10 hour run
10 hours on a 2.1 km flat concrete path around a lake. Run as many full laps as you can in the allocated time, between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., in the middle of Thailand's hot season.
The Lead Up
I loosely followed a couple of 50 mi/80 km training plans I had available, with the overall aim of increasing my mileage each week. I started official training about 14 weeks out, which was when I discovered and signed up for the race. I had just come off a 50 km trail race (link Columbia Masters X) so I knew I had the base fitness and was ready to start the serious training. Having never run further than 50 km, I had no idea what I would be capable of in 10 hours in the relentless Bangkok summer heat.
My training consisted of running every day, with one tempo and one interval session each week and back to back long runs on the weekend. I threw in a few shorter races during my training, including a road half marathon, trail half marathon and a 45 km trail race. This final ultra was four weeks out from race day and was supposed to be my last big effort. Unfortunately I came away with foot pain from the race (which later turned out to be tendinitis) so I took the following week off. Scared of losing fitness before race day, I pushed myself again two weeks out, clocking over 120 km that week. It was my biggest training week yet.
The week of the race I did short, easy runs each day, with nothing over 6 km. The day before I completed a slow 5 km run then spent the rest of the day loading up on every carbohydrate I could get my hands on. I found in the past that eating more than normal helps me to get through longer races with plenty of energy. That day I took it to the extreme. Oats, bread, noodles, rice, smoothie, fruit, dry biscuits, salad, energy bars - whatever I could find, I ate. I was full all day but not uncomfortably so. In my mind I was conscious of making sure my glycogen stores were well and truly topped off. I don't think there was any chance that they weren't.
The day started just as every other day in Bangkok starts: hot. Actually it was a little cool by Bangkok's standards, but the temperature was still well above what I would like it to be. There was a temperature gauge above the start line, and by 5:30 a.m. it was already in the high 20s. And it was only going to get hotter.
I signed up to the race with the Bangkok Runners running group, and some wonderful group members decided to volunteer to support the 15-20 of us crazy enough to run the event. We had a couple of tents set up, with a designated tray for each runner to place all their food and hydration supplies. Every request or potential need was met even before we knew we needed it. The volunteers were outstanding and it was a great feeling to be running in such a supportive and inclusive group. A big thank you to everyone who helped out on the day.
By the time I had set up my station, said a quick hello to everyone and posed for the obligatory group photo, it was time to line up at the start. There were about 600 other runners from dozens of other running groups. The path we were running on was only a couple of metres wide, yet somehow we had to fit all these runners onto it in such a short distance. I immediately began to wonder if I would be able to run at all or if I would be trying to delicately squeeze past people all day.
I didn't need to worry. Somehow we all fit, spreading out along the course. While there was a bit of weaving going on, and I was never more than a meter or two from another person, I had enough space to run my own race. I quickly settled into a rhythm that wasnt too fast but I had no idea if I could sustain it for 10 hours.
The first couple of hours flew by, and I felt I was running at a decent pace as well as keeping on top of my nutrition and hydration. There were two water stations set up, each with icy cold cups of water, so I could rehydrate every kilometre without having to stop or carry any drinks with me. My fuel station was set up so I could quickly grab gels, dates and bananas, my sole energy source for the first 4-5 hours.
My supplies for the day.
It was between hours two and three that my stomach decided it was not happy with me. I have never had gastrointestinal issues in a race before, so I was pretty annoyed they came up now. The one good thing was that we were on a course that ran past not one, not two but THREE toilet blocks, with properly installed and fully plumbed toilets. No squatting behind a bush for me. Twice in that hour I had to make a detour into one of these blocks, frustrated that it was eating up many valuable minutes.
My wonderful husband Danny turned up at 9 a.m., much earlier than anticipated after working late the night before. Danny is also a runner, but hadn't run more than a half marathon in the last 18 months. He paced me every few laps, running ahead to grab items I requested or manning the aid station to be ready to hand me whatever I needed. He was my knight in shining armour, or in this case my knight in a sweaty t-shirt. At the end of the day we discovered he ran 30 km with me - a phenomenal effort. The mental strength he gave me played a huge part in my performance, for which I will be forever grateful.
All the way around the course were tents set up by the dozens of running groups located in Bangkok. Each team had volunteers and supporters cheering us on the entire day. Everyone was making and handing out food and drinks, regardless of whether you belonged to their group or not. A few people made icypoles/popsicles of differing flavours, which were a godsend in the hotter parts of the day. I couldn't stomach the hot meals they were preparing, and I wasn't sure how anyone did. There was music playing, people dancing, runners in costumes - one running group even had a kiddie pool set up (that looked way too inviting). There was so much going on that it provided a great distraction from the monotony of running around a 2.1 km loop nonstop.
