Lampang, also called Nakhon Lampang is the third largest town in northern Thailand and capital of Lampang Province and the Lampang district lies 100km southeast of Chiang Mai and 600km north of Bangkok.
The city traverses the Wang River, a major tributary to the Chao Phraya and has long been a trading and transportation centre. Historically, logging of teak was an important industry and many elephants were employed to transport the logs to the river for transport to Bangkok, hence the founding of an “elephant school”, the predecessor of the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre.
Lampang is also called “mueang rot ma” in Thai, meaning “horse carriage city” and this is the only place in Thailand where horse-drawn carriages are still in regular use. Although these days they are usually a means of transportation for tourists to discover the sights of the pretty city, including the nine temples built in Burmese-style, originally endowed by the logging tycoons of the late-19th century.
This year, a local woman decided that it would be a good idea to organise a race which raised money for local causes whilst taking in the city’s temples. It seemed like a good excuse for me and others from Chiang Mai to make the trip south and enjoy the city of the white rooster, its Lanna architecture and its Saturday night walking street market. The city is also well known for a range of other products including Thai silk and ceramics made of the best china clay. This was to be reflected in the ceramic, rather than metal, medals and trophies that runners received for completing the race.
Chiang Mai resident Mark Barron, originally from Wales, was kind enough to offer me a lift to Lampang and we arranged to meet up with Aussie, Steve Trethowan who is backpacking around various races in Thailand. I had booked the last available room in the quaint, Lanna style, Riverside Guest House and Mark and Steve had secured accommodation close by.
We befriended a young English teacher, Sarah from Massachusetts in the USA who had recently taken up a job at a local school and was also staying at the Riverside for the weekend. It takes a lot of courage for someone to travel so far and to a completely different culture to help young Thais learn English. Not all of the children are too keen on learning. It’s a challenging job, not very well paid but can be rewarding in other ways particularly when helping those kids that are keen to learn.
We headed out to explore the town and find somewhere for dinner. The local night market is held on the same narrow road as the Riverside Guest House and was brimming with locals and tourists strolling along e street taking advantage of the low prices for the various arts and crafts and other items for sale and the delicious food on offer at the same time as being serenaded by local musicians with the calming sound of live Lanna music. A group of young, shy, local students asked if they could interview myself and Sarah for their school project. Of course, we were happy to oblige. The experience brought back memories of years ago when young Spanish students had interviewed me in Carcassonne in the South of France. They had asked me if I knew why the Romans had come to Carcassonne, and I amused them by responding “Por que no?”
Tonight the students just wanted to record interviews, in English, asking me my name, where I had come from and if I’d travelled to Lampang before. After helping the local students and buying some clothes and tasty street food we went to Long Jim’s for some carbo-loading.
I had an early night and set my alarm clock for 4:30 am for the scheduled 5:30 race start. It was pitch dark as I navigated my way through the alleyways to the main street that led past the Clock Tower and on to the race HQ in Khelang Nakorn Park. One of the first people that I was to meet there was the new num ‘number 3’, Udom Sritip and I knew that I would have a race on my hands, having just beaten him for the first time at the recent PEA 10k race. Akkarawichai Thaksin also introduced himself, reminding me that I had beaten him at a race in Chiang Mai and we were joined by the other age 60+ Thai runners whilst we waited for the race start. All of them seemed convinced that I was the favourite to win. ‘No pressure then’ I thought to myself. I also took the opportunity to introduce myself to a couple of young Farang women, who turned out to be American triathletes, Jen LeVasseur and Kate Buehler who are also living at D’Vieng condo Santitham and were doing the 6.9k run, rather than the 12.9k option.
We eventually lined up at the start of the race, to then be advised that we were facing the wrong way. A quick about turn and a few shouts from my running buddies to the organisers about the route and we were sent on our way at 5:57 am. As soon as the gun fired, Udom darted off and I decided to stick with him. After about 100m, we made a U-turn and then a left turn which took us down an unlit road and into the darkness of the morning. I thought about just sitting in behind Udom for the race and trying to out-sprint him on the final strait but decided just to run my own race and overtook him.
There was a leading pack of around twelve runners and then I and a couple of young athletic runners, one of which going by looks may well have been Korean. We crossed over our first bridge, a pedestrian one with steps down to it and a metal bar presumably to stop cyclists providing an additional hazard especially in the dark. The bridge bounced under the weight of my steps and I felt a bit sick. On the other side of the river, we visited our first Wat of the run and collected a rubber band which we put on our wrists. We ran to our second Wat and then to our third. The Korean runner had dropped off the pace and there was only the two of us, Nhong Weerawat and me. Although we were running well we had lost sight of the leading pack and as we ran shoulder to shoulder down a road with no sign of life, Nhong turned to me and said: “I don’t know the route”. I replied “Phom mai pay nai”. We stopped at the next junction to consider the options and were soon joined by Udom and a couple of others, after some discussion we decided on which road to take. In hindsight, it was probably the wrong choice and it took us a long time and a few other confusing junctions before we finally saw a sign with an arrow saying 12.9km.
