Monday, December 31, 2012

Chiang Mai 2012 Half Marathon and Fundraiser Finale


First of all, I want to say THANK YOU to everyone that donated to the fundraiser and supported me in my first 1/2 marathon.  Both the fundraiser and the race were enormous successes!  With the help of some amazing family, friends, and strangers, we more than doubled the original goal, raising a total of $2,221.89!  All the money will go towards education of Burmese migrants in Mae Sot, Thailand.  That money will go a long way and do amazing things.  It means a lot, both to me and to the students at Knowledge Zone.

Regarding incentives-- Level 1 donors, enjoy that good karma!  Level 2 donors, you should be receiving a thank you note and picture from a student at Knowledge Zone within the next few weeks if you haven't already.  Mail coming from Thailand can take a while so please be patient.  Level 3 donors, the t-shirts have been made and will be sent out soon.  I have M in blue, L in yellow, and XL in blue.  You can expect the shirts around the end of January.

Again, THANK YOU to everyone that donated, cheered me on, or supported this event in any way!


In setting out to run my first 1/2 marathon with only 4 weeks of preparation (and in minimalist running shoes), I have to say I was a little intimidated.  Prior to the announcement of the fundraiser and race, I hadn't trained at all.  My initial goal was merely to finish the race in the allotted time (3 hours).  From the onset of training, my conditioning improved quickly but the shoes killed my legs and feet.  When transitioning to minimalist shoes, you're supposed to slowly work up to jogging any kind of distance.  You're definitely not supposed to run a 13 mile race in the them almost right away.  I knew that the shoes would be the biggest challenge for me.  After training for the few weeks I had before the race (I'll write a full post on my training later), I felt much better.  My conditioning had improved and though my legs and feet still hurt, they felt much stronger.  My new goal was to have a respectable finish in under 2 hours.

In the end, I impressed myself.  First, we crushed the fundraising goal, then I destroyed my personal goal for the race.  Not only did I finish with only a few weeks of training and while wearing the minimalist shoes, I had a pretty respectable finishing time... 1 hour 50 minutes!  After crossing the finish line I was surprised to find out that I finished 8th out of 45 people in my category (age 29 & under), and I finished 39th overall (out of a total of 281 people)!  I even finished before the first-place female runner.  There are a ton of incredible female athletes and I respect them all.  That said, as a matter of pride, it still feels good to be able to say I didn't lose to a girl!

The whole process taught me a lot and was a ton of fun.  It was a great experience and though it will be awhile before I take on another endurance event, I know I'll do it again (but maybe I'll wear different shoes next time).  Who knows?  Maybe a full marathon.  I've also always wanted to do a triathlon.  Time will tell.


Championchip tracker
I woke up at my guest house in Chiang Mai at 3:15 am.  With my eyes still half shut, I forced down a piece of bread with some peanut butter and chugged some water before getting ready.  I pinned my race bib to my Under Armour, taped the back of my foot where the shoes rub, attached my race chip to the laces, and donned my lucky Caps hat.  Today's the day, I thought.  Around 4 am, I ate half a Power Bar and a small banana, and walked to the starting point at the Tha Pae Gate.

I had 30 minutes til the race would start so I walked around to loosen up and check out the other runners.  I knew I didn't have a shot at winning, but still my competitive spirit was stirring.  I started to size up the competition.  There were hundreds of people.  Some were old, some young, some fit, some fat.  All kinds of people.  A young Indian-looking guy came up to me and asked for help putting on his race chip (a sensor that tracks time/distance).  Dammit, Mowgli!  I thought.  I'm trying to get in the freakin zone here!  As I attached the chip to Mowgli's shoelaces he tried to make some small talk.  It turned out he was actually from Bangladesh and that this was his first half marathon too.  I could care less.  What is this, Life of Pi?  Shouldn't you be on a boat somewhere?  Go play with your tiger.  I held back.

"So, what's your goal?" he asked, referring to a finish time.
"Not sure.  2 hours I guess."  I didn't return the question but he answered anyway.
"I'm aiming for an hour, thirty-five" he shared before adding very nonchalantly, "but I've only been training for 7 months."

Vibram Fivefingers
I left Mowgli and walked over to the starting area where all the runners were being corralled.  It was still dark and the air was chilly, especially for Thailand.  I looked around for someone to use as a pacer.  I saw a guy wearing Vibram Fivefingers (another kind of barefoot/minimalist shoe).  Target acquired.  Locked and loaded.  At 5 am, the horn sounded.  I hit start on my watch and play on my iPod, and I was off.  21km to go.

Almost immediately the Fivefingers guy fell back and I had to pick a new person to pace with.  After a few minutes, I settled on a girl with a good steady pace.  She had broad shoulders and masculine features.  Nothing I particularly wanted to look at for the next 13 miles.  However, her pace fit and she had bright striped knee socks, like a candy cane.  Easy to follow.

I eventually started picking up the pace and passing people, being cautious not to overdo it too early.  A sign marked the end of the first 5km and checked my watch, 26 minutes.  Slow and steady.  Soon after, I had to pee.  I knew this would happen-- for some reason, I always have to pee after about 5km-- so earlier I'd made a mental note of a porta john nearby.  I caught my breath as I took a leak.  Then it was immediately back to pounding pavement.  Within a few minutes I'd caught back up to Candy Cane and passed a bunch of other runners.  As I trotted along and found my groove, I listened to my iPod and watched the sleeping city. 

