The Bangkok Marathon: a Surreal Experience
“Mr. Jooky” is an English Speaking Taxi Driver with a world of experience. He picked me up at 4:00 a.m. and we traveled to the starting line of the Standard Chartered 21 Kilometer Race. (The Venue has five runs including a short 2.5 K run and the full 42.195 K Marathon.) “Mr. Jooky” is quite representative of the people occupying the “Land of a Thousand Smiles”; positive, friendly and hard working. On the way to the Royal Palace where the start and finish lines are located he pointed out a monument erected to the “one thousand” students gunned down by the Thai Army in 1973. “One hundred thousand marched in protest of the government. Two of my friends died before my eyes. Most of us escaped and took refuge in the King’s Palace.” (This was the Thammasat University Massacre.) His explanation finished as we pulled up to the corner of an intersection. “Your starting line is just down this street. Have a good run.”
It was a great run. A very international crowd full of Europeans, North Americans and large numbers of Japanese, Singaporeans, Hong Kong(ers) and other South East Asian Countries. The local Thais were well represented and thousands of volunteers made everyone feel welcome. The course was relatively flat but challenges come from the humidity and pollution. The course is impressively scenic but a large portion of the race is run on one side of the highway and the opposite side of the road was packed with vehicles. (I started an asthma like wheeze while on the freeway and was very pleased when it diminished once away from the traffic.)
Let me list the things to like and love about the Bangkok Marathon:
-1- Starting at the Royal Grand Palace a 5:00 a.m. when the weather is most temperate. The Thai Band entertaining runners lining up for the half marathon was pretty good. Their rendition of Maroon 5’s Moves like Jagger was terrific.
-2- Crossing the Rama VIII Bridge lit up and beautiful before sunrise.
-3- Being saluted by Thai Imperial Guards in full dress uniform as we passed the Ministry of Defense.
-4- Water Stations every 2 K with watermelon venues positioned in two locations along the race route.
-5- Observing the “Elite Runners” mostly from Africa as they warm-upped. (They float and glide; inspiring.) Other races isolate the Invited Professionals but at the Bangkok Marathon they were one of the crowd. They had to fight their way to the front of the pack before the starting gun fired.
-6- The 25 degree weather. It’s much better to run when it’s warm at my age. Caveat: temperatures rose noticeably as the race progressed making the last 5 K much more difficult than the first 16 K. (We passed an elite runner as he walked back to the starting gate. He didn’t look happy & I thought this might be a very bad omen.) Add suspect traffic control & the need to dodge the odd motor bike and you really do have a tougher last half.
-7- Sponsors distributed beverages and burgers as you departed the course. Once off the Marathon Site, I gave my Filet of Fish and Cheese Burger to a tuk-tuks driver who then ungratefully refused me a ride. (This was after an offer of twice the normal fare. I think he didn’t know the location of my hotel.) I watched him drive off with the sandwiches and looked for a taxi.
-8- The start was as exciting as any race I’ve ever entered but finishing was probably the most gratifying. (Did I mention the last 5 K were really tough for this Canadian?) Finishing also allows me to have some fun discussions with friends who offered advice and concern for the heat, humidity, stomach devastating bacteria and jet lag. One of my positive “comrades” even offered this tidbit in an email: “I don't want to see you on TV with some Para-Medic over you doing compressions!!!! Ha! Ha!” Hey Guys! I finished and am still standing. Thanks for the help.
We’ll recommend the Bangkok Marathon to anyone who can make it to Thailand. On line registration was easy and the race package pick up was straight forward. The goodies included a pink running shirt, number and time chip, a shoe and tote bag with the race logo and general information. Would I do the run again next year? Let’s let the blisters heal and we’ll think about it. In the mean-time there’s some delicious Thai Curry and a Singha Beer waiting for me.