This year’s Chiang Mai Marathon (CMM) was the 9th running of the event, located in the popular northern Thailand city. It has been at least 6 years since I last visited the country with Bangkok and Phuket being the only 2 other spots I’d stepped foot on. December is typically the most expensive month to visit Chiang Mai but I managed to lock down the flight (RM830 return) and hotel (RM95 per night) bookings early, I didn’t have to break the bank for a very short running holiday to close off the year. The plan was to arrive on Saturday, run the race on Sunday and return on Monday. In hindsight, I made the right call as I was too ill to really enjoy the trip.
My hotel of choice was the Amora, just a stone’s throw from the historic Tapae Gate where the race start and finish were supposed to have been staged. However, the plans of the organizers were disrupted due to the presence of the many street vendors occupying the large open space at the gate. Just days before the race, the start and finish were moved to the Three Kings Monument 800m away.
The flight from KL to Chiang Mai took less than 3 hours but even that was enough to drain me. The Chiang Mai International Airport is located near to the Old City making the commute from the airport to the hotel a quick affair, even with the gridlock. My ride into town was an airport cab, a Mitsubishi Pajero (160 Baht). Once checked in, I wasted no time in meeting Nick, who had kindly collected my race pack on my behalf. A quick lunch of Pad Thai and I was back to the hotel to get myself organised.
The evening was not as cool as I’d expected when we hooked up again for dinner. Instead of the hosted dinner, we opted for a safer one at the Black Canyon cafe along the way. Incidentally Lynn and Pat were there as well.
By 8pm, I was back in the hotel laying out my gear. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to race and my preps pretty much reflected it – 4 gels (just enough to survive), GCAM singlet, shorts, cap, sunglasses, and the GORun 4. It was lights out an hour later. When the alarm sounded at 2:45am, I had only an hour’s sleep. The bed and pillows were great but I struggled with a bloated stomach, general malaise from the meds and flu throughout the night.
I contemplated not running but thought that perhaps just getting myself to the start line will improve the way I was feeling then. I could always stop if I didn’t feel good, I further rationalised. I had 100 Baht tucked away in my pocket just in case I needed a ride back. Breakfast was a cinnamon roll, 3/4 of a Clif Bar and a cup of black coffee before stepping into the cool morning to link up with Nick at 3:30am, the benefit of staying close to the start. A 4-minute short jog and we got to the staging area. I checked in a small bag before doing some half-hearted warm-up routines.
We didn’t have to wait long though. With the traditional drummers keeping a rhythm, we were let off at 4am. The streets were quite narrow and there were some jostling for some space when out of the blue Luc ran up from behind, which entirely surprised me. What was a sub 2:50 marathoner doing in the middle of the pack?! Apparently Chiang Mai was his 3rd marathon in 3 weeks and with that revelation, he promptly dropped off and went back to his hotel! I was left on my own pretty much after that. Nick had, quite rightly, disappeared in the crowd and somewhat dimly lit streets pursuing his goal pace. It wasn’t that much of a struggle for me and my pace comfortably lingered around 5:50 region in the early stages. I was still puttering at that pace along the never-ending thoroughfare heading out of the Old City. The air in the outskirts was much cooler, and as I exhaled, there were puffs of mist. I found the chill to be surprisingly tolerable even in my singlet and condition.
The race proceedings started to go downhill around the 25K mark as I started to drop pace and eventually reduced to lengthy stretches of walking. I was momentarily lifted when I spotted Nick going strong on the opposite side of the road before the 30K mark, as poised as Meb, and knew it was just a matter of how much he was going to lower his PR. I thought I spotted Seow Ping too but I couldn’t be sure if it was her until she caught up and motored past me a few kilometres later. Things were going from bad to worse for me, however. My left ITB started tightening up which then led me to over-compensate using the right, which was always a bad idea. Sure enough both legs were in agony like they had just been run over by car. Despite that, I tried extending the run segment for as long as possible before the fear of snapping the damn ITB suddenly hit me (Question: can the ITB snap?). It was back to mostly walking after that. The legs held on just enough to hobble across the finish line in 4:34.06, and not a moment too soon. It was miserable. I had wanted a 4:15 despite my current state but couldn’t do it.
The collection of the post-race goodies were handled well and I got my bag quickly and limped to our agreed waiting spot where Nick and his wife were basking in a sub-4 glow (welcome to the club, Nick! :D). The McChicken sandwich was gobbled up in record time before we headed back to the hotels to freshen up. I was unable to bend my left leg as I tried to catch a nap. Turning the body this way or that caused even more pain. The area was even tender to the touch. Nevertheless I knew that I had to keep moving, which was why the lunch appointment with Nick a while later at a local eatery did me so much good. It was when I was wolfing down the curry dishes that I realised I’ve got my appetite back, which was always a good sign. It’s now 3 days after the race and the ITB pain seemed to have disappeared with only the usual muscular soreness remaining. I’ll take the remaining days of the year off running and just rest up for what’s coming next year. In hindsight, I think I’ve been racing too much this year. I’ve not been ill more than once this year until just before Chiang Mai and it must be a sign that the body is due for its long overdue rest.
I’ve had some friends asking me about Chiang Mai Marathon as they’re considering making next year’s race. Below are some of my thoughts, in point form.
About Chiang Mai Marathon
Date: Usually the weekend before Christmas. Next year’s race, the 10th anniversary, will take place on December 20th 2015. Early bird registration starts June 6th 2015.
Race pack pick up: Originally at Tapae Gate but moved to Three Kings Monument. You can easily locate these landmarks on Google Map. The organisers hosted a complimentary pre-race dinner and performance, which was a nice touch.
What’s in the pack: Bib (with timing chip) and a vest, in a draw cord bag
Drink station: Plentiful. Chilled water mostly but there are sports drinks served at 3 stations. The M-Sports drinks are very concentrated, tasted as strong as Livita or Red Bull. I diluted it on 2 occasions. Those with a sensitive gut might want to exercise some caution here.
Route: Flat mostly, with slight gradients along the highway and towards the Expo site.
Running Surface: Mix of asphalt and tarmac. There were very few potholes but I thought the surface felt very hard and could have been the contributing factor to my ITB injury.
Weather: Cool (12-20 Celcius)
Porta-potties: Other than those at the race start/finish, I didn’t see any along the route. When it was still dark, the guys had it slightly easier as there were a few spots just off the highway where there were shrub cover. By 6:30am, it was already bright and there were so few locations where peeing was possible. I had to go twice, the 2nd time in broad daylight when I didn’t care anymore. I also saw one dude who asked permission from a coffee shop owner to use the loo.
Traffic and Safety: Traffic is nuts in Chiang Mai. It’s almost true to say that people don’t sleep here. There are cars, Tuk-Tuks and bikes speeding this way and that even at 4am. The inner city sees the worst traffic. To their credit, the organizers do lay sufficient cones and have major intersections manned by the Royal Thai Army cadets and police but I didn’t feel as safe at some junctions and crossings.
Crowd support: Sparse. Save for a few who clapped at us, most are either busy opening their businesses even at the early hours of Sunday, or heading to work in trucks and Songthaews. They appeared pretty ambivalent to the runners. This is a tourist town, so the early bird catches the worm, so they say. From what I see, at least half the folks here are street vendors or run small businesses.
Post-race: Finisher T and medal, McDonald’s McChicken, AirAsia wipes and hand fan, banana, water. And plenty of smiles.
Best way to travel: AirAsia (book early as the period is considered peak)
Attractions: Temples, food, massage, nature, night markets. Most attractions are within walking distance, if located within the Old City. Also see Getting around Chiang Mai.