Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ultra Trail & Unseen Koh Chang 2015

The two possible titles for this post, as I was recalling my race experience, were "It was the best of times, It was the worst of times" and "Been There, Done That, Got the T-shirt and I'm Done Running FOREVER!"

Yup, such was my experience at The Ultra Trail & Unseen Koh Chang 2015. This 66 kilometer race has been on my calendar for a long time. I've been looking forward to it, hoping that it was going to be a fun race and good experience. It was a fun race in a beautiful place. It turned out the be a great experience...but not all great experiences are rainbows and caramel-covered apples. This was an exercise in finding out if I was truly as mentally tough as I think I am ;) And if there was a test of mental toughness, this course, the weather on the day and my own physical limitations was it.

This race report is divided up into three sections; Before the race, The race and After the race. Mostly because there were some things that I wanted to remember about before the race...that's why I've put it here, for me. Feel free to read it though ;) or skip it, whatever ;)
Koh Chang- Beautiful tropical island closer to Cambodia than to Bangkok
Before the race
Getting to Koh Chang and finding a place to stay was always going to be interesting. Usually when Pae and I go there, we take a van from the airport and then a ferry to the island. The last ferry leaves the pier at 7pm, but the briefing for the 66km runners was at 4pm. Hmmm...when to leave? Well, the van schedule at the airport made my decision easier as the only van that really would get me to the island on time was the 9:30 one. I got to the airport by 8am and got my ticket. I was on my way.

Actually, more people die in van crashes every year than...well...
Along the way, the van passed through a small city called Chantaburi. I'd been there before with the family. Perhaps on that occasion I wasn't paying too much attention to the town. This time driving through I had a distinct feeling, a familiar feeling. I felt as though I'd been here, not just been through here or visited here as a tourist...It kinda felt like I'd lived or grown up in Chantaburi!

What was it about the things I could see from the small window of a speeding white van that reminded me of home? Old rusted our cars on cinder blocks, grungy kids running around naked with sticks...That's it!! Chantaburi is a HICK TOWN!!

Feeling the redneck spirit, had I wanted to, I could have hopped out of the van, ripped off my shirt, rolled around in the dust, popped open a beer, bit off a chunk of chewing tobacco, lit a smoke, whittled a turkey call out of a chicken bone and accidentally shot myself in the eye with a BB gun while we stopped along the side of the road to let a Russian family clean the vomit off of themselves and their two year old puke factory son. Yeah, some kid puked in the van and amazingly the driver stopped. The ONLY reason he stopped was because the smell of the vomit was absolutely overwhelming and the other 12 passengers were in danger of a domino effect barf-a-thon had he at least not opened the windows.

Lodging was figured out last minute as well. Anth, a very fast Bangkok Runner, had a room to himself with two beds, so, long story short, I stayed with him. It was good, because it gave me someone to talk to and get out the pre-race jitters and stuff with small talk and just someone else in the room. Anth was running the 35km race and I was doing the 66km race. This led me to another small problem...my junk (as in possessions).

Check out time at the hotel was noon...I certainly was going to be out running for at least ten hours which meant I'd need to take all of my junk to the race and check it in the bag drop. This didn't sound like the best idea since my passport and wallet would be in my backpack...as well as other valuables. Turns out that they had a good bag drop area, inside of two tents, making it hard for someone to walk by and just grab a backpack and walk away.

My race time would also figure into whether or not I had to stay another night on the island. Any other time I'd love to spend as much time as possible there. I love Koh Chang, but without Pae there, I just wanted to get back to Bangkok as soon as possible. I had purchased a round trip van ticket, meaning I'd have to be back at the pier at 5pm...I made this decision (to add the round trip portion at a 50% discount- 600 baht one way, 900 baht round trip) because I had a soft goal of finishing the 66km in under ten hours. Reasonable, doable...but it all depended on how difficult the course was. Heck, I figured I could probably WALK nearly 66km in ten hours! So yeah, was willing to spend the extra $10 (300 baht) on the return portion of the ticket, even if I wasn't able to use it

Several things stick in my mind from the hour long ferry ride from Trat to Koh Chang. Sitting there, I could tell who were runners and who were tourists. Number one giveaway? Calf muscles! Haha. Number two giveaway? Drinking beer vs. drinking water. Pretty simple actually. Hint number three was all of the running shirts that people were wearing from previous events. These shirts become our wardrobe. I wear race shirts 80% of the time these days ;)

One of the people on the ferry NOT racing (probably) was a woman who was wearing a print hoodie. It read "California- East Coast" Now, that doesn't particularly make much sense to me...Maybe it's "a thing" or maybe it's a post California-falls-into-the-Pacific-Ocean type thing...who knows, but it caught my eye.

