trail Marathon started at 6:00 am, meaning, with an 8 hour time limit, some people would be finishing near 2pm. If this race had been in Pak Chong (TNF) it would have been a scorcher, but because of the trees and the forested course, we were almost always running in the shade. It was actually quite cool from 6-8 in the morning and it made me want to race in a country where temperatures and humidity weren't such a factor affecting performance (um, need to run the Hong Kong Marathon one of these years). The shade was awesome and I only really remember feeling anything from the sun in the final kilometer which was mostly open field, red clay (dry) and paved road (the same paved road we had run down at the start of the race, haha).

Good 4) Staggered start times/course separation
Not sure really how this worked out, but like I mentioned earlier, I encountered almost no runners other than a handful of non-marathon runners on the course (and about 8 marathoners who passed me after 15km). What I think happened is that our 3km (15 minute) wrong turn had something to do with the fact that we finished later than the organizers had expected. There was a little 5km loop at the beginning of the race. There was a little intersection there where we entered the loop and exited it also. I saw several half marathoners as I was exiting this loop and they were entering it. Makes sense that we would see them since the half started 30 minutes after the full, but then we added another 15 minutes to the beginning because of the reroute. The half would run almost the identical course, just cutting out 22-24km.

Okay, so it must have been because of having under 1,000 total participants, and because not just your average recreational runner was going to travel all the way to Khao Yai, rent a hotel room and make a weekend of it just for a 10k when they could just wake up 4am in Bangkok and go to any one of two other races there. Trail running is relatively new here but catching on fast.

Hmmmm, I'm sure there are many reasons, but I liked the fact that I didn't have to run on single trail and be slowed by folks who could care less if you wanted to get by or not ;) I guess next time in BKK I could just start chuckin' traffic cones and screaming vulgarities at the selfie brigade!!

Suggestion 2) Trophies
This may be a stretch, and I'm not mentioning it because I think I can win one, but I think the organizers can get a bigger amount of runners to choose this race over others held on the same weekend if they offer more trophies. Who doesn't love a trophy? Haha. This race offered trophies to Male and Female top 3 only. Many races, not sure at what monetary cost, give actual trophies for the top three overall males and females, but then also give smaller trophies for the top three or top five in each age category.

I guarantee you Race Hunter (organizer) gets 25-35% more runners if they offer 1st-3rd place trophies for 16-29 year old age group male and female, 1st-3rd place trophies for 30-39 year old age group male and female, 40-49 and then 50+. People come out of the woodwork when there are TROPHIES, hahaha. Although, there are often so few women running, that the difference between the winning time and the third place time can be like more than an hour...just not that many women running the longer distances in the upper age groups. Two women, one from Bangkok Runners, finished ahead of me and one right after me, so they are plenty fast, but again, when you start breaking down into age groups, the upper ages will have less participants ;) Same with the older men actually.

As far as the men go, trophy-wise, there were two races where I trophied in the past year...Really? Me? Trophy? The secret is, when you look at prior year results, and you are a little familiar with the running community in Thailand (and you know that the speedy Africans won't be participating- translation- no prize money), then you can really sit there and daydream about possibly running a solid race and coming in 4th or 5th in your age category and bringing home a cool trophy ;)

Ayutthaya Marathon 5th place in 40-49 year old age group? Hell, give the kid a trophy!! Top 15 male runner under the age of 50 in the ten hour ultra? Ahhhhhhhhhh screw it...trophy!! Hahaha!

It's not charity...I'd say it's getting people 1) to the race and 2) to feel like they actually have a chance to go home with some hardware and 3) to come back next year ;) I'm sure there are people who look at Facebook photos of Uda and a trophy, knowing darn well that they are faster than me and are like, "Hmmmmm, I think I'll run this race next year!!" **You watch, TNF100 Duo (team 100km) next year...guarantee there are nearly double the number of teams as this year! Why? Third place (gift certificate and trophy) is a very achievable goal! Eric and I took 4th place this year!! We were well off of the pace, but still, GIFT CERTIFICATE!!!!! It's within reach and I know several Bangkok Runners who have registered their teams already...and they have big strong legs like Eric, one runs the mountains in Austria for fun, and the others are guys who love to get out there and tackle a challenge.

All this said, I also think the low turnout of runners (not a bad thing) might have had something to do with the race calendar, with several longer races happening in the coming months; Thailand Ultra Marathon 100, Thailand Ultra Marathon 50 both in October, Relentless 24 hour challenge and the Bangkok Marathon in November, throw in Singapore, Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya and Rayong marathons coming up in December, people's race calendars are full.
A guy I talked to a few weeks before the race at my park. He was training to run the Trail Marathon in slippers! He finished! That had to hurt!
Back to turnout. Perhaps another hundred or so marathon runners would have been okay for this course. The first 18km or so were wide enough to accommodate lots of runners, but honestly, by 18km, the runners are all spread out and basically running individually or in pairs the rest of the way. Well, for those who are finishing in the top 20-30% I'd say that is true. The only choke points in the marathon ended up (from watching the video) being some of the early mud puddles where the shoes were still dry and people decided to walk around them rather than getting muddy. Those scenes from the video below are most likely 10K runners though. Eventually we were all wet and muddy so you just ran right through the bogs. Plenty of shoes sucked down into the mud and off of feet, mine included.

