Ryan, Richard, and I had gotten to the Khao Yai area on Thursday afternoon after flying to Bangkok and driving the rental car 2 hours north. Thursday passed quietly, Friday did the same until we found our way to the race area to check-in, pick up our bibs, and listen to the race instructions.
Running is unique in that it’s the skinny people who are scarier. And there were a lot of skinny-scary dudes walking around. I was getting pretty intimidated, and Richard ‘helped’ calm my nerves by telling me, “Looks can be deceiving… you don’t look fast.” True enough.
I didn’t know what place I was in, but after only 30 minutes of a 100k race, that’s not very important. What’s more important, for me at least, is to follow my plan. So, I put my head down, sped up, and after several more kilometers was back where I wanted to be.
I don’t know how many miles Richard, Ryan, and I have run together since I got to Thailand, but it has to be several hundred. That being said, it was great to spend the weekend with them. They both ran races this weekend as well.
The miles started ticking off and I was feeling good. I caught up with a fellow runner at some point in here and we made conversation for a while. That turned out to be Kristian Morgan, the guy who ended up finishing 2nd and was never far behind the rest of the day. These early miles - with the steep climbs, the sharp downhills, and everything else - these are the ones that you cherish, as the later miles don’t just tick off.
Running on the road I turn a sharp corner and am greeted by a line of young school children. In unison they wai (bowing with hands clasped as in prayer) and yell, “Sa-Wa-Dee-Kha!” “Hello!” I think I managed a translatable grunt back at them as I waved, but their smiling faces buoyed me for miles. Another time a young boy ran with me for 100 meters or so while he tried to get a selfie of him and I. Joy.
Several hours in I ran into a wall. It was a wall of folks running the 15 and 25km race. This wouldn’t have been a problem but it was climbing up a steep hill and then descending that same hill with no room on either side. I spent 10 minutes saying “Excuse me!” waiting for people to step aside, and then rushing to the next group of people. I had to do this with probably close to 100 people. The only thing that kept me from going crazy was knowing that everyone else in my race was in the same situation.
In one of these packs of people I passed the 1st place 100k runner. So, coming out of that section I found myself in first. And, as the new first place runner, I got a motorcycle companion that followed me around and pointed me through the rest of the course. I’d like to think that we became friends, but a lot of things from Saturday are fuzzy so that might have been in my head.
I took several minutes to enjoy being in the lead, but I could feel the footsteps of Quang Tran (the 3rd place finisher) close behind. So, I put my head down and ran.
“What do you think about when you run that far?” I thought about my mom who I knew would be up until I finished (2:45am her time), so I ran as fast as I could so she could cheer and get to bed. I thought about cheesy lava pizza, finish line massages, and why on earth I run these races. But mostly, I was just trying to enjoy the day. Waving to kids, Thumbs-upping fellow runners (“Suu Suu!!!”), and trying to remember poems, (“Forget your voice, sing! Forget your feet, dance! Forget your life, live! Forget yourself and be!” - Kamand Kojouri).
It got hot. It got hard. It got to the point where I didn’t want to take another step. But I did.
As I’m sitting here thinking of all of the stories, all of the people, and all of those little moments that pass quicker than they come, I am forced to stop writing soon or I’ll go on and on.
I spent nearly 40 miles in the lead. I felt like I was being hunted, and it was not a great feeling. I’ve always enjoyed laying back and waiting for opportunities, but Saturday, for several reasons, I felt like my best strategy was to push early and hang on. Finishing only 2 minutes ahead of second place, 10 minutes ahead of 3rd place and only 35 minutes ahead of the first woman I think that was a good idea!
“Why (or how) do you run that far?” It used to be that I would run angry. Or, if not angry, sad. Life can sometimes be difficult. And I firmly believe what I have said about running being a chance to get a win in life. Running doesn’t solve a failing relationship, but it can displace some of the pain for a little while. But, right now? Finishing up 2017 and having a good start on 2018? I can be nothing but grateful for my life. And so, when the race got hard, like they always do, this time I didn’t whip myself. This time I didn’t force myself to not quit like I had in other life endeavors. Instead, I ran happy, free, and with joy. And that made all the difference.
Saturday was a great race, but now I am excited to just run for fun for a while. I’m leading a “Couch to 5K” program for my friends at work, and that is great.
I got a free entry into The North Face’s 100k in Hong Kong next December, so maybe I won’t retire just yet. Maybe one more year of this… ; )