I arrived on island at 4:30. As I was driving a rented moped from the pier to the race venue (all other transportation to the east side of the island stopped at 3pm), I noticed a couple race distance signs; 32km, 34km, 36km...all along the asphalt road. It was kind of disappointing to see that there was so much road to be run in a trail race. We had an idea that there would be lots of road as some guy on FB had compared the finalized race route with a "roads overlay" from google earth. A lot of the race looked like it would be on roads. But whatever, we'd payed for it, we were there and the race was the next morning. No turning back now.
That 13k out and 13k back at the bottom right of the map figured to be the easy part of the race. With the sun high in the sky, injury or no injury, that was the worst part of the course, a soul crusher. Aptly named "The Hell of Fire Road" by one runner.
I arrived a half hour late to the briefing, but the briefing was also twenty minutes late. So I only missed ten minutes ;) The organizer who was giving the brief to 35km and 66km runners is a runner himself. He mentioned that he was something like a four hour marathoner. He then went on to tell us a little about each portion of the race, dangers, obstacles and basically what to expect.
Even the elevation map of the course suggested that the last 26km would be the easiest. Looks can be deceiving! And that big spike in the middle...yup, 3+ hours of jungle safari!!
He told us about one 7km section of the race that took him four hours to run the first couple times he scouted it and eventually, the last time he was doing a final course check, took him three hours. Nobody could believe it and it showed on their faces. Lots of smirks and "yeah, whatever" looks...We would all pay for those thoughts...

After the provincial mayor officially opened the event with a speech and a few bangs of a giant gong, we ate some free food and just chatted amongst ourselves. I was chatting with some Bangkok Runners, who turned out in force over all three distances on offer; 13k, 35k and 66k. It got dark and everyone retreated to their hotels and tried to relax.

The Race
The morning of race day came way too quickly. I woke to Anth's alarm. I am so used to my own alarm tone that I can sleep right through it or "relax" for a few snooze button pushes before finally getting vertical and taking care of business. But when there is an unfamiliar alarm going off in an echoey room, it's totally different. The alarm was so loud. And dude hit snooze like four times, hahaha. I was awake getting dressed in the dark as not to bother my roommate too much as he got those extra twenty minutes of rest.

Dressed, electrolyte mixes all mixed, hydration pack all filled, bananas, gels, crackers, AND ALL OF MY JUNK! Holy crap it's not fun carrying all of your stuff to a race...so much better to have a hotel room to store it in! Lesson learned ;)

Many of the photos that I'll post are of people I don't know. They mostly come from race photographers who's watermark is on their photos. Credit to them. I just want to show some of the different parts of the course. There are several parts of the course where the cameras didn't go...mostly the danger areas. So, here is the race in photos ;)

The lead up to the start horn was a little funny. As this race was highly participated by foreigners, most briefings and such were conducted in Thai with a translator. The start, however, wasn't so well prepared. Sometimes, before a race, we will sing the Thai National Anthem. Same at UTKC...but the M.C. said, in Thai, "Now let's sing the national anthem" at which point he started counting down from 5 to 0...haha, suddenly, when he got to three and all of the foreigners realized it was a countdown, there was a mad rush towards the start line. You could see runners panicking to get a good position up front, fingers resting impatiently on their "start GPS" buttons on their watch. Of course there was a lot of confused looks on everyone's faces. The Thais were like "What? Whaaaaa? Huh...but..." and the foreigners were all, "But, I...what the?"

It was funny to watch...not once, but TWICE! After the national anthem they decided to do a countdown to sing the King's Song in honor of the king and once again there were mini-scenes of panic among the non-Thai speaking foreigner contingent. This is the stuff I want to remember :) That's why I type it all out in our blog ;)

We started in the dark, but right before the sun would come  up. Headlamps were required, but I have to say, not really necessary for the beginning of the race. Like a good boy, I brought mine and wore it.

