Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chiang Mai Half Marathon race report

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." Winston Churchill

We planned this trip months and months ago. My youngest daughter and I would spend Christmas with my parents in Thailand while my oldest was working at Disney World and my Husband was deployed to Afghanistan. While thinking about what I wanted to do during our visit I looked up races in Thailand on the off chance that there would be a local 5 or 10K while I was in Chiang Mai. I was so excited when I discovered I would be there for the 4th annual Chiang Mai Marathon, especially since they also had a half marathon and 10K at the same time.

The race was scheduled for the 27th, so after arriving in the early morning hours of the 17th (following 23 hours of flying in 3 planes, and 7 hours of layovers in Atlanta and S. Korea) I followed a light taper/continuation of my running from the Outer Banks half marathon. My runs were going really well, despite the ubiquitous exhaust fumes and warm tropical climate, so I was looking forward to a great race. Unfortunately, at dinner Christmas Eve, my stomach started acting up. I ended up being up all night throwing up (sorry, TMI, but nothing pulls every muscle in your body like that!) and spent all of Christmas day feeling like I had been beaten up by a whole baseball team. I thought I was done for, it seemed like there was no way I was going to recover enough to even crawl a race, let alone run for over 2 hours.

However, on the morning of the 26th I actually felt a little hungry and could eat rice and leftover turkey. I felt much better, but definitely not in race condition. I decided that one more day would be enough to at least walk the course so I went ahead and registered. Everyone thought I was nuts except the couple down stairs that were planning to run the full marathon. Only another runner could really understand why I was still planning to run this race. So I spent the day eating as much rice and turkey as I dared (which wasn't much) and drinking electrolytes. Despite several naps and sleeping the whole day before, I still managed to get to sleep about 8:30.

My alarm went off this morning at 3:10, UGH! The full marathon started at 4 and the half started at five, so the runners down stairs had arranged a taxi to pick them up at 3:15 and then come back to get me an hour later. As soon as I got up, I drank a huge glass of the electrolyte drink, nibbled some toast and turkey and had a little Asian banana (about half the size of the ones back home.) Foolishly, I went for a cup of coffee, I'd regret that for hours!

The Tha Phae Gate was a beehive of activity. They used the same arch for the start of the full and half marathons, and then 10K and kids’ fun run, with one race starting each hour. To prove you were at the start, you had to go to "Check in" where they drew a blue line on your bib with a Sharpie. There were maybe 150 runners so everyone was over the start line within a minute. I had met lots of people and a great guy from Washington State ran with me for the first 7 miles. He was probably around 60 and had lived and run all over the world. Now he runs slow and for fun, but he spent the first hour and 20 minutes telling me about running in Athens, Greece, Paris, France, and dozens of other places. I really credit him with surviving this race because he totally took my mind off of how cruddy I felt and kept me going until past the point of no return. He also kept me from worrying about the fact that I had no idea where I was or how to follow the course!

When we hit the turn around, we nearly missed it. They handed us water, waved flash lights in our faces to get our attention, gave us rubber bands with a piece of blue yarn tied on to prove we made it that far, and signaled us to go back the other way. I'm sure some people missed the point because one couple that I had talked to before the race, and could see for the first 5 miles, never passed us on the way back!

At about mile 8 I was beginning to feel the lack of food over the previous few days. Earlier, when we passed tables set up to give food to the Buddhist monks, the smell turned my stomach and brought my coffee to my throat, so the thought of eating my Sports Beans or Gel did not appeal to me at all. In hind sight, I really should have choked down the beans. I finally waved on my adopted running buddy and took my first walking break. It was still full dark at this point and I was feeling really low, but now there was nothing to do but keep going. Thankfully, most of the race was along a canal where the main traffic runs and things hadn't really gotten started for the day so the exhaust fumes weren't too bad. As the sun started to brighten the sky, I realized I was surrounded by probably 100 roosters! Every person that has 10 square feet of dirt has chickens, and they are the most pitiful looking chickens you ever saw, but they crow with the best of them and every rooster in Chiang Mai was trying to outdo his neighbor. Thankfully, that cacophony kept me distracted (that and trying not to kick or step on them.)

Miles 9 and 10 seemed like they went on for hours. I was so tired and wanted to stop so badly, but I wanted it over with more so I kept putting one foot in front of the other. The traffic was getting thicker as we approached the old city, but they had great control on the intersections with the Thai Royal Army lined up every 10 feet to make sure the cars didn't run down the racers.

