My Chaing Rai International Half Marathon training had been going to plan I was keeping my discipline and was running well. For the first time in a while, I was feeling fit and confident and, apart from a few niggles was injury-free. Unfortunately, a dose of ‘man flu caught me unawares and floored me on the 13th Sept. Run? I couldn’t even walk and was basically bedridden for a few days. The look of sadness in my dog Jack’s big eyes was a sight to behold and he offered me his paw being the only way he knew how to help. I pinned my hope on his caring and a combination of rest and drugs, well paracetamol and vitamin c, to get me fit enough for my 8000-mile journey to the ‘Charm of the North’ on the nineteenth.
I managed to get in a couple of walks on the 18th, as I collected my Thai visa and said my goodbyes to Strathbungo and Glasgow. Feeling a bit better, I couldn’t resist doing a 10k run through Pollok Park on the beautiful Autumnal morning of my flight. As ever, I bumped into a couple of running friends along the way and wondered when I’d see them next.
I had time enough to grab some breakfast, have a quick shower and one last LemSip before my brother arrived to give me and a lift to Glasgow airport and my noon flight via Heathrow to Bangkok with BA and then on to Chiang Rai with Bangkok Airlines. I’ve not flown with BA for a while and their standards have slipped a lot since then. On the plus side, there were no mishaps or delays and I met a few interesting people along the way. I received a lovely, friendly Thai welcome and an upgrade when I arrived at the Nak Nakara Hotel in Chiang Rai.
Unfortunately, I was still too ill to take advantage of the hotel’s pool or gym facilities or to partake in any of the usual tourist activities but I did take the free tuk-tuk down to the Night Bazaar a couple of times for dinner and some entertainment.
On Friday, I discovered that registration for the race had been moved from the City Hall, some 3k away from the hotel to Singha Park out in the country. As I had chosen the Nakara as it was the race HQ, it didn’t pose too many problems as a fleet of blue buses were laid on to shuttle us to and from the park. On top of that, I was feeling a bit better and Singha Park had been recommended as a good place to visit for photography.
I was first to pick up my race pack and then jumped on an open-air bus to take me around the park’s attractions, which included watermelon growing, a tea plantation and a mini zoo. All that distance to see a Shetland pony! Well, there were zebras and giraffes too. By the time the tour had finished the sun had come out and it was getting hot. There was no shelter, so I was glad when a blue bus appeared to shuttle me back to the hotel.
With the 21k race starting at 5 am there would be no breakfast for runners, instead, I made do with a couple of main meals in the evening before a quick trip into town to grab something light to eat with my morning coffee and some Vaseline of course. It’s a runners’ thing.
I set my alarm clocks for 4 am and had an early night. Unfortunately, you can’t just change your sleep pattern overnight, going to bed early doesn’t mean that you’ll get to sleep early and I probably fell asleep at my usual time of around midnight and then I was awoken at the back of 2 am with heavy thunder and the sound of rain lashing against the windows and cascading down the outside of the building. It was a full-on monsoon and definitely not ideal running conditions for someone struggling with a heavy cold. ‘The game’s a bogey I thought to myself. ‘I can’t risk my health running in that torrential rain. Somehow I managed to get back to sleep and slept until my alarm went off at 4 a.m. Relieved that there was now no sound of thunder or rain, I switched into my pre-race mode and got ready for my Half Marathon. I wrapped my passport up in those plastic covers that you get on clean hotel room glasses and placed it in my money belt, just in case I managed to achieve my target of getting a top-three MV60+ place.
Unfortunately, as soon as I opened the door I could see that the rain was still pouring down. It was just a bit quieter now than before. I jumped on the back of a blue shuttle bus and did my best to convince the driver to take me to the race start ASAP but he wasn’t for budging until some more runners joined me. I knew that I could be the last one leaving for the 5 am race start but before any panic could set in, we were joined by a couple of 10k runners from Bangkok and the driver then agreed to set off driving through the rain and traffic for about 4k before dropping us off on the main road close to the City Hall and the race start.
I made my way over to the assorted tents and had an easy warm-up in the rain before lining up at the start line with more than 1100 other 21k runners. After some pre-race comments, we were surprisingly set on our way 30 seconds before 5 a.m. Hoping to avoid being caught up in the mad dash of over-enthusiastic runners at the start, I set off near the front of the race but to the side. Big Buddha must have been in our favour and the rain stopped just before we set off into the morning darkness. After about 200m we turned right and onto the main road, a section of which had been cordoned off for us runners. It wasn’t a great start to the course, running in the dark through puddles with
Hoping to avoid being caught up in the mad dash of over-enthusiastic runners at the start, I set off near the front of the race but to the side. Big Buddha must have been in our favour and the rain stopped just before we set off into the morning darkness.
After about 200m we turned right and onto the main road, a section of which had been cordoned off for us runners. It wasn’t a great start to the course, running in the dark through puddles with car after car driving towards us with their floodlights beaming into our faces.
We were running along the perimeter of the city for the first mile but thankfully we then turned right and headed into the much quieter and prettier countryside.
Given my recent poor health, I hadn’t set myself a specific running pace but thought that somewhere between 5 and 5:30 min/k would be ok but mainly I just wanted to get around in one piece. I knew that were drink stations at every mile or so along the route and decide to take full advantage of them. I crossed over the 5k mat in a time of 24:52, perhaps a bit too fast but within my zone.
We then reached the Kok River and turned left through Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens another left took us to the four-mile point out of the park and away from the river.