This race I ran with the Female winner from France for a couple kilometers until I couldn't handle the rolling hills any more ;) and then with a couple Thai guys for several kilometers. Otherwise, I was all on my own for most of the race after 15km!! So yeah. I think with the good feedback that The Khao Yai Trail Marathon is likely to get that there will be more runners next year if there is an open month in their schedule!

Suggestion 3) Photography
In no way does this comment translate to me not appreciating the race photographers. I love what they do, I'm happy that they do it. I love to see them out there, especially the guys from Shutter Running and Refill Magazine. There ended up being fewer photos from the best parts of the trail because they are farther out and harder to get to for motorbikes and photographers than the shorter distances. For example, to take pictures of the Half marathoners, on an out-and-back course, the photographers need travel a max of 10.5km out into the woods. For the 10K race, even less! They have to go much farther out to catch the marathoners all on their own and in the more beautiful portions of the trail.

After the Half marathon u-turn, the farming roads became narrower and eventually there were not really roads, more trail. I did actually see lots of potato chip bags turned inside out and hung on strings along the side of the "road/trail" as makeshift reflectors and also some old speed limit signs, so perhaps it was a road...anyway, from all of the photos, it appears that the race photographers took most footage and pictures from the 10k and 21k loop. Only after capturing those runners did they hop on their mopeds and ride backwards on the trail to find the marathoners. Most of us encountered the photographers near the end of the run, maybe 38km? That being the case, they missed out on a lot of pretty trails. There were so many beautiful trails that we ran.

Good 5) Great T-shirt and even better Finisher shirt
I really like the free shirts! Some race shirts I wouldn't be caught dead wearing...but these are decent. What was an even nicer touch was that they made finisher shirts for not only the full marathon, but also the half marathon too! That's nice. It's been only two weeks, almost, since the marathon and I've worn either one of the two shirts perhaps half of that time! Hahaha. My Bangkok Marathon shirt from 2011 and my Park Run shirt from 2012 have officially been retired to make way for these two shirts in my closet ;)
Credit Runner-Blogger
Good 6) Sponsors
Great sponsors for this race. Gu Gel and Tiger Balm being the main two. A Tiger Balm massage tent set up at the finish, a free Gu Gel in all race packs. Heck, one of these years, one of these events, they'll surprise us with those tin foily astronaut "blankets" that you see in the spring races back home ;)

Good 7) Timing
Initially, the race said that there would be no timing chips. This is a negative for many because we all like to see our name and our time and see those in relation to our other running friends and fellow competitors and just basically have a record of our actual times, plus splits. A couple weeks after I registered, there were updates to the website saying that a company, 321Yell, would be doing the timing. Some races have had timing trouble when using anything other than Championchip Thailand to time events, but 321Yell was pretty good, no timing mats, just little sensors you had to pass. Beeps when you are properly recorded. There was even a man at the u-turn check point reading your bib number from a computer (in the middle of the jungle) after it's recorded and asking you to your face "Bib 1157, Correct?" And at the end of the race, you could go to the timing tent, give your race number and they printed out a receipt of your time, place, age, everything. pretty good if you ask me! **Ayutthaya Marathon last year, some half marathoners were still sleeping in their hotel rooms close to the start/finish line of the race as the full marathoners began their races. Turns out that when the timing system was turned on, it started pulling information from all nearby chips, even half marathoners who were in their rooms applying nipple bandaids and trying to squeeze out one last carb brownie. So some half marathoners were already being timed...little problems like these can undermine the popularity of a race. Columbia this year had big problems with timing, too. So, good job 321Yell ;)

Personal stats-
18th place out of 144 Marathon runners
After nearly five hours, finally finished ;)
I ran pretty hard the first 15km. By then, the fast start (catching the lead group twice) started to affect me and I knew it wasn't going to be a 4 hour marathon. Even knowing that this was a "Trail" marathon, that dang 4 hour barrier still seems like "the" number. I have to start being more realistic though. Even the flattest of trails have been some of my slowest races. I don't do hilly ;)
These puppies did some hard work! Caked...on...mud!!
Before the race I told Pae that I had three basic goals (she wanted to know when I would finish). Bad day = Finish the race, Okay day = Sub 5 hours, Great day = Sub 4 hours. I had an Okay day physically but a great day as a runner and that translated to finishing in 4 hours 50 minutes. Poor Pae, I really think she was expecting me around the four hour mark ;) Had I known how muddy the course was, I would have just said five hours from the start, but the mud, the amount of mud, the stickiness and consistency of the mud and just basically all of the mud surprised me ;) Definitely wasn't prepared for that mess! But loved it!
More of this type of running in Thailand and I'll be happy!
Video Clip
In this clip you will see mostly half marathoners and 10k runners as well as the course they ran. As the marathoners went farther out into the wilderness but the photographers and videographers didn't, you don't get too much of the challenging muddy trail that was out there or a couple of the nicer hills (relatively tame compared to TNF but no cakewalk). This is a good video though ;) Yellow striped bib= 10k, Blue-striped = 21k, Red-striped bib = Full Marathon