The 66km runners and 35km runners started at the same time and we would run the first 20 or so kilometers together before they hung a right turn through a forest and we hit that 7km/4 hour stretch of mountain.

The rubber tree farms were easy to run through but there was a false floor with all of the dry leaves on the ground. You never knew what was under the dry leaves. They were several inches deep sometimes. Roots, stumps, stones...all dangers beneath the leaves.
The run started on main roads and eventually started snaking its way through rubber tree plantations and small farms. We ran through several tiny villages and along the side of some small hills. Nothing too problematic at this point. Eventually we would cross a stony riverbed several times.
The riverbed was a nice challenge. It was nearly impossible to run steadily through the stones.
The water was low enough that we could avoid getting wet for the first kilometer of the river. We actually ran up the river for about a kilometer, through the killer rocks and stones. It was actually nearly impossible to run on, over and through the rocks as they were just so uneven and mossy. Some of the stones were as big as a small cow or a refrigerator.
No luck, had to cross the water
So, no water in the riverbed, yay! What?? Stream crossings! One or two crossings of water were easy as there were large enough stones to run across without getting wet. One final water crossing was unavoidable though. I ran right through it and kept up with a guy I had been following. As I look at photos of the race, I notice that many people removed their shoes and socks for the water crossings. Seems goofy, but I got some massive blisters later in the race that would have been prevented had I not gotten my feet wet before ten km.
These runners were smart, took off their shoes and socks
The first chance I had to see the leaders was as I was heading towards a u-turn on a beach. Beautiful beach with a perfectly-timed checkpoint at the far end at the u-turn.
Small path along the beach, u-turn at the end and run back the length of the beach
Here I refilled my hydration pack quickly and continued down the beach, probably no more than 300 meters. The waves weren't very big and the surf was barely registering. It was enough to keep you jogging near the sand/waterline as to keep the shells from washing into your shoes. The shoes and socks were already wet mind you ;)
Runners either chose the high line or the low line along the beach
Where the surf didn't reach was super fine sand and your feet sank down into it and you couldn't get any power in your steps. But the wet surf area was just as squishy and footing was unsure. It was beautiful but nice that there wasn't too much running in the sand.
One of the most beautiful parts of the race
After the beach, we were back up some hills and into the forest. I think around this point is where I started to feel lost once or twice, mainly because we had ran into the 13km runners who were coming from another direction. Some of them were making a left turn, some were coming straight towards me, some were running from behind me...who knows where who was going...I just tried to find 66km signs and arrows to follow.
Connecting the jungle portions of the race, the real trail portion, were lots of paved paths like this. Here we ran into a lot of the 13km runners going the opposite way...Thought I was lost ;) It was ALL uphill and I almost hoped we would u-turn so we could run down what we had just climbed...no such luck
Ivan (Mr. Shiny Bottom) passed me eventually (he ran the 13km) and said he had gotten lost and asked for the time. My GPS had gone dead already after only one hour and the actual time or chrono time wouldn't show on the screen so I apologized to him and he screamed off into the distance. The dude is fast. He ended up taking second place, five minutes behind the winner. Surely if he hadn't gotten lost, this would have been another winner's trophy for him.

At the far end of the beach we would get back into the jungle
A really hard part of the course, especially for the folks running in the front of the race, the faster runners, was finding the way. The course was marked with yellow ribbon. The yellow ribbon ended up being very difficult to distinguish from the foliage and trunks of trees. What was even harder was when you were all alone, running through the forest, concentrating on the forest floor and all of the obstacles that therein lie, its difficult to look up every five seconds to search for a course marker.
It was a true jungle run at times. The humidity was severe.
Since this course didn't always follow old footpaths or actual preexisting trails, we often found ourselves standing in the middle of the jungle, middle of bushes and roots and branches doing two things...1) quickly scanning eye-level for a yellow trail marking ribbon and 2) listening for the shuffling (dragging) footsteps of a fellow racer nearby. Probably not as much of a challenge for the slower folks who tend to group up, but for the runners up front who were alone for much of the early portion, it added to the "fun and adventure" of the race.

