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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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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.