In this video you will also notice that there are many people running close together in most of the scenes. That's the half and 10K runners. The marathoners, especially when there are only 144 of them, spread out quite a bit over 42 kilometers. In reality, I ran mostly alone from 15km to the end of the race.

Along the trail there were motivational signs hanging from trees. Here are some of the ones that I remember and my mental state at the time of reading them...

5km(ish)
Sign said "Smile, you paid to do this"
I thought (after running way too fast to catch the front of the pack, twice, after being sent the wrong way by race marshals) "Yeah, the amount I paid per km is lower now!"


20km (?)
Sign said "Trust your training"
I thought "Uh, who trains for mud?" "I didn't train for mud OR hills"


25km
Sign said "Tired legs are sexy"
I thought "Brah, I was sexy 10 kilometers ago...and only getting sexier!!"

35km
Sign said "Hit the wall harder than it hits you"
I thought...wait for it..wait for it, "F**k you!" hahahaha!
Dudes, I had hit the wall at about 27km and was already throttling down since 15km! Slowing down and walking up many of the hills gave me the perfect opportunity to "look up" and really take in the beauty of the trail, listen to the things around me and to just be forced to stop taking things so seriously.

40km (?)
Sign said "Runners don't die, they just smell like it" (paraphrased)
I thought "I promise, I didn't poop my pants...or...hold on, hold on...and...nope, that's not poop! Yay me!"

Diarrhea the morning of and evening before the race made this a legitimate concern. You can call me "Sphincter of Steel!" (It's all down to practice! Trust your training)
Full transparency/disclosure: After finishing and sitting with Pae at the finish line (so happy that she was there, again!) I officially retired from long distance running, such was my pain from cramping calves, cramping hamstrings and cramping quadriceps *SEXY* (or should I say, it was such a great event, I figured I'd retire "at the top of my game" hahaha!!) My retirement lasted all of three days...Now looking forward to either Ayutthaya in December or something just to run...not to train for so much, haha, just to run and get the free shirt ;)

**I took a lot of these photos from the race website, FB and another running blog

3 comments:

mardenheyjude said...

Hi Guy; What a nice story. I always enjoy reading your stories. I especially enjoyed the video. Most all who were interviewed in the video were smiling as they spoke, which makes me feel as if they all enjoyed the experience of the marathon. (or should I say the Mudathon) I did not understand what some were saying as I only speak and understand two languages. One is English and the other is Bostonian!! hahaha Your sneakers looked like they did weigh a ton and your legs looked like the dickens. Congrats for finishing the Marathon. Thanks for thinking of me. Hi to Pae. Love always, Auntie

Pae and Guy said...

For Auntie Judy...my crude translation of some of rom the video ;)

First person (green hat)
Half Marathon "It was very fun, it's the first one, I went for it! It was so fun and tough. I liked the course, the corn fields, the sticky clay, the slippery mud. Your legs were like, stuck to the ground! So fun!"

Third person (white arm warmers)
Half marathon "The identity of the race was the mud as an obstacle. It's something I've never run in before. It's a miracle what our bodies can do, our bodies can run 21km, run 42km. We can do it! As for Khao Yai Trail, it was the first time for this event.they took really good care of the runners. They did a great job. I suggest this race to everybody. For those who may be afraid of the effect on the body (running like this) don't be afraid. I haven't been a runner my whole life, I'be been running for less than a year! I'm surprised that I can run like this. I think that if I can do it, you can do it too."

Sixth person (Thai dude with trophy)
Winner Full Marathon men "Very fun...I was excited with all of the different obstacles on the course (mud, etc.). The marathon is all about heart. If you are prepared mentally (heart) and if you have trained in the proper way, you can run a marathon. You have to run long runs in training, often. No need to run fast when you run long, just run easy.

Group of three
The important thing is the friendship out there, the camaraderie. When you see each other out there during the race, it gives you a boost (very loose translation). When you run, your body is healthy and you are able to better focus (concentrate) on your work. It helps your life to move forward better than before.

Cheetah man
**Question "Are you tired?"
Cheetah man's reply "I'm not tired! Fight fight!!"

That's the best I can do ;)

mardenheyjude said...

Thank you for the translation. It makes the video much better to watch. Love always, Auntie

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