Tuesday, March 26, 2002

TR Thailand Temple Run

3/18 – 3/25/02

Because of the length of time we were gone on this trip I plan to split the report into three separate reports chronologically in time.

Actually this trip was planned in a very short time since it was an alternative to my main goal for the spring – to run a few more countries in Europe. However all my attempts to contact the race directors in Yugoslavia, Latvia and Lithuania went unanswered. In addition the house situation in Florida clouded matters because we didn’t know when we would have to move. Finally the townhouse sold with a closing date of April 30th which meant the European marathons would be difficult to fit into our schedule anyway. So I decided to look into a new marathon being run in Thailand in late March. It appealed to me because it was being run outside of Bangkok which is polluted and has too much traffic. However I wanted/needed a second marathon in the area to spread the travel costs over and found a candidate in Bali, Indonesia two weeks later. Since we would have to stay and travel the region for two weeks maybe I could find a third marathon?

When trying to decide where we might visit during the interim period I remembered our son Jason telling us how much he enjoyed visiting the temples and ruins at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Why not? Maybe I could find a marathon in Cambodia? The basic outline of the itinerary was set. After countless hours on the Internet I had the itinerary and reservations confirmed. Because I had decided to arrange private tours within Thailand and Cambodia for expediency and safety I needed to save money elsewhere and we agreed to use some of our frequent flyer miles and hotel points. That turned out to be a wise or lucky decision because we had to accept first/business class air tickets (for only 20,000 miles more than economy) and they were a blessing. I would not fly to Asia again unless it was first or business class because you spend too much time on planes and in airports!

Both marathons offered packages that included entry fees and discounted hotel rates that were very reasonable. Combined with the private tours we only had one additional night in Bangkok and five in Bali to cover and we cashed in some Sheraton points to arrange those hotels nights. So far our costs were only about 25% of the actual cost of the trip and we would only have to cover meals and tours in Bali. We were ready! (Sorry for the preamble but it is important to understand that these trips just don’t magically appear – there is a lot of planning and work involved. Even more when you are not sure about the local political climate and safety.) But now – on with the trip.

We left Sarasota late afternoon on March 18th and as usual it did not take too long to hit our first road (or is that air) bump. When we arrived in Vancouver, BC at 11pm to transfer to Cathay Pacific for the Asian leg, we were informed that the flight was delayed from a 1:30am departure to 4:30am. Not enough time to bother going to a hotel so we decided to wait in the airport. Well the flight finally left at 8am after we tried to sleep on the floor of the airport for six hours. What really pissed us off was that no Cathay rep showed up to advise us that the first class lounge was open and we could have slept on a comfortable couch in the lounge. Fourteen hours later we arrived in Hong Kong and since we had missed our connection we had to wait another two hours (at least this time we enjoyed the lounge). Finally 42 hours after we left Florida we arrived in Bangkok! But our luggage, or at least my luggage, did not arrive with us! So after putting in a lost baggage report, etc we finally, finally arrived at the Sheraton 43 hours after we left home. Needless to say we were a bit tired! It was 7pm and our tour started the next day with a 7am transfer to the airport to fly north to Chiang Mai. Finally (for us and for you too) the vacation is truly about to start.

7am. We are on our way to the airport (still without my luggage that didn’t show up at the hotel as promised by Cathay). Depart 9:30 and arrive Chiang Mai at 10:30 to be met by a private tour guide and driver. We chose Chiang Mai because we had visited Bangkok and the beaches in South Thailand on a previous visit and decided to explore the northern part of the country this time. Chiang Mai is the capital of the northern region and is the main center for hilltribe trekking. Northern Thailand’s hilltribes, about 750K people living in about 3500 villages, have so far preserved their way of life with little change over thousands of years.

