A race, a race, my, um, Saturday night for a race! I’ve been running, keeping up a fair mileage, whilst away, but haven’t raced since ‘parkrun’ in Moscow, mid August, which must be the longest time without one since 2005. I missed the press 800m at the World Championships, didn’t know I was heading to Japan in time to enter their races (which sell out months in advance) and had no reply after some initial emails about a half marathon in Korea. So when a couple of weeks ago I spotted that there was a midnight 12/6km in Bangkok and that I could make it there, I’d limited myself to 5 days in Cambodia and scooted over the border in time. I was also running to be there in spirit if not reality for the club cross country – with the time difference, a midnight start here is only an hour late for XC back home.
Even then, I wasn’t sure I’d make it. Although you can enter online, it’s really just registration, and then (as in Korea) you pay by transferring money to their bank account. Or one of three, judging by the instructions I was sent. So not only were the £8 entries sold out online, knocking me on to the £20 ‘but with grand raffle entry’ one, but I’d have to pay a £15 or so transfer-to-foreign-bank fee.
In my usual style, I sat on it and did nothing in reply to the ‘pay here’ email. That proved exactly the right decision, as I was told I could pay on the day at the hotel, and that turned out to be the £8 fee. Missed out on the nice technical t-shirt, but overall a (double) money-saving bonus. Even better, the hostel I’d booked because it was an easy journey from the airport (not the airport I flew into, but that was a detail) turned out to be round the corner from the hotel, and therefore from the start.
I spent the day walking across Bangkok, seeing the Royal palace, watching the river boats come and go and being assailed by the traffic noise. That much walking was possibly not ideal preparation for a race, but at least it wasn’t throwing rain down, unlike last night. I was hoping that the storm had cooled things down a bit. Maybe they had, but as I arrived at the start slightly bleary after a snooze, it was 28 degrees. I’ve been in Asia for a couple of months and think I’ve acclimatised a little, but that’s a temperature worthy of respect.
Everyone was milling around outside the hotel. The start was clearly marked with a gantry and clock showing the time, but I couldn’t see how it would accommodate the thousands of people said to have entered. I could hear presenters, but where was the stage? Torn between staying out front so as to join late and near the front for a good start point, and investigating to get into the swing of it, I chose the latter, finding as I wandered further round that I’d been looking at the back of the stage, and that people were assembling there. Not the wiser ones, as after some preamble and general rabble-rousing, we were off, but it took me a minute and a half to cross the start line, and even that was just to take me into a walking start (“ah, this is Bangkok, traffic jam” said a Germanic voice behind). On the basis of last year’s times, I reckoned I was in shape to place in the 40 something category, but having told myself it was just a charity run, I’d now given myself too big a handicap to make up.
Onward. There were plenty of people ahead of me, and only one lane of traffic was closed, so I got to play chicken with the traffic trying to make it’s way past us on our right as I galloped past the queue. After a few km there was a nice comedy turn, with runners on the left having to make their way over to the right, while traffic had to come from our right over to the left. I pondered the approach in the UK – we’d never have so many marshals with torches and the short light sabers the trainee jedis in Asian countries use to direct traffic, but we’d also not run this race. Probably on the grounds that “we can’t guarantee your safety”. I dodged through a couple of taxis wondering how many race directors actually have ‘guaranteed’ my safety in the UK. It’s very nice of them. At 4k I took the right lane, over a bridge, for the 12k course, while the 6k went under. Again, on the basis of last year’s times, I’d have been even more competitive in the 6k; the winner only ran 24.xx, and even respecting the temperature I was aiming for sub 4min kilometres. I’d made my decision and stuck with it, still piling past people. Soon, the leaders were coming past going back on the other side, and then so were more and more people – it was quite a way to the turnaround, and that made me feel better; there was no way I’d be up there, and the more properly quick people there were, the less reason to feel I should be in the mix. I turned, a wall of cars facing me but with no dodging to do this time. The field was thinning out just a little where I was, but I still had no one to run with, I was just passing people, albeit with some gratifying looks over shoulders of the ‘I’ll have some of what you’re on’ kind. Having missed the first ones I’d seen, I made a grab for whatever was being handed out at the turn, curious. I grabbed and missed, it tumbling to the floor, but my curiosity was sated. It turned out to be wrist bands. I have a feeling that had I wanted to pick up a prize, I’d have needed three of those, and I only managed to get the last, an orange one near the end. With no chip timing, people were grabbed at the end if they’d placed in their category, and asked to register their names just at that point, and perhaps were checked for wrist bands to prove they’d covered the whole course. With different colour bibs for the 6 and 12k, everyone also had a coloured number before their race number to mark their age so the organisers could spot 1st M40, 3rd F50 etc, though that still must need some mental agility, to look at people coming through and remember whether you’ve given a ‘winner’ token to 5 people in that category yet. In my dreams, my marker number was a 2. In reality it’s a 4.
Once we’d completed the loop to make our course up to distance, we were back onto the original road, heading for home. Suddenly I went from chasing down individuals to seeing a whole pack of people in front – ah, now we’re chasing home people running the 6k. 36 or so minutes in, so not moving that quickly, but taking up most of the lane. This time I followed a neon vest in between two lanes of traffic – proper fun, particularly as a few 6k runners had had the same idea, and were moving out of our way in a slightly panicked way as we bore down on them. I overtook my temporary beacon, pleased to spot that I’d covered 10k comfortably under 40 minutes, and pressed on. With parked cars on the left, we now had even less space; I spotted a van with its indicator on and went to go right, trying to squeeze down his left hand side between him and the bridge on the right while he moved left, only for him to abandon the manoeuvre. I was moving more quickly, but figured his acceleration was better, so dropped back and went left. Finally we were into the last left and I ground to a halt just short of the line, in a short queue.
47:39, and bang on 12k. I was pleased with that, though sure it would at least have made me competitive in my category. Still, it was a charity race, and really I wanted a tee shirt more than one of the slightly phallic glass trophies; the medal would have to do. Really glad I did it; dodging traffic was fun, hunting people down was great, and I felt pretty good all through, though it was hot. I finished completely saturated, though was cooling down – because of the crowds, my last half mile was the slowest, I went from a peak of 3:43/km in mile 4 (an easyish sub 6 mile, I found later, which I’m pleased with) to 4:33 pace in that last segment. Probably I’d have overcooked it had I been further up, but my splits were still a little uneven: 6:07, 6:26, 6:23, 5:59, 6:18, 6:40, 6:27, 3:21 (740m). Lovely run, so long as you switch off the pure racer in you and go in for the novelty of running through city streets at midnight, enjoying some car dodging. It never felt dangerous, though I have caught myself strolling out into traffic a couple of times today so there, too, I have acclimatised a little to being here. Once through the finish there was a medal, and further along water and various lucky dip cups. Plain – this must be…water! Plain again, so water again? No, some kind of gatorade style thing, maybe grape flavour. And help yourself from the vats of what I can only call watery spicy rice(y). It doesn’t sound great, but was in fact pretty good. Or nicey, if you like(y). I wandered back to the hostel, exchanging thumbs up congratulations with Thais sitting out passing the time. You can do that when it’s no cooler than 25 degrees overnight.
Next race – Australia. Although if I limit myself to a couple of days in Singapore, there’s one in Kuala Lumpur that sounds awfully tempting. You can even pay with paypal. And there’s no way I’ll be strolling around the back of the pack at the start in a ‘oh it’s just a fun run’ fashion if I make it there.