I discovered that there was a 7.5k race being staged at the local Institute of Physical Education for 200 Bhat, around £4:50. The college is adjacent to my new training base at Chiang Mai Municipal Stadium and the route around the old city moat is one of my training runs. It also forms the first part of the Chiang Mai Half Marathon being held on 24th December, which is my next target race, so I couldn’t resist the temptation to sign up. Although it was too late to apply online, registrations were being taken on Saturday afternoon and from 4:30 on the morning of the 6 am race. Rather than leave things to the last minute, I checked in on Saturday and was recognised by a few Thais and made to feel more than welcome by the organisers who were keen to know about me, where I came from and how long I’d be in the ‘Rose of the North’. Making polite conversation, one guy asked me how long the race would take me “about 35 minutes” I replied, not really giving it much consideration.
“Oomph!” he responded, sounding surprised “You run well”.
Of course, it’s easy to set yourself a random target but when I thought about it 35 minutes for 7.5k in the Thai heat, seemed like a decent target to set myself.
Apart from a few niggles, the only real issue I had was sunburn on my calves from cycling and the soles of my feet being hot and sore. On Saturday evening, I did my best to relieve the pain by soaking my feet and legs in the Jacuzzi section of the condo pool. I’m not expecting too much sympathy from those suffering the weather in the UK. I had a rare night in and went to bed early only to be woken at 3:45 by a couple of guys with American accents having a late night swim. They shouldn’t really be using the pool after 9 pm and they most certainly shouldn’t be chatting loudly whilst others are trying to sleep. An aggressive shout through my open bedroom window was enough to silence them.
Remaining positive, I decided to take advantage of the earlier than planned rise by having a light breakfast and rested until my alarm went off at 5 am by which time the predicted heavy showers had arrived.
I warmed up as I jogged along through the local fruit and vegetable market, across Chiang Phuek Road and to the race HQ.
There were quite a few fit and fast looking MV60+ runners warming up and I took the time to wish a few of them good luck before joining the ranks for the race start. I noticed one MV60 on the line wearing a marathon finisher’s vest with a distinctive 26 on its back before having a chat with a Lance, a Canadian in the same age category. The sweat was pouring out of me and I was worried that despite drinking water at 5 am, I’d be dehydrated by the time the race started.
After the pre-race speeches, which I guess seems even longer when you can’t understand more than a few words, we were sent on our way at 6:06. There was the usual crazy start as runners, particularly youngsters, jostle for position. I tried to keep out of trouble and watched Lance disappear into the distance, as did the Thai with the 26 on his back.
We veered right and then left, across a round-a-bout and slightly uphill along Salam Kela Road where we turned left and headed eastwards along Manee Nopparat Road with the famous moat on our right-hand side. I was settling into a steady pace but then reminded myself that this was a shorter race and that I needed to be running faster than usual. At 900m we turned right, along the south of the moat on Chaiyamphuem Road and I overtook my ‘26 vest’ rival. Shortly after this, my GPS revealed that the 1st k had taken 4:30, and I was happy enough with my start.
There was a drinks station at the mile point and I managed to grab enough to just about wet my tongue. We reached Thapae Gate, the start of the Chiang Mai Marathon and Half and I had to negotiate my way past a couple of red buses turning onto the road. The 2nd k had taken 4:37, which was fine. At the two-mile point, I grabbed some more water and we turned west along the southern side of the moat and onto Bumrung Buri Road. With 5k to go, the race was starting to settle down and I was using the other runners to help me. The 3rd k took me 4:42. Not a disaster but a worrying trend. I decided to work a bit harder and to chase after a group in front of me. There was a slight delay at the halfway point as I was handed the customary elastic bangle to place around my wrist but I still showed some improvement and the 4th k took 4:40.
We turned onto the west side of the moat and along Arak Road. I was focusing on a runner who had left me in their trails at last week’s 15k race and I managed to keep the pace at 4:40 to complete my fastest ever Thai 5k (23:09) but there was still one-third of the race to go.
I was working hard and feeling it, so I decided to play safe and slow at the 4th mile to ensure that I managed a decent drink of water. As usual, I poured the little that was left over my head and set off with renewed vigour to chase down those in front of me. We turned right and onto the north side of the moat, back onto Manee Nopparat Road. The 6th k was my slowest at 4:44 but we were on the final part of the moat and my target runner wasn’t too far ahead. I managed to get the pace down to 4:39 for the 7th k and as we turned off the moat, I increased the pace to 4:25 down the slight hill and back into the stadium, I passed a younger runner before crossing the line in a time of 34:25, well within my target of 35 minutes.
I could see the marshals pointing at my number and was pleasantly surprised when they placed a number 4 around my neck and congratulated me for placing fourth in my age category. There wasn’t any chip timing at the race so I didn’t know how I’d placed with the others until Lance, who had won our race, said that I must have finished in a time of around 34:20. “How do you know that?” I asked, and I think that he said that the first four of us were all within a minute. If that’s true then I’m delighted with my race. Incidentaly mt ‘target runner’ placed 1st F40.
I was also delighted at the response of other runners who noticed the 4 around my neck and congratulated me on my race and I did likewise as I warmed down around the stalls replenishing myself with water, fruit juice, milk, watermelon and bananas. Mark Barron, who kindly offered to take a photo of me with my trophy, looked on bemused as locals, young and old asked if they could get their photo taking with me. It really does feel as if I’ve become part of the local running scene.
Many thanks to all concerned with the race, the organisers, volunteers, my fellow runners, the photographers and for everyone for their likes and kind comments on social media.
Who knew that being sixty could be so much fun?