Ultra-Running, Running Trails in Krabi, Thailand

There are few ultra-runners in Thailand, especially here in Krabi. Around “Thara Park” on the river there might be 30 guys running around a few times per week. Every now and then you’ll see kids running the streets with an adult following them on motorbike. They’re not following them to protect them, or give them water, they’re following to make sure they run the whole time. Not kidding. They take Muay Thai and track training seriously. Poor kids…

Anyway, there are a couple of places to run where you can be somewhat safe from dogs. I’ll list some places below.

1. Thara Park. This is a flat, vertical-free park next to the river and close to Krabi Marina where some small yachts are moored. One big loop around the park on a paved trail is 1.25 kilometers. It has sun during a portion of the running loop and it doesn’t cool off until after 5:30pm. Then it gets dark quickly – around 6:30. You can run until 7pm safely. I wouldn’t go too much after that time. It is possible to run on the grass beside the paved path, and that’s what I do for a good portion of my runs there. I abhor the hard surfaces. Too hard on my knees. There are a couple dogs roaming around here. I’ve only been growled at a couple times in six years, not chased.

2. Ngorn Nak Mountain Trail. This is located out past Ao Nang Beaches, past Noppharat Thara Beach. Into Tub Kaek. Look up “The Tub Kaek” hotel or the Sofitel hotel on the Klong Muang Beach. You’re getting close. This is a 7.4 kilometer round trip up a 500 meter high mountain. It’s a technical trail. If you’re walking fast, it won’t be that difficult. If you intend to run fast – you’ll better be watching every step or you’ll torque an ankle in no time. The canopy is dense, you get little sun as you run, so that’s a positive.

3. Ao Nang Beach Road. This is a couple kilometer road along the beach, along “Big Beach” with a sidewalk. You will occasionally encounter dogs, but most are cool with foreigners because there are always a couple thousand walking around. Some of this run can be in the shade of trees and not that hot.

That’s about it. There are other places I run, but I’ve been chased by dogs and had to fend them off. Not fun!

Keep in mind that daily temperatures in Krabi are 30C+, and many days 35C+. Bring water, lots of water. I always run with a bottle in my hand to make sure I’m drinking enough and regularly.

If you’re looking for someone to run with, zap me email and see if I’m due for a run. I am not fast on the flat, but quick on the climbs and downhills.

There may be another mountain trail climb of some distance (15 km) not too far from Krabi Town. I have to suss it out. I’ll add it here when I do.

Cheers!

My First 30 Mile Ultra-Run / Walk

I am nearly done with my 10,000 meter vertical gain challenge for August and I’m getting excited about my next challenge – my first ultra-run! It will be much more like an ultra-walk I’m sure, but just the idea of doing 30 miles in a row is mind-numbing to me because I never had the urge to go farther than the 15 miles I’ve run in the past. That was my longest run ever – somewhere around 15 miles. Thirty miles is twice that, and will be much more difficult.

Still, I’m excited about it and I’m thinking a bit tonight about how I should train for it. The fact that in August as I do this 10,000 meter challenge I am also running a LOT on the mountain is a good thing. I’ve run already 130 kilometers. That’s around 20 miles per week. That’s pretty good, considering I really do think I’ll be walking most of my first ultra-distance trek. See, I’m not even calling it an ultra-run because I’m damn sure it will be an ultra-walk with some light jogging thrown into the mix. If I run too much, I’ll hurt myself and screw up the October challenge, whatever that becomes. I haven’t thought ahead that far yet. If it isn’t raining too much, I think I might try to forge a trail up a 1,400 meter mountain that nobody climbs any longer. There are bears and all sorts of beasties up there, so I’ll think carefully about it. It does seem to be calling me.

So, I finish up this 10,000 meter vertical challenge on 31 Aug. I’ll have a decent month of workouts behind me, and I’ll need to ramp it up on the flats. My 30 mile attempt will be at a flat park that has a paved path. I am not sure yet whether to walk mostly on the paved path, or the grass beside it. I think the grass will actually make it harder for walking that far. It’s soft and muddy in some places. It is not flat by anyone’s estimation, it’s quite uneven. I’d better use the path primarily and the grass to change things up every couple of laps.

My goal is somewhere around 7 hours. Up to 10 hours would be OK. I could even rest for an hour and see how I felt if I was struggling, but I think that would be counter-productive in the end. Better to take short rest breaks of 5-10 minutes max.