We encountered our first hill at around 8k/5miles as we ran up past โรงพยาบาลส่งเสริมสุขภาพตำบลรอบเวียง hospital, I wasn’t too surprised to see several runners reverting to a walk but I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get going again if I followed suit so I kept plugging away knowing there would be a downhill section ahead. I was met at the apex by the morning sun and the view towards Ban Wong O.
I was hoping that now that the day had come alive then my body would too but it wasn’t quite as simple as that. The hill had taken its toll and I was starting to weaken both physically and mentally. I was glad to reach the 10k point, in a time of 51:53, knowing that I was now, as near as damn it at the halfway point and there would now be no more thoughts of not finishing the race.
The countryside was not unlike Scotland with the lush green trees and rain-swept fields. We ran past the first of two prisons at the seven-mile point and then the other before reaching the Kok. With the earlier downpour, the river was a lovely shade of light brown and flowing fast just beneath our feet as we crossed the low bridge and headed towards Rim Kok and the eight-mile point. I got a great lift as I ran through the village. The locals were setting up their stalls on both sides of the road but stopped their daily chores when the saw the sight of this 6’ farang with his bright yellow running vest running up the middle of their street. With broad smiles on their wrinkled dark faces and eyes glistering in the morning sun, they stood up in unison and cheered me along my way.
I hard to work hard uphill for the next two miles before eventually reaching the 10-mile drink station and being rewarded with an I had an electrolyte drink and tried to refocus. There was a sign indicating that there was now 5k to go. ‘Only 5k,’ I thought. True my body was weak and sore and I was feeling nauseous but my mind was strong and I continued my climb up the hill. I even managed to catch a fellow runner who turned and said “Good job, you run well. Only four to go”. Trust me, I didn’t feel well but I tried to thank him anyway but I fear that my response came out as a cough and a splutter rather than a ‘Khrup’. ‘Twenty-five or so more minutes, that’s all, let’s do this” I shouted internally, encouraging my body and in particular my legs to keep going.
I was hoping that the final two and a half miles would be uneventful and that I would just need to count down the 2k makers and enjoy a break and some water at every mile. 11 miles, water station and then a sign saying, 3k to go. 12 miles, water station and then a sign saying 1k to go. But in the last mile, we ran into heavy traffic, I say ‘we’ as I could see three other runners spread out in the distance in front of me. ‘Don’t let the congestion get to you. Just concentrate on following the other runners’. ‘It’s as simple as that’. I told myself.
‘No! Stop. Don’t be silly, your legs are killing you. Your body needs to rest. Just stop and everything will be ok’.
‘No! Keep on working hard, there’s still an outside chance that you can get a top-three age cat position. Don’t rest now but work harder. Get into that ‘go-to’ zone.’
So that’s what I did. The last kilometre seemed to go on for ages and I hoped that there would be a sight of the finish line around every corner sadly it took a while to appear and the longer they took, the more exhausted I became. I was shattered and dug deeper than ever before to find the energy to keep going. And then I saw the runner in the distance turn right and I might have even heard some cheering too. Not quite in sight but mentally within touching distance. The micro muscles in my legs were tearing with every stride that I took, I was in pain and my legs were stiffening up but this was no time for holding back and I dug deeper than ever before.
I turned the corner, looked up and at last I could see the finish line. But I was shocked at what I saw. I looked on in disbelief as the timer clicked over the 2:00:00 point as I entered the final strait. ‘No way!’ I shouted to myself, probably with an expletive or two thrown in for good measure. ‘No f*cking way!’ I had worked my arse off and for what, a two-hour-plus Half Marathon? I quickly realised that there was nothing that I here was nothing that I could do to change the time that had now passed, instead, I had to focus on getting across the line before too many more seconds clicked up.
2:00:41 was not the time that I had wanted something between 1:50 and 2:00 would have done but not over two hours. In hindsight, I should have started slower and conserved more energy for the latter part of the race but such analysis can wait for another day. I received my medal and a bottle of water before completing my final task of the day, collecting a printout of my race result.
‘Rank 68, Cat Place Male 60+ 1st’
“Does this mean that I was first in my race category?” I asked. “Provisional” the organiser replied, almost but not quite wiping away the tear of emotion which was forming behind my eyes. In a few short seconds, my sadness had turned to jubilation. I had won my race! The first-ever Bangkok Airlines Chiang Rai International Marathon 21k Male Age 60+ winner was …me!
I had to wait a while to get the result confirmed and to show my passport and then wait for the prize-giving ceremony. With trophies for the first five in every cat, it would be a long process but I didn’t mind at all. It also gave me a chance to chat with some other runners and in particular those from Chiang Mai, where I hoped to be running soon. I have to say that it was one proud Ayrshire man that hobbled up the stairs and onto the stage to be introduced as the winner of my race cat by over three minutes. I posed for the official photos and shared mutual congratulations with the other winners, who were all so enthusiastic towards me.
I was afforded a hero’s welcome as I arrived back at the hotel with my winner’s trophy in my hand and enjoyed a hearty breakfast after having a shower and changing into my civvies. I later discovered that the course had indeed been long and was, in fact, 22.5k, meaning that I had run my HM in a much more acceptable 1:53:08.
Unfortunately, a dodgy stomach and fatigue meant that there would be no celebrating for me as I returned to my sickbed to recuperate. It would take days rather than hours for me to recover but time is on my side.
I’d like to thank each and every one of the 500+ congratulations that I have received through social media over the last few days. All of you have helped make me one extremely happy chappy, albeit a bit stiff and sore at the moment. I’ve been fortunate enough to win all my races since my birthday, who knew that turning 60 could be so rewarding?
Many thanks to all of the runners, officials, volunteers and photographers for making the day such a special one and in particular to Suthisa Ratanathevamart for helping me source the photos for my blog.