Thursday, January 15, 2015

Khao Mai Kaew 1 - Guy 1

Columbia Trail Masters VIII


Sunday finally came and I finally ran (not raced) a successful Columbia Trail event. I feel that I've evened the score with Khao Mai Kaew after last year's spanking that the course laid on me. I'm actually not keeping score...but I consider myself even with the trail...took a year, but we're even. My first attempt at this trail ended in a 2:36 finish, injured; an injury that would hamper the rest of my 2014 training and racing. This year I finished in 2:49, a couple tweaks, but nothing serious. On flat roads, I should be finishing this distance (25 kilometers) in right at 2:00 (2 hrs)

The organizers made the course tougher this year with some mean hills. I knew it would be more difficult but I really wanted to run this race. For one, and again, I have felt like I owed Khao Mai Kaew a better attempt and two, I needed to do some training on a trail for the North Face race in three weeks. This accomplished both of those "needs" for me.

I woke up at about 3am on race day and packed my stuff and hopped in the car for the two hour drive down towards Pattaya. This time I would make the trip alone and return home right after I finished. Many other Bangkok Runners hung around and waited for the 50K runners to finish and for free beer ;) Once I got some fluids in me and chatted with a couple fellow runners, changed my sweaty clothes and hopped back in the car towards home.

Before all of this, of course, was the race. There were around 500 runners for the 25K race. I looked around as we had the pre-race briefing, and noticed there were some solid looking runners. Some were the normal skinny looking speedsters but there seemed to be a lot of thicker, more muscular looking men and women starting to mill about the start/finish line. Perfect trail bodies I think ;)

I had talked to a Bangkok Runner who had done a recon run of the course the previous week and he said that the first 3-4 kilometers were pretty open. He said that the trail then became single trail and that the next few kilometers would take runners through what the recon group termed "The Seven Sisters". The Seven Sisters was a series of climbs (not necessarily with descents following them) that would take the legs out of runners, especially if they had gone too fast in the first 3-4 kilometers.

Everybody also knew about the final climb at 24 kilometers and descent into the finish line from looking at the course elevation map. What was in between The Seven Sisters and the final climb was a bit of a mystery. If it had been last year's course, it would have been like 8 kilometers of ugly farm land with sandy roads. Dislike! Not just because running in sand sucks, but last year it just didn't fit my eye. I really don't do well in wide open spaces. I need closed spaces, trees poking up out of the landscape, mountains in the distance framing the periphery, clouds forming a sort of safety blanket in the sky. I guess I'm the opposite of claustrophobic (whatever that is).

Well, the start horns eventually sounded, so I could soon find out for myself what lay in wait in the middle of the course! The idea for me, which turned out not to be as important as I had first expected, was to get out into the top 50 or so runners to avoid arriving at the single trail and having to dangerously pass slower runners. These trails at Khao Mai Kaew were full of prop roots and tree stumps. Those things just reach up and grab you, even the ones that you can see in the middle of the trail. So, to go around someone into the grass or vegetation is a recipe for disaster...I wanted no part of disaster this year ;)

So, I went out pretty fast, in the top 30 runners, felt good, felt happy to be on the trail. The 20+ runners in front of me really took off, as if they were using the flat portion of the race to get as much distance on everybody as possible. Turns out that they are just awesome runners and that is their normal pace probably, haha. During the rest of the race, I would only pass about ten of those who were in front of me, plus a lot of 50K runners who started fifteen minutes ahead of us. Many would pass me eventually too (25K runners) as the hills are a great challenge for me and slow me down considerably.

I reached The Seven Sisters, or the first sister actually, and tried to take it easy climbing it, but still running. I ran a bit up the first few hills but then just started to power hike them as the lactic acid built up in my legs. The hills beat me up, but they were pretty, the land was great, it had rained the night before (only a little) so it was a little more solid.