As I reached the old walls I knew I was getting close. I had been running for 2 hours and 8 minutes and had 2 miles left to run. If I could just kick it back up to 11 minute miles and skip my last walking break, I might come in sub 2:30! It was just the incentive I needed to focus my mind and motor on. As I hit mile 12, I had 12 minutes left, the darn .1 was gonna get me if I didn't keep pace! Suddenly, I turned a corner and saw the finish line, WHA!! Now, I know Garmins loose a little distance when you make a lot of turns, but I KNOW I didn't make enough turns to lose almost .8 miles! Honestly though, I was so glad to see it I really didn’t care. The finish line had 3 chutes, one each for the full, the half, and the 10K and I was so focused on keeping moving I nearly went down the wrong chute! I crossed the line just over 2:23, I couldn't believe it! Keeping with the low tech theme, they drew another blue line on my bib to show I crossed the finish line and checked for my rubber band with yarn. Anyone who placed in their age group was given a plastic card with their place on it and were sent to a table to have their name recorded for the awards ceremony.

My mom was waiting for me at the finish. No one expected me to finish that early, I was even carrying taxi money in case I couldn’t get back on my own, but she couldn't wait to get down to the race finish and just happened to have walked over to scope it out when she spotted me. As I came out of the chute, I was handed a medal and a plastic grocery bag that contained a vegetarian sausage biscuit thing, half a sandwich (with who knows what on it), a bottle of water, and a bottle of electrolyte drink. Needless to say, I threw away the food as soon as I could. They also had home made rice soup that was probably wonderful, but still not on my edible list, and boxes of soy milk. I didn't feel like I wanted anything, but standing around talking my calves and toes all suddenly started cramping horribly. As fast as I could, I downed my sports beans and the drink they gave me. I must have been really low on salt because about 10 minutes later everything started to relax.

I wish I could have stayed for the awards show, but I was done in and ready for a shower and nap. Now, 9 hours later, I'm feeling pretty good. I have bland food in my stomach, I've had a nap and shower, and rubbed Tiger Balm on nearly every joint. Looking back at my race report, I realize it begs the question, why didn’t I just run the 10K. Well, it never occurred to me! I didn’t have to run, I could have quite and no one would have faulted me, but I needed to test my metal once again and I passed with flying colors.

PS I ran in VFFs :-)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chiang Mai Run

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” Buddha

I woke up this morning at 6:15 (a huge improvement over yesterday,) and decided to go for a run. The morning sun was just beginning to turn the mountain pink and purple and the city had a misty haze of fresh rain from a torrential tropical downpour in the night. We had the windows open so the sounds of a few scooters and people beginning their day drifted in, a lovely change over the midday din of thousands of trucks and motor bikes.

I dug around to collect my gear and get out the door without waking anyone else and headed for the Chiang Mai University campus about 1.3 miles away. By the time I had dressed and reached the main street then traffic had already quadrupled! Fortunately, this main street has a sidewalk. Unfortunately, that is where everyone parks their scooters so it was slow going as I picked my way around vehicles, damaged cement, trees, dogs, and business signs.

Finally I reached the University and lost most of the traffic. There I found lovely paths that were much less treacherous and lots of other people walking or running. A couple of times I let my mind wander, enjoying the beauty of the lush greenery and interesting surroundings, and nearly collided with another pedestrian because I had forgotten to keep left instead of right.

After I had run about 3 miles, I set my Garmin for “back to start” hoping to retrace my path. Having no information on the streets though, it tried to take me back as the crow flies. By the time I realized this I was totally turned around and had no idea where I had turned to get where I was. I knew I was still on the campus, so not too terribly lost, and the Garmin does have a compass (a feature I had never had show up before.) I also had my parents address and enough money for a Tuk-tuk to take me home if I got to far afield.

I worked my way to the corner of the campus, headed back towards the main street, and found myself up against one major obstacle, the City Moat. Ooookaaayy. I ran along the moat, running parallel to where I needed to go, trying not to get run over on a street with 4 lanes of traffic each way and no sidewalk. The neighbor that will be running the full marathon next week told me always to run WITH traffic in Chiang Mai. He said he knew that it was totally counter intuitive, but that all the cars and scooters are used to dodging obstructions in the road and your best bet is to be headed in the same direction so they have more time to spot you and go around. That is the huge difference between Chiang Mai and Naples, Italy. In Italy they TRY to hit you! In Chiang Mai, Thailand, they try to miss you.