Slowly we made our way towards a waterfall. When I heard "waterfall" when the race was first advertised, I never actually thought that we'd be climbing a dang mountain to get to the fall...I eventually hooked up with a Thai guy who I kept yo yo-ing through the forest with. We took turns taking the lead and sharing the stress of  finding the trail markers. We eventually caught another Thai guy and were a threesome until the guy took a turn in the lead. So funny but totally understandable, we were running up a small incline through some roots and there was a very clearly marked "X" symbol on a big white piece of cardboard, signaling a wrong turn. Dude ran and turned right, right into the "X" sign. The other Thai guy yelled up to him "Hey, wrong!" and we all laughed. The sign was clear as day but being in the front there is so much more to worry about and you end up missing stuff like that! That's why we took turns and were happy to run as a group even when we felt stronger than the others or when we wanted to hang back and let them run ahead. The benefit of running as a group kinda forced you to work together rather than race to your own strategy.

There was one point where we heard voices up above us "in" the mountain probably 50 meters. We were running to the left and the runners up above us were walking down towards us, slowly, through tangled roots and branches. I looked up and thought "Suckas! Took a wrong turn and now you're behind us!" Then I looked directly in front of me and there was a military dude (park ranger) in a hammock...What?? Looked like a dead end to the trail. He pointed UP.

Lots of climbing up through the jungle, one of the challenging charms of this race
WHAAAAAAAAT?? Mountain climbing time! Turns out those dudes up above us "in" the mountain were probably five minutes ahead of us in climbing time even though they were a mere 50 meters above us! We climbed and climbed using our hands and fingers, clawing at roots and viney branches hanging from the canopy. It was beautiful but a leg buster ;) Plus, I was carrying an extra handheld water bottle for my electrolytes. I was relegated to clawing with one hand and using the bottom of my water bottle to pull me up with the other hand ;) Excellent stuff, unexpected but excellent. Now we had an idea why the dude at briefing said it would take 3-4 hours to complete one 7km portion of jungle ;) AND THIS WASN'T EVEN THAT PORTION YET!!
See the long viney roots? Half of them provided solid place to grab and pull yourself up the hill, the other half had so much slack that you almost fell backwards when you tried to pull yourself up with it!! Nice shot of adrenaline when that happened!
By this point, my group of three (me and two Thai guys) had grown to 6 as three Bangkok Runners from the 66km and 35km race had caught us from the rear. I think they had actually taken a wrong turn, we passed them and they found their way back onto the end of our little three-man train. As we climbed and climbed we lost the two 35km runners and it was the two Thai guys and me and Chris, a Bangkok Runner. Chris and I would end up running the rest of the race together.

When I say we ran as a group, it doesn't mean we were holding hands singing campfire songs. We were actually spread out three or four meters between runners. Those couple meters gives you a good view of what obstacles are coming up so you can plan your foot placement a couple steps ahead of time. Trying to run right on someone's tail is a certain face plant!

This next photo is from a new race photography company (I think this is their first event) Teelashot. One thing that I have to say about them is that they studied the course and even had the organizers (friends) take them on a walk through so they could see the nice spots for pictures. Many of the photos ended up very nice, beach pix, jungle pix. This is one of my favorites. Apparently the others in my group saw the camera or cameraman as they are looking at the camera in their photos. I am oblivious however to the dude taking photos!

There was one part of the climbing and side of the hills that would have been very difficult to photograph, but one that probably sticks in the minds of all who passed it. It was basically a cliff (the hill was that steep) and we had to run (walk very, very, very carefully) along the ledge, mountain and trees and roots to your left and death to your right. Single trail. I'd say 18 inches wide. You wanted to lean left towards the mountain, but there were branches and roots overhanging so you had to duck under them or hold them and swing out over certain death and catapult yourself back towards the mountain (like spinning around a pole). Remember the viney roots that sometimes give a false sense of stability? Danger!!
Chris leading us through some forested fun
All the organizers did for this portion was put a very long piece of yellow ribbon along the edge of the "cliff", to the right. Now, when you lose your balance, you generally reach out for something to grab onto. A piece of yellow ribbon cordoning off a danger fall seems like the perfect thing to grab onto...nope!! At this point in the race, there were only about ten runners ahead of us, as later we would find out at a checkpoint that we (Chris and I) were 11th and 12th place after about 30km. We joked that we should look to the bottom to see if any runners had fallen to their death yet. But I guess, in reality, that scenario would have been more likely (percentage wise) to have played out as the other 700 runners behind us passed this obstacle.