As I was really starting to struggle through a 9+ minute kilometer up one of the hills, I heard whooping and hollering behind me and fast-approacing footsteps. It was a Bangkok Runner and Ultra enthusiast. He is a main cog in the group, very much a social presence and at most of the runs that the group does together. Since I met him, he has only gotten faster and faster. But he came hopping up the hill, while the rest of us had our hands on our knees, climbing like we were using our knees as crutches or canes. He bounced by us all in a blink of an eye yelling, "WooHoo!!",  motivating everyone as he passed them.
Besides Ivan who won in 2:06, Robin, Mr. WooHoo, was my hero on the day!
I could still hear him as I got to the top of that climb only to see another climb not ten meters away...I like to call these "false summits". I know, "summit" makes it sound like we're running in the Alps or the Rocky Mountains, but that's what they felt like to me! So, I started the next climb, sister number who knows, and heard an echoing "WooHoooooooooooo" coming from what must have been a full five hundred meters up (and up) ahead. Damn, dude was having a great race and a great time. I love to see that!!

As the course started to really eat into my legs, it seemed to start to be flatter and slowly made it's way back down closer to sea level. The middle part of the course wasn't bad as far as steep climbs, but it had a good amount of rolling, canopy-covered hills. Most of them were okay and I was able to run them, taking shorter steps and obviously at a slower pace, but it helps mentally if you're able to at least feel like you're running through the difficulty of the hills. Once you start walking and the course doesn't necessarily "look" super steep, or if three or four other runners pass you or are running in front of you, it is a little of a downer.
I've decided to always wear sunglasses at these events...hide the exhaustion ;)
I hit several checkpoints where they had cold water and sponges. I took a couple seconds at each one to really sponge off, wiping the sweat and salt off of my face and neck. I'd pour a half bottle of water down my back and on my head and take off again, usually right in front or behind another runner. I was almost always with another runner in this race. It was nice to hear one or two behind me. It was nice to see one or two right ahead of me as well, but the ones ahead of me, I had to lay back so that I could see the coming trail and be able to respond to what I saw; roots, uneven areas, stumps, hacksaw blades (really), discarded water bottles (a sweeper hike went through the course the next day to clean up the litter), small animals, shadows that look like holes, hahaa...the idea is not to follow too closely or else you miss the tiniest of obstacles...FWOPPP, flat on your face ;) Trail running takes so much focus and concentration. You can't turn off for even a second or you're scrubbing out a trail wound  or sitting, waiting for an x-ray at the hospital the next day.

I had a few small battles with these obstacles, the first being a small divot in the ground, going downhill like the ill-fated fall of last year, and another where I got snagged on a root and ate dirt.

I took all of the downhill portions of the course very slowly, deliberately putting on the brakes even into the flats, just for safety sake. Even with the slower pace, I missed a little clod of dirt or mud on a downhill and rolled the injured ankle at 18km. As it played out in slow motion in my head, me crumpling to the dirt, all I could think was "Noooooooooo!!" When you're used to twisting an ankle, your body just kind of gives way so that the full weight of the body isn't coming down and destroying the joint. I was airborne last year on a downhill so my body was more concerned with landing on the ground, not saving the ankle...that's why the ankle injury was so severe.

For this face plant I was running slower down a hill that was not even half as steep as last year's 8km fall or 11km fall. As my arms flailed in the air trying to catch my balance and move to a position under me to catch myself as gravity pulled me dirtward, I "felt a sound" on my left hand. A sound that wasn't a sound at all, but a feeling to which I must designate a sound for storytelling's sake. A most disturbing sound that immediately caused my face's "Oh crap, I'm falling" furrowed brow and gritted teeth, to change in an instant to a wide-eyed Gollum, forlorn/brokenhearted "My Precious" face.

A super slo-mo of the moment would show my wedding ring flying off of my ring finger with the sound of a pirate unsheathing his sword; SCHINGGGGGGGGG...followed by it spinning through the air towards the mountain brush; FwaFwaFwaFwaFwaFwaaa...I'm sure I created a few new four-letter words in that moment...which I won't repeat...

I don't remember a moment when there was not either someone running in front or behind me.
Luckily for me, I turned my head (while crumpling to the ground) and watched as my ring landed softly beside me, where I finally came to a crunching stop. Ring back on my finger, adrenaline pumping, ankle tested and deemed an insignificant worry and three runners overtaking me as I brushed myself off, I continued, extra carefully, the final 7km of the trail.

Not twenty minutes later and I was brushing myself off again as something jumped up and grabbed me. I went down hard on my left arm, catching myself with my hand. No scrapes, just a sore wrist the rest of the way. Turns out that my wrist is just fine. Yay!

