The air is cool,
Considering I’m in Thailand, but then it is just before 5am in the morning. I’m surround by runners at the start of the Thailand North Face 100k (TNF100). The commentator starts a 10 second count down 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, a horn blares out loudly and with great excitement we set off.
3 months I have been training for the TNF100. Some mornings waking at 4 am to go running. Logging 100 miles per week in the peak phases of my program. To arrive at this moment with fresh legs, I finalised my program with a 3 week taper taking my weekly volume from 100 miles to 80 miles, 60 miles and then finally 30 miles in the week leading into TNF100.
I’ve set out with the front runners but on purpose not leading, I want to see what pace is set by the other runners and who the speedsters are. As it turns out the pace is as I predicted, within 7/8 minute mile pace, the speedsters are two Thai runners who are 40 meters ahead, one with running poles and another without.
2 runners on my left are chatting with each other, they sound relaxed, like seasoned pros. I ask myself “do I belong at the front with pro runners” I will find out the answer later. The road we are on is littered with torch beams, the sun is yet to rise, we are wearing head torches.
The TNF100 is a trail ultra and starts off the Asia Pacific North Face series. I ran last last year finishing in 3rd but ended up in hospital after the race, lying in a hospital bed I really thought I might be taking my last breaths. But I was fine and released missing the award ceremony and this disappointed me cause I really dug deep to stay in 3rd position.
Learning from my mistake last year I came with a race plan, to pace myself sensibly for 50k then push for the second half. I’m currently in about 5th position. We come to our first climb, a small mountain. I did this section two times in training, Its a new addition from last year making the race more difficult. I saw a small brown snake yesterday whist here.
Im feeling relaxed, small feelings of confidence start to seep in as we run up a wide, dusty trail. One Thai guy has dropped back from the front and the other with the poles is still up there. I’m with the seasoned pros, I haven’t talked or made conversation with them just focusing on running. The one guy has an American accent and is wearing a cycling hat with the peak sticking up, The other guy sounds French, they are both wearing Altra trainers.
Passing a pack of barking dogs I not startled as I faced these in training and we were warned about the dogs on the course during race briefing yesterday. I stop briefly for the loo and get left behind but Its not long before I catch back up with the American runner, he’s crouched down doing something with his shoe, I run by and can see the head torches of two runners ahead. I run my own pace as I’m not interested in trying to catch them, it will be what it will be.
Feeling good about my effort, I’m not over cooking it, my engine is just going steady. Its been mostly uphill till now so the downhills feel good as I let gravity do its work. I turn right onto a road section. A runner comes from behind. He starts chatting and I feel instantly relaxed as till now I have spoken with nobody, maybe I’ve been too focused. His name is David Emch and he’s from America (not the American I passed). I find out this is his first race outside of the states. We chat for a while about running and so on. I ask David if we have passed CP1 yet and find out that I missed it, this is a bummer because I have 3 gels to pick up from my drop bags, I have to collect them on the next 50k loop (the course is made up of two 50k loops).
Ahead is the second significant climbing section, David and I are still running together and I know this section and so detect a right turn ahead, David says he’s grateful as would have run past it had he not been with me. I need to make a pit stop and tell David I’ll catch him later. Just as I get running, again the American who I passed earlier comes running along the trail and we run together. I learn his name is Cory Lewandowski and he’s been running ultras for 3 years. He lives in Taiwan thats why he’s running TNF100. On a rocky downhill Cory says he wished he had put in the rock plate to his Altra Superiors as he feels the trail is a lot rocker than he expected then his biker hat fly’s from his head, he stops and turns back to go fetch it, I run on ahead, this is a race, I don’t see Cory again.
Back onto the road after stopping at CP2, its a long uphill stretch and I think of Badwater 135, I imagine I’m running it now as I look down at the white painted line. I just missed the application for Badwater, I’ll enter next year. I turn right and I’m on smooth dirt trail, the colour is almost orange, I relax my breathing and look at my heart rate, its low but my pace is fast, Im happy how its all going.
My first real test is when I get to a single track section, its full of 25k runners who only do part of the TNF100 course most of them are walking and approaching them from behind I call out 100k runner, I end up loosing a stack of time, I also get passed by a Thai 100k runner, he’s flying and is a better tactic to pass the 25k runners. A lot of these runners have headphones In and others just don’t understand me. I find myself loosing my relaxed state of mind and becoming almost angry. I’m aware of my negativity and try hard to calm myself down, I remember last year an American runner almost got into a fight in this section, he got really pissed off, I’m totally not in his predicament, my negativity is internal and nobody sees it.
Pleased to be through this section I come too a second new part of the TNF100, the tallest mountain in the area, it only reaches 600m and change, after being in the Alps last year at Tor Des Geants this feels like and ant hill. Passing CP3 up I go, again a long line of slow walkers, one Indian guy is in front of me, I ask if I can pass he is sweating and obviously tired, he tells me to wait with tones of resentment at asking to pass, I respond “No man move out the way” I pass him feeling a bit better for airing my feelings. Up the hill and down then back onto trails to the end of the first 50k loop.
