The alarm is set for 3:30am, but I’ve been awake in anticipation for the last two hours. My heart is racing from the thought that today I’ll be running in my first Half-Marathon.
Grateful for having set out my clothes the night before, I get dressed in the pitch dark as quietly as possible, so as not to disturb my fellow hostel bunk-mates who have just fallen asleep from Saturday night’s revelries.
After an internal debate over whether or not to eat anything, I decide against it, tie the laces on my tread-bare sneakers, and head into the steamy abyss of Bangkok.
Not everyone is awake yet
As I wait for my friend and multi-marathoner, Stephanie, I recall how just three days prior, on my first morning in this city, I only lasted one mile on a run in Benjakiti Park before succumbing to a serious case of jet lag. I cross my fingers today will go better.
The fear subsides momentarily as the florescent pink taxi pulls up with Stephanie smiling in the back seat, water and Gatorade in tow. Ready for our fun run? She asks.
Nope, but let’s do it anyway, I respond with my best attempt at perkiness.
The sparkling Grand Royal Palace serves as the backdrop for the starting point of the race and the moon casts a magnificent spotlight over the gathering runners. A lump rises in my throat.
I’m really here, in Bangkok for the first time, and running in my first half-marathon.
The Royal Palace Pre-Dawn
As the crowd thickens, Stephanie and I go in search of safety pins for our numbers. I forgot to ask for them when we signed up for the race the day prior; apparently I was too distracted by the free pink knock-off “breathable” polyester shirts being handed out to participants. We approach an “information table” consisting of one small folding table and three ladies in previously mentioned polyester, but we are told the safety pins are out of stock. Argh. This race just won’t seem official without my number.
Stephanie to the rescue!
Prepared for just this occasion, she proceeds to sew my number to my tank top while informing me that this is actually a very Thai way to solve this problem since laundry here is returned with little labels sewn into all the clothing.
Stephanie Sews Me Up
With my number now firmly in place, we head to the starting mark and the sound of music blasting and people cheering. Suddenly, the race starts and before I can concern myself with the fact that I haven’t trained properly whatsoever, I find myself putting one foot in front of the other, a huge grin spreading across my face.
Weaving through the city, dumping cups of ice cold water from the numerous stations on our heads, I realize what a wonderful a way this is to “sight see” in whilst traveling to new cities. In addition to covering a significant amount of ground, races create a sense of being part of a community as opposed to being just another tourist.
Crossing over the gorgeous Rama Bridge, Stephanie and I are both giddy with the beauty of what lay all around us. That image of the bridge lit up against the velvet sky is a memory I’ll cherish.
About mile nine I feel like I’m running on fumes.
On a scale of 1-10, how are you doing? Stephanie asks.
About a seven, I reply.
Good. You can’t stop until you hit 12.
From that point on, as the seven graduates to an 11.9, Stephanie is in charge of the talking, for which I am deeply grateful. With her peppy banter, the race is a truly “fun run” which, aside from me finishing, was our goal from the beginning.
As the sky changes from black to violet to orange to blue during our remaining miles, that hunger turns to famish, and I begin worrying about passing out.
But I banish the thought of walking or quitting with one thought:
If not now, when?
In other words, if I don’t accomplish my goal now, when I’m just a few miles short of the finish line, when will I accomplish it?
No time like the present.
Finally crossing the finish line and hearing the announcers call our names, I’m hit with an enormous sense of personal achievement. Looking around at all the exuberant and exhausted faces, I know I made the right decision to be here.
We did it!
Once my waves of nausea subsides, I have a good laugh over the fact that McDonald’s is giving away free fish burgers and Pepsi is handing out, well, free Pepsi, to participants, though Stephanie and I stick with the free water and apples.
A few photo ops later, its time to get in another taxi back to Siam. One last glance back at the Grand Royal Palace, now glimmering in the morning sunshine, and this Land of Smiles has brought one to my face that won’t be disappearing any time soon.
Now that I’ve been bitten by the international running bug, I’d love to hear about any experiences you’ve had! Please share your recommendations in the comments below.