Race Report: The North Face 100 (50k) – Thailand

Link: Race & Registration Information

I‘ve just returned from my trip to Thailand where I partook in the North Face 100 ultramarathon (50k version), which was an excellent experience and a real pleasure of a race. During my initial research, I wasn’t able to find a lot of good information nor any race reports, so I thought I’d write one myself to give others a better idea of what to expect.


Pre-Race: The Day Before

The race began at 5am on Saturday, January 26, 2019. Since the location was about 200km outside of Bangkok, most people were staying in accomodation nearby and taking shuttles (provided by the race) to Woranart Farm where the race expo and start line was. We stayed at Villa Paradis, just a few minutes down the road, and were pleased with the accommodation.

Rooms were basic but had everything needed for a comfortable night’s rest.

We went to the expo at around 4pm the day before the race to pick up my bib materials and attend the pre-race brief (which had a 30-minute penalty for non-attendance!). There were TONS of people there and the quarters were tight, but I was able to sign my waiver and pick up my packet without too much trouble.

They also had a shop set up which conveniently sold everything from the “required” items list that may have forgotten.

The pre-race brief was quite extensive and lasted a full hour. The race director, Roman, went into lots of detail about the 100k, 75k, and 50k courses. He explained that had the highest number of participants in all 8 years of the race – 4,000 – so it was bigger than ever. He also said the course had been made significantly harder than in previous years.

The main rules for the race were as follows:

Pretty self-explanatory.

After the briefing I took some more photos before heading back to the hotel for dinner and bed.

Dreamin’.

 


Race Morning

My alarm was set to wake me up at 3:30 am so that I could get dressed, have a snack, and be on the shuttle at 4:15. I had trouble sleeping, as I usually do before races, and didn’t get much rest. Despite that, I felt surprisingly fresh when it was time to go.

Suiting up with a smile (?).

I headed into the restaurant and had some coffee, fruit, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I hopped into the shuttle just after 4am and was on my way to the start line.

My gear and food were basic for this race. The race info stated they would have bananas, watermelon, water, and sports drinks at every aid station (~10k between each) but that we needed to bring everything else we needed. For a 50k I don’t require much else, so I just brought a few ManukaSport gels, electrolytes, and an RX Bar. Here’s what else I had with me (affiliate links):


Nutrition

As I mentioned above, nothing serious in terms of nutrition. I went through 4 gels, 1 RX bar, 2 packets of hydration/energy powder, and some bananas/watermelon from the aid stations. Having these items easily accessible (I add the powder to my water bladder) makes nutrition fairly simple. I usually try to take in 200 calories/hour and alternate between gels and real food when possible. I’ve found that I really don’t need a whole lot for a 50k race, although it definitely depends on the weather and the elevation gain.

 


The Race

As noted in the race info post, the route for this race guided runners through the mountains of Khao Yai National Park north-east of Bangkok. With nearly 4,000 runners across the various distances, it was a monumental effort to get everything in place. In just the 50k race alone, there were 692 participants – more than I’ve ever raced against!

The start times for each distance is as follows:

  • 100k/75k – 4:30am
  • 50km – 5:00am
  • 25km – 6:30am
  • 15km – 7:00am

I arrived at the venue just before the start of the 100k/75k race and they were just starting to line up behind the start gate.

Once they were off, we 50k-ers had another 30 minutes to warm up, use the bathroom one last time, and get into place. Here are a few thoughts I had while milling around before the start:


They were checking gear at the corral to make sure everyone had a working headlamp, a charged phone, and 2L of water. They also had people insisting that we get temporary logo tattoos on our faces, so I complied and then went to line up.

Once it was time, the countdown began!

Since there were so many people, it was a bottleneck from the beginning. I ended up walking for a good five minutes before I was able to even jog due to the sheer volume of bodies. Since I generally start my races slow anyway, I didn’t mind whatsoever.

The bottlenecks continued for at least the first 5k. The trail began with a short section of tarmac followed by a jaunt through some farmlands, back on the tarmac, then turning onto a dusty jeep track before making the first long ascent. My pace was manageable and the weather was cool, so I was having a great time.

Conga line.

The first climb wasn’t too difficult, although it was slow going. The trail was wide enough to allow passing some of the slower folks, so I took advantage when I could without overexerting myself. I extended my trekking poles and got all four appendages pumping and glided up the hill without too much trouble. It wasn’t much further before we reached the first checkpoint.

Plenty of fruit and water to be had.

The route ran along a ridgeline for a while before a quick descent and follow-on climb. After descending onto another jeep track, the trail meandered into a sort of canyon that appeared to be carved by intense jungle rains. It looked like an entirely new and different environment with small trees and rocks to avoid. At the end of the canyon, there was only one way out: up. To reach the road which was about ten feet above, we used a rope that was put in place for that purpose.

Indiana Jones-ing out of the canyon.