Happy feelings start to come back as I think about seeing my mum at the halfway point, she’s here in Thailand and has come to Pakchong to support me. At this point you run against runners along the road and I see a runner heading back out to begin the second half, he’s young, Thai and looks very fresh in comparison I see a national hero named “Sanya Khanchai”, Sanya has won the race before and is considered a true champion. I feel sorry for him as he sits eating food, Sanya looks terrible and I’m not sure if he will even finish. I feel strong as ever and proceeded down the long slightly inclining tarmac road to the trails ahead. I didn’t see my mum but I know I will at the finish.
Its just beginning to get hot....
I’ve been drinking regularly and I feel fine. The thought of running another 50k hasn’t fazed me yet, I’m ready for part two. The road comes to and end and I join the trail. My watch bleeps every 5 minutes, 20 minutes and also on the hour, telling me to drink, eat and take a salt tablet. I start feeling I’m eating too many gels, the sugary gels begin to make me feel sick. I feel like I want to vomit each time my watch bleeps.
I’m entering my first low of the race in the form of GI stress (stomach not wanting to play ball). Its all the gels I know it, along with filling my water bottles with electrolyte from the check points, this had been waiting to happen. 3 gels per hour is just too much for my poor stomach to handle. I feel like quitting, the thoughts grow and evolve in my mind. As time goes by I feel so low and down about myself I question what I’m doing. I go into such a dark place I don’t just want to quit this race but running all together.
I say out loud “Kristian your having a low right now and your feeling bad” recognising how I’m feeling and verbalising it helps a little. I decide to do something about the GI issues. I change the eat alert on my watch from 20 minutes to 30 minutes, from now on I’m going to be having 2 gels per hour instead of 3. I also decide to empty any electrolyte I have left out of my bottles and refill with plain water at the next checkpoint. From now on I drink to taste rather than the sound of my drink alert on my watch. Its a gamble but I already hit rock bottom, the only way from here is up.
After a while my strategy starts working, no longer does my stomach feel bad, I no longer need to pee every 10 minutes and finally I start to feel my flow coming back. I see a girl ahead, eventually I catch up with her, as I pass she asks how I feel, I say….. “I had some GI issues but cut back on the gels and I feel fine now” (finally I’m out the dark place), I ask her name, its Kristi and I ask how she is feeling “legs are hurting but hey” I say “thats ultra”, then Kristi says “go kill it” in a thick American accent.
At CP7 I forfill my self made promises by emptying the green coloured electrolyte from my bottles, its water all the way from here baby. I feel I have a clean slate, the race is mine to do with what I want and I want this race. I ask myself how bad do I want it? “I want it real bad” I tell myself. I’m back on the uphill road section where I earlier imagined I was running Badwater. I turn right and run down a dusty trail, ahead are CP8 and CP9, then Im finished, about 30 more kilometres to go.
Nobody behind me, nobody in front, I’ve been alone for some time, the trail is rolling up and down, I’m so looking forward to the hill as so I can use some different muscles in my legs. I arrive at the section where I had to navigate around 25k runners but I’m all alone this time, it feels like Im in this race by myself. I feel really strong now as I approach CP8. I stop refill one bottle with water and half another. I have on wrists bands and place a large piece of ice under each of the bands, this helps cool me down. I then pour water from an ice jug all over the back of my neck. Feeling refreshed and ready roll, I ask the CP8 staff what position I’m in, one guy says you are number one and laughs then says no your number three. I laugh at his teasing joke then thank everyone and take off.
Now I’m in another gear, 20k till the finish, thoughts of quitting are long gone, distant memories that no longer belong to me. Instead I’m flying, I mean seriously going for it. I told myself the first time around the 50k loop its all about conservation and I had to wait till loop two to kick some trail butt, well its loop two and the downhills become my release of conserved energy. Then just out the blue without expecting it, on single trail I run straight into 2nd place, a Vietnamese runner named Quang. He’s standing on the trail opening a gel and looks tired. I place my hands on his shoulders to stop us colliding and pass him by. I don’t look back, just run as fast as I can, I’m full of adrenaline. I had been passed by Quang when being held up by the 25k runners on this same section earlier. I remember looking at his technical skills as he ran down the trail in front of me, over roots and rocks, some how passing 25k runners without any effort. It’s now Quang’s turn to look at the back of me. I thought he was chasing me but finally when I did look back nobody was behind me. He was gone for good.
CP9 the last checkpoint. I fill one water bottle as all that remains is 10k. Up the hill for the last time, technically this is the most difficult part of TNF100, but right now I’m actually having fun. I keep telling myself this is what you get when you run a smart race and pace properly, I’m now prospering from my earlier actions. I fly up the hill, as I go up still passing slower 50k and 75k runners. Something dawns on me, earlier I asked myself the question “Do I belong up here with the seasoned pro runners” I wonder to myself where these guys now and finally I have my answer, yes is the answer, I do belong.
With the last hill behind me its a combination of flat trail and road to the finish, I’m running 6 minute miles and feel full of energy, I wonder where first place is. Turning right onto the last stretch of trail then left at the bottom back onto road to the finish. I did it, I overcame myself in the darkest hour to triumph, victory is mine. I here the North Face commentator “Kristian Morgan 100k runner, I cross the finish line grabbing the tape and holding it above my head. I see my mum and smile. I think to myself how my family are such a motivating factor in pushing limits and boundries. The commentator says out loud Kristian Morgan 2nd place runner less than 2 minutes behind the winner (David Emch), I can’t believe my ears.