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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The North Face Thailand 100km 2013

POWER UP!

POWER UP!

I didn’t go into this race with the goal to win, although defending my title would be cool. I simply had a goal to finish in 10 hours, and if that was good enough for a podium finish, then even better! The field of female 100k participants increased four-fold this year, with quite a few more foreigners signed up, so I had no idea how good my competition may be.

This year the race was held outside of Khao Yai national park and the course was much more interesting. with more variety of trails, fire road, and paved roads. With some several hundred meters of elevation gain, it was not rigorous by ultra standards, but still difficult by Thai standards. Even so, the conditions proved difficult enough. The day was mostly overcast with temperatures only in the mid-80’s (F), but the humidity was still around 80%. Although balmy for Thailand, this still plays a factor in performance and strategy.

final aid station - about 10k to go!

final aid station – about 10k to go!

The male champion finished in 9:47. My time was a very respectable 11:07, beating the 2nd place woman by 1:02 and good enough for 5th overall. The win and the time are also quite good considering I got lost twice and actually ran 103km (64mi)! The first time was early on when the lead pack got turned around in the dark – the course was not marked well! The second time occurred when I was running by myself on the second loop. My head was down, concentrating on the trail and I didn’t see the sign to turn right. I only saw the race ribbons marking the trail going left, but these were for the 10km race. Since all the ribbons were the same color, I didn’t realize my mistake until I found myself on my way back to the finish line!

This, however, became a source of consternation as the marshals, who do not take bib numbers but guide racers at certain points (of course not the point of my wrong turn), thought I cut the course. Of course I did not and had proof I did not, but at the time they didn’t know that and was followed by guys on motorbikes for several miles before the race director got them off my back. A-ya.

At this point, I started sliding into the dark side. I was not only NOT going to make my time goal, but I could lose my first place standing. Combined with some nutrition issues due to drop bag malfunction; I thought I might just walk the final 25 miles. The “dark place” is something that ultra runners recognize and takes experience to be able to climb out of. It wasn’t until I took some more food, and was encouraged by a couple of guys I’d been running with through the day that I came through it and even burned brighter until the finish.

The finish line had a paparazzi feel as I was surrounded with photographers! It felt great to finish, even better to win, but had not expected to be found in the celebrity limelight! I had flashbacks to Unbreakable, and thought, this must be what it feels like to be Geoff Roes winning Western States (not that I’m even close to his ability). After I had had enough, I walked over the grass where I pressed sponge after sponge on my head and neck as I sat talking with my friends – I really wanted to hear about their own race experiences that day (they ran 50k). It is truly wonderful to finish a race and have friends greet you at the end!

winning TNF 100k

Thanks to all my friends for their support in my training and racing! Whether we run together in body or in spirit, I’m often thinking of you when I’m running!

This is the first race that I have ever done twice. Will I repeat a 3rd time? Not sure… It’s a good race, but not THAT great. So many races and places and so little time! My confidence and ability is growing and there are other projects around Asia that I’d like to explore.

Lessons learned:

  • Avoid drop bag malfunction – put plenty of food in each bag. The map of the course was confusing in that checkpoints weren’t labeled. I took the lady organizing the drop bags word thatyes, I’d be passing through check point #3 four times during the race, so I packed extra food in that one.  Nope, it was actually #1. Oops.
  • Aid stations at this race had only water, a Gatorade-like beverage, bananas, and watermelon (typical for Thailand). Therefore, to properly fuel for a competitive 100k race, having what you need in a drop bag is essential.
  • When the race is held in rural Thailand, don’t assume the resort at which the race is to be held will have any decent food to eat the night before. Needless to say, I didn’t start off with the pre-race fueling that I prefer!  
  • Don’t skimp on “time on feet”, strength exercises, or core training if you really want optimal performance.

YES!

ice cold sponges!

ice cold sponges!

the foot...

post-race massage: hurt so good!

post-race massage: hurt so good!

 

For those of you interested, my prizes for winnings included: 50,000 Thai Baht in vouchers to spend at The North Face Thailand store; Petzl aluminum compact trekking poles; Sigg bottle with special Thai design; a finisher’s medal and a ridiculously large trophy.


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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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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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Send me! …again!

For the last few days I’ve been participating in the World Partners Asia Regional Forum. World Partners is an organization dedicated to church planting, church strengthening, and most importantly, disciple-making through integrated projects. Disciple-makers from nine different Asian countries, most of them serving among their own people, came together for a conference to share, encourage, and discuss issues such as identifying and developing leaders, working with local majority religions/groups, turning regional obstacles into opportunities, and serving with accountability and transparency. As a Caucasian, I was in the minority and I was thrilled about that as it gave me an opportunity to dialogue with people serving among their own, which lends a different perspective than my cross-cultural peers can give. We were also was able to get an inside scoop on what is happening in places such as Burma, Bangladesh, and another country that rhymes with “Too-bahn“.

Nepali brothers leading worship

I was moved and challenged to consider how the ministry to which I’ve been called will have an impact on our commission to make disciples. Don’t get me wrong, just because I’m not directly doing “church planting” work doesn’t mean that I’m not fulfilling the Great Commission. I already know that my medical skills and ideas on promoting health serve as a resource to the work at large, and I am actively making disciples of doctors. But I succumb to what many of my peers also feel at times: we are always willing to say, “Here I am, Lord! Send me!”. We are willing to go again and again and again!