At one point, when we were back on the jeep track, there were runners coming straight at us. This was the point where we needed to do a quick out-and-back to make up some mileage. Along this route was one of the timing mats (platforms we had to run across) which would serve not only as a timestamp but also proof that we had done that section and not simply skipped it. At the end of the out-and-back was a nice overlook of the surrounding valley, which I paused to take in for a moment before bombing back down the gravel road.

Great sunrise views of the Khao Yai National Park.

At this point I wasn’t even halfway through the race, but the terrain turned to wide jeep track and stayed that way for most of the remainder. This was great since my legs were still feeling good and I was finally finding my stride. The massive group had separated quite a bit as well, so I was no longer stuck behind anyone waiting to traverse the next obstacle and could go at my own pace (not that it was much faster than what I had been doing).

Nothing like a nice jeep track between the reeds.

When I did eventually reach the 25km mark I was still feeling good and the terrain was cooperating. The sun had now come out, though, and it was heating up immensely. I made sure to hydrate properly, take in electrolytes, and reapply sunscreen when I had the chance. Although January is a great time to be in Thailand weather-wise, the midday sun is still a force to be reckoned with and not something you want to face unprepared.

One great thing they had at each aid station was buckets of ice water with sponges. You could grab a sponge (or two) and squeeze it over your head, allowing the frosty flow to cool you from the head down. For whatever reason I didn’t utilize these sponges, but I wish I had!

One of my favorite parts of the whole race was the community support. The route went through a couple of small mountain villages, and without fail there were locals and kids outside cheering on the runners and giving high-fives. One little village even set up their own table with water that they were handing out to us as we passed by. It was really nice to see and warmed my heart immensely.

Outside a temple, having just given about 40 high-fives to kids who were lining the street.

The last third of the race was almost completely on tarmac, which I didn’t really care for, but I’m sure they had their reasons for tracing it this way. With about 10km left, I recorded a short update from my phone as I did some walking:

Knowing I was nearing the end and was done with the hills, I collapsed my poles and trotted the rest of the way in. Because there were so many runners finishing at different times throughout the day, there wasn’t a huge crowd at the end – just an excited emcee (and girlfriend) who announced my finish.

 
Immediately after finishing I was handed a medal and a cold sponge to douse myself. Veronica was there waiting and we headed into the recovery area to have some food and a (free) massage.

Refreshing!

Results

My final time was 7:31 with a distance of 31.3mi/50.3km. Below is my GPS data from Strava.

Here is the official results from the race’s stats page:

I came in 85th out of 892 runners, which is totally fine with me. I’m actually a bit surprised to be in the top 100 given the talent that was in attendance! As with all my races I’m only out there to enjoy the outdoors and to push myself, both of which I did.


Analysis

This was my first race of 2019 and my first ultramarathon since February 2018, when I completed the Akamas 50k shortly before going for the FKT of the Besparmak Trail in Cyprus and beginning my Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

What’s interesting is that I finished the Akamas 50k in almost the exact same amount of time (7:29) and the race had a similar feel and elevation profile. Having worked hard to get my running back after nearly 100 days of hiking on the AT and moving across the globe, I’m very satisfied with the result from this race.

A big part of me getting back into the swing of racing was the assistance of my coach. Having a structured plan that allowed for more rest when I experienced a slight injury as well as some new types of running workouts that I hadn’t done before helped immensely in my preparation. What was most enlightening, I found, was that I can likely get by with less training than I had done in the past. For a typical 50k race, I would “over prepare” by logging lots of long runs and averaging 50+ miles per week for months on end. In this training cycle, I rarely broke 50 miles/week and my longest run was 20mi. What’s more, 100% of my running was done on roads and treadmills, which goes to show that it can be done and trails aren’t completely necessary for training. While these conditions aren’t ideal and I wasn’t sure how it would play out, I’m now more confident in my training and trust that I can get it done. That being said, my legs and hips were pretty shot afterward which likely would have been lessened if I had the ability to run on trails more often (which, unfortunately, I do not).

As for mistakes, I played it pretty conservatively so there wasn’t a whole lot to fix. I got blisters on my thumbs from the trekking poles (since I don’t use them often in training) so next time I’ll pack some more KT/Leuko tape in case those flare up, but otherwise there isn’t anything significant I would change.


Summary

My only complaint about this event is that the website didn’t reflect this years’ race information until very late in the year – just a couple of months before the date itself. It also didn’t include GPX tracks for the routes, which appear to change every year. If those were available, I would have known earlier that the elevation change had doubled from 2018 and I could have planned for the event earlier in the year. Despite that, everything else was wonderful. It was one of the least expensive races I’ve participated in but offered fantastic value via the nice expo, helpful volunteers, and superb organization.

I had an awesome time at this race and would not hesitate to run it again. Indeed, I plan to do so next year. I might even go for the 75k option if it’s still available!


What’s Next?

In March, we’re heading to New Zealand for a couple of weeks and I plan to participate in the Altra 50km Skyrun (part of the Northburn 100) in Cromwell. Since the start for that race is only a month and a half away, I plan to maintain my current fitness level so that I can successfully complete that challenging route which I am very much looking forward to.

Do you know of any awesome overseas races I should look into this year?

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