thai sikh run
A road half marathon along the motorways and inner city streets of Bangkok. The race started at 4:30 a.m., so it was entirely in the dark. Most, but not all, of the roads were closed off to cars. There was minimal elevation throughout the race.
The Lead Up
My previous race before this one was a 50 km trail ultramarathon, eight weeks prior. I had well and truly recovered and was back into a regular running routine. I had not completed an official half marathon for several years, so I thought it was time to see how far I had come. This race was not an A race for me, but slotted well into my training for a 10 hour road run coming up in seven weeks time.
Training was going well until four days before race day. I was completing a typical Wednesday morning easy run, trying to break in some new shoes that may have been slightly too large for me. One moment I was running along the notoriously uneven Sukhumvit footpath, the next I had face-planted the concrete. I had no idea what had happened but I knew I was extremely embarrassed so, despite the searing pain through my body, I quickly picked myself up and kept running.
After a few moments I could feel warm liquid running down my neck, dripping on my shirt and the ground. One quick swipe of my hand across my chin came back covered in blood. Another swipe, another handful of blood. I knew this wasn't good. A quick body scan also revealed grazes across my right hand, hip and knee, reducing me to a slight hobble. I was four kilometres from home and had no money on me, so I knew there was only one option: push on.
Once home I headed straight for the bathroom to assess the damage. It didn't look great. There was a huge hole under my chin, so deep I'm sure the bone was exposed. It was still bleeding. I managed to clean up the rest of my body, shower, dress, eat breakfast, get ready for work and then decided maybe I should go to hospital.
Thankfully the emergency department at the local hospital was empty (something you would never see in Australia), so I was admitted straight away and surrounded by medical staff. I was given injections for this, that and the other, the wound was scrubbed (literally, scrubbed) and a double layer of stitches was applied (internal and external). Afterwards a huge, thick, white bandage was placed right across my chin. If I was worried that my injury would stand out before, I had no chance of hiding it now.
I was still on time for work.
The next few days were filled with short, easy runs, trying to ignore the pain in my hip and knee. I'm sure the doctor wouldn't have been happy to know that I was running. I was supposed to keep the wound dry and the sweat dripping down my face was making that task impossible. But, being as stubborn as I am, I got all my miles in to make sure I could be as ready as possible for the race.
I had lived in Bangkok less than three months by the time race day came around. I was well and truly prepared with maps and notes for where the start line was, hoping I could somehow communicate with a taxi driver exactly where I wanted to go. It took three attempts before a taxi would eventually accept me, understand my request and drive out to a side of the city I hadn't visited before.
In my nervousness about getting to the start line on time, I had left home ridiculously early. When I arrived at the race venue, there was hardly anyone around and I had nothing to do but sit and wait. I didn't know anyone running this race and everywhere I looked I was surrounded by people speaking Thai. After 30 minutes or so I did a bit of a warm up, running up and down the one street so that I wouldn't get lost and miss the start. My hip was still painful but the intensity had decreased. I had taken off the ugly chin bandage and replaced it with a Band-Aid. It didn't hold.
There were a few hundred people milling around the start line and I was lucky to be near the front. All instructions were in Thai, so I was in trouble if there was anything particularly important in the speech. I figured that as long as I followed the person in front of me, I would be fine. If only that turned out to be the case.
The race was fairly straightforward. Run on the roads, follow the markers, steal quick glances at the important monuments silhouetted against the night sky, pick up the occasional cup of water at the aid stations. All the volunteers were fantastic and supportive, giving me the one or two words they knew in English. The pain in my hip was manageable and I wasn't at all concerned about my chin. I just kept smiling and carried on.
After a while I noticed that many volunteers were holding up their first finger with big smiles on their faces, speaking Thai to me. I presumed this was not a rude Thai gesture but their way of telling me that I was the first female. I had never come first in road race before and the thought of possibly winning a half marathon gave me an added boost to give the race everything I could.
Coming in towards the end, I was suddenly stopped by an official. Had I done something wrong? Did he just want to chat? Couldn't he see I was running in this race? Although he couldn't speak English, he could quite easily point to the traffic light above my head, shining brightly red. I was being stopped for traffic? This was something I had definitely never experienced in a race before. I impatiently waited for the few cars to pass, silently urging the official to let me continue. When I was finally allowed to go I took off at a near sprint, hoping I hadn't lost too much time.
I didn't need to worry. That wasn't my biggest problem. I wasn't sure how it happened, but after a few twists and turns through the city streets I came out at a main road full of runners. I guessed they were running the shorter distances and were heading towards the finish, so I jumped in and joined them. After a few minutes I realised that the course I was on looked familiar. I looked down at my watch and discovered I was up to 22.0 km. Something wasn't right. Then it clicked: these runners were not going towards the finish, they were just heading out from the start. If my heart rate wasn't high enough, I just sent it into the red zone. I tried to ask some volunteers where the finish was, but no one could help me (probably due to my English rather than not knowing where the end was). My short-lived dreams of a first place were quickly slipping away.
Looking back, the sensible thing to do would have been to turn around and follow the stream of runners back to the start line. I didn't do that. Instead I turned down an empty street, in a part of the city I had never been before, and tried to figure out where to go. I was lucky I have a good sense of direction, and I knew which way the start/finish line should be. After a couple more turns I found the finishing point, coming into it backwards. My watch said 23.0 km, almost an extra two kilometres. I hurriedly tried to explain my situation, worried they would disqualify me for the route I took. One nice, calm lady came over and informed me that I was still the first female. She had received regular updates from course marshalls and knew I hadn't cheated. I was so relieved I wanted to hug her. I had done it! I won a 21.1 km race running 23 km - I don't think many people can say that.
I later realised that I made the wrong turn about 100 metres before the end. All I needed to do was turn left towards the finishing chute, and instead I turned right with a bunch of other runners. I guess our parents were right when they said, "Look both ways before crossing the street".
Once I had received my trophy (all written in Thai) and prize money (I didn't even know there was prize money) I took advantage of the incredible spread of food on offer. To my amazement, everything was vegetarian - I had so many choices! Often I'm happy if I get some fruit and an electrolyte drink, but here there was also stir fries, noodles, rice, fried doughy balls, desserts - I had a feast! Very, very appreciative of the range of food available. Easily my favourite post-race food experience ever.
I looked at my stats when I arrived home and discovered I had a new half marathon (21.1 km) record by 15 minutes. I felt I had become faster in the last year or so, especially with the increase in training and the new diet, but I had no idea that I could reduce my time by that much. Although you will never see me at the Olympic games, it was a wonderful feeling to know that many months and years of hard work do get rewarded.
Pay attention! It is so easy to get lost, even on a road course with markers and volunteers. Just a quick lapse of concentration could have you miles from where you want to be.
If possible, practise running the course beforehand. Know which way you need to turn at various intersections and look for familiar landmarks. This could have saved me a lot of stress on the day. If it's not possible to run the route, at least study the course map.
Maybe I should run some more road races, to see what sort of times I can achieve. These can help to plan my paces in training and help give me goal times for longer races. Plus it's always a nice feeling achieving a new PB.