Mountain path race to peak of Ngorn Nak / Hang Nak mountain. 3.7km total distance, 500m vertical elevation at peak.
Tub Kaak Beach area, it is well past Nopparat Thara Beach and over by the Sofitel Hotel / Resort.
Grueling. It’s a time trial up a mountain where there are loose rocks everywhere, hidden roots, hidden vines to grab your ankles, and no water on the way up – so, carry your own.
When I heard there was a run up this mountain I’m very familiar with – I knew I had to try. After all, anything that involves climbing hills – is “my bag baby”. I’ve been up the mountain many times, but not for speed so much. Never for an all out effort for speed.
About 10 days ago I ran up for speed – just by myself, no fanfare, no friends. I basically walked fast on the slopes and climbs, and figured that’s all anyone would be doing. The climbing is pretty tough. I likened it to climbing steps – that was the wrong way to go about it, I understand now.
Climbing a mountain path that goes up 500 meters (Thais are saying 700 – but I think they’re grossly exaggerating) in 3.7 km (about 2.5 miles) is much, MUCH more like a run, than it is like a stair climb. As it is – a very fit and fast runner – won the race. I’m not a runner any more, by any stretch of my imagination. I run a little bit at the park by the river – but I mean a LITTLE bit – as in 5 laps max of a 1km loop. I’ve done that maybe 5 times, the rest of the time I use the park as a place to fast walk around as I recover from hard sessions on the big step climb I do often for training.
My aerobic fitness level is moderate – probably under-moderate, I don’t train it much except in short 12-15 minute bursts up the outdoor stair climb. I wasn’t ready for a 40+ minute effort, by any means. However, in my mind – before the race, and even after my practice session going full speed up the Ngorn Nak mountain – I thought I was fit enough to grab a top 3 finish. It was just a guess, but I thought my stair climbing would carry me through. My idea failed miserably!
I arrived early – 7:30 am. There were 25 people there already, setting up for registration. I walked up the path and thought about – can I run up this gradual incline and then hit the steeper sections and walk… or just walk fast up the gradual incline too? I figured everyone would be running – as they always do at a start – and I’d better run too, at least I’d destroy most everyone by the time the steeper sections came.
I walked about 300 meters up the hill and saw movement at my feet on the right side. I froze and looked down. It was a GLORIOUS 2 meter long Ptyas carinatus, Keeled Rat Snake thick as my wrist! There are two things besides anything my daughter does – that get me revved up. One is climbing stairs, the other is finding snakes. Here I was doing both on the same day – what a day!
I stepped left slowly and watched her. She pulled back to strike. I let her. She missed. I grabbed her tail. She struck over and over and over – I had to let her go about 20 times as I re-grabbed the tail and tried not to get bitten. Rat snakes have a very strong bite, and yet no venom that will affect humans. Still, I didn’t want to be bleeding all over myself before the race.
Finally the snake tired a bit and I was able to tail her… means just, pick her up by the tail, her head dangling – and still trying to strike – but they were all short strikes and I just payed attention to how I twisted her to keep her from tagging my leg or groin.
I walked back down the hill with it – and Thais FREAKED. They don’t like any snake, and this was an opportunity to show them not all snakes were bad. They took a lot of photos and videos and I told them “mai pit” over and over – so they know it’s harmless… I let it go behind the restroom – it was totally spent trying to defend itself, and probably couldn’t believe I didn’t eat it.
Back to the Race…
I payed my $6, collected my grey L shirt that says Nong Talay Naga Festival, and couple bottles of water. I decided against the ankle braces I brought the previous day when I saw that a group of runners showed up to the race. I figured the braces would slow me down, being tight on the ankles and a little more weight.
I saw some guys that always run at the park I walk at – and we joked that they’d be running the hill and I’d be walking. I really hoped we’d all be walking – so I had a chance. If people were actually going to run that whole hill – I might as well just look at it as a practice sesh, not a race. I’d not be anywhere near anyone running it!
It was supposed to be – under 35 men go first, over 35 men go next, ladies next. It turned out to be a mass start – totally surprising me. I was about 8 rows back, thinking we were just posing for photos – as Thais love to do. Nope – the horn went off and I had women, children, and way out of shape 50 and 60 years olds in front of me – clogging my way – solid.
It took 2 minutes to get through grandmas and people out for a Sunday stroll, and by then the top group was already nowhere to be seen. Damn! They were running alright – and very fast. I was sure they’d die in the hills so I ran moderately, and still passed people, but wasn’t too concerned. About 4 minutes later I caught up to a fast group of about 8. I gradually picked them off over the next 15 minutes. Then settled into a back and forth with 2 other guys – both of them weighing about 120 lbs. I’m 165. I would destroy them on every steep section – just walking fast up it – and they’d destroy me on the flats – running full out while I jogged as best I could. We did this the entire race… with both of them beating me at the top flat section. Bummer!
There was so much flat and slight gradient running that it favored the runners strongly. I had done exactly one training session on the mountain, and never ran for more than 25 minutes in the past year or so, I’d guess. The stairs on the mountain are a totally different beast – requiring short hard efforts and then resting as one walks back down 1,256 steps to the bottom to do another hard effort of 12-15 minutes back up. It doesn’t parallel this mountain race up – at all, unfortunately.
So, we get to the top and I’m thinking I’m probably 3rd – 4th place. Not bad, I’d be happy with it.
Nope. They were having a party at the top already – just waiting for us. There were multiple guys at the top already, I couldn’t even bear to look around and count how many. Unbelievable!
Sure they were all in their twenties except the one elite runner that must have been 35-40, and who won it.
Still… I killed myself and bested my training run by 4 minutes during this race – pulling a 42 minute result this time. I was totally spent!
The winner? 34 minutes!
Working it out – he was doing about 14 minute miles overall – up the entire climb, and me – 17 minute miles. That’s a giant difference. I thought I was risking it on the flat areas running 8 minute mile pace - he must have been doing 5:30 pace on those same flats.
I didn’t ask what anyone else got – just jogged back down the hill, getting assailed by everyone still climbing who thought I was the winner.
I went home and died… almost literally – my body is a complete wreck after that 42 minute effort. I haven’t pushed myself to the maximum like that – ever. In triathlons – you save something for the next leg. In running, you are on the flat for the most part – almost always. In biking – you can coast a little bit and catch your breath, or pedal with one leg for a couple turns a minute… not climbing a hill, you cannot.
I’m looking at it like the best aerobic fitness training session I’ve had in years – it was. I’m looking at it as my last attempt to climb up the mountain fast too – it’s just too treacherous. I twisted my ankle on the way down and went head over heels again in a spot I’ve done it before – exactly the same spot!
My right ankle cannot take even one more twist like that – I am so surprised that after about 6-8 times of this – the tendon hasn’t ripped completely away from the bone. I’ve gotta stick to running on flat, level surface, and climbing steps. Biking is OK too – but I don’t have time for biking, as I do running or stair climbing.
For now, stair climbing is my bag, baby.
I’ll register in Bangkok for the Baiyoke Run Up 2012 – which I’ll do with my friend Alfred from the UK. It’s 84 floors I think… and though there are 15 floors of running up the parking lot inclines, I think I’ll be a little more ready for it than I was this mountain race.
Kuala Lumpur has the Menara Tower climb in May – which I’ll also try to make.
If you’re coming to Asia to compete in events – know that things never ever go the way they are supposed to go. At least in Thailand, they don’t. Expect the unexpected – it’s the norm…