4 to 5 am is a weird time in Thailand.  Everything is closed for the night, but nothing is open for the new day.  There aren't many people out that early and the ones that are are an interesting lot-- a few bar stragglers, monks collecting their morning alms, hookers finishing the night shift.  At one point a group of three or four ladyboys stood on a corner watching the runners like we were were the odd ones.  "Handsome man!  Go!  You go!  You go!"  When I'd daydreamed about having my own personal cheerleaders on the sideline this wasn't exactly what I'd had in mind.
collecting morning alms (photo credit: dailytravelphotos)
Still, I felt fantastic.  My lungs were good and my energy was great-- my training approach (which I'll write more about in another post) was paying off!  I started passing more and more people, taking sips of water when I could, but never stopping-- only going faster.  At what I figured was around the one hour mark, my feet started bothering me.  Not cramping, but sore from the minimalist shoes.  One thing I'd learned while training is that with these shoes, it's all about form.  Whenever my feet started to hurt, I'd correct my posture and concentrate on my foot strikes-- actually speeding up instead of slowing down.  Still dark, still cool-- training in the heat was paying off too.  I'd been pacing myself with a big guy that was moving at a pretty good pace.  I passed more people, one small cluster at a time.  The giant bunch that we'd all began was thinning out rapidly.

City wall's of Chiang Mai's "old city"
(photo credit: Chiangmaiimpressivetour)
At the half-way point, the course turned back toward the center of Chiang Mai, retracing the first half of the race back to the starting point.  Now I was running against the grain.  For the first time I saw how many people were behind me.  Just when I started feeling good about myself, Candy Cane came out of nowhere.  She passed me, then caught up with the big dude that I'd been pacing behind, and then she passed him too.   She might of looked like a line backer but she ran like a free safety.  Big Dude picked it up a little bit and started using her as his pacer, while I continued to use him as mine.  The three of us continued on, one chasing the other, for a good distance.  Eventually, Candy Cane's pace was too much for Big Dude and he fell back, sucking air.  I took his place, hot on her big manly heels.

At one of the water stations, people were handing out small bananas.  I took a couple bites of one, tossing the peel on the road.  I wished for life to momentarily be like a cartoon, the banana peel taking out any pursuers close behind me.  I watched drops of sweat drip from the brim of my soaked hat.  My ankles were hurting pretty bad and the pace was faster than I was comfortable with, but I pushed on.  I wai-ed a passing monk for some extra good luck.  I was tired but I was in the zone.  The banana combined with "The Sweetest Victory" (my favorite song from the Rocky IV soundtrack) randomly hitting my iPod to give me a boost of energy.  I was pumped.

A small reflective sign marked that I had 5km left to go.  At the next water station, Candy Cane grabbed a cup and slowed down to a jog.  I decided to make my move here,  passed on the water, and kept going.  No more slowing down.  I left Candy Cane in the dust.  See ya!  I figured that I might regret it later but it was time to turn it up.  Person by person, I started picking people off, one after another.  I'd get the guy in front of me in my sights, then slowly pull him in like a tractor beam until I passed him, then on to the next one.  I could see it in their eyes-- they were all burned out.  This just pumped me up more.  When they looked back into my eyes they didn't see a man, they saw a machine.  

The sun was rising but the morning was still cool.  The finish line was only about a kilometer away but it felt like an eternity.  I locked in on a big Eastern European-looking guy-- the Drago to my Balboa.  He looked big and brutish but he was moving quickly.  (*After the race I found out that his name is Hammer Haus.  Seriously.  Even his name is intimidating!)  He was panting loudly with each stride.  His tree trunk legs were matted with hair and sweat.  I switched to werewolf mode.  He heard my footsteps closing in and he picked up his pace to pull away.  We rounded the city wall, the last corner, and then hit a long straight away.  The finish line was in sight.  I decided to wait to make my move, keeping right on his heels to until we got closer to the finish.  He picked up his pace.  Me too.  I started to pass him.  The finish line was getting closer.  He stayed even with me, neck and neck.  I fell back for a brief second, then BOOM, I hit the afterburners!  Full on sprint... What's that smell like, Hammer!?  

I crossed the finish line and stepped across the final checkpoint pad.  The crowd cheered-- not for me, they were just cheering in general, but I pretended it was for me.  A staff member took my race chip and handed me a medal.  Sweet!  (Later, I found out that everyone got one.)  I walked to the side to catch my breath and shake out my legs.  I was exhausted.  I was hurting.  I felt amazing.

I waited at the finish line for Britt to come across.  People were sweating, congratulating each other, taking photos.  Some French guy was crying.  

Britt came across the finish soon after.  We spent the rest of the day rehydrating and rehabilitating.  We ate lots of good food and got a 2-hour deep-tissue Thai massage.  I was sore but I felt incredible.  Finishing that race was a big accomplishment.  My finish time was 01:50:28.  I finished 8/45 in my category and 39/281 in the overall half marathon.  Hammer Haus came in right behind me, and Candy Cane finished 10 minutes later at 02:00:44-- she was the first female runner to finish.  I retell the story of the race the way it played out in my head.  In reality, I finished a full 30 minutes behind the first place runner (he finished at 01:20:00).  Even Mowgli beat me, coming in 14th place overall (and he'd "only been training for 7 months").  Still, I did well and I'm proud of myself.  The way I'll always remember it, it was an intense battle.

I leave you with a montage and THE SWEETEST VICTORY...



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