Every race attracts all kinds of runners. At one end of the spectrum are one-off runners who take part to tick an item off their bucket list, while on the other end are the hardcore citizen runners who take part in races week in, week out.
Then, in between, there is the whole gamut of runners who take part because of a new race location, or on the encouragement of friends, or for personal selfies. In my case, this is a progressive trail race. My end goal for trail racing in this year is the relatively short distance 57km OCC of the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, taking place a month later.
The Columbia Trail Masters Thailand started way back in 2011, when road running was less commercialised than it is today, and trail running was reserved for the niche. It has evolved from a yearly event to a series of events annually and kept its concept of having roving locations for each race.
In 2018, The Escape Team took over the organisation of this event, kept to its spirit of finding a new trail location, but focused on only one event for this year. Additionally, they gave back to the community with a 100 Thai baht donation for every registration.
Sold Out Race
About 3,000 runners signed up for this year’s event at Suan Lamai, Wang Chan in the province of Rayong. It is about a two-hour drive south-east of Bangkok, and shuttle services were provided between the two locations. Four race categories were offered: a 4km fun run and timed 11km, 25km and 50km races. For the first time, 50km finishers were offered International Trail Running Association (ITRA) ranking points. A race with ITRA points on offer is an important milestone as it means that the race is conducted with a high level of safety standards and accurately measured distances, among other stringent criteria.
My invitation to this event was at a very short notice; six days to be exact. I chose to run the 25km race as it would be a good build up to my main race at the end of August. After some hurried arrangements, I packed my bags and flew off to Bangkok en route to Suan Lamai.
The race pack collection cum start and the end point was at Suan Lamai's "Kingdom of Fruits in the Mountain and Sheep Farm", with beautiful scenery, eateries, and ample parking space. The collection process on a Saturday afternoon was a breeze, as more than half of the participants had done so at Columbia stores in Bangkok. There was a race expo with all the sponsors exhibiting their goods and services.
From my trail run experiences, accommodations near to start points usually do pose some minor inconveniences. To look at it fairly, it is really a stretch to have kilometres of natural trail, and yet to be surrounded by creature comforts. Suan Lamai has similar issues.
The furthest partner hotels are about forty kilometres away, but the organisers had arranged for shuttle transfers to address the distance issues. I was fortunate to stay at Wang Chan Golf Park, which was relatively near at seven kilometres from the start point. This golf park also provided camping grounds for runners who just wanted to just crash for the night and get shuttled to the start point on race morning.
Having mentally set this to be a preparatory race, I felt more relaxed and in training mode. I had trekking poles and other optional gears on me to simulate my OCC race conditions, as well as set my Heart Rate Monitor to cap at 160 bpm for some discipline to slow down when I climb uphill.
Also, I had fiddled around with my nutrition strategy, downing a pack of jelly energy drink instead of my usual breakfast ritual. With such a race, I was willing to experiment and took some risks.
It was a cloudy Sunday morning when I set off from the golf park. In typical Thai style, runners queued up to get into one-tonne pickup trucks and be whisked away to the start point. When I arrived there, 800 runners from the 50km race category just set off for their 12-hour cut off time race.
The 25km race started just before 7 a.m., and it took a good 3 minutes to weave through more than 1200 runners for this category and actually got to the start point. The first two kilometres was quite congested as runners were still jovial and chatty, but soon after, there was sufficient space to comfortably walk and run up the hills. The grounds were muddy from the rain in the previous days and overly humid. Starting altitude was around 100m, and peaked at 381m, but there were many hills, and I had to discipline myself to keep my planned heart rate, so I thought I was going rather slowly, as humidity rose and the sun brightened up.
The views were fantastic – lakes, streams, jungle golf courses, temples; so were the terrain: rocks, gravel, muds. There was intermittent rain throughout my 4-hour journey, and I thought the weather – more than the 800m elevation gain – was what wore me in. Ample water supply and visible presence of medical staff ensured that I felt safe on the course.
The whole course was virtually on trails, except for a road crossing. Having worn different hats for a trail run – as an event owner, race director, media, runner – I think it indeed difficult these days to minimise roads as part of the trail course taking into consideration the needs of the authorities, partners, public. So, kudos to the organisers.
Next Year's Edition
There are no indications for timing, or location, or whether the 2019 edition would be a one-time event or series of events. It matters not, in my opinion. The Columbia Trail Masters Thailand is an established branded name, and the new organisers have done a great job to uphold the reputation of this event.
Stay tuned to RunSociety for any announcements for the 2019 edition.