Thailand Power of Ten Update – 21 Nov
The real challenge The (TU) Thailand Ultra
Out here they call it the beast – 100 km of unrelenting jungle covered hills, mud roads, ravines and the best humidity that Thailand can offer all baked into a monster by the unrelenting sun.
I have just been sitting in the tree top deck of Cave Lodge staring out at the hill ahead which is the start of the Thailand Ultra, stage 1.
It goes by the name of “Heart Attack hill” the steepest part of the whole run, up and up it winds into the mist.
The temptation has been too great, so Andy, Pete and I put on our gear and off we went to just have a little taste of the Beast.
We hit the forest track, rich dark mud compounded into slippery clay topped with leaves as a disguise. One or two twists and turns and up it goes no warning just straight up. Lungs burning, legs shuddering up we went. I can feel the hundreds of kilometres in my legs, they feel well worked. Shit! I thought to myself I am going to dig really deep on this one, if I don’t pace myself in the beginning and get drawn along with the group I am going to blow.
This is not going to be a normal race, it’s going to be an event of attrition, me against myself; mind vs. body is not going to cut this one, its going to have to be mind and body working as one. I have come a long way on this trip, run a long way to get here, its now time to take on the “Beast”.
To me the biggest weight that I am going to carry on this last leg and toughest part of the challenge is to fulfil on a promise that we made on taking up this challenge – to a child out there, that I might not know or never know; through this journey may we bring a Smile into your life, that you may be released into the difficult journey of life that lies ahead of you with a fair start and equal opportunity to flourish and in turn make a difference.
Most importantly to let you know, “We care!”
The 50 km known as “Beauty” and the 100 km – they just call the “Beast”
I was up at 4, I heard Andy’s alarm playing the morning melody that has woken me on the last 20 mornings, which means get up its time to run!
This morning was going to be very different; what lay ahead was to turn out to be one of the toughest days of my life. (I have had a few) but this one is to be a chart topper.
Standing at the start line with over 100 runners from 20 different countries (as well as Timothy Olsson one of the worlds best trail runners), there was nervous energy bubbling in the pack of runners, my mind was on one thing and one thing only – just finish this no matter what; I am going to drag myself through this one. Mentally I was focused. The biggest worry as always, will there be any “mechanical” issues that could blow it for me.
The next minute it was on, we were running, up the hill from the start, on the way to the massive Lod cave and then up “Heart Attach hill”. Twisting turning up, up the hill we climbed, legs burning chest heaving and sweat gushing down, through the teak forest up we scrambled. We had just crested and heading down to checkpoint 1.The next thing I was free falling, gliding, sailing down the slope and then crash I hit the dirt, shoulder into mother earth and rolling down the path. I lay there few a few seconds, thank goodness everything was okay. (A quick reminder to keep my eye on jungle roots)
The relentless grind was on, down the valley through the hill-tribe village, skirting rice paddies and into the maze fields the race went. Check point 1 was in the home of one of the villagers, out of the baking sun. Then it was 10 river crossings, mud gravel and a taste of the massive hills to come which began to eat the runners one at a time. Just under half way was check point 2, already there was news of runners dropping out.
Bang into the hill from hell, 21 kms up and up into the jungle and deep into the wild forest to check point 3. Things were going well. The next thing it was about 8 hours later, I was running back to Cave lodge, 50 km down and feeling fantastic. There was a massive vibe at the lodge as the runners finished the beauty. I ran over the line only to have to turn right and head up the road to round 2.
This is where it all begins. Up “Heart Attack” hill for the second time, it’s now midday and the heat was eating into me. The race had spread out a lot; it was now only the beast runners out there. Up front the race was neck and neck between Tim and Harry, but for the rest of us it was it was the personal battle of mind and body vs. the beast. I could not believe how big the hills had grown; little sprits of cramps were creeping in. On the downhill my feet were burning and then came one of the 26 river crossings, a nice cool soothing feeling as you hit the river, only to fill your shoes with grit and add another level of discomfort to deal with.
