A Just Walk (run, hike, etc…)

"…to the Rock that is higher…"


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A Home Away From Home: the Relentless Chiang Mai 24-hour Endurance Run

Dear friends,

Here is the write up about the 24-Hour run I put on for FUN, as well as a fund-raiser for Relentless. However, no photos are found on THIS page because I’d have to go back through and re-load all the photos again here, which I won’t do in the interest of time and saving consternation. I encourage you to click on over  to the page on Relentless where I’ve posted the full deal. The event was truly special for everyone and we all did have fun! It was a lot of work but so worth it in the end! I’m so grateful for all your thoughts and prayers and for all the help by volunteers here! I’m also very grateful for all the donations that came in for Relentless!

Again, I’d like to encourage all of you who follow this blog to also follow the blog on Relentless, as well as the Facebook page to keep  up with what I’m doing.

Blessed to be a blessing!

On 25 May at 2pm, the first wave of runners started off the line for the Second Annual Relentless Chiang Mai 24 Hour Endurance Run. It was quite an international group, with twelve different nationalities represented among the 42 participants. Even so, ultramarathon culture transcends all others as the main aid station along the looped course became a home away from home – even as the many expatriates already call Thailand a home away from home.

Located near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, Huay Tung Tao Lake is encircled by a 3.7 km, nicely paved asphalt loop. The gently rolling road provides just enough diversity to keep the muscles interested, and there is enough shade to keep runners cool for much of the way.

After the swimmers, picnickers and fishermen packed up for the night, the full moon came out so that nobody needed to wear a headlamp. Crickets and frogs joined the chorus. Magical.

Runners had the option of running 6 or 12 hours, and four teens participated in the 3-hour kids’ division! A relay option for teams of up to eight people was offered for the 24-hour time, but nobody took advantage of that – everyone wanted to go hard-core solo!

Another unique feature was that the 3-, 6-, and 12-hour runners had the option of starting at either 2pm, 6pm, or 10pm. Some of the participants wanted to start earlier and get their run in, while others cherished running through the night. This timing also helped to spread out the runners and give the 24-hour people more company through the night.

This event pulled the absolute best from everyone. It was never about “winning” to beat another person – as there were no prizes for 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. It was all about challenging oneself – an opportunity to push further than previously attempted. The top 12-hour finisher had never run further than 55 km before his remarkable 85 km distance! Nearly all of the runners set a personal record, either in the most distance ever covered or the fastest time it took to cover a certain distance. Most set personal records of over 20-30 km.

A timed event, unlike a distance-oriented event, gives participants the opportunity, when they are tired, to take a break. They eat something, drink some coffee, stretch, and re-evaluate. Then they are ready to head back out for more. It was a safe environment in which to push themselves further than they thought possible. It was exciting to be a part of an event in which so many people came away having bettered themselves and achieved something great.

The aid station crew was no less exceptional. Many friends and relatives of runners volunteered their services and helped crew everyone – not just “their guy.” The kids who ran the 3 hours also stayed up most of the night and were the most cheerful and helpful crew ever! Several volunteers (including the kids) took laps with runners they had met only a few hours prior to keep them company and encourage them along the way. This was most helpful during the hot, middle part of the second day when we were all flagging a bit.

Finally, another remarkable note about this event is that it was a fundraiser for Relentless, a project that fights human trafficking through health care. Although this was a small event, approximately $8000 was raised, over $3000 of that by a single participant!

I look forward to hosting this event again next year and I hope that those of you who may be traveling through Southeast Asia looking for an ultramarathon will consider joining us next year!


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Church Camp!

This past weekend my church (Chiang Mai Grace Church) had their annual church camp. The Thai churches have getaway retreats that involve the entire church body, as opposed to just kids or separate men’s and women’s retreats. Mother’s Day is celebrated on 12 August each year in honor of the Queen’s birthday and this year it turned into a 3-day weekend, so this big holiday was a perfect time for the event. Many people came from out of town such as family of church members, and former attendees who now live in other places. A total of 130 people participated in the camp.

One of the elders baptizes a special young woman.

