Monday, August 29, 2011

Songkhla Marathon Race Report


Songkhla is where Tip and I got married. The Marathon actually goes by the Hotel where we had our wedding reception. The first 16km or so I ran with the best man for my wedding, his name is “Kooky” and he lives in Golok, near the Malaysian border. Tip was actually living in Songkhla when I met her and has a number of close friends and relatives there, so we had no problems moving about.
Songkhla is a beach town about 30 minutes drive from Hat Yai. It is quite a large town / city and has a number of huge schools and universities, which of course is very good for the local population. It has a fishing port, sleeping Buddha, a large Navy base, a thriving Oil & Gas industry and so on.
I have to be honest and say that the beach and parks were strewn with litter. Maybe the persistent torrential rain made it difficult for cleaning up to take place. The Thais though are wonderful, I just couldn’t help admiring how they smile easily when they interact with each other and clasp their palms (“wai”) as a mark of respect, seemingly all the time.

I was told that the Race has been going on for more than 20 years. Unfortunately international participants did not really know about the race, as there isn’t even a web-site. Luckily race registration could be done on the Saturday before the race.
1.5 million THB prize money was on offer. Age groups were divided into every 5 years (just like Triathlons) and prize money went 30 deep for each age group (nice).
Saturday was also when we met the race organizer for the Taiping Marathon. It was quite a heated discussion he had with the Malaysian marathon runners. “Songkhla is my 49th Marathon, you know” said a runner.
I think the only international participants were the elite Kenyans and us from Malaysia. We met Malaysians from Penang, Ipoh and Johore. From KL, there was Tey Eng Tiong, C.C. Choi, Julie Wong, Lawrence Law, Yim Heng Fatt, Chew Marathon Maniac, Rich Chai and myself doing the Full Marathon. Tan Wah Sing did the Half Marathon.

Race start was at 4 a.m. local time, so we were up shortly after 2 a.m. A week previously, I had been advising new Triathletes on how to train and race, well it was now time to practice what I had preached. I gulped down 1.5 L of mineral water and ate 4 pieces of my wife’s home baked healthy cookies, whilst still in the hotel room before leaving for the race start.

I didn’t warm up at all though as I wanted to hang out with my supporters and the other Malaysians. A few Triathlete buddies (Kooky and Nisop) from Golok were also doing the Full Marathon. There were not that many runners doing the Marathon, I thought.
When the gun went, I decided to take it easy. I ran with my “best man” Kooky who said he ran everyday but only 50km total per week. Aid stations were every two km, the first one just 2 km after the start. I think the first aid station that I stopped was at 10km, exactly 60 mins on the watch and I was feeling very comfortable. At this pace “you will finish the race in 4 hours 12 minutes” Kooky pointed out, which was fine for me.
All my recent Marathons, I struggled big time in the second half of the race. The handout at the Gold Coast Marathon advised runners to run the Marathon at an even pace, which I decided would be my strategy for Songkhla.

The route was a straight forward “out and back” course. At about 16km, I lost Kooky which was further than the 12km he thought he would run with me. The roads were super smooth as we only ran on highways. Half the highways were closed off for the runners. At some places we had four lanes all to ourselves. It was the rainy season and the sun didn’t appear at all. The route was also 95% perfectly flat except just before the turnaround. We ran over two lengthy bridges, which was actually the nicest part of the run.
I was still two km from the turnaround but the other Malaysians were on their way back. First there was Rich Chai (running barefoot), then Tay Poh Chye, Yim Heng Fatt and Lawrence Law. Was I that slow?? I started to have doubts about myself. I tried to pick up the pace but the body didn’t want to respond. Oh well, I will just stick to my 6 min per km pace. One person actually came from behind and overtook me. I decided that this person would be my focus for the 20 km back to finish line.

On the way back I saw C.C. Choi, Tey Eng Tiong, Chew Maniac and Jue Wong. Julie Wong was grimacing and walking.

Whilst I may have been super comfortable for the first 21 km, I started straining just to maintain the pace for the return. I had to practice what I had preached just one week earlier. I had advised everyone to keep their running form when the going got tough. I tried to stay relaxed, tried to imagine how the World Ironman Champion (Chris McCormack) ran…Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I was still maintaining the 6min per km though and was slowly catching up the other runners.

I caught two Malaysians about 5 - 6 km from the finish. They had slowed down considerably. The last 3km, I slowed down too and so did everyone else. It was so difficult trying to maintain my running form. There is a very thin line to just packing it in and taking a walk back. But I knew I could do better than my recent Marathons (4:29 at Laguna Phuket, 4:20 at the Gold Coast, heck I might even better the 4:18 I did at beautiful Perth exactly one year ago).

Gosh the pain, I must hang in, I must. 1 km to go. Everyone was going slow and I was getting closer to the person I had been focusing on the last 19 km. There was 100m to go and two people in front of me. I was embarrassed to discover the person I had focused on was actually a woman, as I went by them. Heck these Thai women are as tough as nails. For 19 km I had thought that the person I was tailing was a man.

4 hours 17 minutes and 51 seconds said my watch, I smiled. I had bettered my Perth City to Surf time by one minute. The pain somehow is always worth it.
My supporters were all over me, which of course is nice. Rich Chai (sub 4 hours) was graciously taking photos as we waited for the other Malaysians.

The race course is perfect. Half the highway was totally closed for runners only. The road surface was smooth and 95% perfectly flat. It was held in the rainy season, so there was no sun. Aid stations and the km markers were every 2 km (perfect). There was always iced water at the aid stations and some had fruits and electrolytes. “Everyone” won a thousand Bhat, ha ha.

I noticed that the Thais are a very hardy lot. The run attracted a number of old participants. In fact the 50+ age group was stronger than the 40+ age group.

There are no official results I think, so my estimation is as follows:
• Rich Thai (3:56)
Tay Poh Chye (4+)
• Myself (4:17)
Yim Heng Fatt (4:28)
• Lawrence Law (4:30)
•Tey (4:59). Kooky (4:59)
• Chew Maniac (5 +). Julie finished

Again we had a pleasant experience in Thailand. Tip's close friends took very good care of us, driving us everywhere. Its nice to receive warm hospitality. We tried to assist fellow Malaysians in our little way.

The 4:17 was my fastest Marathon time since July 1996 (15 years ago). My lifetime PB is 3:34 (in the eighties), so that is totally impossible to achieve now. Even going sub 4 hours is I think not possible as all my Marathons I give 100%. To slash another 17 minutes is a lot to ask.

Next race is the Samui Marathon on 18 Sep 2011. Samui here we come.


Anonymous said...

Congrate bro,and tks for the pix and help in arrange meal and tok tok..


sofiantriathlete said...

Our pleasure Tey. You have done so many things for runners for so many years.