We came out of the 7km forest to a checkpoint with the one Thai guy. The volunteers said that we were the 14th and 15th runners to pass. Yup, I remember P'Jung and a tiny woman who hopped through the jungle like a dang gazelle passing us earlier...and someone else apparently. Chris and I took a nice long break to refill our hydration packs. I refilled my electrolytes (saviour) and sponged off with some ice water. I ate some bananas and watermelon. They had sunblock at the remaining checkpoints so I slathered some on my shoulders and neck and a little on my ears and face. I knew the 32, 34 and 36km markers were up ahead on the exposed road, so that meant lots of sun.

The Thai guy only drank some water and took off ahead of us. We didn't care and took care of our business. As we were leaving the checkpoint, the second Thai guy pulled in.  We were off. Running right after putting all of that liquid and fruit into out stomachs was not a good idea! I got really queasy and then had to use a toilet! We had passed a toilet at the beginning of a small downhill, but i figured I could wait...a hundred meters later I realized I was wrong. We walked the ups and ran the downs along the main road and I made a pit stop at a shooting range to take care of business.I thought this was the end of Chris and I running together because surely he would get a good 500 meters on me. The Thai guy behind us passed while I was in the bathroom. I ran out, tied my strings and zipped my zippers and was surprised to find Chris waiting in some shade, stretching a half of a kilometer up the road. I think he's like me, doesn't care too much for the loneliness of a really long run. Some people would bask in the solitude of an ultra marathon. I don't like to suffer alone. Need someone to listen to my whining and absorb my complaining and negativity ;) Chris was that person on race day.

Sub-10 hours was still on the cards as we kept doing the calculations as every distance marker would pass. One problem that we had and turns out everyone 35km and 66km was that Chris's GPS readings were about 2km behind the course markings...so when we thought we had gone 42km, the course said 44km. What this tends to mean is that the last four kilometers, two kilometers maybe, of a race will not be 1,000 meter kilometers ;) They end up "fixing" the distance in those last few kilos. Each of the last few kilometers ends up being 1,500 meters, haha!! The finish line just NEVER comes sometimes!!

Bye bye 10 hours!! Blisters! Foiled by blisters! Not little tip of the toe blisters. We're talking Eric at the ten hour ultra marathon size blisters under the foot, taking the force of every step, running or walking. This was effectively the end of my "race". No more running for top 10, no more running for a trophy. Now it was just run if I can run and walk the rest...as long as I didn't quit, as long as I finished.

Now, I'm pretty good with pain, you know, high pain threshold, but as the blisters got larger and longer and stretched almost half the length of the underside of the foot the pain just became more than nagging, but sharp and demoralizing. The legs were still there. The motivation was still there. I was perfectly hydrated and my electrolytes were in balance. Lost five minutes for a poop break, but that can be made up. What can't be made up easily are 12 minute kilometers, kilo after kilo of walking. So if the last 26km would take me 3 hours, now it would take me almost 5 hours instead! But, I would not give up. Both Chris and I had considered calling it a day somewhere between 20-30km. Individually. I figured, if I can't continue with the blisters I could take the 35km course and just finish 35km, call it a day, hop the ferry and use my round trip ticket to get home! So badly at times did I want to just go straight instead of turning left where the courses diverged (for the final time) and finish the race

