Chiang Mai Marathon
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Larry Hall – December 17, 2023

Imagine starting an international marathon at 3:00 AM on a December morning with the starting line at an ancient city gate, flood lighted, the entrance to a 700 year old walled city, Chiang Mai and running the first 5 miles of the race around the outside of the illuminated old city walls and moat pond. This was my experience in the early morning hours.

Running a marathon in December was never high on my priority list as a Fairbanks resident of 27 years. I loved my winters in Alaska. That attitude changed after Jitra, my wife and I moved permanently to Chiang Mai, Thailand in February 2023. Here in Chiang Mai again, I started running locally to stay in condition and enjoying it. I started thinking that maybe this 75 year old runner had one more marathon in him.

I selected the December, Chiang Mai marathon and registered in July. This is a flat course with only 78 feet difference between the maximum and minimum elevation gain. Most of the climbing is done in the first hour. December is the coolest month of the year in Chiang Mai and my training months before that event would be in the mildest months of the year, temperature wise and in the last part of the rainy season.

There are certain challenges to running in a hot climate like Thailand. The relative humidity in Chiang Mai in December, my marathon month, averages 76% and in November, the month with my 2 longest runs, averages 89%. My running clothes, underwear, shorts and top were always wringing wet after every training run.

The high daily temperatures also meant careful planning of my training runs, especially the long runs. For example, my long run of 20 miles was done on November 25th and the forecasted high temperature that day was 90 degrees. Sunrise on that date was 6:36 AM. I started this run at 5:52 AM in the dark. The temperature was already 72 degrees.

I did my mid distance training runs in the morning on a college campus that I was familiar with through my wife Jitra who is a retired faculty member. The long runs I did in my gated community of 100 houses, stopping at my house to fuel up during my loops.

The big marathon race day came. I was ready. My wife dropped me and a running friend off at Tha Phae Gate at the old city, the starting line for the race. Lots of Thai and international runners were participating. 52 countries were represented.

The 3:00 AM gun went off. The temperature was already 69 F degrees.  The course runs north and then west on the inside of the old city moat before at 1 ¼ mile crossing the moat and reversing direction, and running clockwise around the outside of the 4 sides of the moat before leaving the old city at mile 5. At little over 6 miles, the course intersects the canal road, a major north/south multi lane road that runs next to a water canal. The course follows it south along the shoulder and a reserved lane. The south direction course turns around at about 13 mile and retraces the route along the canal road, popping in briefly to the entrance of the Royal Botanical Gardens and back to the canal road. At the turn around I missed getting a wrist band at the checkpoint and my running friend grabbed an extra one for me which I was grateful for. Runners outbound and inbound along this stretch were separated invisibly. At about 19 ½ miles, I was back at the original road intersection to the old city.

The last 6 ½ miles or so, the course goes north into a more rural setting following the water canal and parting from the major highway. Three miles of this section are on dedicated bike paths. By this point, I was running and walking with my legs cramping. About 1 ¼ miles from the finish line, the course enters a military post with tranquil roads, pastures, woods and grazing horses. I crossed the finish line at the King Naresuan Monument running strongly. My time was 5:11:04. In summary, a race well managed with plenty of aid stations with water and energy drinks, some food, cheerful race helpers and nice finisher’s medal and shirt.

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