Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Running in Angkor

Last December I read about the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon, and I immediately thought, "Now that would be a cool t-shirt to earn!"   Combine that sentiment with cheap Air Asia flights from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, and voila!  Recipe for an adventure (I'll blog about what Mali and I did together later, after I've sorted through the pictures).

As you can see, everybody's smiling BEFORE the race

The Angkor Wat International Half Marathon is held, surprisingly enough, inside the Angkor Wat Archeological Park.  I figured I might never have another chance to run a race at such a totally cool venue, so I was glad to have the chance.  And it turned out, several people from the embassy here in Bangkok had also signed up for the race.  Several of them trained together, and it was great to be able to get together before and during the race to offer moral support.  And after the race we ate together, which was fantastic.  Oh, and we got to make really cool race t-shirts, which I designed.

This is my best side, and you can't see how slow I was running at the end of the race.  I have run one previous half marathon, so part of my brain understood what I was in for with this event.  Despite that foreknowledge, I failed to adequately train for this run; the longest training run I did before the race was 9.5 miles.  I know there are plenty of training programs for marathons and half marathons that say you don't have to run the full distance, that the last three to four miles or so are purely mental.

In my honest opinion, that is the kind of advice that leads to so many first-time marathoners--or half-marathoners, in this case--being sore (or worse, injured) for several days after a race.

Yes, those last few miles of a long distance race requires mental fortitude, but it also requires your body knowing that it can handle the abuse of those miles.  And that is why the next time I run a long event like this, I will have at least two training runs longer than the actual race distance under my belt.
This was about ten minutes after I finished, after I had stretched a little bit and re-hydrated a little--before the pain really set in.  Oh, and see how my race bib is tucked into my shirt?  You'll also notice that the safety pins are still in my shirt.  The numbers were printed on this felt-like paper that didn't stand up to my perspiration output.  I slowed down to re-pin my number.  Twice.  Eventually I just tucked it in my shorts.

I am also giving a thumbs up and a wink in recognition that I totally dodged the conjunctivitis bullet.  See, there were tons of Cambodian kids lining parts of the race course, and since I knew I wasn't going to even come close to winning the race, I gave high-fives to as many of them as I could.  I don't know about other folks, but when I run I don't carry hand sanitizer or wet-naps, and I for darn sure rubbed the sweat out of my eyes after slapping hands with those little kids.  So far, no pink-eye, but if I do come down with it, I'll at least have the grim satisfaction of knowing that I probably helped spread it to a couple hundred other kids, too.

I'm always grateful for Mali's support at these events.  She really likes the ones where they have bagels and yogurt as well as bananas afterwards, because being the good husband that I am, I grab them for her.  Sometimes she'll even pretend to hug me, even though I'm sweating in unholy proportions.  Seriously, ever since I got home from my mission, when I exercise I sweat so much that I can literally wring the water out of my clothes.  It's pretty nasty, and here in Southeast Asia with the constant high humidity, it seems to be even worse.  I am not kidding when I say I lost at least six pounds during this race.
After everybody gets some more water and a banana or two, they're all smiles.  The reason I am not smiling in this picture is because Erin is standing on my left foot, which had...


Now for those of you who haven't figured it out yet, I am a barefoot/nearly barefoot runner (I even created a logo for it!).  About three years ago I started running in Vibram FiveFingers to help overcome patellar tendinitis in both legs.  And since moving to Thailand, I have transitioned to doing most of my running completely barefoot, which is quite safe where we live because they sweep the streets here daily.  I ran my last 10K in the US in the FiveFingers and had my fastest time in 10 years, but I knew that with the half marathon my finish time this go-around would be much slower than my previous--I finished this one about 14 minutes slower than my other half, but I'm working on getting faster at the longer distance with my chosen (lack of) footwear.

