Monday, December 22, 2014

Muang Thai Chiang Mai Marathon 2014: Race Review

The Chiang Mai Marathon was a race signed up on a whim right after the Gold Coast Airport Marathon. The wife mentioned about it in passing and Jamie also suggested the Chiang Mai marathon, I jumped right on board. Being the co-founder of the 'zero elevation club', it was an obvious choice with the route being nice and flat, a cool 15°C weather and reasonable rates. It was really a no brainer. Besides, I had 6 months to train for it, at least that was my plan.

As the months, weeks and finally days to the event drew nearer, I was giving up all hope of actually putting in a decent show. With the training I was putting in, I would have been happy just to finish. But with the euphoria of the GCAM still lingering, it was hard to get into a real training plan. Whatever training I was doing was sporadic at best.


Yeah, I was putting in the mileage, almost every day at that but with no proper direction or plan, it was just put on my shoe and run, see what happens from there. Whatever marathon training plan I drew up, I didn't follow. So as the days to the race grew nearer, I had to revise my initial time goal and hope for the best.

Come Friday, bright and early, the wife and me headed to the airport for our 6.55am flight. After a harrowing experience of being driven to the airport by a taxi driver that was almost falling asleep at the wheel and in the process almost making me puke, I was glad to finally get in the air. It was much safer up there! After a 2 plus hour flight, we landed to a nice cool 17°C weather. I've so much to write about Chiang Mai, but I'll leave that for another post. This post will purely be on the race itself.

Three rather camera shy volunteers ...
We were too early for check in but decided to head to our hotel to see if we could drop our bags there and maybe check out the place on foot until our check in time. We put up a night at the Top North Hotel, which was just a 100 metres away from the start line at the Thapae Gate area. At least it was until a day or two before the event when the wife received an email stating that the start location would be moved further away. Drats, the reason I booked the hotel was because of it's proximity to the start/finish. The new start was 800 metres away, not that far really but I was still annoyed. That's just me, I get annoyed easily.

Race kit collection wasn't until the next day but both of us decided to check out the new start location, which was now at the Three Kings Monument to familiarize ourselves with the layout. The place was already bustling with workers setting up the place for the event. Mingled around, spoke to the organizers to get a better understanding of the route, how many drink stations were on hand, etc. With some additional knowledge in hand we headed to finally check in and get some rest since we planned for an easy shakedown run around the Thapae gate borders. The weather was pretty cool for 5pm and we had a lot of photo opportunities along the 6k plus route which I took to post vain pictures of myself on Facebook. Yes, yes, I'm shameless!

The Three Kings Monument, the new race start location.
We headed to the race kit collection the next day to get our bibs and stuff really early to avoid the later crowd. It was a breeze and I was in and out in 5 minutes. We headed back to the hotel to wait for Jamie who flew in later in the afternoon and the three of us headed back to the race village to get a taste of the welcome dinner and catch up on any last minute additional information. We decided to eat elsewhere cos we were all particular to what we eat prior to race day. It was a quick dinner at Black Canyon Coffee and back to our respective hotels for lights out.

Race day saw me meeting up with Jamie just outside the Thapae gate and a slow jog to the race start location which was already bustling with runners. The weather wasn't as cold as I'd expected and was actually just nice for race conditions. My gear was kept really simple and minimal. I opted for my Columbia short sleeved top which offered some protection from the cold start and would keep me cool when things got heated up later along with my Nike shorts and my trusty Skechers GOrun 4 as my shoe of choice. No compression as I'm weaning myself away from them. Armed with 6 gels, I was ready for race start.

The early birds at the race kit collection ...
At exactly 4am on the dot, we were flagged off. Jamie, who was a little under the weather and on meds told me to go ahead if I had the pace cos he as going to take it easy. Wasn't happy about losing a running partner but heck, I salute him for even starting under the circumstances he was in. So, off I went. It was a slow start with the roads being a little narrow and everyone was jostling for place. Kept with the crowd as we headed past the original start point, the Thapae gate and the roads finally got wider and I was able to increase the pace a little just to test the legs which was still a little tight from the cold air.

Somewhere around the 2k mark we made the u-turn that would take us out of the old city and into the outskirts of town. There were a lot of cars even at this ungodly hour and after hearing tales of the crazy drivers here, I was a lot more alert with looking out for speeding tuk tuks! Strangely I was feeling pretty good, the legs had loosened up considerably and I was cruising at a comfortable pace of 5:45. A touch of worry did cross my mind on whether I could maintain this pace for long but I decided to give it a go.

A traditional performance during the welcome dinner.
The drink stations which served only water safe for 3 stations that served energy drinks or sports drinks as the Thai's called it was spaced out more or less where there were indicated. I had a small bottle of water with me so I skipped all the stations for the first 14k to save time. After I finished the water in my bottle, I stopped at every station for drinks. One valuable thing I learned about cold weather running during GCAM from Digger himself is not to let the cold fool you into thinking you don't need to drink. The sports drink they served though was not something we get over here. It was soooooooo sweet and thick that I didn't have any need for my gels. It was an eye opener literally!

I hit the 10k mark around 57 minutes, a whole 3 minutes off my earlier planned target. I evaluated my condition and since I was still feeling good, I increased the pace ever so slightly. It got pretty mental from this point with the route taking you out of the city completely along a mentally challenging path of the highway which involved at least 4 u-turns through a mind numbingly flat and boring stretch. It was also at this point that things got really cold and chilly.