I have a friend that doesn’t do anything physical that told me he was SURE he could walk 30 miles, he said he “just wouldn’t stop.” I don’t discount what he said. He’s from Poland, and Americans, if we know anything at all, we know not to gloss over what Eastern Europeans say they can do. They are a tough group!

Still, I’m going to do this 30 miles (50 kilometers) in a good time so he can’t replicate it. Literally, he doesn’t do a damn thing all day, so if he decides to take a crack at my time, I don’t want him to be within a couple of hours of it!

So, back to thinking about training.

Sept 1-7 I’ll probably walk daily, maybe take a rest once during the week. I’ll walk on the grass primarily to keep stress injuries down. There is no goal of speed for the miles I put in as I ramp up to the 30 mile attempt. I think I’ll do something like:

Day 1 – 5 miles walking and running
Day 2 – 6 miles walking
Day 3 – rest
Day 4 – 6 miles walking with some running
Day 5 – 4 miles walking
Day 6 – 4 miles easy
Day 7 – 12 miles at decent pace

About 37 miles for the week. That would be good. Maybe the following week do a couple long ones with a rest day between them?

That’s as far as I am right now. The rest I’ll decide as I see how I am feeling and what niggling injuries are on the cusp of becoming full-blown problems.

I won’t do more than one long walk maybe around 18 miles before I attempt the 30 miles because I don’t want / need any injuries. I really want to do this in September by the end of the month. I could do it anytime though, and the way I am, I might get cocky and just go for it two weeks into the month if I’m feeling good.

My current weight is 73KG – about 161 lbs. I feel really good. This 10,000 meter challenge has built my fitness up WELL over the past 3 weeks. Assuming I hold together and can complete it by Aug 31, this next ultra challenge shouldn’t be THAT difficult. I am expecting to hate it… but that’s just because it will be so far out of the realm of exercise that I’m accustomed to. Once I do it, I’ll focus on doing 50 miles at some point. Not October, but maybe early 2015. I’d also LOVE to find a 30 mile ultra-run race through the mountains within the next 3-4 months. I am ready to take the next step into ultra-running lunacy.

If anyone reading this will be in Thailand over the next few months, you’re welcome to meet me in Krabi and do some training run/walks with me. In particular I absolutely LOVE climbing the mountain peak trail. It’s 6 miles (10km) and technical, with 1,500 feet elevation gain, but it’s a picture perfect run (hike) and you’ll be happy you did it.

Ok, cheers then. Basically this entire post was just thinking to myself!

Hazards of Trail Running in Tropical Rainforest – Thailand

Rainforest Running Trail - Thailand

Besides the 95F weather with 90% humidity, roots, thorns, and slippery rocks, there are some other hazards faced while running mountain trails through the rainforest in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Malaysia, or Vietnam.

DOGS

Dogs are probably the worst threat you’ll run into. I’ve had days where I see no dogs at all, and then days when I’ve been bothered by forty dogs in a pack on a remote hill with no other humans beings around for help.

Luckily in Thailand the dogs are:

1. Not that big.

2. Not that ferocious – there are few rottweillers, pit bulls, shephards, etc.

3. Not that bright.

Dogs in Thailand inevitably fear two things. Sticks and rocks. Pick up whatever is at hand and threaten the dog with it, before it takes a mouthful of your leg. I know you love dogs. Me too. Dogs in Thailand don’t like foreigners because we look different. We probably smell different. Apparently they want to see if we taste different.

The stick trick works in 90% of cases, it backs the dog(s) off to around 10-15 feet. This gives you some time to find some rocks. Big rocks preferably. Start wailing the rocks toward the dogs and they high-tail it away from you quick. Nearly every dog in the country has been hit by a stick and hit by a rock. None of them want to repeat it.

When the forty dogs came after me on the hill I picked up a big stick. They didn’t stop running toward me, but they did slow down a lot. They were still coming after me and barking though, so I started throwing rocks at them. Gradually they all got the idea and turned away. I was amazed really. Dogs in a pack are nothing to mess with, but if you can scare them with rocks before they get too close, you’ll probably be OK.

CATERPILLARS

I know, caterpillars, right? Seriously. There are caterpillars that have stinging hairs that feel like blow torches when they touch you. I had one yesterday on my ankle, which in part prompted me to write this info-bulletin today.

