We heard that there was going to be a Half and Quarter (10.55km) marathon on Udon Thani, just over the Thai border from Vientiane. Given that it was well timed for me to renew my visa, and that it fell on the only free weekend we had, it seemed like an auspicious event. We decided to drive the truck from Andy’s office to Udon, and this was probably the most challenging part of the trip! We hadn’t driven over the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge before, but with a lot of standing around brandishing documents we managed to navigate the bewildering array of kiosks that you have to visit in order to get various things stamped and approved. Even more impressive than leaving was being allowed back in!
We arrived in Udon Thani around lunchtime and found the sign up event in the fancy mall in town. The race, run by the Rotary Club, was busy, and people seemed quite excited that we’d come all the way from Vientiane for the race. We got our shirts, paid the super cheap race entry of 300 Baht (less than CAD10, to raise funds for school scholarships and clean water projects in Thailand), and figured out the start time and rough routes, happy that we’d picked the hotel right by the start line. We looked around Udon a bit in the afternoon, and found good vegetarian Thai place for a late lunch (Mi Ler Vegetarian Restaurant). Udon is a nicer town than we were expecting, more greenery and just an ordinary town like many that we passed through in Indonesia. There seemed to be lots of expats around and a few tourists passing through. Later we went for a carb-loading dinner at the Da Sophia, and had some very good pizza and ice cream. The Swiss owner was involved in the Rotary and was helping to organise the race. Then it was back home for an early night.
The Half started at 5.20 am, and it was still very dark. It was a little tricky for Andy to find the way, and he almost missed one of the wristband checkpoints where you receive a coloured pipe cleaner bracelet to show you did the whole course. He was also chased by some dogs at one point! The Quarter started at a more reasonable 6am, and the pack was such that finding the way was easy. I took it easy, sticking to my relatively un-adventurous race plan of 5.30/km: given the way my running has been going over the last year I didn’t think I could push it more! Andy overtook me at about 7 km on the 10k course, but as he had to do an extra loop, I beat him to the finish for the first time ever! There was no chip timing, being a small race. I came in at 58:57 (5th in my age group!), and Andy came in at 1:34:44 (4th in his age group!). There was a great party atmosphere afterwards, with lots of food and drinks, and LOTS of trophies. We went up on stage to get our trophies and pictures taken, and also took a lot of snaps with other runners. It was a great, well organised event, and they did a fantastic job even though it was low tech. What a great community race! If you’re thinking of coming to Udon next year around this time, and they’re holding it again, make the effort to coincide with this event.