Even while I was encouraged and inspired by the amazing work going on in other countries, the thing that particularly challenged me was hearing again of the great need among the Thai people. The number of believers in Thailand hovers around 0.7% of the population. Subtract the believers who are hill tribe people, and the number of Thai believers is only 0.2% of the population. Figures are debatable, but you get the point. In this country, poverty rages, education lags, and health care has wide gaps. Combine this with cultural/social acceptance of certain practices, and the passive Buddhist background, the physical, social, and spiritual needs are great. I’m continually challenged by the needs before me and I am motivated by what I have to offer to the work at hand.

So, what to do now? Keep doing what I’m doing, but always with eyes and heart looking up and beyond the current work itself (which can get idolized) and way beyond myself to the One who sees it all and weaves it all together. In one of the powerful testimonies by a Burmese brother, he summed its it up well: “If it is with God, nothing is impossible” (Luke 1:37)

God is the history maker – let him write it!


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The North Face 100km Thailand

The inaugural running of The North Face 100km Thailand began on a muggy February morning in southern Thailand. About a hundred people lined up for a 100km solo, 50km solo, and a 50km “duo” division where teams of two run together racing for the lowest combined time. A 25km and a 10km race were held as well.

Off and running - the race start

The course for the 100km consisted of two loops of a 50km course which was approximately 70% road and 30% dirt road. Winding through villages, coconut groves, banana plantations, and some pomelo farms the course was completely flat. Five check points along the way allowed us to have a drop bag of personal stuff and food at each checkpoint. This was very good news in light of the fact that the race only provided water, electrolyte beverage, watermelon, and banana and best of all, ice-cold sponges! Honestly, I expected more from a top-name sponsor, but the aid station staff were helpful.

Knowing that it is an all-too-common downfall of ultra runners to start too fast, I paid close attention to my pace. It is more difficult than you think to run slow, especially when you are well-rested, and the course is flat. I dialed into a 10:00/mile pace and felt like I could run all day – at least that was my plan! I knew I could potentially have a great race, but a couple of factors could count against it. Although a flat course lends to faster times, if one hasn’t been training on a strictly flat surfaces, the monotonous use of the same leg muscles could cause premature fatigue. I train on some flat surfaces, but I prefer the hills because they are more interesting and it makes me stronger – but it’s not necessarily the best training scheme for a long flat race. The other factor was the heat and humidity, as temperatures were expected to reach the mid-90s. Northern Thailand, where I’ve been training, has a different climate than the south and so the heat was definitely a factor.

So how does it feel to run 100km? It doesn’t feel great the whole time, but it is not as bad as you think! About 2/3 into the race, I started experiencing a problem about protein. I was feeling so tired and keep feeling like I wanted and needed to walk, but when I checked my pace and splits, I was still not too far off. I did start to walk more, but when I was running, my pace was still not so bad and my legs seemed like they were not as tired as I was thinking.

The muscles and the brain work on sugar, but in endurance events, your body uses more branched chain amino acids, and the process of getting those into your cells causes an increase in tryptophan which prefers to go to the brain and make you sleepy. It then becomes a fight between  your will and ability to keep running and your brain that is telling you to stop and rest.

So the question is did I start to walk more because my brain was overriding my will and ability to run, or did I walk more because my legs were too tired to keep going? I think it was the former and this is what those nutrition experts were talking about. A-ha! The second question is of course: how do I prevent that from happening?

Although I had done my homework on this and had eaten a half of a PB&J from my drop bag earlier, it was a struggle to choke one down a bit later, and then I just couldn’t do anymore. In fact, I just didn’t feel like eating anything in my drop bags during the second loop. I kept choking down warm, bruised bananas from the aid stations, and ran out of the gels I brought. I sucked down as much as the electrolyte beverage they provided as I could and sipped water spiked with electrolytes from my backpack. During the race I probably drank at least five liters of water, but it still took me a long time afterwards to get caught up on fluids.

Then finally – I broke through the single digit mark and there was only a final 10km after the last aid station. I felt better – all I could think about is the faster I go the sooner I can stop!

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Sometimes when you are on a long training run you think to yourself, how am I ever going to run for more than twice this long? But after having done it a few times now, I know that I can!It’s all about “relentless forward progress”!

I didn’t expect to win the race. At the registration the day before I learned there were only four women registered for the 100km solo – I didn’t know whether to feel relieved or pressured. At the last aid station of the first loop, I knew that I had the lead – I had run with one of my competitors for about five miles – she is a very sweet Thai Dentist – but I left her at about mile 20 and was pretty much alone for the rest of the race. The thing that surprised me was coming in 4th overall! WOW! I was tired and I hurt, but I felt ecstatic!  Here is a link to the splits and final times of all the finishers.

men and women winners at TNF Thailand!

Yes, some of you have noticed the 80,000 Thai baht (about $2600) prize for first! It is actually a voucher to be spent only at The North Face in Thailand (very small stores), so it is not as great as cash. Still, I think I can find plenty to get for me and my friends as well!

This week I have a busy week in Bangkok. I purposely planned it this week as Bangkok isn’t exactly the most runner-friendly place I know. Still, I managed to get out for and easy three miles yesterday morning. It so happened that a group of Kenyans were doing some easy paces in preparation for Sunday’s Bangkok marathon and so I joined them for a couple of laps! They asked me if I was running the marathon. I told them that I just finished a 100km race (they had seen the ads for the race) and they were duly impressed.