This is a cut down (but still long) version of a post from our travel blog. You can find the original on www.berrylands2beijing.co.uk.
While travelling Vicki and I have been on the look out for races occurring in the same place as we are visiting. The first time we found one that we might be able to enter was Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. Chiang Mai is most often visited so people can go ride elephants, play with tigers and hike in the surrounding mountains. For us it was also going to include a trip to a nearby run: Ban San Kamphaeng Mini Marathon.
You could enter on the day (in fact I think this was the only way of entering) but registration opened at 5am. The race then started somewhere between 6am and 6:30am, we couldn’t work this out for sure. Vicki wasn’t convinced that getting to the race at this time was a good idea, particularly because we didn’t know exactly where it was.
Arriving at Ban San Kamphaeng school early Sunday morning we saw a large crowd gathered on a dark playing field and more making their way over. We found our way over to the floodlit registration area, much needed as the sun was only going to rise at 6:30am (during the race).
Registration was tricky. We managed to pay and get the entry form easily. At 150 THB (about £3) the race was a bargain. It cost us twice as much for our early morning taxi to the race. Filling in the entry form was a problem as they wanted us to fill it out with everything requested in Thai. We also had to work out where to register which was hard as the signs were in Thai (as you would expect). Fortunately we found an American who was registering at the same time and helped us with the form and then explained that you had to register in your age category (male 30-39 for me, female 19-29 for Vicki). This done, we had numbers and were officially in the race.
Race preparation was just like at home with bag drop easy to find and work out then an area to gather in behind the start. The facilities for the race were great meaning a very quick loo trip with a no queues at all. There were a lot of people around (easily over a thousand, the size of a big local race at home) but the organisation was great even with this being the first running of the race. We even had the option of some pre or post race breakfast. Not fancying their rice porridge we stuck with our own supplies.
We didn’t know when the race was due to begin and had been standing around for a while as the Thai organiser rambled on over the loud speaker. It was still pretty dark with light just beginning to fill the sky. As I was tying my shoelace a claxon sounded and we were suddenly off. Taken by surprise, but fortunately with Garmin ready, we headed off with the rest of the field.
We had no knowledge of what the course was like or the standard on entrants before the race. One thing we did know was that this was a 10.5km (quarter marathon) run. Not having run consistently during our trip we didn’t really know what condition we were in. As such we had decided to head out a sensible speed and if we were last then so be it. Settling in to our 10 min/mile comfortable pace we were relieved to find that we stayed with a lot of the crowd. We hadn’t started at the back but still weren’t being overtaken and were actually passing quite a few people early on.
The first 4 miles were solid 10 min/mile pace. We were happy with this and it felt very comfortable. The race went through the village with quite a few spectators around. The roads were closed for us and many of the Thai marshals seemed quite surprised and happy to see us westerners passing so we got more shouts than the other runners in the race.
Less than a mile into the race we began to be overtaken by kids doing the 4km race. They had started a little after us but were much faster than we were. It seemed there was a running club of which many of the faster kids were members. We were passed by tiny Thai boys with no shoes who looked extremely comfortable as they cruised passed us. Their style was very impressive and they weren’t doing the usual kid thing of sprinting off and blowing up too early. One point where the organisation of the race went wrong was in directing the faster kids. Many of them were carrying on with the adults. We say some at about 3km out. As this was an out and back they had gone much too far as they had missed their turn around. This was a shame as they would have missed out on prizes. We did find out later though that the lead girl had managed to fight back to 2nd place despite going considerably the wrong way and having done at least 5km instead of 4km.
Back in our race we approached the halfway mark feeling good. At this point there was a water station and signs saying “check” (in English for once!). At the start of the race we had been checked with a mark on our numbers. Here we had to collect a band with coloured string to prove we followed the course correctly. A second band was given to us around 7.5km in as well. This is a good way to stop anyone cheating in the race since there was no chip timing.
At 4 miles we were feeling strong, we had even felt fresh enough to take a few photos and record a video while running along. Without discussing it we started to push on a little. This was partly motivated by a guy wearing a yellowy green t-shirt ahead of us. We had been with him the whole race and were using him as a marker not to fall behind. He was beginning to tire so we used the chance to break him. As we drew level with him he was reluctant to let us pass and upped his pace. After a water stop where he went a little ahead as we slowed for Vicki to drink (no co-ordination that girl). Revived we caught him easily and shot past him with ease. This time he couldn’t hold on to us.
At this point we realised that there were actually a lot of young Thai guys ahead of us who were really struggling. A lot had gone out much too fast and were now feeling the pain. As we had gone out at way below our normal race pace we now had the strength to pass them. As such the last two miles were spent overtaking many people. Two young guys who we had already passed at one point appeared ahead of us. Clearly the check bands are needed as they were taking shortcuts and had missed one. They smiled and laughed as we passed them for a second time as we all knew of their route choice.
One guy we overtook looked like a very strong runner who should have been much further ahead. Clearly he wasn’t experienced running this kind of distance. As we passed he congratulated us and we urged him on. He resumed running with us and stayed with us for about half a mile as we encouraged him along. He spoke no English but it was easy to get our message across at this point in the race.
We recognised the finish straight and saw the distance confirmed by the Garmin. A final burst put us through the finish line hand in hand at 1:02:38. No out sprinting each other on the line this time as we had run together the whole way and it would be a bit rude for me to leave Vicki behind here (Vicki: cheeky git). It was quite appropriate to finish in a “Thai” anyway.
Our mile splits for the race were: 10:01, 10:00, 9:47, 10:04, 9:43, 9:10, 3:50 (half mile). We were very happy with this since we haven’t been training recently, just running when the mood takes us. Importantly we really enjoyed the run and thought the course was great. We passed villages, through a market and along roads surrounded by stunning scenery viewed as the sun rise. The support on the road was great and the other runners very friendly. If it wasn’t so far away we would definitely be back next year.
As we crossed the finish line a piece of paper was thrust our way. At first we thought this was a finishing place token to record where we came in the race. After only Vicki received one though we soon realised that it was actually a marker to say that she had won a prize in her age category. This pleased her no end as it is the first time she has ever won a prize in a race. We were congratulated by many Thai’s on our performance (particularly Vicki) and shepherded back to the registration area for them to get Vicki’s details.
Vicki was once again guided to another part of the field where other prizes winners were waiting. We spoke to more American’s, this time ladies who had also won prizes. The ladies winners had quite a few westerners as less Thai ladies run. The men’s result were much more Thai based. Vicki had her trip up onto the podium and was presented with her trophy (not sure that will fit in a back pack) and had obligatory photos with the other prize winners in her category (she was 5th place).
Medals round our necks and a trophy in Vicki’s hand we returned to our hotel in Chiang Mai. We got back at 9am so didn’t even miss breakfast at the hotel.