“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end.
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Sunday, November 27, 1994, at 4:00 a.m. I’m only one of two Americans signed up and present to run the 1994, Bangkok Marathon; my friend Chuck is the second one. Chuck’s wife, who is Thai found this international race for us to run; it never even appeared in any of our current (1994) Runners World magazines.
What were we thinking when we first thought of doing an international marathon. We weren’t anywhere near competitive then. What people traveling to running events need to understand is; you are going to be eating different food, on a different time zone, sleeping in a different bed, either cold, hot or freezing, and affected by some jet lag, particularly when you go to a destination like Thailand.
I anxiously look down at my running watch; we still have another thirty minutes before the start of our 26.2 mile or 40 kilometer race. I’m wearing the latest in training watch running technology, a Polar Pacer, that besides telling time, also monitors my heart rate, via a chest strap, that is now affixed around my chest.
I wander around an old yellow school bus looking for a place to “go.” A Thai, race helper notices me, and quickly points to the yellow school bus. I continue walking around but, …….aha, I now see what he tried telling me; a steady stream of my fellow competitors continue to exit the bus. I quickly look inside; and see that all of the bus passengers seats now serve as port-a pottie seats. How ingenious, I say out loud, to no one in particular.
I sit down to do my business. Standing is near impossible. Besides being overcome by the horrific smells I’m now swatting tinny, tiny mosquitoes. The little bastards act like they can sense my country of origin and only attack me. I’m an 0+ blood type, happily accounting for around 40% of the population.
My own personal mosquito cloud now remains all over me like Charles Schulz’ Pig Pen character. In Charlie Brown that dirty cloud of dirt and dust follows him everywhere; it’s now my mosquito cloud. At the start of the race it took a loooooong time to finally outrun my cloud. Good grief Charlie Brown.
My running friend Chuck and I are the only American runners. Less than ten runners are European; everyone else is either a Thai or from one of the many nearby countries.
Back in California Chuck and I trained with the Loma Linda Loppers, a Redlands Marathon runners group that met every Sunday, in Redlands, California.
Bangkok is an exciting city to visit and very rarely can anyone run on its city streets. All the locals are extremely industrious and they are not taking too kindly to us runners taking over.
To keep the traffic and locals at bay, there is a wall of Thais now on both sides of the race road. This goes on for, possibly the first several miles of the race. Another advantage of the race time starting at 4 a.m. are the temperatures, which are a little bit lower when it is dark but, not by much. It’s extremely humid and muggy. Forget any spectators. There’s no place for them. Narissa, Chuck’s wife and my x-wife did an excellent job of dropping us off. Fortunately for us, the day before at the expo, we picked up our race package, with our running numbers.
The race starts in front of the royal palace. This is the only wide open space that we see for the next 26.2 miles or 40 km, until the finish line. Picture yourself now in Pamplona, Spain, just before the start of the running of the bulls. The only difference is, the runners are the bulls. The streets which lead us up towards the (bullring) finish line keep getting narrower and narrower. Not because they are narrower but, because the people and traffic are starting to take back what is rightfully theirs.
If your finish time is before four hours, then you too, will be running over main traffic roads, without any idea in the world where you are. I never saw a mile or km mark, at least not in English. All I could see is a wall of smiling Thais, whose traffic and paths, you have now restricted.
The good thing is that at almost every two kilometers from the start you can get water (with ice cubes!) and at times, even Gatorade. If you didn’t go earlier, you can certainly forget it now.
My finish time was 3:45. Somewhere around the 16 mile mark my legs began to feel the course and I started fantasizing about where I was. Around the twenty mile mark I catch up to two Europeans and we start a conversation.m that no one around can understand. We laugh, we hurt, we posed for pictures. We arrive at the finish line at the same time and are rewarded with a beautiful Thai woman placing a very heavy gold medal around our neck. A rolled up finishers certificate is also provided. What an experience! And now I wait and wait, waiting for Chuck to finish. I never did find him.
Post Race Celebrations: Pattaya, Thailand. We are two couples now happily seated down in a five star restaurant. Chucks wife has ordered for us in her native Thai language. Chuck wanted a large and juicy steak. And he got it. Unfortunately, for my friend Chuck, he suddenly without any warning manages to up chuck his entire steak meal, and right before our very eyes.
He suddenly begins lashing out at his wife for the dinner that my x and I think is fantastic. We looked at one another, then take one more quick bite of this incredibly delicious Thai food; before sheepishly sliding ourselves away onto the Pattaya street scene.
All we walked by now are tiny bars, each with the same type 8′ x 8′ dancing girls stage, spread out as far as the eye can see. I wanted to step inside for a closer look but, neither wife wasn’t having any of it.
So, if the meal idea wasn’t a bad choice, then the next thing we did to Chuck was a worse idea; we all got into a boat. The open air panga like outboard powered boat now carried us across a beautiful warm bay, and dropped us onto a beautiful sandy white raked beach.
We were immediately escorted onto waiting teak beach chairs to watch the soon setting sun. The Thai women picked up and dried our sandy wet feet. An ice cold beer was soon poured, shrimp smells were now all around.
I said to no-one in particular; “Smell those shrimp, they’re beginnin’ to boil”. This Florida boy was no longer in Florida, Margaritaville but, Thailand!
And then a short time later, thankfully, after the setting sun set, Chuck, up chuck’s once more.
We understand, in movies that one expects at least one good scene of overindulgence. But, Chuck, this is my vacation. Twice. Really!
The poor guy did not have it too well on the marathon race course either. Remember when I said earlier, that if you were faster than a four hour finish, you would be rewarded at the finish line, with a golden medal, placed around your neck, by a beautiful Thai woman.
Well, neither did Up-Chuck. According to his accounts, he began experiencing gastronomical urgencies around the ten mile mark; and with no where to literally “go”, his mile pace kept slipping. He says he suddenly jumps from the course and into the first available restaurant and headed straight towards a toilet, his finish time quickly slipping away.
Suddenly, he says, when he returns back to the course, it’s as if they rolled up the marathon and the traffic and people were let go. He had no idea now where to go or which way. Still, he continued trying to run with scooters now to his left, right, and behind.
Most of all, it’s really just the genuine smiles of all the Thai people which made this all worthwhile.”
“Jogging is very beneficial. It’s good for your legs and your feet. It’s also very good for the ground. It makes it feel needed.”