It wasn’t long after that, that we reached our next Wat just outside of the old city wall. We ran through the Wat, collected our rubber bands and made our way back along the same road where we witnessed hordes of other runners emerging from our left-hand side, undoubtedly the proper and shorter route which we should have taken. The confusion didn’t bother me too much as I wasn’t expecting the organisation to be top notch and I was just using the event to get a decent training run and see some of the city. The lack of water stations reinforced my school of thought but it wasn’t too much of an issue as it was cooler this morning and decent running conditions.
The three of us Nhong, myself and Udom and usually in that order ran in our own pack as we traversed the river numerous occasions and visited Wat after Wat often with no one else on sight and having to ask passers bye if they had seen any other runners before deciding on which route to take. I was aware of the possibility that I might get lost when I decided to make my break after six miles. Slowly increasing the pace to start with both Nhong and Udom stuck close behind me. I noticed a few signs on the way and pointed them in the right direction, even going back to get them at one point.
We turned one corner and joined the 6.9k runners and walkers. “There can’t be far to go now,” I thought but it was clear that they were as lost as us. I nearly missed one sign with a monk standing in front of it and was surprised to find that we crossed the river again…. and then again. I had increased the pace and was running along what seemed to be a main road, there were no race signs but also no other runners, so I asked a passerby if he had seen runners going this way and he seemed to say yes. I wasn’t convinced though so a hundred metres or so further on I asked someone else. “I don’t know” they responded and the seeds of doubt in my mind were truly sown. At 12k, I turned around and saw, in the distance, that Ngong and Udom had also turned around and with throngs of others were turning off the main road. I set off in hot pursuit of them but they had already established a significant lead.
Once I had turned off the main road, I saw that there was a sign, perhaps 50m down the road, indicating the route. ‘A lot of good it is there’ I thought to myself. I then spotted M60+ category ‘number 6’ ahead wearing his distinctive white cap. I knew that either he was having the race of his life or I was now well down the field. It didn’t matter which as all I had to do was try to catch him. As I chased after him, I could see Nhong further ahead running in a group and in front of them, running as if his life depended on it was Udom. Although I could only see him from the back, I knew that he had the bit between his teeth and glory in his eyes. The 12th k had taken me 4:48, the 13th 4:28.
I still didn’t know how far there was to go but I was now hoping that it would be longer rather than shorter if I was to have any chance of catching him. It didn’t take me long to catch ‘number 6’ and then I didn’t even notice passing Nhong and the others along the way as I focussed entirely on Udom and decreasing the gap between us. The 14th k took me 4:21 and the finish line was in sight. Could I catch him? There was only one way to find out and I gave it my all, sprinting down the final strait. I had him, I could do it! But then he looked over his shoulder and saw me approaching him like a steaming train, his face went white with shock and his legs went into flight mode. I was running at a pace of 2:53 min/k and there is no way that I could give any more as I saw him sprint over the line just in front of me.
My body was crying out for oxygen and my legs were turning to rubber, they placed the number 5 finisher card around my neck and handed me a china clay medal before I found a tree to rest beside. Steve had watched my sprint finish and was worried about me. They fetched a nurse but really I was fine, I just needed to get my breath back and give my body a few minutes to recover. Some smelling salts, water and isotonic drinks and I was as right as rain and able to congratulate Udom and the others on their success. I had run 14.65k in 1:09:53 and had visited eleven temples but had still won a trophy.
Fellow D’Vieng residents Kate and Jen were as proud as punch to have placed 2nd and 3rd in their race, despite having run 7.9k and joined me in the wait for the award ceremony.
The mid-morning sun was shining down on us as we watched the riders for the associated cycling event start their race. We were also entertained by traditional Lanna music and dancing and a monk-led procession before the awards ceremony was held, some two hours after we had crossed the line. I’ve been in Thailand now long enough now not get upset by the lack of organisation and their somewhat relaxed attitude to timescales and race distances. Hey, what else was I going to do on a late November Sunday morning?
We eventually made our way back to our accommodation, where I enjoyed a hearty al fresco breakfast by the riverside before having a nap and meeting the others for coffee and our return ‘khlap baan’ to Chian Mai.
Thanks to all my running buddies old and new for another great race and a lovely weekend. I even met one friend that lives there but I had thought that she lived in Lampung, we Farangs are easily confused. Many thanks to the organisers and photographers and to everyone who sourced the various photos for this blog. It really is much appreciated.