Our first stop of the morning was a Handicraft Village where there were numerous shops and factories making labor intensive products such as furniture, wood carvings, silk, etc. We visited a few that were interesting but then told our guide enough. We didn’t come to shop but to see Thailand. So after lunch she took us up Doi Suthep mountain that rises steeply on the western edge of the city to visit Wat Phra Doi Suthep (wat = temple), the North’s holiest temple or shrine because its chedi is supposed to contain fragments of Buddha. The temple is very colorful and striking as are most Buddhist temples in Thailand and commands a great view overlooking the city. It was a pleasant change to get out of the city. We then returned to the city for a brief tour around the city including the old quarter set within a 2Km square moat. That evening we went to the Thailand Cultural Center for dinner and a show that featured traditional Thai music and dances.

The following morning I ran around the moat of the old city (twice) before we headed north out of Chiang Mai to visit an elephant camp and one hilltribe. There are still about 5000 elephants left in Thailand. They were used as work animals for logging, etc but now are kept in camps to do shows and provide rides for tourists. We rode an elephant for one hour across rivers and up a mountain trail. My biggest surprise was that they could navigate so well up and down mountain trails. But are they ever slow! We covered about 1½ miles in one hour. After the elephant ride we rode on a bamboo raft for a few miles down the Ping River. It was the dry hot season so the water was low but it was a nice relaxing ride.

Time for lunch at an orchid farm before we visit the Hmong hilltribe. Although a few of the traditional family huts have electricity for lighting there is no water, plumbing, etc. They still grind and prepare rice with the same tools that they have been using for hundreds of years and cook over open fires inside the huts. I took a picture of an 80 year-old Hmong woman and her mother (100+). They were both quite healthy in spite of a very tough life?

Now it was time to head back to Bangkok where the marathon was being staged and hopefully reunite with my lost luggage (I did!). As mentioned previously we had booked a ‘marathon package’ and now I understood how and why the packages were put together. The Thailand Temple Run was organized by a runner who wanted to offer an alternative to the Bangkok Marathon. It just so happens that the runner (a Swede) is also the manager of the Amari Watergate Hotel, a 5-star hotel that is the flagship of a chain of hotels throughout Asia. We stayed at the Watergate since it was the host hotel and all the activities were held there. Part of the package was a tour of the floating market followed by a tour of the course. All these benefits were included in the entry fee but I had to pay extra for my sports manager. We had visited a floating market in Bangkok on our previous trip that was a ‘real market’ for the locals. That market is gone and has been replaced with a new floating market that is about 60Kms outside of Bangkok. The new one in my opinion was built strictly as a tourist trap and not worth the visit. But it was close to where the marathon was being run so was included in the package. The marathon route started and finished at the Phumrinkudeethong Temple in Samut Songkram, a rural community about 60km west of Bangkok. The course was a narrow country road winding past plantations (bananas, lichys, lemons) and rice fields. It also passed a total of 18 temples in the half marathon loop before returning on the same path. There were many (too many) twists and turns in the course. There were a number of huts or dwellings along the route and it seemed to me that every family in Asia owns at least two dogs. And since most of the homes don’t have doors or windows the dogs are not kept indoors. I was a bit concerned about the number of dogs along the course?

The package also included the usual carbo load dinner at the Amari Watergate. I had to pay $17 for my sports manager and all we got was a single SMALL plate of pasta, bread and a dessert. Water was included but you had to pay for booze or a soft drink. And there were no seconds. We could have gone to any Italian restaurant in Bangkok and both eaten better for $17! Now it was time for bed since we had to get up at 2am to catch the bus at 2:45am. Needless to say my sports manager was not going to accompany me to the start line!