It starts out as a tiny burn, which escalates into a full on bonfire. I looked at my ankle when I felt it yesterday, and couldn’t see anything. The pain was unmistakeable though. Be careful about brushing leaves as you run by. The worst pain would be to get a caterpillar in the eyeball. I’ve had them on my arm, leg, back (I went under a fallen tree and I brushed it with my lower back – ouch!), and now ankle. The pain doesn’t last forever, but you’re in for a good half hour of searing pain.

SCORPIONS

I go hunting (herping) for snakes and other wildlife at night. I’ve seen scorpions of all kinds, but they are always on the ground, and usually under something. There are about eight species of scorpion that I know of in Thailand. A couple of them like to climb vines on the trail I run.

Last week I was clearing part of the path from this massive growth of thorn bushes and vines when I saw something moving up the vine. Wow, a 3 inch brown scorpion. I couldn’t believe it. I made a mental note not to touch the vines in that area any longer.

Yesterday I was running down the mountain, grabbed a vine in a different area to help slow me down as I descended a steep section. ¬†Something crunched under my thumb as I grabbed the vine, then an immediate sting and it dropped to the ground. OUCH. Scorpion got me. Same kind I saw on the vine the week before. Guess they got revenge on me at last… Here’s me eating one in a video.

BEES

There are some sting-less bees in Thailand, they are small and look weird as they fly through the air. They don’t swarm when you run through them. They don’t sting. They make little tubes that stick out like straws on trees and in limestone rocks.

Then there are many other species of bee that do sting. I met one yesterday. Yes, no kidding, I was stung by three beasties yesterday on that one 6 mile trail run! I was cutting away some vine from the trail and felt a sting on my shin. WHACK! I smacked that bee into the next life. Then I ran my ass off before his friends found me.

If you are running through the rainforest and you hear a hum, you can bet it isn’t Pooh Bear singing his silly songs. Just turn around and go back the way you came because bees are nothing to mess with. Recently two Buddhist monks were attacked by a swarm and they are in critical condition in the intensive care unit of the hospital.

Over the past couple weeks we have had these gigantic bees coming around our front porch at home. I killed one. I don’t like bees. Almost instantly, there were eight to ten more bees there flying around me like they were going to attack. I quickly went in the house where I was trapped for 40 minutes until the pheromones went away enough that the bees relaxed and went elsewhere. Bees, when aggravated, release these pheromones that float through the air and instantly alert other bees that they need to come and help attack something. Scary stuff!

BEARS

Malaysian Sun Bears (Helarctos malayanus) and Asian Black Bears (Ursus thibetanus)¬†are roaming the rainforests of Northern Thailand, a lot of Malaysia, and some other choice places. Though where I run doesn’t have them on the distribution map, I have seen some large scat and large undefined tracks in the mud. The national park I run through is big enough to have a bear. There are plenty of trees with smelly fruit on that mountain. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one.

The two bears mentioned are known to be extremely aggressive at times. I have yet to hear of someone attacked by one here in Thailand yet. I’m sure it has happened in the past.

Bears climb trees. Bears run fast. Still, if I see a bear and he comes after me, I’m running for my life. I think I can get down the technical trail at least as fast as it can, and hopefully with all this exercise I’ve been doing I am fitter than the bear and can wear it down over a kilometer or so. That’s my plan. You should have a plan too.

Oh, my other plan is that I would climb a thin tree – about 6 inches in diameter that was near some other trees. If that bear climbed the same tree, I would swing over to another tree beside it, and another one and another one. Bears cannot do that. I think it would tire of my shenanigans and go find some delicious honey to munch instead.

VENOMOUS SNAKES

In theory snakes could be a problem. I’ve spent hundreds, probably a thousand hours by now in the rainforest on trails in Thailand and Malaysia and I’ve not been bitten by anything. Of course I watch where every step goes, but still… over all this time I could have stepped next to a snake I didn’t see and been tagged.

I’ve seen just one venomous pit viper on the trail during daylight hours during a rain shower. Just one. I’ve seen about forty other snakes during runs, but they were all non-venomous and of no danger at all. See my other site – ThailandSnakes.com for more information on snakes found in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

The only three snakes you’d have to fear in Thailand, and I think most or all of Southeast Asia are:

1. Cobras (Naja kaouthia; Ophiophagus hannah; Naja siamensis; Naja sumatrana). They are active during day and night. They flee when possible, like every snake, but they also are not afraid to hood up and strike either. Still, I see them infrequently in the forest, more so out on the streets and near homes – especially near the ocean.