The speaker was quite good and he brought some fun and interactive ways to illustrate the points he wanted to make through his talks. He even quoted Timothy Keller a couple of times, so I knew he was right on. The theme of the camp was identifying our idols, how we like to hold on to them and how to dump them – a very challenging topic! Another great thing was that three people were baptized!

The children learned about Thailand’s Christian heritage and they honored the two families and me who are there who are sent as cross-cultural workers with a simple gift based on Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger bringing good news, breaking the news that all’s well, proclaiming good times, announcing salvation, telling Zion, “Your God reigns!”

The program was, of course, all in Thai and so were all my conversations – except the few I had with the other foreigners – so my brain got quite a language work out! My Thai is pretty good, but this was definitely challenging!

This was the first and church I visited when I moved to Chiang Mai and I haven’t visited another one since. I feel peace there and that doesn’t happen often. It is not too small, but seems intimate and people love each other and are welcoming to all. I don’t go to a Thai church because I feel obligated to go to a “Thai” church. I go there because the Spirit moves me there. And to be completely honest, if I’m not fully equipped by the sermon there are amazing talks on iTunes a couple clicks away. Of course it is FAR from perfect and the body is relatively young. I still have a long way to go to feel “integrated” but probably there will always be that tension as an expat. Even so, it is my local body and I seek to serve in and through it.

The interactive sessions had us in different groups all the time – this group was especially spunky!

A note on my Stateside schedule published here: I’ve since arranged some time in Grand Rapids, MI the last week of October.


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Huay Tung Tao Trek 6/12/24 Hour Endurance Run

Where to start when writing about this event? I’ll start with gratitude. Thank you Jesus for seeing me through the organization of this event, for all the help you provided, for the beautiful weather (one can expect a least a little rain in July), for keeping us healthy and safe, and for the wonderful place to run. I also must thank MANY other people, but that would take up too much space on this blog. The whole thing would have flopped without everyone pitching in to help and support one another. Entire families were involved and I feel like we became more like family through the event. Beautiful.

Runners at the start!

Although this was not my first crack at being a race director, a 24 hour endurance run is quite a bit different from a pot-luck “Cha-bu-duo”* 10km run! The idea came as sort of a whim as I was thinking of ways to prepare for my first 100 mile race in September. “I need to start practicing running at night, but what if I could practice running all night…” I mentioned this to a couple of my ChUG** friends and they thought that it was a good idea … or did they really say “good”? Anyway, I thought it was brilliant and went for it! Richard told me as we were setting up before the start, “I may not want to thank you later, so I’m thanking you now for having this brain-fart.”

A timed event, where runners run around a fixed loop and count how many loops they can do within the given time frame, is easier to do than a distance race. For example, I only had one major aid station and an unattended water/electrolyte stop halfway around. Furthermore, more people could participate as I made different time divisions: 6, 12, and 24 hour plus a 3-hour kids division!

A total of twenty-two people participated in the  – some were brave enough to travel from other parts of Thailand to participate in this inaugural event. Most people started on Friday evening, but a group of women opted to start on Saturday morning. I was delightfully surprised to see that they were Mennonite! One does not normally associate ultra-endurance events with such groups of people, but they love sport and there are plenty of athletes among them! I love it when people break the mold, break stereotypes and go for it!

The Mennonite women!

The most common question people asked me was, “Do you sleep at all during the 24 hours?” I actually did not know the answer to that. I had never run at night before, let alone all night, and then continue through the next day. Normally, I am NOT a night person – sun goes to bed, I follow close behind – so I was surprised at how NOT sleepy I was through the night. I don’t know whether it was the constant physical activity or just being hyped up about the event, but I never had the urge to lie down and close my eyes. I did take some caffeine, but not nearly enough to account for the alertness.

Amazingly, it didn’t rain as much as it could have as it is the middle of rainy season here. It rained early (about hours 2-3) and so I had to change from my regular shoes into my “miracle shoes” (the ones with 1400 miles on them – one of the kids named them) early on and ended up running most of the race in them.