Even though I feel comfortable running barefoot here in our neighborhood, I was not sure what the roads for the race would be like, so I brought my FiveFingers along.  Good thing I brought them, because the road surface was pretty nasty and would have made the soles of my feet into hamburger.  And I was one of at least three guys running in FiveFingers.  Okay, so add the surface to my already mentioned propensity for excessive perspiration, and you have a recipe for serious blisters when wearing the Vibrams.  Despite all the charms and advantages of the FiveFingers, the insoles when wet are slicker than snot, and in this humid environment the sweat runs down my legs and does not drain.  To help mitigate this, I also wore a pair of Injini toe socks, which kept me from getting even worse blisters than the one I had, but obviously didn't prevent that one.

All in all, pretty good experience.  I learned a lot about myself.  This is a race I would like to do again, given the opportunity, and I recommend it to anyone who has the time (and means) to get to Cambodia in early December.  But remember to get those long training runs in before race day!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

China Travels, Part 3

Pretty much the ONLY family picture we took in Shanghai
(Apologies for the delay between posts--I have a really good excuse this time.  Mali and I spent five days in Cambodia.  Blog posts and pictures coming soon!)

When people have asked me what our China trip was like, have told them the difference between Beijing and Shanghai is this: Beijing was way cooler from a tourist perspective, but I wouldn't want to live there, while Shanghai wasn't so great as a tourist (with children), but I could totally see myself living there.  And since we really didn't go anywhere or see a whole lot in Shanghai (I'm not joking when I say that from the perspective a touring family it wasn't that great), I'll use the contrast with Beijing to highlight two of the more notable aspects of Chinese culture from my point-of-view.

Expectorating: The major difference between Shanghai and Beijing was the notable absence of human saliva on Shanghai sidewalks (remember, this comes from the perspective of a guy who likes to tool around barefoot).  Everybody in Beijing spits; men, women, and children.  I kid you not, I saw a lady walking down the street, dressed to the nines, who then snorted and hocked a loogie the proportions of which would make a Major League ballplayer blush.  I'll give Beijing the benefit of the doubt on this one, and say that maybe we just happened to stay in a part of the city that just wasn't as clean, while the section of Shanghai we stayed in was ridiculously immaculate.  I will end this section by saying that Shanghai is one of my favorite running cities--wide clean streets with minimal foot and bicycle traffic to interfere with a leisurely jog around the neighborhood.

The only playground we could find...and that's it.
Staring: Everywhere we walked in Beijing we got started at.  Let's get the obvious one out of the way--a family of seven anywhere in China is certain to attract attention.  Add to that Mali's physical features, and everybody in Beijing just assumed that she was Chinese and spoke to her in what I can only assume was Mandarin.  Walking around with her white husband and their five kids, there was no way to avoid that attention, especially in Beijing where mixed-race families appeared to be extremely rare.  I noticed there were more couples like us in Shanghai.  But even those families had only a few kids, so we still got stared at.

But nothing, NOTHING in Shanghai compared to what happened every time we sat down to eat at McDonalds in Beijing, especially at breakfast time.  It seems that every morning at that particular McDonalds about half of the people in the restaurant are not actually there to eat.  They are there to stay out of the cold until 08:50, at which point they all dutifully file out of the restaurant and go to work.  Just never-you-mind the family of seven--with four kids under the age of 10, no less--that just came in and is looking for a place to sit together to eat breakfast.  Don't bother moving to let them sit down.  No, seriously, you should really just sit and stare at them like they are animals in a petting zoo.  Just please don't spit at them.

Thank goodness for the ball-crawl...there are five in there, I counted
In sum, we really enjoyed our trip to the Middle Kingdom.  Maggie swam very well at the Shanghai swim meet (her team was one of only two that was not from China), while Anne and I stayed at the hotel with flu-like symptoms.  I was afraid the Chinese authorities would not let us leave, but they were happy to let us go because we didn't have any explosive residue on our bags.  I would love to go back to China again, maybe when it's warmer, though.  And when I'm not feeling sick.