After about four hours my body had had enough of the simple sugars and started craving other flavours and textures. I moved on to "real" foods, such as sticky rice, energy bars (including the amazing Runivore bars), boiled potatoes and jam sandwiches. They were a bit of an effort to get down as I was becoming more and more dehydrated, causing my mouth to become dry. Yet I knew that I needed to keep my energy stores stocked up if I wanted to avoid hitting the wall.
Knowing so many people from Bangkok Runners meant that it was never more than a few minutes between seeing people you knew. Unlike trail ultramarathons, where you can go for hours without seeing anyone, here I was constantly saying hi, having a quick chat or shouting out support to a fellow runner. The comaraderie is unique to events like this and I would highly recommend that everyone give it a go. You don't have to run the entire time (and many people didn't) but the experience of a time-based event on a short course is like no other race you will ever enter. As tedious as it sounded, I was never bored once.
Six hours in my right foot started developing a pain underneath my arch. I had never experienced pain in that location before and didn't know what to make of it. I kept going, hoping it would disappear, but it progressively became more and more painful. Eventually I slowed down my pace, and when that didn't help I swapped out my shoes for some more cushioned, supportive runners. While the pain in my arch subsided a bit, my right ITB decided that right now would be a great time to flare up. I had had ITB troubles years ago and knew how detrimental it could be. Within two laps I was out of those shoes too, changing into the third pair of runners I had brought along. The ITB irritation subsided, the pain in my arch was present but manageable, now it was time to focus on this race.
Until I hit the seven hour mark, when my bowels made themselves known again. I had no idea what set them off, other than just copious amounts of running in desert-like conditions. Over the next couple of hours I was in and out of the toilet block another three times, hoping that whatever was making my stomach angry would pass. By this stage I was off the real foods and could only stomach fruit (mostly watermelon), icypoles/popsicles and soda, but I was making sure to consume something at least every second lap.
The heat steadily progressed throughout the day, topping out at 47°C (116°F) mid afternoon. Why this race was organized in the middle of the hot season I will never understand. To make it worse, Thailand was experiencing its longest heatwave in 65 years. Fantastic. The heat definitely affected everyone's performance, but I didn't find it entirely unbearable. I guess because it rose gradually and I wasn't struck by a giant wave of heat in one go. Several people were stretched off from the course, succumbing to the effects of the weather. From roughly midday onwards, I started sticking ice under my hat, letting the cool water drip down my face and neck. At the water stations I would have a few sips of water before tipping the rest over me. It eventually got to the point where I would walk while going past these stations, using them as an excuse to give my weary legs a break. It would only be for 10-20 metres, then I would force myself to get going again, usually at a shuffle. I ran every single lap I was out there.
I never once wanted to quit. However, the impact of GI complaint, the relentless heat and humidity, plus the pain in my foot started to get the better of me later in the day. I had started the day reciting positive mantras to myself, choosing words and phrases that suited how I was feeling and that would lift my spirits. I lost these later in the day. I went deep inside my shell, focusing on the negatives and not taking in what Danny and others were telling me. It wasn't until I could sense the finish, about an hour before the end, that I came out of the fog and returned to the present. Looking back I realise that mental strength is an area I need to work on if I continue competing in longer races.
Just after the nine hour mark I calculated how many more laps I could fit in within the allocated time. I had slowed so much during the last couple of hours that I had let slip the chance of completing 100 km, but at that stage I didn't care. I increased my pace again to make sure I had enough time to get through another four laps. I finished my final lap at the 9 hour and 56 minute mark, and was greeted by Danny on the finish line. I almost fell into his arms, wanting to laugh and cry at the same time. I had just run for 10 hours, clocking up 98.7 km. 47 laps of the one course. I was tired, exhausted, sore, but I had finished. I had almost doubled my previous longest running distance, in insane temperatures, without stopping to rest at any point (except on the toilet). It was an incredible feeling. I was proud and delighted with my performance, as well as the effort and achievements of everyone else out there.
My incredible husband, pacer and crew member.
Don't eat THAT much the day before the race. This may have contributed to my gut problems.
Some pain you can run through. If you decide you are going to keep running, make sure it's worth it. Pushing too hard through an injury can take you out of running for weeks or months, so you need to be mindful that there may be consequences for continuing on.
Remember your mantras. I lost these for a few hours and my running suffered. Maybe having them written down at the aid station, or asking Danny to remind me, would have helped.
You can't control your bowels. When you gotta go, you gotta go. Also, appreciate real toilets.
Change your shoes as soon as you feel you need to. Don't ignore any hot spots that appear. A new pair of kicks can make all the difference.
No amount of training could have fully prepared me for a race like this. When completing new or longer events, expect some surprises, both good and bad.
Never, ever underestimate the power of family and friends on your mindset, whether they are racing, pacing or crewing. A familiar face can make all the difference.
I was also interviewed about this race for the Ultrafinishers podcast, which can be found on iTunes here.