Take Wing in Thailand - Page 2Running The North Face Thailand Race
Photo courtesy of The North Face.
Katherine Welch, an expat doctor from the United States who lives in Chiang Mai, two-time female champion of The North Face 100K race, heads up a casual ultrarunning group that trains together in Chiang Mai most weekends. They communicate via Facebook (Chiang Mai Ultrarunner’s Group) and support one another in their various running goals. It’s a casual and diverse bunch of mostly farang who welcome any newcomers and travelers in the area.
In February, I met Welch and many others in the local trail-running community when I ventured to Khao Yai to race The North Face 50K. Two hundred kilometers north of Bangkok and nearly 800 kilometers south of Chiang Mai, Khao Yai translates to “big mountain.”
I spoke with a fellow racer who had spent the week prior exploring nearby mountains and trails. He related stories of jungles, monkeys roaming free, vines and plant life he had never seen before—including a herd of elephants. “I’d never been so awestruck and terrified in my life,” he told me.
Although the area is renowned for lush, jungle-like trails, the race course mostly followed a mixture of paved and dirt roads. The trails were flat by an Oregonian’s standards, but quite hilly for many participants. The race was well organized, with fully stocked aid stations every eight to 10 kilometers. A chicken-and-sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf handed to me at the 30-kilometer aid station was the perfect carb-protein combo I needed to push to the finish. Competitors, mostly from Western nations or other Asian countries, enjoyed the free, post-race Thai massages and Pad Thai meal.
Enjoying Thai Wilderness
Growing up with an outdoorsy father had me sleeping in tents every summer. However, the Thai style of camping is somewhat different from my experiences in the United States. Several of the National Parks offer rental tents that the camp staff will set up for you—albeit in a field full of other tents, overhanging bright lights, squat toilets and a canteen stocked with beer, instant coffee and the Thai equivalent of Cup o’ Noodles. Your evening at a Thai campground is likely to be less than restful, with many of your fellow campers—travelers and locals like—drinking and barbecuing late into the night.
While camping nearly 200 kilometers south of Chiang Mai at Taksin National Park in the Tak province, I explored a short trail that followed a dried creek through the bush. The trees around me grew like fingers out of the ground creating a mysterious aura. Huge birds swooped low around me, making calls I didn’t recognize. As I ran, I felt the Thai word, wing, run through me. I took flight.
Running in Taksin National Park
Read on for resources on trails to run in Thailand, transportation and travel info, accommodations, etc. ...