You know, when you are running and you’re sure you think smart but in fact you really don’t. Well that happened to me on this race and I’ll explain why, but, first a little context.
I traveled from Kuwait to Vietnam and then Thailand, 3 weeks before the race would start, so I could do some hill training. I studied the race elevation (2500 meters), and the training that Kuwait was able to provide me, was clearly not adapted to the race. If you’re tall enough and on the highest point of this secluded oil country, you will be reaching 280 meters above sea leavel so I decided to finalize my training somewhere else. But then, this is the problem when you start you’re hill training 3 weeks ahead, you’re body is just tired.
I reached the village of Ban Tham on my newly rented bike – It was an area still undeveloped enough that it doesn’t feel molded to tourists, but still reachable on well maintained roads – Getting there was a nightmare though. It started raining 15 minutes after I had left Chiang Mai (200 kms from Ban Tham in the north of Thailand) and I could have just rested somewhere and wait until the rain would stop, but I totally did not do that. I would rather wear all my layers and drive through the mountains like some kind of warrior to fall off halfway. Yes, that I did. I arrived at the edge of the road with too much speed and, while breaking in order not to finish my journey in the woods 50 meters down from there, my bike slipped and I fell on the tarmac making a hole in my running shoes. I was completely wet, hurt from the fall and with a useless bike that wouldn’t start anymore. But I made it to Ban Tham in the middle of the night driving through a little bit of jungle that scared the crap out of me.
Cave lodge, the race headquarters were in a giant tree-house compound in the middle of the jungle.
Upon entering the wood structure, I was greeted by Marcus, the race organizer, and all my problems finally vanished when i drank a beer.
I could already smell the atmosphere proper to runners. The laidback crowd, the tonnes of beer and all the wet running gear laying around.
I lay in my hamac the night before the start with a peculiar feeling in my gut. During the pre-race briefing several things have been mentioned and I could not process them completely without fearing the next day. Race organizer, Marcus, had led the comically understated briefing, highlights including:
“Watch your footsteps, you should not get bit by any snakes, but if you do, remember the shape and color of it, so we know which anti-venom to use. We wouldn’t want you to get the wrong one…”
Loud laughter mixed with hushed nervous chuckles responded.
“Is he serious?” was the million dollar question on everyone’s lips.
Then to add a little extra fear, a guy that raced the course 2 weeks before said “It just goes up” and turned his palm upwards so his fingers pointed at the ceiling,”literally it’s just like this”. We asked how much of the course was like that and, caught between wanting to be informative and wanting to avoid being intimidating, he shrugged and replied “Most of it.”
October 25th, 5 am. “The only good pace is a suicidal pace, and today looks like a good day to die.”
We all got ready and the Thai runners were especially endearing with intense gear covering every inch of their constantly smiling slim bodies. I felt naked with my tight short and T-shirt showing my body hair to the hairless community of South east Asia.
3, 2, 1, Goooo!! Dear reader, you remember when I said I thought I was thinking smart while running? Well my logic, after a couple kilometers and a first monster ascent, was that if I go faster, then I will arrive faster and thus I’ll be less tired. So running the first 20 kms at a pace of 12 kms/hour and coming in 7th position at the 2nd checkpoint just killed me for the rest of the course. I was dead before the killer ascent. 700 meter of pure mountaineering in the heart of the jungle was yet to come.
The distance between checkpoints 2 and 3 was the longest on the course. 21 kilometers of hills and jungle and hills and not-jungle and trees and giant fissures in the ground and talking rocks and some puke in the bush (probably mine). At a point I was hearing things, now mind you these sounds were almost definitely just normal forest noises, but in my mind it was always another competitor. See I had entered this ultra purely with the desire to finish. In the months leading up to the race I had trained well but needless to say I did not have any expectations of performing well in this contest, I just wanted to finish and when I had seen I was in 7th position at Checkpoint 2, I kind of wanted it to stay that way. So it was pretty hard when other runners were passing me and I couldn’t do a thing about it. Mentally it was breaking me and in addition to that, I couldn’t eat. So when I arrived at checkpoint 3 (38kms), my energy level was at its lowest. I had 12 kms left and while I was finally eating some chips, one of the race organizer told me “You’ll see. This part is the easiest”.
When you’re already broken, you run through the pain and you’ve asked someone how far it was and you realize that it is much longer than what was said, then it creates deception and makes it harder to continue. See here I was broken. I was just told the rest was flat and easy and when a third killer ascent (400 meters) came along the way, I just couldn’t bear it anymore. So I stopped 10 minutes halfway up, crawling like a dead animal and trying to convince me to go further:
“Come on dude! You have less than 10 kms to run”,
“How much is 10 Kms really ? You run that everytime”
“And it’s just really 5 K. Once you do 5 K, there is only 5 K left and 5K is really nothing.”
“And think of all the beer you will drink at the finish line!!”
I ran through the finish line, ascending those last few steps to the Cave lodge and crawled in a corner. There I stayed the next 3 hours watching all the other finishers suffering like I did earlier.
At the end I came 21st out of 105 runners in 8 hours and 58 minutes, 2 hours and a half behind the first. Not too bad I thought. Especially when I remember the Transvulcania where I literally finished last within the cut off time.
To sum up. The race was awesome, the location was perfect, the course was extremely technical and the organization was excellent. The only minus I could come up with is that the T-Shirt provided was not a technical T-Shirt, but at the end when you know Marcus self-fonded the race (it was the first Thailand Ultramarathon), you can’t really count that.
Shoes – Brooks Pure Grit 3
Hydration bag – Lafuma Speedtrail 5L
Jacket – Salomon Men’s Bonatti WP
Food – Chips and dry fruits