The last thirty or so kilometers were testing, not just because I was forced to walk with deviled egg sized blisters on each foot but because there were so many steep climbs, on roads that were just reflecting all of the light from the sun and radiating all of the heat. Heat was coming from everywhere, down, up, side...hot wind, hot water coming out of my hydration pack, hot electrolytes that I'd been clinging onto for a marathon distance already! It had to be upper 90's but much more with the humidity.
There were some glorious views of the ocean, but they weren't enjoyed so much by yours truly as every step was less physical and more mental; just trying to accept the pain and willing the brain to take the next step.
What goes down...must come back up :(
I told Chris that he should take off when he felt like it, but I think he enjoyed having someone to run with, plus he had spent so much time with me, there was really no use "finishing strong" as whatever time and place he would finish, would likely not be what he really could have accomplished on the day had he not stuck with me for so long. So he saw it through, stayed with me, walked when I walked and shuffled when I shuffled.
Suffering, but still able to smile for the camera
We stopped at a hilltop bar and got a can of Coke and had ordered two beers to put in our packs and carry over the finish line. But the finish line seemed like so far away, over 10km at that point (another 2 hours) and the beer would have gotten warm and all shaken up ;) So we held off on the beer. The Coke though, it went down perfectly and packed a gassy punch in the form of burps...Bad thing about burps during an endurance event...they tend to invite mini-regurgitations of bananas, fruit, water and electrolytes. Let's call it "Ultraman Stew". Hmmm, what's the real difference between a stew and a soup? Come to think of it, it was probably closer to a soup consistency...with chunks ;) Oh, let me tell you, partially digested bananas go down soooooo smoothly the second time.
One o'clock and the sun was absolutely scorching
A Thai guy on Facebook aptly nicknamed one of the hills on this portion of the race "The Hill of Hell" and the roads in the boiling sun he called "The Hell of Fire Road". What perfect descriptions, what perfect names for parts of our race on Koh Chang (which he calls The Hell Mad Elephant Island) hahaha! Each of us out there in the sun were having similar thoughts for the best part of the day!! If there is a Hell, I would imagine it would be somewhere between kilometer 50-60 ;)
I think many runners actually burst into tears when they kept reaching the top of a climb only to see another big ass climb in the distance. I personally saw to runners absolutely fighting so hard physically and mentally that they were in tears. Fight on runner!! So good to see you dry your tears, suck it the hell up and finish the race!!
You can see, in the above photo, that this guy must have been out there so late as his shadow is growing longer. He spent maximum time in the sun and still has the hills in the distance to contend with. Depressing at times especially when the body hurts. So many pix on Facebook of black toes after UTKC, haha, I just actually pulled my big toenail off last night...root and all...there was like a small cubed steak attached to it!! Not sure if that's a good thing or not!!
Brutal hills, one after another after another!! This race ended up being less about a finishing time and more about the finisher medal ;) If you have one of those in your collection, I think you should feel pretty proud of your accomplishment.

Another thing that sticks out in my mind about the last portion of the race is that after 40km, there was a 13km out and back portion (u-turn at the end) for a total of 26 more kilometers to the finish. This meant that you would run into runners coming back from the beach u-turn, and after you made the turn, you would also be running against outbound runners.

We hit maybe 10 runners coming back against us, top ten types. their faces told a story of pain and suffering. Expected though as they put everything into it and usually end up on the podium with cool looking trophies. But seriously, some of them looked absolutely dejected, exhausted, angry, sad, beaten...all at the same time.

We hit the u-turn, I emptied some rocks out of my shoes, refilled all of my liquids and we were back on our way. We were waiting and waiting to pass some outbound Bangkok Runners, strong runners, but they never came. After we passed a couple of our runners (not the ones we were wondering about) we knew that something had gone wrong with them. Turns out that they had to DNF for a variety of reasons. I almost envied them, knowing that they were sitting back at the finish line, or in their air conditioned hotel rooms, showered, packed and ready for dinner or a ferry ride home.

The two Bangkok Runners we passed still looked strong and would eventually pass us on the way back to the finish line, both earning trophies ;)

But the thing that impressed me the most about these last brutal kilometers of the race was that whoever the runner was coming the other way, there were high fives, hand shakes, encouragement, clapping, cheering each other on...It was mostly "You're doing awesome" rather than the brutal honesty of "There's no way you're gonna make it out of these hills before dark". It was all "Looking good!" rather than the more truthful "Dude, you need to sit down". When we passed larger groups of runners, it looked like a scene out of The Walking Dead. Honestly, I wonder how many people have given up running FOREVER after this race? Haha!

As we got closer and closer to the finish, we started thinking again about the "beer finish". We had caught the Thai Guy who we ran with earlier and I knew he was in my age category ;) I told Chris that I had half a mind to tap him on the shoulder and offer to race him to the line...we both just laughed as that ridiculous idea in a moment of comedy and final acceptance that the finish line was the goal, not a time or a placing. Chris was also determined to cross the finish line with beer in hand and I had absolutely no problem with that. Perhaps after a long day you'd go to the local watering hole and share a cold one with a friend...This was a long day, but there was no waiting to get to the pub. We hit several stores in the final kilometer and finally found one that sold bottles...