2. Malayan Pit Viper (Calloselasma rhodostema). These are various brown colored snakes with triangle patterns on the back. They blend in very well with dirt and leaves and this is probably the biggest threat to anyone walking on a trail, through grass, or anywhere really, at night. During the day they are not active unless it is raining or very wet out. The problem with these snakes is that they do not move when they sense the vibration of a human walking toward them. They stay where they are until stepped on, then they dig their 1-2 inch fangs into your leg. I know one woman bitten during the day as she reached into greenery in her garden. It was a sunny day but she had the water on there for hours before and it was very wet.

3. Russell’s Viper (Daboia siamensis). This is a large, usually grey or brown colored viper with white oval pattern that is common only near Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand. This snake is probably responsible for more deaths in the world than any other snake. They are strong biters, have big fangs, and have strong venom. These snakes sometimes hiss when aggravated, so they are capable of a warning before striking. Not always though.

SPIDERS

Golden Orb Weaver Eating BirdIf you are the first one on the trail you will be breaking spider webs with your face. Though I catch venomous snakes all the time, spiders flip me right out. I cannot take a spider on the face. I’ve had that happen half-a-dozen times while running the trails here. What I do now is I find a small branch with numerous branching twigs coming off it. I hold that in front of my face as I run. I still get spider webs in my face, but not spiders. The golden orb weaver (Nephila pilipes) spiders that I see most often on the trail are very large and they build the strongest web of any spider in the world. Here is a golden orb weaver eating a bird caught in its web.

INVISIBLE EYE-BURNING ACID SQUIRTERS

I was running up the trail a couple years ago and all the sudden my left eye burned like someone poured battery acid in it. I cussed for fifteen minutes as my hiking partner marveled at my creative vocabulary. It burned intensely for about fifteen minutes. I rinsed my eye for ten minutes with water and eventually the pain died down enough that I could finish the hike. The only thing I can figure is that there was a bug on a leaf I ran by and it squirted me in the eye with its eye-disabling fire spray. It is a mystery to this day what it was. If anyone has any ideas, do let me know!

Update – 10,000 Vertical Meters Challenge

The mountains in Thailand have some excellent technical trails. This is the view from the top of Ngorn Nak mountain in Tub Kaek, Krabi province, in Southern Thailand.
The mountains in Thailand have some excellent technical trails. This is the view from the top of Ngorn Nak mountain in Tub Kaek, Krabi province, in Southern Thailand. CLICK to enlarge.

It’s Sunday August 24 here in Thailand, and this is an update to my goal I set at the beginning of the month.

The challenge to climb 10,000 vertical meters during a month of running up a mountain trail and some steps at a local Buddhist temple is going well. I didn’t think it would be a real significant challenge but I wasn’t sure because I haven’t given myself vertical elevation challenges before. Typically in a month I go 6,000 to 7,000 meters anyway, so I figured another 3-4,000 would be no big deal.

What I’ve found over this month is that it isn’t such a big deal to go 10,000. I think 15,000 is quite doable and I may make that a future goal. The big deal is reigning my mind in so I don’t go at race pace every time I get a chance to run or climb the steps.

So far this month I’ve climbed 7,200 vertical meters. Approximately 95% of those runs and climbs were at 95% of maximal effort. I didn’t even realize what I was doing until mid-way through the month. Apparently, without much thought, I’ve been treating each session as a race.

I’ve been going much too fast, and I’ve been lucky not to hurt myself during the efforts. Two days ago I did 39:30 minutes / seconds up and 38 down my 500 meter elevation mountain which is a 10K up and down. That’s fast. Then yesterday, instead of go slow like I imagined I might (should), I flew up because I felt great, and did it in 37 up and 39 down.

The problem is, I don’t know how to shut me off. I don’t know how to insist that I go slower if I feel good. It’s alright to train this way when there is no goal to accomplish, it’s actually great fun to fartlek my way around training and go hard when I feel like it, slower when I don’t. However, if I don’t hold myself back some over the next seven days, I might not make the 10,000 mark. I really need to start doing my runs and climbs at 60-70% effort before I blow something.

So, that’s what I’ve noticed during this challenge. What should be a relatively easy goal, could turn out to be more difficult than it should be because I didn’t put enough thought into it. I didn’t see the big picture so clearly before I got started. Even now that I see the big picture, that the goal is the most important task – I am having trouble slowing down and slogging it out.

Sometimes the goal isn’t that difficult, but we make it so. Sometimes we don’t think clearly enough about how to go about something before we dive in and are half-way through it. Ten thousand meters at 70% of maximum effort is not difficult. Ten thousand meters at 95% of maximum effort is!