Being away from the old city, this stretch had the freshest of air but was really, really chilly. My body was beginning to cool down rapidly and my breath was misting (is that the correct word?). At this point I was glad I chose a short sleeved tee instead of a vest. I stepped up the pace a little more to try to work up more heat. I wasn't sweating buckets like I normally do.

The route map on display.
The next 10k was done in the same average pace of 5:45 and I was surprised but secretly happy to get a 20k split time of 1:53. I had planned a 2:10 which meant I had 17 minutes in the bag to spare and the best thing was I was still feeling good! Things were looking good. I was feeling a little hopeful for a good showing. The next 10k would give a clearer indication of things. 'Keep cool, Nick, don't get your hopes up too soon. There's still a long way to go', I thought to myself.

When I hit the 30K split with a time of 2:50 and with legs that was still feeling pretty good, I knew that I had a good chance in hell to get a PR. Though the legs were a little tired, there was hardly much fatigue, no indications of cramping, no pains, everything was chugging along nicely. My average pace up to that point after some rudimentary calculation was somewhere around 5:35. I could hardly believe that my legs weren't protesting and spewing vulgarities at me for running at that pace. Piew, I tried to get a cramp at the 27k mark but it just wouldn't happen ... LOL! (Sorry, this is an inside joke between the GCAM gang).

Always on the lookout during race setups for tips I could use back home.
I kept my hopes up but not being too over confident though. All the mind numbing u-turns were done and it was time to head back into the old city walls. I was glad that this mental stretch was going to end soon. The city was a lot more crowded with cars and folks going about their Sunday chores but at least it wasn't boring. With 4K to go and with the Garmin showing me a time of 3:30, that was when I knew there was a very good possibility of hitting a sub 4, if not at least a 4:00 which would still be a PR for me.

I was already tiring considerably by this point. Keeping to a 5:35 or so average pace was finally taking its toll on me. The pace was dropping. I drew every bit energy and determination I had left in me and kept pushing hard. I drew strength from the wife who never failed to believe that I could do this and who for the first time ever I could actually high five while on the run as we crossed paths. As much as I wanted a sub 4 for myself, this was all going to be for her. I wasn't going to let this moment slip from within my grasp.

My well deserved rather garish medal.
I picked up my faltering pace, gritted my teeth and ran with nothing but my heart, ok, maybe that was overly dramatic but heck, that was how it felt. When I finally saw a glimpse of the finish, I was overjoyed. A sub 4 beckoned. I had 500 metres or so and it showed 3:51 on my Garmin. I ran with every last ounce of breath in me for this final stretch and crossed the finish in a time of 3:52:28 (chip time). My sub 4 was in the bag! An extremely unexpected result. No, I didn't cry or anything but was still extremely emotional. It was a sweet way to end the year on my final race for the year.

After picking up my rather garish medal and finisher tee, I made my way to our pre-arranged spot to wait for the wife who was still running her half and also for Jamie. I had time to think of this rather unexpected result. I honestly came here just hoping to break my 4:23 PR by just a few minutes. I was never confident of or even contemplated going for a sub 4 but I'm not complaining. I'll just bask in the moment for now :D

Tired but happy with my free McDonald's burger!
Overall, I thought it was a pretty decently organized race. A few improvements could be looked into for next year such as providing some mobile toilets along the route. There was really not a single one and I feel for the women. The guys could just pull up behind a tree or something but not the women. The 'sports drink' could have been diluted a little more. It was so sweet that I had two gels left cos I opted not to take my gels after a taste of the 'sports drink'.

The route could have also been plotted a little differently at certain points cos there were some stretches where you had to cross through traffic and the drivers here don't really care about pedestrians if you ask me. Witnessed an incident where a pick up just decided to ram through the cones and barricade instead of waiting. That put the fear of God in me.

Aside from that I thought everything else was pretty good. If you're looking for a nice and cool year end race to attempt a PR, I'd recommend this to you. A nice flat route with hardly any elevation save for a few small ones on the highway. Weather is simply perfect for running and the old city sights and food are equally good. Makes a nice holiday too :D

A good job to the wife (who had her nationality changed to Thai ... LOL!) on her half marathon, not a PR for her but she bettered her PNM half timing. Kudos babe! And also to Jamie for the determination he put in to complete the race considering he was under meds! And a good time at that too.

Not too long to go.
Pic courtesy of Refill.

8 comments:

  1. congrasssssss. awesome timing. awesome report...not so awesome looking medal though.

    As usual pebbles makes the perfect model.

    congras to your wifey too.

    We nasi lemak when the whole relay gang in back on townlah. catch up with our 2 bodyguards too before they return home.

    The route sounds fun...let's see how my legs feel next year. might just head in for a fun run after scms.

    congras once again Captain!!!

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    1. Thanks :D Yeah, that nasi lemak sounds good!

      If you've got time to spare, I'd say give it a go, if not for the race itslef but for the holiday. A really nice place that I would love to visit again, purely as a holiday destination.

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  2. Congrats on your PB! Awesome timing! And yes, that is one garish looking medal! Lol! Your mention of Piew left me in stitches!

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    1. Thanks Julia :D The medal almost blinded me ... hahaha!

      I was really trying to emulate Piew and his infamous cramps at 27k ... LOL!

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  3. congrats Nick. awesome timing. i'm happy for you my non-human friend :)

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  4. A big Congrats Nick! You are amazing. From 4:23 to 3;52!! Wow! Am happy for you! Keep at it, I have a feeling this is just a start!

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    1. Thanks Francis, coming from you, that's huge :D

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