Chiang Mai Half Marathon
Those who know me will tell you that I’m a stickler for race packing when it comes to overseas events. My bag will be ready to go 2 weeks to the race. This time around though, I was still throwing things into the luggage the morning of my flight out. This year would be my 2nd trip to the northern Thai city, with the first about a year ago for the same event. Another difference other than the distance I’d be running was the fact that my wife would be accompanying me for a getaway.
Since I couldn’t get great rates at the Amora Tapae where I put up in 2014, I opted for the Rom Po Boutique Hotel off Tapae Road which in hindsight was a nice rustic place to stay. Located in between the popular Walking Street and the Night Bazaar, heading out in both directions was quite easy.
Race pack pick up was a little haphazardly organized for a 10-year old event. I was given a non-personalized bib but the goodie bag stuffing consisted of things we could actually use instead of vouchers and sample cream. After the race pack collection, we went off in search of a very late breakfast along the walking street but nearly all eateries we passed weren’t opened. So we settled for a plate of mango sticky rice for 60 Baht and a large fried chicken drumstick.
I needed to get some bread, sports drinks and canned coffee for next morning which resulted in a 6K shopping walkabout. Before retiring to the hotel, we paid a visit to a nearby massage parlor (a massage joint is always nearby wherever you are in Chiang Mai!) to help loosened some tight joints and muscles. I can’t remember when the last time I visited such an establishment so you can be sure it was a painful experience. After an early dinner I was ready to call it a night.
The alarm buzzed at 4:10am and I rolled out of bed feeling very glad to have registered just for the half. 3 bites of a dry corn bun and a small can of black coffee later I was out into the cool morning. I had an old tee over my vest but once I started my jog to Tapae Gate merely 400 meters away, I was already warmed up. Some marathoners were still running past the section, having been flagged off at 4 earlier and there appeared to be a cozy crowd for the half.
Proceeded with some dynamic stretching before heading to the start which was just in front of Top North Hotel. As mentioned, the crowd wasn’t that large, probably a thousand or so. Considering a weekly mileage of 30K with a smattering of 16Ks on weekends, I was in two minds on how to run the race – do I go out hard or take it slow and finish in 1:59? I wanted to run in honor of a friend back home. A few seconds later, I had my decision. I knew that the only way to honor anyone or a cause will be to do my best in whatever circumstances. When the gun went off and the race started to the energetic beat of traditional drums, I was mentally fully engaged in the race. Instantly, a plan started forming in my mind – keep things under control until I exit the Old City for the suburbs and go on from there depending on feel.
Whatever pain the massage brought about, it certainly prepped the legs and hips. They felt loose and my strides were smooth and efficient. The only niggles were the shoulders which were still sore. First K was a relaxed 5:31 but it gradually lowered from there. As we headed out of the Old City, I found myself in a pack of 3 runners, and an annoying guy running fartleks. Fartlek guy sped up each time we passed him and then slowed down only to be caught. The other 2 guys, one of whom was in a tri top, were moving the same pace and chatting amongst themselves. Having some folks to anchor myself to made things easier and a little more interesting in a race. I was able to tap into the group’s energy and I thought that if I maintain control over my pace, I could actually test my fitness and see how fast I can push things after the halfway point.
By the 7K mark, the pace had quickened, averaging 5:20 with a surge here and there. As the race progressed, I dared to be a little more adventurous. Somewhere along the highway, after a typically quick grab at a cup of water, I surged ahead to clear the 4 runners around me and after 100 meters of so, I expected the duo to reel me in but they didn’t. I kept the pace and was game for a good race the more ground I covered. The elites were already on the way back and it was pretty thrilling that they were within arm’s length had I reached out. In Chiang Mai, the roads weren’t fully closed to the traffic and the returning runners were actually just half a lane apart from the slower ones.
I was feeling really good but wanted to hold back at least until the u-turn before kicking things up. However, seeing that I was still on course to run a decent race despite not having done the training was just too tempting. With 12K covered, I threw caution to the wind and just had a go. The pace averaged 5:05 the next 5K as I tried to press down the overall average as much as I can. When it hurt, I kept the thought of my friend even stronger in my mind. The town was just starting to wake up and get busy as I closed down the remaining miles in low 5s and 4:51s. When I re-entered the Old City perimeter, I was in another “battle” with 2 other runners but just couldn’t find another gear, managing just to drop one and let the other go. The 2015 finish line was moved back to the original location near Tapae Gate which I very much prefer as the runners have a longer straight to kick after rounding the final corner. I crossed the line in 1:51:00 ecstatic inside with my effort and after being handed the post-race pack (McD’s never tasted so good), I kept the thought of my friend in mind as I walked back to the hotel to freshen up. At that time the 10K runners were still awaiting flag off, so I could’ve run in 2 categories had I registered!
My wife and I would return to the race site in 30 minutes to partake in the street food the organizers had laid out for us runners. To not redeem the food vouchers would’ve been a waste! Plus the ice-cream and herbal drink were heaven sent. We took the opportunity to hang around the area to cheer the incoming runners before walking another 4K to check out the Central Mall.
The race wasn’t my best by 4 minutes, but it was the very best I could muster with no significant running done prior to the race. I was engaged in the race, in my thoughts and in my heart, and if that’s how I race my future races, I wouldn’t have any reasons to be dissatisfied about. The only downer was my result wasn’t captured and published despite my emails to the race director. No responses either. Looking at the results, my age-group position would be 27.
Would I run Chiang Mai again? I think so, although I’m not sure when. It’s a nice laid back place to visit to cap off the year. It’s reasonably cool in the AM and night, and close enough where the wife and I could escape to without the kids and the massage worked wonders! I’ve never run Chiang Mai for timing, so this year’s misstep by the organizers is not something to scream the head off about.
Footnote: My friend passed away peacefully on Christmas Eve, after I got home. We ran with him for the final time on the day of his funeral. He had had run an extraordinary race.