I'm well into the race now and there have been limited instances where I've thought to myself, "When am I going to be finished?!" I was really enjoying it. Up through and around several small, forested hills and really avoided the farms of last year. Minimal sand, just lots of ups and downs. I would love to walk the course one of these days and take pictures because there is so much that just flies by you when your eyes are glued to the trail and the hanging branches 2-3 meters in front of you at all times. It's actually pretty amazing how the brain can take in the obstacles and potential dangers three meters ahead, analyze them and then tell the body what to do when it arrives there, but before arrival, already starting the "calculations" for the next three meters! I mean, when I'm jumping over a stump, sidestepping a rock and ducking under a brain-buster tree limb, all in the same step, I'm not even looking there, but I'm already looking to the next part of the trail and preprogramming the body's response! The human brain is pretty amazing. Sometimes though the body is fatigued and doesn't respond as the brain commands. You THINK you cleared the rut in the clay or you THINK you lifted your foot high enough to make it up and over some vines...FACEPLANT!!
This Ducky dude has been at my last three races, Khao Yai Trail, Ayutthaya and Columbia. He certainly enjoys his running. 50 kilometers on this occasion. If Bangkok Runners ever kick me out, I think I'm joining his gang!!
The final "up" of the course was the signature hill of the course. It went straight up for probably 600 meters. I got about ten steps into it and tried to will my legs to just make it the final 2km to the finish. They weren't in the gravity fighting mood and we walked...we crawled...we used trees and branches and stumps and rocks and stones to grab and pull ourselves up the next two feet. My legs and I even used two trees to prop ourselves up and take a ten second "Why the heck do I do this?" wah-wah cry like a baby break.

There were two "false summits" where I was like, "YES, I made it!!" only to see another Mt. Everest to climb. The payoff of making it to the top, other than the feeling of relief and accomplishment of not quitting, was that it and opened up to a beautiful view of Pattaya in the distance (well, the ocean at least) and the start/finish area. You don't really know how far you've climbed until you can see exactly where you came from! We were up there! Now, the last kilometer would be straight back down that bad boy! Note: we really don't have mountains in this area, they are more like glorified hills ;)

The thing about the ups and downs is that running downhill is really hard on the calves. I found out firsthand as I suffered some pretty severe cramps while jamming down the final descent with three other runners. I couldn't walk properly much less run. I wanted to run backwards to force the calves into a stretched position rather than the bunched up position that they take while going down a hill. I didn't walk though. Instead I adjusted my stride length and foot strike (all while trying to descend) and used different muscles...should have just walked, haha! With only 150 meters, a small incline and a little curve into the finish line, my calves, both of them screamed (louder than they had been screaming the previous 800 meters) "24.9km is plenty for today bruddah!"

I didn't really "run through" the pain...but I ran to a point where the clinching cramps took control of my body, curled my feet up a little and caused me to run/limp on my tiptoes for the final little bit. I even ran by some Bangkok Runners cheering "Guy! Go Guy!" and I couldn't even look at them to acknowledge their support...the calves hurt that much. Three guys passed me in that final "sprint" to the finish, something that absolutely never happens (not counting Pattaya, haha). Actually, two of them sprinted, and one limped with a cramp of his own, just faster than I limped across the line. Spectators said that there were actually a lot of runners who brought it in limping from cramps. That final downhill was a killer on the calves and at the time of writing, I'm still taking time off from running and hurting from those cramps.

Just a note about the 50K...the same man and woman who won the 10hr Ultra that Eric and I raced each were the overall winners of the 50K for male and female!!

I finished the 25K in right under 2 hours and 49 minutes.
I finished 31st place overall and 13th in my age category.
I had a great time while taking what the trail gave me.
I will run this event again, especially if it's the same course.
The cramps make me a little nervous ahead of The North Face in a couple weeks (50K).
I'm not going to proofread this post, sorry, grammar police...deal with it ;)

I didn't poop my pants. 

1 comment:

mardenheyjude said...

I finally got to finish reading about your Trail race. Trail races seem like the toughest ones of all. You really did well in this one. Thank goodness you did not hurt yourself when you fell. As always I enjoyed reading your story and the pictures were great. Well done Guy Uda. Nice sun glasses.... I will have to start calling you Mr. Hollywood now. hahaha Hi to Pae and the pets. Love always, Auntie

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