Chris was like:

"You sell beer?"
"Yes"
"Take my money"
**He had found 300 baht ($10) on the side of the road five kilometers earlier ;)
Drink up Chris, you earned it!
And then off to the finish line. Anth rounded the corner and met us as we were about 400 meters from the finish. I think our Bangkok Runners group were wondering what happened to us as I'm sure they expected Chris to be finishing maybe an hour before and me also. Well, it had been my plan anyways ;) I think on a better day, we finish in 9:30ish. Several of our group DNF'd due to ankle injuries, food poisoning and other reasons. It was straight up a tough race for everybody for each their own reasons.
Cheers to the finishers of the 66km UTKC 2015
Anth was nice enough to carry my water bottle to the finish so Chris and I could get our beer finish photo ;)
I couldn't really enjoy the suds though as I was driving a moped soon after finishing. Must drink responsibly after all. I think our finish time was 10 hours and 41 minutes for the 66 kilometers. That's almost eleven hours of very hard work. We finished around twentieth place which is really good for me as at most trail runs I'm closer to thirtieth place.

I mentioned to several people that this was the hardest thing I've ever done. I don't mean that it was the race or hardest thing physically to do, but it was the most I had to work physically, mentally and emotionally, considering the pain and the conditions. So, dealing with the blisters and the heat, under race conditions and not quitting when my body and mind said to just give up was the hardest thing I've done...the only thing I can imagine that could have been more difficult would would have been to quit.

Thanks to Chris for being my running buddy on the day, the company helped the mind to handle the punishing weather conditions and helped me to stay way more positive than I would have been if I ran alone.
For the 66km there were 180 runners registered, 69 runners finished within the 13 hour time limit and the remaining 100+ runners DNF'd. Some of those runners (20 or so) went ahead and finished the course as there was a special "DNF Shirt" for the first 20 runners  to finish between 13 hours and 14 hours...then they closed the course. The 35km race had a high DNF rate also. The word "sadist" has been used a lot recently on FB to describe the course maker (K. Nop), lovingly of course ;)

Sixth in age group but really never had a chance at a trophy as the third place guy, P'Jung,  is a solid runner, passed us in the jungle and was gone before I could respond to his "Oh, hi Guy!!" greeting. He ended up putting an hour and a half on us by the finish...damn blisters!!!
The winner of the 66km race, K. Sanya (he won this year's TNF and last year's 10hr Ultra) clocked an AMAZING time of 6:06...the dude is light as a feather, strong as an ox and can take the pain. Amazing! The second place runner was nearly an hour and a half behind! **Don't you just love races where runners are crossing the finish line every hour or so rather than a constant stream of finishers?!!** Ultras can be very lonely.

I have to leave you with these next two photos. There is a familiar face at all of my trail ultras; Ducky Man. His face always looks like he is absolutely rockin' and enjoying every second of his race. I keep saying that UTKC was a tough race...Here is Ducky Man morning vs. afternoon:
Ducky Man killing it on the beach portion. I wonder if he went in for an early morning swim?
A few hours later...Grilled Duck...Poor Ducky Man. A day later, he would post to his FB calling the race "The Great & Savage Ultra Trail UTKC 2015".  I feel ya dude! DNF is not fun, but there's always next year!! Quack Quack!
What lessons did I learn (or were reinforced) from this experience?

-Prepare for water crossings, the longer the race, the longer you'll be running in wet socks. Wet socks = blisters. Blisters = limping to the finish line (yeah, I know, wah wah, blisters...but if you could have seen those puppies, and Eric's blisters during the 10hr race...They deserve a different name...something in the way of a four letter word perhaps)

-There is raw ass meat underneath the thick skin on the bottoms of your feet! When the skin separates from the meat, bubbles up and pops, that meat is exposed to 10 hours worth of crap that's in your shoes and every step is a nervous system nightmare. I couldn't even limp properly since both feet were blistered!!
I've taken an internet stock photo of some feet and drawn in red my three main blisters that popped up around 40km. My feet honestly looked like cadaver feet when I finally ripped the skin off. Scary stuff!!
 -If you must run across the finish line, with blisters...intentional under pronation, heal strike, transition minus the toe off...takes a lot of pressure off of the blisters!

-Expect the worst, expect the unexpected and when I start whining to myself I just need to SITFU.

-On that note: Mental preparation is just as important as physical training.

-Suffering with someone is way, way, way better than suffering 10 hours all alone.

-Negativity vs. Positivity...man, it's like a roller coaster ride sometimes! I think they both won many battles at UTKC, but in the end, Positivity won the war.