Faith ran in the 3-hour kids division, then stayed all night, and all the next day to crew the runners! She also ran extra laps as a pacer with runners to support them. A budding ultramarathoner right here! She and her friend Adrianne were a jou I’m so proud of them!

Except for changing my shoes and socks after the rain stopped I never sat down. I didn’t even stop except for the brief hiatus to grab a drink or a bite to eat through the aid station marking each lap. I also took some brief time outs to award medals to participants as they finished – the race director’s privilege!

I suppose I could keep better track of what exactly I ate but generally it was a lot of watermelon, bananas, super-charged peanut butter balls, protein shake + coffee mix, Clif bars, and, the ultramarathoner’s surprise fuel: Coca-cola.

I started my 37th loop at hour 18. Seemingly suddenly, the level of pain that one normally endures at that point in a race jumped a few notches and I was no longer able to run – at least with a decent gait. I decided it was finally time to take a break, perhaps 20 minutes? I could do that and still make 100 miles. However, as I sat down my friend immediately noticed my angry red and very swollen ankle. I took one look and knew I was done – no amount of will to finish could override what I knew as a doctor: I needed to stop immediately or perhaps risk greater damage. I was not disappointed (another surprise)! I had done well and I needed to live to run another day. Besides, 137km (85.1 miles) in 18+ hours is not too shabby, and this was just a practice run for my first 100 miler in September!

Three of the 24 hour runners made it the full 24 hours and Brian cranked out 101 miles in just under the time!

Ajarn Dee, a statistics professor, is in my Bible Study and she came out to cheer me!

Although the event itself was not a fundraiser, I asked people to give towards my personal run and pledge a monetary amount per kilometer/mile run. Amazingly, I raised a total of $880 for my project Relentless!

Lessons learned:

  • I did not have the strength training in my legs that is needed to sustain my legs for such a long distance. Partly because I had been rehabbing some tendinitis in my knee in the weeks prior. Strangely, the knee didn’t bother me at all (argh).
  • I have a much better understanding of what it really takes to excel at such events, especially long distance road races, such as Badwater.
  • I can “DNF^” with dignity and for good reason.
  • I learned a lot about race-directing in Thailand and look forward to next year’s event!

I think everyone who participated or volunteered agrees that the event as a whole was a HUGE success and we are already planning one next year!

THANK YOU:

Sunday brunch celebrating with good friends – runners and volunteers!

Ryan, Richard, Ray, Heidi, Caleb, Henry, Ben, Faith, Adrianne, Karl, Ron, Connie, Sai, Jume, Rhea,  Jung, Atsuyuki-san, Ajarn Dee, and all the other people who came out to cheer and help! You guys have NO IDEA how grateful I am for all your support and help in the prep and putting this on. Atsuyuki-san says it was the attitude of the people involved that made this one of the best races he has ever attended!

For a slideshow of photos from the event, please visit this link. You can also visit the Facebook album. IF these links don’t work, please let me know!

*cha-bu-duo: Mandarin for “close enough” and also the name of an annual 10k in Shenyang, China that I organized in past years. The 4th Annual run happens 1 September!

**ChUG: Chiang Mai Ultrarunners Group

^DNF: did not finish


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The Samoeng Loop, A Solo Ultra

The air hung thick and sweet. The full moon was overcast, not quite giving enough light by which to run, at least not enough to see any snakes or scorpions lurking along the road. Starting out in the wee hours of the morning, the only other thing that could trouble me now are the dogs. They become much more earnest in their duties in the pre-dawn dark.

Running the Samoeng loop had been on my bucket list since I first heard of it a couple months ago. I thought that it would be a good adventure for the ChUG (Chiang Mai Ultra-runners Group) some day. However, faced with this “stay-cation” and not really sure how I would spend it, the idea burst into my conscious and I was so excited! This is the time! It didn’t matter that I decided only FIVE days before the decided date (Wed, 6 June) and that I had run 40 miles the Saturday and Sunday before – it was my fun run! I have a whole week of hanging out in Chiang Mai by myself so I might as well do something that I didn’t think anyone else would do with me. You could call it a different kind of road trip! My post-run relaxation plan was to check into the Shangri-la Hotel (at the local price!) for two days so I was especially motivated!