Slow down and think about what you’re doing.

See the big picture!

10,000 Vertical Meters Climbing in August

I created this goal for August that I would climb 10,000m vertical elevation during my workouts. I’ve gone 7,000 before and ready to ramp up more the next month, only to face some setback. Now I’m feeling healthy and I think I’ll be able to pull it off. It’s 10 days into August and I’ve done 3,300m. Right on track, August has 31 days.

This isn’t really so much of a fitness goal as much as it’s a test to see whether my body (knees in particular) can handle climbing that much. Anton Krupicka, one of the world’s top ultra-runners, does 10,000 meters in a week. He’s somewhere around 30 years old and has run since he was 11. I’ve run a lot in younger years, but took up cycling for years before I got back to running. That might be to my advantage in the big picture.

So, I’ve been climbing 500m at a time either on the steps up the mountain or on a mountain trail leading to a peak with a great view. I feel good today, a slight niggle in my L knee, but today will probably be a rest day so that should take care of it.

I have a goal for September now already, regardless whether I make this 10,000m vertical this month. I’ll do a 50km walk/run. I just have a burning need to accomplish some physical feats I haven’t ever done before.

You doing anything cool?

Trail Running in Thailand – 1080p HD Video

Here’s a mashup of clips I put together on two different days of running up my favorite mountain here in southern Thailand in a place called “Ngorn Nak” mountain in Tub Kaek subdistrict of Krabi province.

This is a great little run with 500 meters of vertical, but another 300 can be added by doing a couple different paths while also doing the main peak climb. Today I did 700 meters and it worked out to 9 miles. It’s quite technical, but enormous fun and I can’t seem to get enough of it, I’m there 2-5 times per week running this thing.

This month I’m going to do 10,000 meters of vertical climbing on my runs. I’ll also do some flat runs at the park, so hopefully I can pull this off. What are goals for if you know you’re going to reach them – right?

It’s the 5th of August and I’ve done 1,700 meters, so I’m on track.

If you get a chance to come to Thailand to run trails – do it! Let me know if you get down south to Krabi province way.

Cheers!

And For My Next Trick…

I have been running up the mountain a lot lately, preferring that grueling exercise to anything else I can think of. In July I climbed 7,600 meters of elevation during my runs. That was pretty good. I was thinking for August I’d go 10,000 meters. Anton Krupicka, one of the ultra-runners I keep up with does that in a week. But, it would be a good test for me since I just recently became healthy again after a series of mishaps.

Then today after 3 straight days of climbing I was walking around the park for a break about mid-day. It took 11:20 to go 1.25 km. That was a steady pace that wasn’t hard to hold. I figured if I did 40 laps, that would be 50 km. I’d never gone that far before. Hell, I’ve never gone further than maybe 15 miles of running before, and that was years ago. I’ve definitely never walked further than 15-18 miles while hiking.

And so a challenge was born in my head. Go do 50 km, an ultra distance walk/run. As I walked 7 easy laps today I realized that I just get warmed up after an hour. From there I can run a bit. I think with running and walking, I could do 40 laps of the park loop I do here in town in around 8-9 hours with some rest breaks for urinating and eating, maybe changing shoes and socks a couple of times to stay fresh.

Breathing never goes above normal when hiking / walking on the flat. It’s almost not like exercise. But my feet will hurt eventually and my tendons behind my knees will protest, maybe a lot after 20 miles or so. Not sure. Will find out though.

There is a 12 hour walk in Melaka that I’m considering. That’s Malaysia for the geo-challenged. Oh. I just looked for it, apparently not going on this year. Bummer. My friend Alfred from the U.K. walked in 2010 and got 58 kilometers finished before his leg gave him too many problems to continue.

He was 16th overall to 50 km and he was 71 when he did it!

So, you can see I’ve had some inspiration around here. The real goal isn’t any speed to 50 km, just to do it. Then I’ll set my sites on running an ultra-marathon on the trails in Thailand or Malaysia. I think the real issue is my feet hurting. Maybe could take some ibuprofen or something, after all it’s not like I’m going to give myself a drug-test when I’m finished.

OK then, that’s the goal over the next couple of months… finish a 50 km walk/run at the park on the flat loop. Will keep you updated as that comes to fruition.

Now I just have to talk Alfred into doing it with me so he can keep my pace going strong!

Pushing yourself beyond normal athletic performance. Motivation and techniques to help you crank.