It really does make a huge difference in a trail running race experience to have a well organized race. It is Pong Yaeng’s “Zero Edition.” Also, it’s the RD’s and staff’s first time to organize such an event. I was very impressed how well it went and we plan to do it next year.
Pong Yaeng Trail Run 30K is our first race in Thailand. Just like France’s Grand Trail Du Lac, we really had a fantastic time! Races build character. The 5.5 miles climb to the view point of Pong Yaeng was tough specially starting in pitch dark. Although not the toughest pitch dark run ever, the toughest race in the dark was a stage in the Manaslu Trail stage race falling into freezing iced glaciers in pitch dark when my headlamp ran out of battery. In any case, any racing in the dark is always a crazy idea.
We rode a shuttle from the Chiang Mai airport provided by the race organizers Saturday morning. It was also the birthday of the King of Thailand so it was quite busy on the roads. Almost everyone wears a yellow shirt with “Bike for Dad” logo. There were some misunderstanding with the shuttle service pick-up and traffic to add to it that the shuttle was about an hour and a half late picking us up. Luckily, a couple who had Injinji socks and running watches gave me the clue that they were also waiting for the shuttle for the race. If you wear Injinji socks, you are a trail runner. They called the shuttle service number and told us about the late pick-up. We didn’t have a cell phone so we hung around until the shuttle came. It’s not like we were in a hurry to go somewhere and it was a really nice cool morning. The husband spoke good English and kept us updated. The couple were super sweet and nice people. Thai’s are generally that way, very helpful people and so kind. They were also both running the 66K! Also, they live in Bangkok and there are no hills or mountains to train there. They both train running up tall buildings using the stairs! This is how dedicated they are. I was really humbled by their dedication to train no matter what the situation is, you just use what is available.
We picked up our bibs at the famous Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden at the Glasshouse Complex after checking in to the hotel. We realized when we got there that our hotel is about 3 km to the Glass House, a kilometer down a steep hill from the hotel and then 2km up a very steep hill in the park to the Glasshouse Complex which is also the finishing climb of our race. We walked up the the Glasshouse Complex and the place was busy with visitors from everywhere. There were so many plants and flowers. We found a ride back to the hotel to make it back in time for the briefing, if not we would have missed it. We met the race organizers we’ve been communicating via email. Great group of people.
The briefing was very thorough and there’s only handful of expats and foreigners signed up for the race including us. Right after the briefing, we had an awesome race dinner, buffet style of delicious Thai cuisine. I felt the excitement in the room! The atmosphere is fun and all smiles. We met an Australian lady runner and an British expat who both did really well in the race.
PYT race organized a shuttle service from the hotel to the race start the next morning, which really helped a lot! So, we got to the race 30 mins before the start and was able to see the 66km racers start. It was pretty exciting and still dark! There was great announcing and cheering from the race announcer as we started to stage ourselves at the start line.
The race started with the 2km downhill, which was also the road we climbed up to pick up our bibs – steep. We started at a pace I could handle to get a good warm-up and were able to pass a few runners. All I could see was my light on the ground and try to look at my watch to make sure I am not going overboard in my pace before we hit the base of the 5.5 mi climb. It’s really very tempting to go hard and fast specially with a downhill start. It was cool but not cold, just enough but I was still sweating before even hitting the climb.
It was a grind up that climb. Ouch. It was so dark and hard to see more once we got to the dirt. We started to follow racers ahead of us and try to keep our pace manageable without blowing up but still putting in a good effort. The ground was really hard packed and with some rain the other day, it was slippery in some sections but not bad. It felt like climbing forever until we were headed towards a big garden and ran under some wires that were used to grow vegetable vines on. It was a single track downhill and some muddy sections. As soon as we started back climbing again, behind us was the sun just starting to rise. Everyone stopped to take pictures and looked back for a few secs to see the bright orange sun coming up. It was so beautiful.
We continued to climb and climb to the point where there was a small offering shrine. Racers stopped and put their hand together to pray before heading on. The race loop up and around the little point then to the first aid station where we had our race passport stamped. We were somewhat on the ridge at that point. I noticed a couple of young Thai ladies and myself tagging each other back and forth in the race. In fact, there were three of us battling for whatever spot we were on, we were pretty close. No matter what, it was the competitiveness spirit that I had to lose them somehow, somewhere. Hey, it’s a race and it’s the fun part!
There was a big downhill to a road then a big uphill exposed in the sun to the last check point and aid station. It was getting warm with the sun. I saw the two young ladies ahead, at the aid station then I left early trying to find a way to lose them. We had to climb back up the way we went down before the last aid station. The last aid station is in a very beautiful spot. There were a lot of camping tents set up facing the sunrise. I am assuming people camped there to watch the sunrise or even the sunset. We were at a view point of the hill with restaurant and small food stalls. As we headed up to the second aid station, I saw the two foreigner ladies heading back (one of them won the women’s category) and they were first two women in the 30K at that point. I thought to myself, it’s not too bad because we are almost to the turn around. I saw one other younger Thai lady running down a few second after them. There were runners everywhere because it’s also the 66K’s 2nd aid station so I must have missed the other two fast young ladies!
We climbed back up but I didn’t see any other runner except the guy we’ve been tagging back and forth pretty much the whole race. I wasn’t sure anymore of where the young Thai ladies were. Damn.
It was an out and back race so we saw racers coming our way. We started cheering for them and giving them all a thumbs up when they passed. Hard work for them and great to see them all smiles as we passed by! We continued over the ridge with some up and down that was about to drive me crazy. Little did I know, the long downhill was driving me even more nutty! Doug was behind me and I can see that he is up to his limit as I was.
The ground was so hard packed, it wasn’t fun for the feet. I was starting to cramp a bit on my inner thigh and quads but did my yoga “calm-myself-down” technique for the race. It’s amazing how you can relax your body using the mind. My muscles were all screaming at me to stop but I kept going, ignoring every possible sign of fatigue. Doug said, “We are going to be under 5 hours…” Yup. We reached the 5km mark with a water stop station and tried our darnest to go down that descent as fast as we could, what ever speed it was I don’t think we could have gone faster feeling the way we did.
All I can think of going down that descent was, “Where are you, Botanic Garden Resort?” The race course passed through our hotel parking lot so, as soon as we saw our hotel, we were both very happy but it’s not over yet. The final climb back up to the Glasshouse was brutal. It was exposed and busy with visitors to the park. Following behind the Thai guy we were tagging, we caught him then lost him – we caught him again, then he gapped us. Ouch. I wondered where the other three women were? Well, they were ahead of me 2 mins away. Sigh.
We finished with very tired legs with two last sets of stairs to the finishing banner!
A super fun race and a wonderful experience.