Now alone, alone to deal with my inner demons, self-doubt, pain and exhaustion the internal battle began; just keep holding onto the little sparkle of positivity, keep the mind positive, any little reward I could pull out of the situation I would cherish and build on. I hit check point two a second time as darkness crept in, now adding another dimension to the race – I knew the most technical section lay ahead. 21 km and the biggest hill to check point 3.
I got to the checkpoint 2, exhausted, wet feet burning and not in a great mental space, I needed to refocus my mind, regain my concentration. I walked into the check point and remember Kate the volunteer manning the check point look at me and saying “David, what’s wrong you look so sad?”
I had no answer. I took a handful of nuts and went into the shadows where I just flopped down. Kate sent one of the village children over to me with a banana, I was too tired, I just waved her away. All I wanted to do was get the wet shoes and socks off. I had a spare pair of socks in my bag. I pulled my shoes off and looked down at my wrinkled feet and just shook my head as I tried to eat – I’ve got to pull this together I thought. I sat there my mind racing; failure in this is not an option, it’s just not going to happen. So I changed my socks and slowly got up and took a last handful of nuts and headed out into the jungle – not a soul around me, just the night sounds and reflector tape markers to follow.
Everytime I lifted my head, my headlight would catch a row of reflector tape climbing up into the heavens, they never ended, up and up they went, step after step I stumbled and tripped on up the mountain, following the tape.
Fatigue was starting to play with my mind, every now and then a bit of tape looked like the light of a home; I would stop and walk in, but there was nothing. Then the tape took a really steep climb that nearly broke my resolve. I could not believe it, more hill. For a second I stood confused, they were also going down, my brain was fried, it was the stars I was looking at and I’d had confused them for tape. I was finally at the top.
Ahead was a welcoming fire, some of the local hill tribes were stationed at the really dangerous spots to warn you, a slip on this ridge could mean a 100 meter fall into the abyss. Down and down I trundled, knees aching with each impact of the descent. My eyes were blurring all the time, finding it difficult to adjust to the shadows and light all the time, trying to read the terrain. Deep gullies that were gouged into the mountain by hundreds of motorcycle trips were everywhere, soft slippery soil that crumbled if your foot hit there edge.
Stumbling due to fatigue was now a norm. I have got to keep focus I mumbled, got to focus as in slow motion I tripped and stumbled forward as my foot hooked a rock, down I went, it felt like a full flip and I landed on my back – ever drop of oxygen forced out of my lungs, I lay there wheezing trying to suck in a breath, I just could not. Again I tried as I groaned and rolled over – crazy thoughts everything you don’t want to happen is buzzing around in your mind. I looked up, thought I was seeing stars, I refocused, fortunately it was a mass of insects buzzing around my light. Slowly I rolled over onto my knees and just stared into the ground.
Get up – get up, I fought with myself as I sat upright – a pain shot across my lower back, was this it!
The pain was nearly unbearable; every step caused my body to shudder. I just had to work this out of my mind. I stopped and slowly bent forward stretching my back; this helped a lot. It was now 10:30 in the evening. Time was on my side. If I could nurse my way to check point 3, it was then 13 km to the end. I can do it!
I started to see and smell Water Buffalo dung, a sign that I was getting closer to Echo village. My spirits lifted. I had new energy and my mind kicked back in talking to myself, shouting encouraging pushing deferring the pain I fought through this dark patch. I had placed a reward in front of myself – checkpoint 3 was 87 km done. I knew I could literally drag myself the last bit. It had taken me nearly 5 hours to get to the end of the 21 km stint.
Refuelled, reenergised I started the climb out of Eco Village and over the bridge. The hill was massive I could hardly remember it. At some stage I felt as if I was stumbling backwards, crouched forward I dragged myself up hill after hill. Finally there it was – the final sharp left turn back into the jungle, down, down to cave lodge at the bottom.
The mist had started to settle in the valley, it was after 2 in the morning and I began to see the hazy flicker of light below and hear the dogs barking – it was there, within reach as I stumbled down the slopes between the pods of bamboo. Its just seemed to keep coming on, but whatever was thrown at me or how painful it was I think every runner on this course felt the same at this point – I fought the Beast long and hard, but I have persevered and conquered it and been rewarded at the other end with a better understanding of myself.
Want a challenge, the TU 100 is calling.