A few weeks ago, I was searching for a race to sign up for in Chiang Mai – I always seem to get out and run a little easier when I have something to train for. I came across the Chiang Mai University “Winter Love Run” Marathon on Valentine’s Day, which had a full marathon, half marathon, 10k, and 5k “fun run”. It was too late to sign up for the three longest races, but the 5k still had open registration – for only 100 baht (three dollars)! Used to paying $65 or more for my races, I happily jumped at the opportunity.
Julia had run her first ever 5k, the Fiesta 5k Ole! in Seattle, last year with her sister Jeannie. Between the cheap entry fee, and the fact that the race was only a ten minute drive from our condo, it didn’t take much to convince Julia to join me!
Our race started at 6:30, so we woke up at 5:30 on race day. With a quick snack of a half banana and some water, we set off to CMU. The sun was still down, so the ride on the moped was a bit chilly, but it was fun driving through the market streets near our condo while they were nearly empty – normally, the market is completely full of people, bikes, and cars. As we pulled up to CMU, we saw a big group of runners heading our way on the other side of the street. The full marathon had started at 3:00 (!) so it was probably them – and they were causing a sizable traffic jam for cars trying to get either in or past CMU. Luckily for us, our moped zipped around all of those cars and found a parking spot right on campus, only a few hundred meters from the starting line. Good luck finding parking that close for a race in America!
We stripped off the jackets we wore for the moped ride, pinned on our bibs that we had picked up the day before, got our iPods ready, and headed to the start line. The marathon had been going for three and a half hours, and the half marathon for ninety minutes, so some of the top competitors of each race were just starting to come in. The 10k started just as we were parking, and all of the runners for the 5k were still milling about – needless to say, there was a lot going on just before dawn! After wandering around for a bit, we headed to the starting line with five minutes to go. As much as I love cheering on Julia while she runs, I had a goal that I had set (22:00 or less), so we split up at this point as I headed towards the front of the crowd of people at the starting line. And from here, our stories diverge…
I don’t run short races very often – in fact, I haven’t run a race shorter than a half marathon since I was in high school. At longer races, there are usually “pacers” that hold up signs that say how fast they are going to run the race. They carry these signs throughout the entire race, and they always finish very close to their advertised time. Pacers will line themselves up at the start of the race, so usually it’s easy for me to tell about where I should start. You don’t want to start too far back in the pack, because then the first few minutes are spent dodging around people that run slower than you (which is not only annoying, but wastes a lot of energy – both physical and mental). And you don’t want to start too far forward, because not only is it rude to make other people dodge around you, but you have to deal with the psychological impact of watching dozens of people pass you by at paces you couldn’t possible hope to hold.
Shorter races don’t have this luxury, however. So it was necessary for me to “size up” the other runners to make my best guess at where I should start. As I suspected would happen, nobody towards the front looked very fast. All of the fastest runners were in the other three races, most likely since those races have prizes, trophies, and free t-shirts, while the 5k gets nothing but a medal (and pride, of course). So, I just moved towards the very front of the line.
Normally, when I run a race, the last thing I’ll think of is beating other people. I simply make a goal time, and then race against that goal time. Running is an interesting competition, because there is only so much that training will do. Of course you can make yourself much faster by training hard and working at it, but so much of being a fast runner is just being born with it. So even though I am fairly competitive by nature, when I run races, my only competition is myself. That all being said, some thoughts of “wow, I wonder if I could win this race” started creeping into my head – before the race even started!
Various people were speaking into a loudspeaker (in Thai), and I had no idea what they were saying. However, once their inflection got to a certain point, I knew they were counting down until the race started. I got my stopwatch ready, and with that, I was off! As I expected would happen, a dozen or so runners took off at a pace that I would never be able to match. But, I just kept running.
I couldn’t help figuring out what place I was in as I was going along. I counted the people that were in front of me, found I was currently in 11th, and settled into a comfortable pace, with the intent of speeding up a bit after the first mile. As I ran, though, I passed many of those runners that had taken off right at the start. With only maintaining my comfortable pace, I found myself in third place about a half mile in. Somewhat in disbelief, I looked ahead and saw a motorcycle escort ahead of the two runners in front of me, so I knew that I really was in third place.
One of the runners dropped off, and I caught up to the other, a local man that appeared to be several years younger than me. We ran together for quite a while, escorted by the motorcycle that guided us through the twists and turns of the course (I’m glad I didn’t have to figure out the course myself, because I definitely would have made a wrong turn at some point). At around the halfway point, some spectators (maybe CMU students) stretched something out in front of us for us to run through. Or at least, that’s what I thought they were doing. What I thought was a paper ribbon was actually a bungie cord – not exactly something that is going to break by me running through it. I nearly tripped going over the first one, and threw the second one over my head. My iPod fell out of my pocket in the process, dangling at the end of my earbuds that had somehow stayed in. I’m still not sure what exactly that was, or if they did it for everyone, but it was sure interesting!
A short while later, my running buddy fell off the pace and I was alone in front, with just the motorcycle ahead of me. Towards the end of the race, the 5k path merged with the 10k, so there were a bunch of other runners on the road. I looked down at my watch, which said I had run about 2.85 miles, so with a quarter mile to go, I started getting excited at the prospect of winning the race! As I ran into the main university concourse, the bike pulled off and pointed a direction for me to run. The finish line was just around the corner, and I crossed before anyone else. First place! I gave out a meek little “yay!”, collected my medal, and then turned around to find the local that I had been running with. He crossed about ten seconds after I did, and I gave him a congratulatory handshake on a race well done. Then, I walked backwards along the course to go find Julia and cheer her on.
