The North Face 100K Thailand

Plan Better Next Time!

 

Was concerned about how to find the pick up point for the shuttle to race venue. Got there two hours early. Eventually saw some other folks that looked like runners, and sure enough they were also wondering where exactly to meet. “Airport Link Makkasan” was all I knew. I just didn’t want to miss the bus because I was waiting in the wrong spot. At the very least, I wouldn’t be the only one to miss the bus. But two girls from the race agency showed up and got everything sorted. Had two steamed buns while waiting. It was like a 3 hour ride to get to the race.

At the race site, picked up race kit. Heard from a few elite athletes as we waited for the mandatory race briefing. Race director said he wanted to keep the race briefing “brief” like 15-20 minutes, but went over an hour… Maybe he was joking?

Hadn’t eaten much that day. Bought a hamburger that definitely could have been cooked longer. Figured there would be more food options around the hotel. Get on the shuttle and get to the hotel. Check in and drop stuff. There are really only two restaurants within walking distance. Both are full. Go back to my room and figure I’ll go back out later. Try again later and those folks are all still there… they’ve been waiting for over an hour. At both restaurants. Talk to some other foreigners who are also looking for food. And then a group of four women. We join forces and try the other large hotel. There is a large family being served. One table of runners, that are still waiting. Owner doesn’t want to or can’t serve us. Go back to the hotel and get a cup of noodles. Pray that breakfast will be good. Otherwise, tomorrow is going to be rough.

Breakfast is at 3, alarm set for 2:30. I assume there will be a bunch of runners wanting food. Nope. There are only a few runners up. And breakfast is not bacon and eggs like I hoped, it’s rice porridge. Which is not bad, but it’s probably not nearly enough calories to make up for yesterday. Eat and get ready for the first shuttle out to the race. I am the only runner on the shuttle. It’s me and three race volunteers. We get to the race about an hour and a half before the start and I am literally the only runner there. Well, someone has to be the first runner!

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We were required to bring 2 litres of water, a cell phone, a whistle, and the laminated map that they gave us. Before entering the start chute, the director checked that we had a cell phone and headlamp and enough water. (Though I’ll see tons of people on the course that sure don’t look like they are carrying 2 liters of water.)  I think because so many of the Thai runners are new to trail running, the race director wanted to make sure no one got lost. The course turned out to be pretty well marked, maybe even over marked with tons of flags, giant turn signs, and lots of course marshalls along the way.

They count down in both Thai and English and we go. We start on a road. Lots of people are amped up and hustling to the front. Rookies!

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“Pretty sure this is the wrong way…”

In less than a mile, we are plowing through a farm field, off course. Not by much, but still. Whoever’s in front isn’t paying attention. I try to be vigilant and watch for flags and not just follow the person in front of me. It happens again 10 minutes later, but this time I’m paying attention. I run down the marked trail and call them over.

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Soon the sun comes up and I ditch my headlamp. I’m remembering to eat and drink take a salt pill every hour. After a few hours, I realize my biggest mistake of the race.

Race instruction said to pack everything you needed for the race. I packed enough calories, but  they were all sugar calories – gels and chews. I neglected any salty items. (I did have Endurolyte salt tabs for electrolyte balance, but it didn’t help with sugar fatigue.)  Leaving the hotel, I grabbed a half eaten bag of chips as an afterthought. Definitely glad I did. Had to ration those few precious crisps and use them as a reward of sorts. 13 hours of eating sugar just doesn’t fly. Luckily I was able to force myself to eat up until about the 11th hour. I started in on a chew, gagged and spit it out. From then on I just ate watermelon and sport drink at the aid stations.

 

The course was pretty tame for the first 20 miles. Running through farmland and dirt roads, not much in the way of scenery or views, and more road running than I cared for. But eventually we get some nice views. And then finally we got some hills. I think they saved all the climbing for the end. There were some truly challenging sections that were jammed with traffic from the shorter races.

I remember looking at the elevation profile and thinking “3000 feet. Oh that’s no big deal.” But I didn’t notice that I was looking at meters, not feet. So there was a lot more climbing than I expected. But it was just enough to still be fun, and not turn into a critical error.

Another mistake was not reading how drop bags worked. Didn’t plan on a drop bag, then waffled at the last minute to leave a bag at the start.  What I thought was the “Drop Bags” was actually “Bag Drop.” I thought it was just a translation issue, but it was in fact a place to leave your bags.

It turns out that we didn’t return to the actual race start. Instead, there was a turn around a quarter mile away. I was looking for my bag, it was nowhere to be found. They asked if I had labeled it for checkpoint 5, and that’s when I realized my mistake. I didn’t feel like making the trek at that point, so I asked if they could send someone to get my bag. Although I was grateful I didn’t have to get my bag myself, I’m pretty sure they sent the slowest person there. I tried to scarf down a plate of fried rice while I waited. As I waited anxiously, I debated just going ahead anyway. But it had all of calories for the second half, it would have been foolish trying to get by on watermelon slices and bananas. And I thought about taking some fried rice with me, but it wasn’t that good. The girl finally arrived and I took off on the second loop.

For the most part, I ran by myself. Chatted with one guy for a few miles, left him at an aid station. He would catch up and pass me. He “still had his hiking legs” and was moving well. Two or three other guys passed me and that was bothering me. I stopped and wanted to lay down, but all the water in my bladder forced me to lie on my side, which was uncomfortable.

Another runner runs up and asks if I’m okay. I half jokingly tell him I want to take a nap, and he says I need to get to the mountain before dark. I’m like dude, I’m almost finished… ? Don’t know what it was, but something clicked and got me motivated. Remember thinking to myself, “You can sit here whining about it, or you can get up and do something about it.”

The one non mistake of the race was that I finally found my working Ipod and was able to enjoy the magic of music. Nothing lets you forget how crummy you feel and how hungry you are than several good songs. So I put on my music and got going. I passed that ‘get to the mountain by nightfall’ guy. And then a few others. Was working in a better mental head space, even if I was still lacking calories. It made me think where does this energy come from, that can change things around just like that?

As much improved as I was feeling, the last 5K was longest 5K ever. Was so ready to be done. Got on the road, and thought, “This is it!” Nope. There was one last hill. Laid down on the ground in the last mile. Looked back, caught sight of the guy behind me. Got up, put in my headphones and found a Rage Against the Machine song and ran. Taking the final turn into the finish, ran really strong and finished in 13:40.

After the finish I was soooo hungry. I got my medal and beelined for the food. The girl put some noodles on my plate and I asked for more. I slathered on some Maggie soy sauce and oh man! Salt! I ate a few bites… and realized it was too soon to eat. Felt dumb that I had asked for more.

I ate what I could and decided to get on the shuttle back to the hotel. I learned my lesson and bought two hamburgers and three beers to go. The first cold beer was fantastic after drinking water and watered down sport drink.

Another mistake: I didn’t pack a post race bag. Luckily, we got a finishers shirt, so I was able to change into a dry shirt, so I didn’t get super cold afterwards.

There were two other 100k runners in the shuttle. One guy finished and the other DNFed. We chatted about the race and running in general. I shaved my head and bought a giant old man hat expecting it to be insanely hot. I learned that this is usually one of the hottest races in Thailand and that the weather this year was a fluke. It turned out to be perfect!  (Lucky me!) Also, some of the elite runners had complained that the race was too easy, so the crazy hill climb section was new for this year. (Lucky me!) And probably most surprising, was that the race was a Western States qualifier! (Lucky me!)

Overall, I’m happy with how things turned out. Would have been nice to run closer to 12 hours, but I’m okay with 13:40. That was good enough for 17th out of over 200.

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