How to prepare for an 80minute Half Marathon and an 80k Trail Run at the same time.
Fair warning, this will be an unapologetic humble brag race report about an incredibly well-organised event by one of the top Trail Running organisations in the world.
This year, the UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, the holy grail of Trail Running) organisation had to cancel or postpone all but one event around the globe. And I was lucky enough to live in the country that hosted it: Thailand.
When you enter an iconic race with the #UTMB label, you know it is going to be good. Choice of race course: Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand with 2565m.
The selection on offer for participants was a 160k, 120k, 80k, 24k or 10k trail run. This meant that there was something for every type of runner and as a consequence, it drew a lot of athletes of different backgrounds to the race.
I travelled up north with fellow competitors and recent coachee's Pierre Lafayeedney (10K, speed daemon) and Michael McLean aka The Honeybadger (120k, no worries). I opted for the 80k which we jokingly dubbed "the fun run".
The normal chatter of the race expo on the day before the race was drowned out by the deafening and relentless sound of a torrential downpour that forced the organisers to re-route the 160k because of river crossings that were simply to dangerous at this point.
Sending off the 160k runners on Friday morning was a wonderful moment. Knowing they were allowed 48 hours to complete the course, it meant that every runner would have to go through the night and some even two. These heroes were embarking on a mission.
24 hours after the 160k runners left, it was our turn. Lucky for us, the rain let up a little but the course was of course destroyed by the many runners scampering and slip-sliding over the muddy trails. The course was wet, slippery, muddy, steep, rainy and at the same time stunningly beautiful.
After sending off the 120k with Mike going for gold, I toed the line for my race. 80k of mud and mountains. Here we go!
The course was as expected. For the first hours of the race, we were 'cloud runners'. Wet and foggy conditions gave the forest and jungle a magical touch. As I was ascending to the highest point of our route, close to the Doi Inthanon summit, I was envisioning what the views would look like on a cloudless day.
The running gods must be looking down favourably on us that day because as soon as I scaled the crest of the hill and hiked out onto a clearing on the mountain ridge, the fog let up and the sun started to clear out the clouds.
There were about five of us who just stood there, admiring this jaw-dropping display of mother Nature. The endless rolling hills stretched out in front of us and Doi Inthanon's mysterious surroundings were now clearly visible to the lucky few who made it to the top in time to see the big reveal. Absolutely stunning and easily the highlight of the race for me.
Ah, yes. The race. I nearly forgot that I was in second place by that time and a Forrest Gump-like phrase fell out of my mouth. I looked at one of the 120k runners who had also been left speechless by this theatre of beauty and said: "Best keep moving". And with those words, I set off into the valley and onto aid station A3.
The rest of what was left of the day-time was spent marvelling at the beauty of Northern Thailand's landscapes as we crossed jungle, waterfalls, river beddings and the occasional stretch of road when we connected to another aid station.
Going into the night, the 120k trail and the 80k trail split. That meant that with only one other runner to chase, I knew there was one headlamp up the road that I was looking out for. Not knowing where my competition was, I did not expect to see anybody until the finish line.
As I cleared the forest once more to go to the penultimate aid station of the day, I saw a headlamp approaching from the opposite direction... "Must be a volunteer", I thought. As the runner came closer, I realized it was the headlamp I had been chasing into the night. My fellow competitor was going in the wrong direction!
"Hey, the aid station is this way", I yelled out to him. He quickly turned around and together we ran to the aid station, mere seconds apart. Unbelievable that you can run for almost 12 hours and only be seconds apart.
My arrival and his wrong turn clearly gave my competitor a rush of adrenaline because he was gone from the aid station in seconds whereas I was at this point pretty exhausted and not in any position to enter a dog-fight for the finish line which was still 6k and a brutal last climb away.
Happy and extremely content with finishing the last hill of the day - where I must admit a few curse words were uttered as I slipped and landed in the mud for approximately the 10th time of the day - I ran into the finish chute to claim second place and more importantly a warm cup of tea and a chair.
Greeting 'the voice of the finish line' Sophia Sophie and the winner of the race who was waiting for me at the finish line, I happily turned off my headlamp and sank into the chair to appreciate what an amazing adventure this had been.
Showered and with some semblance of a night's sleep, we rejoined the race expo the next morning for the award ceremony and the welcoming of the 160k runners.
Mike, Pierre and I had an amazing adventure. To add icing to the cake, my two travel partners actually won their races! Probably the best possible outcome for me as a coach to see the two athletes whom I have been helping out with their form take first prize.
The Effortless Running method is paying dividends in a major way!
A fantastic close to a wonderful event. If you have a chance to witness and/or participate in this race, I wouldn't think twice about entering. This was a magical trail race and one to add to your Top-10 running destinations in the world. Hands down (feet up)!
If you are interested in how the Effortless Running method can help your running form, check www.effortlessrunning.com