Eventually I found the bridge that the marathon neighbor had told me about. It is totally crumbling and blocked off for car or scooter traffic, but is apparently deemed perfectly safe for pedestrians. Unfortunately, as far as I could see in either direction it was the only way across the moat, it was starting to get hot, and my lungs were beginning to protest about the car exhaust which was getting so thick I was affecting visibility. I said a prayer and ran over the bridge. I probably would have shut my eyes too, but if the cement started to fall away, I wanted to know when to jump!

At that point I could see the high rise my parents condo are in, so I wound my way through little side streets, packed full of homes and business with everyone sweeping their part of the street and setting up their shops for the day. Humorously, NO ONE noticed my VFFs. I was just another crazy Farang in weird clothes (Shamrock Marathon tech shirt, running skirt, striped socks, and 4 bottle Fuel Belt.)

No, I was not running barefoot. Even the Buddhist Monks do not go barefoot in this city. So far I have seen a few barefoot early in the morning when they go begging for their breakfast, otherwise they are in flip-flops (if they are young) or very nice hiking sandals if they are older.

By the time I finally arrived back at the condo, I had run 7 miles (two more than planned) and walked up 9 flights of stairs. There is an elevator, but unless I’m laden with groceries, I’ve made a habit out of taking the stairs in order to speed my acclimation to the heat, humidity, and slight altitude. We shall see how effective it has been on race day!

Despite the traffic, winding alleys, and chaos, my run relaxed me and really helped me shake off the last of the jet lag. I was refreshed and ready to begin the adventures of the day and I know I will get a great night’s sleep tonight. Running is where I find peace in the land of Buddha.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Between races

“I would rather be able to appreciate things I cannot have than to have things I am not able to appreciate.” **Elbert Hubbard**

I’ve been a real slacker since my last half marathon, but my running is back on track so I think my blogging should be too. :-)

Recovering from the Outer Banks Half Marathon was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I really pushed my limits for that race which, when added to the fact that I was tired before I hit the start line, and then didn’t rest enough after the finish, made for several weeks of feeling like something the cat dragged in. It was worth it though!

I also made a real mistake in not letting my calf fully heal before trying speed work again. I’ve had a couple of instances of stepping down off of a stool or something similar and re-injuring it, in addition to running sprint intervals. I’m fine if I run at a consistent pace of 9 minutes per mile or less with a proper warm up, so I decided to enter a 5k with my track club last weekend. I’m sure I would have been fine if I had stuck to the plan: warm up, go easy, and enjoy the run. However, I waited too long to start my warm up so it wasn’t long enough for the cold conditions, and then I decided to add a 100 yard sprint to the end of my warm up. This was MONUMENTALLY stupid as I managed to pull my calf before the race even started. Irritated as I was, I ran it anyway and managed to do almost an 8 minute mile for the first mile and then spent the rest of the race limping back.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve gotten in a few 3 to 5 mile runs, one 13 miler, and one 10 miler with a couple more weeks to go, so I won’t be totally out of shape for my half marathon on the 27th. I haven’t decided yet how I’m going to approach that one though. Between 12 hours of jet lag, an increase of 1,000 ft. of elevation, weather change from 30 degree days to 90 degree days, and probably not getting in a lot of miles for the next couple of weeks, I will probably just take it slow and easy and enjoy the run. Mostly I’m looking forward to a few weeks of 90 degree days!

I doubt I will do any more totally barefoot runs for the year, so I’ll go ahead and state that my barefoot mileage for the year is 258.5! My running total for the year is approaching 800 miles.
I did not run the Atlanta Half Marathon. It was a huge disappointment to have to give up my trip, but I needed to take care of my dog and frankly I wasn’t up to running another 13 miles that soon after the Outer Banks race so it wouldn’t have gone well anyway. I’ll settle for 3 half marathons in a year, assuming nothing gets between me and the race in 2 weeks. I’m happy with my totals and do not need to compare them to anyone else’s. I’ve made great strides this year and met several goals earlier than expected and even met a couple of new ones I hadn’t considered at the beginning of the year! I’ve battled a bit with RA flare ups, but mostly I have been able to keep it under control. I still have that 25 minute 5k to beat and the long term goal of a 4 hour marathon that is probably still a couple of years away. I have more than enough to look forward to in the next year, including my husband returning from Afghanistan and lots of fun races with friends. It will be very cool to see the elites of South East Asia pass me on the Marathon course in a couple of weeks. How many sports are there where you can compete on the same course at the same time as world competitors!