I wish that my Garmin had been set up to record total elevation change ( both up and down) ran because I’m pretty sure it would impress some hard-core people out there. Here is a google maps view of the loop, with the terrain markings. If you have ever traveled in the Northern Thailand countryside, you get the idea. I left out the little loop of road that goes into Samoeng village proper, as I was sure that I had enough fluids to get me to the next village, Pong Yeang. I did manage, but barely. But I was pumped after seeing the sign: “Mae Rim 30km” at the 1096 turn-off and I didn’t want to take the extra time/distance into town. Yep, I’m gonna do this!

The route was GORGEOUS! It was steeper than I had anticipated, less populated than I figured, but more gorgeous and stunning views than I imagined. The haze of morning burned off to give a clear blue sky with rolling clouds and heaven-sent breezes every once in a while.

At the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens. I had a guard snap this shot. Long sleeves and a shirt under my hat helps keep me cool.

At about 5.5 hours, I stopped at a mom & pop general store and took a break for some Coca-cola and potato chips. I loaded up on water and electrolytes in my backpack and bottles, changed my shirt (from tank to long-sleeve), and put on new socks. Feelin’ fresh! Plus, I was done with the serious hill-climbing, as it is fairly rolling until Mae Rim, when it becomes boring flat.

Running through Mae Rim down Highway 107 was demoralizing and quite a shock after the country lanes of the day. Two lanes of heavy traffic with barely a berm that wasn’t occupied by cars and trucks parked alongside, with no shade, and concrete surface – I had been on the road nearly eight hours and was not in the mood for this. The flip side is that I found a 7-11 for a re-fueling stop.

The congestion eased up the further south I went and soon I was on 121, The Canal Road. The home stretch. Unfortunately, I had underestimated the number of stops available to buy water and drinks along the way. By the time I got to the 700 Year Stadium I was totally out of fluids and way behind on calories. Should have stocked up more at that 7-11 some 10km back. I brought enough food, but it is hard to choke it down without water. Fortunately, the tennis pro shop was open and selling stuff, but it was too late. It was 2pm, VERY HOT and running along the canal road all the way back was so I was ready to quit

I called a friend to try to get some encouragement, to see if I should quit or not. I really wanted to quit, or so I thought. I couldn’t get in touch with him and that was a good thing. He told me later would have picked me up and drove me home. After getting some water and Gatorade, stretching and getting my mind around it, I headed out. I wasn’t nearly in as bad a shape as I was at the 10-hour ultra last month, I wasn’t even cramping. Just very tired.

So I started walking. I thought I would try hitching a ride, or flagging down a red truck taxi. Nobody stopped for me. A red truck came by, but I didn’t want to pay that much to get home. I kept going. Another one stopped, but through the negotiation I realized that I didn’t want a ride at all. I waved him off determined to finish on foot. I was going to DO THIS THING! I wasn’t going to DNF my own fun run! Sure, this fun run had no meaning and I wouldn’t even get a t-shirt, but it was my goal. I walked in the hot sun on a highway for the last 5.3 miles, stopping at another 7-11 and running only to make it through a green stop light. I walked up to my house. I had done it! Perhaps I am even the first to complete this on foot!

Total distance: 50.4 miles/81.1km. Total time on the road, including stops: 11:54.

Lessons learned:

  • DNF is not in my DNA.
  • There is a good reason why we taper before races – fresh legs make a difference!
  • Fill up with fluids if you don’t know for sure when you’ll get more.
  • What you eat the two days before an event does make a difference in performance.


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For The Boys

Relentless

Last week we had another clinic – this time with Urban Light in Chiang Mai. As my friend at Urban Light has beautifully written, it was “more than just a medical clinic”. I highly recommend that you click over to his blog to read what he had to say about the day.

We saw 14 of the boys who regularly participate in the activities at the Urban Light center. The “clinic” was held at the center during the hours when the guys are normally hanging out, learning English, working or playing at the computer, etc. Some of the guys also participate in a baking class (at another site), learning kitchen basics, baking techniques, and other life skills.