One of my goals in coming to Thailand was to stay in shape, and so of course I was excited when Broc found a (short) race so close to home! Training was hard because of the amount of dogs on the street, but they seem to like to chase Broc more than they chase me. I think the are just looking for a snack or some entertainment when we pass by, and are not malicious. They few times that the dogs chase me, (less than once per run), I just turn around and yell at them, and they stop following me (with a wounded look) every time. The runs here are so interesting; so much to see, even after I found a route I liked with fewer dogs that I did every day. I had very low expectations about my finishing times; sometimes the heat just makes me lazy, so I prepared to just have fun and not really worry about my time.
It was fun lining up in the dark at the start of the race. I insisted Broc start at the front, since I knew he’d just be fighting to get to the front, but I didn’t want to slow people down by going to the front myself. The first .2 of the first mile was basically walking, there were so many people! Everyone around me was doing the running motion, but I guess my legs are long enough I could just walk at that same pace. That gave me some confidence, which was nice, but definitely slowed me down. As soon as I had enough space to start running at the pace I wanted, I stated passing people. A ton of people. Why doesn’t everyone who wants to walk just start in the back? It’s like an obstacle course, but again, gave me confidence. Eventually, I found a couple in bright pink that were setting a consistent and reasonable pace, so I used them as my pacer, and even encouraged them a few times and made a joke about a dog who passed us. (We are really getting accustomed to only using very basic English to communicate, but this couple clearly understood “good job” and “faster” and “dog”.)
It was really nice that they had water, although when I decided to grab some after a bad case of coughing, there happened to be a line, and it took much longer than I thought. I still wasn’t concerned about my time, though, but if I’d known it was going to take more than a minute I wouldn’t have stopped. I had no trouble catching up to my couple in pink after a few minutes, though, even after the delay. At the beginning of the only small hill, which was at least three kilometers into the race, I decided that I had more energy than my friends, so I went ahead. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize they were allowing cars onto the race track. I thought the roped off streets around the university meant NO CARS. Unlike most people running, I had my headphones on, so I din’t hear the car from behind. I was in the far lane, so there was an empty lane next to me, but a car chose to use the usual lane, and probably thought I could hear them. Next thing I know, I slam my elbow into their mirror, which luckily folds back rather than breaks. They drive on as if nothing happened, while I clutch my arm in surprise. Luckily, I see Broc after a few seconds, and I use that burst of energy to finish the race with a much faster pace. It was so sweet of him to come back to encourage me on, and he even grabbed the free plant that they handed out a few hundred meters before the end, which I was to lazy to carry! I end up finishing in about 37 minutes, which is only one minute slower than my first 5k as an adult. (Not counting the three miles that we had to run in under 30 min for high school volleyball tryouts.) Even with the burst of speed the last half mile I still felt energetic and not sore (except my elbow), so I agreed that we should sign up for another 10k race in one month! It’s a fundraiser for the math department at the university, so I figure it’s going to a good cause, especially considering all the math teachers I know such as Mama and Souk!
As I grab some water and Broc goes back to the bike to grab the camera, my couple in pink finds me, and exclaims in broken English how bad that car was that hit me! At first I’m not even sure what they are talking about (which shows how little it hurts at that point), but it was nice of them to try to find me! I congratulate them on finishing, and we give each other “high 5s”. As we line up to take pics with our times, I am so proud of Broc, I can’t believe he got first without even trying to win. I couldn’t wait to text our family about his “accidentally getting 1st place!” He didn’t type this, but he thought the finish line was further back, so he was waiting to use his last burst of energy, so it was a little anticlimactic when he finished in first! Maybe too early to say this, but I’m really beginning to like running, maybe I’ll like it as much as Broc?!?! What a fabulous day, in fact one of the best Valentine’s Days ever!
The rest of our day was pretty lazy. From the comfort of our couch and comforter-cocoon, we watched a movie, (the Amazing Spider-Man 2), played some games, made lunch, and just relaxed in the condo. We had a dinner reservation at David’s Kitchen at 6:30, which is east of the Old City. We decided to head over a few hours early, to get a bit of shopping done at Big C Extra (the Thai version of Wal-Mart), and walk around that area to work up our appetite. There was a resort hotel nearby that had a lovely area to walk through.
We walked into the restaurant and checked in. As we waited for our table to be prepared, they brought out a glass of champagne for each of us! A few minutes later, they brought us to our table, which was decorated very nicely with Valentine’s Day decorations. It didn’t take us long to figure out why this place is voted as the best restaurant in Chiang Mai on Trip Advisor!
The menu for Valentine’s Day was a special set menu that had seven courses, with a choice of either fish or beef for the main entrée. Most of the courses would turn out to be no more than a couple of bites, but we definitely got enough to eat! And each of the items we got were so delicious – the seared scallops were the best scallops we’ve ever had – definitely the best western food we’ve had in our trip so far. David himself stopped by our table a few different times to chat, and he was a very nice host.
It was a fantastic dinner, and a very memorable, unique, and special Valentine’s Day.