-The extra weight and constant sloshing of a handheld water bottle (for my electrolytes) is worth it over these types of distances in these types of severe weather conditions.

-Taking two minutes at checkpoints to top up the hydration pack and electrolytes, to put on sunblock and stretch the legs is not a waste of time (for someone of my ability and my goals of course).

-The stomach can only take so much. As much as I wanted to fuel on the run and at all of the checkpoints, the stomach had the last word. Knowing that I needed to have fuel, but not being able to stomach it at the time, I grabbed two bananas from some kids at a checkpoint. I carried them kilometer after kilometer, waiting for the stomach to ease and allow me to top up.

-Even though not many of us were going to win and many wouldn't even finish the race, the support, cheering and words, looks and high fives of encouragement passed runner to runner along the route was a precious boost. I don't know many of their names, but I know their faces. I know that look in their eyes, the pain and determination, squinting through the sun, sweat and tears. I know the mutual feeling of respect between the runners, regardless of ability level.

-Every runner has their strengths and weaknesses. The female winner of the ten hour ultra marathon that Eric and I ran almost always finishes before me in races that we both participate in. She is speedy, especially on the road. I remember after 42km she finally passed us on the "Hell of Fire Road" and we felt kinda proud that we had held her off for so long ;) Her name is Saipanya and she finished a solid 50 minutes ahead of us. It would have been interesting to see how close together we would have been if the blisters hadn't come into play. She obviously is slowed down by the technical parts of the jungle running but I watched her run hill after hill as she disappeared ahead of us.

-My Marine buddy and fellow runner, Brian, comforted and encouraged me once when I mentioned that I had walked a bit during a trail run. He told me that even the elites walk during ultras and trails. Helped with the confidence at the time. But passing the Sanya's and Saipanya's and sponsored runners (going the other way) during the race, seeing them struggle, seeing them walk and even calculating the time differences and pace differences also helps me to "accept" that I'm not just "weak" but I'm out there doing something that is difficult, even for the elites. Take Saipanya's final 24km for example. Let's say that she put 50 minutes on us over that distance. that means that our pace was only about 2 minutes/km different. Assuming our pace hovered around 10 minutes/km, that means that even she was suffering at 8 minutes/km.

-Power Walking is very close to running ;) The same dude who gave parts of the trail nicknames also described his final kilometers not as walking but as Power Super Duper Walking ;) It's so easy to say, "I have to walk the rest of the way, I'm hurt" but we didn't let off of the gas completely, we didn't dally, we walked as hard as we could walk. We Power Super Duper Walked!!

-Coke never tasted as good as the one at 55km...and regurgitated bananas go back down quite easily with a Coke chaser.

-Always give the race and experience (good or bad) a week or so to soak in or wear off before making any long-term running decisions, haha.

So, I retired, again, from running (see final point above) shortly after this race ;) Then I got all excited to register for and run the Ten hour ultra marathon again this year, only to miss registration (it sold out in four days). So now I have no target race and nothing to train for...Hmmm...Guess the toes and blisters will have time to heal.

Not willing to proof read or spell check...deal.

Oh, forgot...

After the Race
I didn't make my van, but showered quickly at Chris's hotel and hurried in the dark on my moped to the pier. I caught the last ferry to the mainland at 7pm, taxi to the bus terminal, 9:30 bus to Bangkok, Bangkok by 3am, taxi to home, home by 4am as Pae was getting prepared for work ;) It was soooooooooo nice to be home!! 

2 comments:

Eric said...

Another great effort, Uda! Congrats to you, Chris, and everyone else that completed that beast. When are you buying a road bike? ;)

Pae and Guy said...

Eric, Thanks! One of the Brooks sponsored runners, you are familiar with him from many races, stated on FB that the 66k (he took second place) was more difficult than TNF100 solo...just for some idea of the difficulty of this course on that day...bike? I am quite fond of my collar bones and would like to keep them both in one piece ;) How's your biking going? Hit the 24km track at Suvarnabhumi yet? We need to have a run, dude. I've taken two weeks off so far for the feet to heal. One big toe nail off already and the other is hanging on by the roots only...but after ripping the piece of steak out of my toe when I jerked the first one off, I think I'll wait for this one to come off by itself ;)p.s. you ever seen a monk without eyebrows, you know how strange it looks...the big toe without its nail looks pretty odd!!

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