Sunday (3/24) was M- day! We arrived at the P temple at 4am. No need to worry about warm ups or being cold before the start. It was close to 80F at 4am! There were about 150 runners in the Full and 250 in the Half. I and only one other runner from the US – in fact from the Sarasota running Club ran topless. Everyone else wore a singlet or T-shirt. No way – not when it is 80+ at the start! After the monks from the temple sprayed all the runners with holy water for good luck the race started at 5am. There were a few streetlights for the first ½ mile and then we were running in total darkness on a small, narrow road in the country. Couldn’t see my feet so had to focus on the silhouette of the runners in front. I ran the first 5Km with my friend from Sarasota but then he started to drop off and I wanted to continue to push while the temperature was still a cool 80F. I couldn’t see or read my watch and I couldn’t find any distance markers until 16Km so had no idea what my pace was until then. Sub 8 minutes at 16Km. Thank goodness for the race volunteers and police who were stationed at many of the turns. They prevented us/me from getting lost and more importantly shone flashlights on the road so that we could see and to caution the many cyclists and bikers to watch for runners. About 5:30 am the locals started going to work. There were very few cars but lots of bikes and motorbikes – AND none of them had lights. I had several near collisions until I started shouting whenever I heard or saw a bike approach. My other concern also turned real as there were many dogs along the route. Most seemed too tired and hot or afraid to bother the runners but there were a few mangy, snarly dogs that caused me to slow down and challenge them to back off. They must get abused and kicked a lot because they would normally back down and cower away when challenged – but it was still a big nuisance!

It remained dark until 6am and then there was just enough light so that we could see the road but I still couldn’t read my watch. I thought/hoped that the road would be safer now from the bike traffic but it only seemed to get worse as they now went faster? I crossed the Half in 1:43 – way too fast for my training and the heat conditions but I decided to continue to push and take advantage of the cool (now mid 80s) temps. Another thing I did like about the race was the race bib/number scheme. The race bib contained both your age group and number. As I approached the Half the lead runners were coming back and I began counting the runners in my age group: one about 10 minutes ahead and a second about 5 minutes. I caught a 3rd runner in my group right before the Half so I should have been in 3rd place at that point. “Continue to push Maddog”. I caught 2nd place about 30K and continued to push although I knew I was slowing and beginning to hurt. However about 34K a Japanese runner in my group caught up to me and we began a ‘cat and mouse’ game. Neither of us wanted to take the lead at that point – just hang on to the runner in front and make a final kick at the end. Finally I saw a 38K marker and decided to go for it. I quickly left him behind but I was starting to hurt real bad. I felt I could hang on for just 4K more. But 10 minutes later, when I should have reached the 40K mark, another marker said 38K - AGAIN! That killed me! I knew that I did not have enough left to push for another 4K. Sure enough the runner passed me and made his final kick and I couldn’t respond.

By now in fact I knew that I was in serious trouble. I was extremely overheated and my fingers and arms started to go tingly and numb and I was experiencing dizziness and nausea. Thankfully I have been there, done that and knew that my blood-sugar level had dropped to zero. Unfortunately there were no more water/aid stations before the finish line so I had to struggle on. Finally crossed the finish line in 3:35 with only two priorities: get my body cooled down and get some sugar into me. The first priority was easy as there was a large bucket of crushed ice waiting right at the finish line and I liberally applied ice until I lowered my body temperature back to around 100+. I started to look for a coke or something with sugar but after a few minutes I was so dizzy that I couldn’t stand up any more so I just collapsed on to the temple grounds and waited for a race volunteer to come to my aid. It only took a few minutes and when I explained my problem and need that wonderful guy quickly brought me an ice-cold coke. You can’t believe how quickly the body absorbs that stuff. Within two minutes of guzzling that coke the tingling and numbness went away and I could get up and walk around. However I didn’t feel like waiting around for the awards so I tried to find the results. Duh! They had another great system. When I crossed the finish line they handed me a finisher’s medal, a piece of paper with my official finish time and a small plastic card with my group placing. I had been so sick and out of it at the finish all I had remembered was the medal.

It turned out that I had placed 4th. I still have no idea where #2 was or came from because I know that I deeked it out for 3rd place – and lost! However the awards did go five deep and were quite nice although just the standard trophy type. I later learned that I had been the first non-Asian and American to cross the finish line – 1st overseas runner as they called it? Back to the hotel for a quick shower and a nap.

Later that night I made another mistake by going to the ‘Gala Awards Banquet’. Cost another $23 to take my sports manager and again it was not worth it.
But overall I still have to give the race and the management good marks. It is certainly a better alternative than running a marathon in Bangkok itself.
Now it is time to pack and move on to Cambodia. But let’s leave that for the next trip report.

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