9:50 am. Signed in. Thai Ranger woman asking me how long it will take to reach the top today. I said better than 52 minutes if all goes to plan. She remembers when I could do it sub 40 minutes. Yeah honey, well that was 5 years ago and my body has been through the ringer and trying to rebuild for 5 years.
9:51 am. Suunto Ambit 2R watch synced up with satellite, heart rate strap working. Nike undy-shorts XL with pockets, stretched to breaking point. Two year old New Balance 860 v9’s have seen far better days. My R pinky toe waves at me to let me know he’s ALL IN on this run. Good to know bud.
9:53 am. Standing at trailhead. 32°C. That’s 90°F for you Americans who don’t have a clue what C even is. Blue Gatorade in L hand. Water bottle in R. Kicking legs out, rotating back, trying to figure out what is likely to fail first so I can prepare for it. ADIDAS waist pack with tissue for an impromptu dookie, wet cloth for a bath at the peak, tylenol for ankle rolls, antacids for acid reflux. Running at 53, not quite what I hoped it’d be.
9:54 am. I’m SENDING IT.
I keep track of the number of people I pass. I typically pass around 25 people if I start around 10 am. Today is no different. Lots of people coming down from the top already too. Everyone marveling at the handsome young man flying up the hill, seemingly defying gravity. Little do they know my heart rate is 163+ and respirations per minute are in the 40+ range. I hold my breath as I pass people. I hear one pre-teen whisper to her mom that she thought I was a ghost.
I surprise myself by running the first 150 meters (164 yards for Americans). The incline steepens and I break into a fast hiking pace.
I have two rules when I climb this trail.
1.) If I hear someone ahead or behind, I must run.
2.) If I stop to suck-air, it’s only for 3 short breaths then I MUST get moving.
Monkeys are howling. Cicadas are screeching like the longest car accident ever. I’m passing handfuls of people sucking-wind worse than me and they haven’t run a step. It makes me feel strong. Invincible. I crank up the pace. Huge mistake.
For the first 1.7 kilometers, the hill just keeps getting gradually steeper, culminating in two very steep climbs they’ve installed steps for instead of scrambling up roots – which I preferred.
I’m breathing hot and heavy like a prison showing of Caligula and a quick glance at my watch shows heart rate at… wait. WHAT? 170! I walk half-speed to get it down to 163, my comfortable but still killing myself level.
I’m not even half-way and I’ve passed 23 people of all ages and from a dozen countries. Of particular note is a Russian? man and woman in their late 50’s. The man is 50 meters ahead of her, encouraging his wife to continue. She’s easily 80 lbs. overweight and probably hasn’t done more than walk up the front steps to her house for the last 40 years. She’ll die on the trail today I figure.
I fight with myself over whether to encourage her to turn back by saying, “it only gets much worse from here.” Instead, I shut up and keep pushing harder past them. She’s already destroyed, and I figure she’s stopping anyway. Better if I don’t make her feel worse about how out of shape she looks. She could easily die on this hill this morning.
I climb the two sets of stairs and I’m mid-way through the next steep climb. No steps here, just hard-packed dirt and roots to navigate. I love running down this section, but pushing up it is only possible when someone is tailing me and trying to make a show of themselves.
Right on cue, some guy I just squeezed past on the trail who I thought was walking with the old couple beside him is huffing behind me. WTH? I figure it has taken him twice as long as me to reach this point and he has some energy. I’m guessing he’s 25. He’s fit, but big-boned.
I push it.
He drops behind… demoralized, I’m sure of it. He’ll stop and suck his water bottle and tell himself I must be a superstar trail runner or fell runner or something.
I ease off the throttle on some minor climbs.
Damn it! He’s back. I hear him about 30 meters behind, huffing and puffing like some rutting European ape.
I push it.
He’s getting closer. WTH?
I push harder.
OK, he’s stymied. Not getting closer. How the hell can he push up here after the half-way point? Doesn’t he understand the energy needed to crank out to go this fast?
He’s 25. He’s TWENTY FIVE. I keep telling myself.
I’m trying to figure out how and where to beat him when we come to the last of the long steep hills. I go a bit slower so he catches up. I need to get more information.
“Hey, sorry I squeezed by you back there (insisting he get out of the way), I thought you were with the old people.”
Oh no, I’m here solo.
Where you from?
HA! I knew it. Euro trash. Explains his supermodel looks and 2 meter tall frame. Damn him.
I had a friend from Sweden and he turned out to be a complete jackass, so I got it in my head to beat this guy’s dick into the dirt. I now had all the info I needed to motivate me to crush him.
We small talk a bit. I pretend I care how long he’s been in Thailand and what not. We’re nearing the top of the difficult climb and I’ve pushed him on purpose to burn him near the top. It’s only another 6 minutes to reach the peak and I’ve got him right where I want him. I jog a bit as it begins to level off.
Is he coming?
He’s trying. I can hear him audibly grunting now.
HA! He didn’t know I was going to start running after the hill! I laugh inside, I howl!
I’m giddy like a school girl and I start running faster. Not to obviously show him that I’m just going to set him on fire like a piece of pasty-whitebread, but just to encourage him to keep trying if he’s got any balls left on him.
I can hear him. He’s breathing harder than me now, and that’s a great sign because I’m blasting air in and out of my chest like a 1940’s accordion, wheezing and all.
I hammer the last 4 minutes and I don’t even hear his head explode, he’s too far back. I’m effortlessly gliding the horizontal trail, knowing each foot placement and grabby root that could threaten my charge to the top.
I arrive at the rocky peak and click my watch and hold it. YES!! 49:59:9.
FINALLY, I cracked 50 minutes again. My fastest on this trail was 38 minutes to the top while 10 kg. lighter, 3 motorbike accidents, 2 back injuries, 3 knee injuries and 4 ankle rolls ago.
Swedish Toast doesn’t show up for a good 5 minutes. I’m sure he was slapping himself in the face at losing to an American when he thought he had me. An American more than twice his age.
I call that a successful run, people. I revel in the competition, as weak as it is, as I climb this hill on what is actually my 411th time up it.
The run down was pure bliss. 35 minutes and it didn’t even seem like I was trying. In fact, I wasn’t trying to go fast, just keep from rolling an ankle really. My fastest time down, years ago, was 22 minutes. I was WFO and going for gold. I still to this day don’t understand how I was able to traverse that dangerous technical trail at that speed coming down 460 meters of elevation over 3.7 km.
A lot of pride in that PR, I’m not ashamed to tell you!
My face at the end. Pure joy and a bit of pain. The way a run up a mountain should be.
Oh, I almost forgot. The Russian lady I was sure was going to die on the trail? As I ran down I saw her and her hubby again. They were only 30 minutes from the top!
I shook my head the entire way down the hill. Sitting here typing this tonight, I’m still unable to grasp the determination she must have had to bang that out.