The clinic was of course to be a way to bring health care to the boys who don’t normally have any health care: they have no money, they may face discrimination, and seriously…

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Songkran and other Hot (season) Activities

This weekend is the Thai New Year and the Songkran Water Festival. Basically the entire country is in a giant water fight and NOBODY is immune to getting wet! It comes at the peak of hot season and the water splashing is quite refreshing!  Chiang Mai is one of the go-to places in Thailand to celebrate. I have been in other places in Thailand during Songkran, but I have never seen anything like this! The moat that surrounds the old city is lined with people and the whole city is jammed with cars all around the moat and roads leading to/from the central city, and pretty much anywhere one can find a station of people ready to douse whatever person or vehicle comes along.  It’s such a fun time, and perfectly good and right for everyone to soak a perfect stranger.

Think about it, grown-ups and kids playing squirt-guns and others riding around in the back of pick-up trucks with drums of water throwing buckets of water and cannoning everyone. It is license to PLAY – it is generally good clean fun and everyone has a great time. I remarked to my friends that it looks totally ridiculous to see adults with enormous brightly colored squirt guns running around. It IS GOOD to let go and get ridiculous sometimes – it is good for the soul indeed. Thailand is known as the land of smiles and this festival shows them off brilliantly.

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The work is growing steady and sure. I’m networking like crazy in Thailand and am currently involved in a couple of networks of organizations working in counter-trafficking and general child-protection efforts. Within these networks, I’m working on developing some tools to assess the medical/health needs of the organizations, planning some trainings, and learning much about the current situation in Thailand. Meanwhile I am doing a few “red-light” clinics and am developing more with other groups. The international projects and travel have slowed a bit – this is a blessing as I need and want to focus on Thailand. Even so, the ones going are keeping me pretty busy! I still go to Cambodia fairly frequently (my next trip is in early May) as the medical advisor for the Chab Dai Coalition.

One of the upcoming things I’m looking forward to is that I’m going to start mentoring a Thai Pediatric resident who is also in my Friday night small group. She just finished her internship and has a couple more years to go. I’m also learning a lot from the couple of doctors who lead our small group, and it is a refreshing time (and helps me with my Thai language as well).

Of course I’m still running! I launched ChUG – Chiang Mai Ultrarunners Group – to help bring together those few hardcore runners who like to go long. It has been fun to have others to run with on Saturday morning long runs. Since long races (there is a 10k many weekends throughout the year) are few and FAR (as in distance) between, we sometimes hold our own “Cha-bu-duo” races – like the marathon we did for our friend whose goal is to run a marathon every month. He couldn’t find one that he could do in March, so we did one with him, complete with homemade medals!

Three of us are wearing our Chiang Mai marathon shirts as a kind of team uniform.


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Christmas in Chiang Mai

Nothing like a big air travel snafu to make it feel like the holidays! The thing is, there is no snow or ice here and people aren’t really traveling for Christmas! No problem – free wifi and snacks in the lounge –get this – for EVERYONE! Yay Bangkok Air!

How is this for a Christmas present: A marathon on Christmas Day in my town! I was so excited to discover this a couple of weeks ago! Chiang Mai’s annual marathon is on 25 December! The bonus is that I get to finish my marathon by 8am and have plenty of time to clean up and take advantage of one of the Christmas buffets offered at one of the hotels in town! I’m using this as a training run for my upcoming 100k ultra, so I don’t have hopes for a PR or anything – just to have fun!

On Christmas Eve I’ve been invited to a progressive dinner >YUM!<  hosted by a friend’s house church that starts late afternoon and winds around to different homes until around midnight Loads of food, friends, and celebration. Great loading for the marathon: it’s Christmas, does it really matter what I’m loading? Unfortunately not so great for the 4am marathon start – but like I said, it’s Christmas!

I know what I just wrote about the true meaning of Christmas and all that, but I still do enjoy some Christmas decorations. Thailand loves Christmas and does a pretty good job with the glam as well as the cute. Check out these elephants at the local mall:

Wishing all of you a very warm, relaxing, and JOYFUL  Christmas!