My First Half Marathon: Mizuno River Kwai

September 18, 2011 § 7 Comments

On Friday evening, in torrential rains, my friends and I drove to Bangkok. This time of year (from May – October) is considered to be Thailand’s rainy season and the past two weeks have seen nonstop rains– rains which have, in fact, flooded many villages. Unfortunately for me, it was forecasted to rain for the entire duration of the weekend (including the day of the race!), but I tried to not worry too much about it. Anyway, we made it to our friend’s condo in downtown Bangkok four hours later and after eating a late meal of salapao jai (steamed vegetarian dumplings), we hunkered down and tried to get some sleep. We had a long day ahead of us– driving to Kanchanaburi and picking up the registration packet for my first half marathon!

View of downtown Bangkok from our friend's apartment

Bangkokian sea of apartments, condos, businesses, and hotels

After a hearty breakfast at our favorite vegetarian restaurant (where every dish served is vegetarian—such a treat for me as I am always getting the short end of the food stick out here), we made our way to Kanchanaburi. We stopped a few times along the way to use the hong nam (bathroom), stretch our legs and hit up some popular tourist destinations before checking into our hotel.

A typical Thai toilet-- referred to by westerners as a "squatter"

We briefly visited the Allied War Cemetery, a WWII cemetery on Th Saengchuto in downtown Kanchanaburi, to learn about the history of the bridge over the River Kwai that claimed the lives of so many men. The Japanese military used Allied POWs and other SE Asian laborers to build a railway to Myanmar (now Burma). It is estimated that over 100,000 people died as a result of the construction efforts, substandard safety protocols, and the horrific treatment by the Japanese forces. The bridge has been subsequently referred to as “death railway.”

One of the cemeteries where POWs who helped build "Death Railway" were buried

Kanchanaburi's Allied War Cemetery

After the cemetery, we toured one of Kanchanaburi’s WWII War Museums (just off of Th Mae Nam Khwae). The museum houses a variety of WWII artifacts, including, but not limited to, military uniforms; wood carvings of POWs, Einstein, and Adolf Hitler; antique sewing machines; bones of WWII causalities; military issue firearms; old monies; and life size paintings of each Miss Thailand up until the 1970s. The museum overlooks the River Kwai and is just south of the Death Railway Bridge– absolutely stunning views.

Kanchanaburi WWII Museum

Death railway bridge over the River Kwai

Fishing in the River Kwai

Following the museum, we walked over to the infamous bridge (attempting to avoid the many hawkers selling fruit, apparel, cheap jewelry, and Buddhist charms) to take a few pictures. Okay, okay– so we didn’t really avoid the hawkers. We did happen to buy some jack fruit, palmello, and a souvenir shirt (for me)…

A light-hearted picture of us on Death Railway Bridge

River Kwai

River Kwai railway

We finally arrived at our intended destination, the River Kwai Village Hotel, so that I could pick up my racing kit and finalize my registration. There were a lot of people and a handful of farangs (Westerners) buying Mizuno apparel, chit-chatting, and picking up their racing bibs. I will admit that I felt a little overwhelmed– I even had some of those lovely do-I-belong-here?-type thoughts racing through my head. Ultimately, I have been training hard these last couple of months and I knew it was just my nerves talking.

We finally made it to the River Kwai Hotel to check in for the Mizuno Half Marathon

Later that night, I laid out my running clothes, shoes, bib, etc. and it dawned on me that I had forgotten one crucial element to my race day wardrobe… SOCKS! I had forgotten my effin’ socks. I couldn’t help but laugh–  I remembered everything else, including superfluous auxiliary items (two sports bras, extra hair ties, my pillow, perfume)– but forgot to pack socks. Not to mention the fact that I’m always the one reminding my ever-forgetful partner to remember his underwear, socks, toothbrush, etc. So of course we had a good laugh over that– oh, that, and the fact that he offered to let me borrow his socks, that he of course remembered, but that were calf-high dress socks. I declined his offer in a fit of laughter (who brings dress socks to go sight-seeing?). Luckily, our friend, Ming, had a couple of extra pairs of athletic ankle socks in his car and he lent a pair to me. Thank god for friends.

After the sock situation got sorted out, I watched a bit of BBC news (in English!) on our hotel’s television and downed an Imodium to prevent a potential morning battle between my nerves and stomach. Finally, I hit the hay. Did I mention it rained, hard, all night?!

At 4 a.m., I got up and prepared for the half marathon (thankfully, the rain had stopped). Showered, brushed, deodorized, dressed, and stretched, I headed over to the race. I was so nervous! There were so many runners– and they looked so professional and athletic! I must have looked like such a newb. I stretched, peed a couple of times, and got in the half marathon running group. At long last, the race began!

The run was absolutely beautiful– the sky was a bit overcast, which was nice considering that it protected us from the cruel Thai sun. We ran past cloud-capped mountains and breathtakingly lush valleys. We passed Brahmin cows, thatch huts, and soi dogs (street dogs). There were monks walking down the road, collecting rice and money from generous villagers (and the occasional generous runner!). I have never had so much fun running– my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. The hills weren’t nearly as bad as I had thought they might be (read: it was really hilly, but I handled it well) and during some of the harder points in my run, I had Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart to cheer me on (thank you iPod!). At the 19km mark (about 12 miles), it began to rain. But at that point, my clothes were already soaked with my sweat– so what was a little rain going to hurt? Aside from speed-walking through one water station, I ran the whole race. I was ecstatic when I crossed the finish line: I FINISHED MY FIRST REAL RACE!

Fist Pump!

So there, I did it. I now know what it’s like to run in a real halfer– and I do feel like it will minimize my anxiety about the Bangkok Marathon come this November. I had such a great time and I am now more antsy than ever to run in other races. I learned a lot about my running style, pace, and what not to forget to pack, so hopefully the next go-round will be loads smoother.

Post-run, we went to Kanchanaburi’s Tiger Temple to see what all the fuss was about. I personally don’t recommend going– it exploits both farangs (Westerners) and tigers. And even though it is supposedly “run” by monks, it seems far too commercialized and touristy. Regardless, here is a picture of me with a sleeping tiger.

Post race cool down at the Tiger Temple

Thanks (internet) friends for all the support and encouragement! I had a blast and I hope you enjoyed the pictures.

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§ 7 Responses to My First Half Marathon: Mizuno River Kwai

  • Roppon says:

    Congratulations on your race. Nice pics of Karnchanaburi.

  • Sarah says:

    That was my first half too and your post describes exactly how I was feeling! I think I remember seeing you around the half way mark- were you the one enthusiastically cheering people on? If so, thanks! 🙂 Good luck in the Bangkok Marathon!

    ~Sarah in Chiang Mai

    • sydneykegan says:

      Hah! Yes, that was me… I thought people looked too serious and unenthusiastic, so I decided to liven things up!

      Are you planning on doing any more races? What brings you to Thailand? I am actually planning on taking a trip up to Chiang Mai in a few months to do some shopping (love northern Thai style clothes and accessories).

      If you are ever in Khorat, let me know– maybe we could meet up for a run or dinner!

  • Ian Goudie says:

    I was thinking of doing the shorter 10.5k race this year but you might just have convinced me to do the half instead. What do you think?

    • sydneykegan says:

      It definitely depends on your overall fitness. Have you run a half marathon before (either in training or in a race)? The location of the Mizuno River Kwai Marathon was both inspiring and lovely– even in gray, drizzly weather. That being said, you are in the mountains and hills which can be painful. Let me know what you decide to do!

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