About 10,000 runners took part in last weekend’s Phukethon 2017, simultaneously establishing its status as the largest sporting event to take place on Phuket island. Touted as “Asia’s Major Running Festival”, Phukethon lived up to this expectation as it surpassed participation numbers of long-established running and multisport events that have shaped the sporting identity of this vacation island.
Phukethon co-organiser Move Asia, MCIP and Yoshimoto Entertainment took on a winning formula when they first launched this event on a grand scale at Promthep Cape, arguably the most photographed location on the island. The activities of last weekend cemented their seriousness to make this event a success.
Music, Food and Lights
A press conference was held on Friday at Saphan Hin Park, a waterside park all too familiar among the sporting and leisure local crowd. The audience were entertained by five Japanese comedians and Sweat 16! girl group specially flown in by sponsor Umay+, a cash card provider.
International elite athletes including those from Japan, USA, China, Russia and Estonia were invited. Singapore’s double SEA Games marathon champion Soh Rui Yong was registered for the half marathon distance.
On Saturday, the day started with a Colour Fun Run presented by Thanyapura, the largest sport training centre in Thailand. Runners – especially international ones who came with their families and friends – took this opportunity to get the whole family involved with a healthy and fun workout to kick off the weekend at Saphan Hin Park.
This theme of fun continued in the afternoon with a meaningful cause. At Nai Harn beach, runners and entertainers spent some time at the “Umay+ Clean The Beach” activity, an initiative to inspire public to take better care of beaches and its environment.
This was followed by a 5km Jelly Beach Run that offered an abundant amount of food, music and party in addition to the run itself. Popular Thai celebrity Khemanij “Pancake” Jamikorn also graced the event.
The Main Event
With all the fun and positive energy channelled to the runners on Saturday, they were ready to take on the real challenges on Sunday.
“Phukethon 2017” is certified by IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation), AAA (Asian Athletics Association), and Sports Authority of Thailand. The full marathon route was measured by David Katz, a highly respected expert who also did a similar work for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
There are three distance categories for Phukethon, all starting and finishing at SaphanHin Park. The first category is “The Cape,” a full marathon route which took runners all the way to Promthep Cape and back.
The half marathon “The Bay” features picturesque Makham Bay, Wisit Pier and Panwa along its route. The 10km “The Old Town” route allows runners to explore the historical 114-year old Phuket town.
Full Marathon Course Review
When I was invited to this event a few weeks ago, I took the risky chance to sign up for the full marathon distance. This was of course with full knowledge that I had to first complete the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon just a week prior to this one. I was never a podium finisher, so worrying about finishing with good timings was the least of my concerns; rather, I was concerned if this ageing body could take the rigour of the back-to-back challenges.
The full distance marathon started at 3:30 a.m. local time with about 1,000 runners. This was the same start time as the Singapore Marathon but with so much lesser number of runners.
Immediately, I could get into my running tempo with comfortable space to run from the get-go; this wonderful experience was so different from the previous weekend, when it was a good 45 minutes before I was released from my start pen and had to jostle my way for a good eight kilometres or so before I could find my rhythm.
Full lane closure was provided for about ninety percent of the course. Drinks, electrolytes and fruits were adequately served every 2km along the course. There were lots of rolling hills, with the U-turn point peaking around the iconic Promthep Cape.
On the return route, full marathon runners merged with the other category runners around the 38km mark at Phuket town. There were a couple of road crossings; however, the police were on hand to manage the traffic congestion.
For the record, Japanese compatriots Hiroki Kai and Azusa Nojiri won the full marathon distances for the male and female categories with timings of 2:29:37 and 2:54:07 respectively. I finished my run with a time of 4:46:23. To put things in context, the winners had gone to the podium to receive their prizes, returned to the hotel to shower and had finished their breakfast when I managed to catch up with them.
Please see my running details on Garmin.
It Should Only Get Better
Overall, Phukethon 2017 was an experiential journey. Beyond the serious run categories, the fun runs and beach clean-up activities were well-scheduled to allow a wholesome family weekend. Invited elite runners, as well as Japanese and Chinese running communities on runcations, brought a very international flavour to the event.
The support from the Phuket provincial governor and the local authorities and communities were evident in their presence throughout the event. It would be hard to guess that this is only the first year of Phukethon.
The dates for Phukethon 2018 is not yet announced, but it should be around the same period next year. That will give you ample time to start training and saving for your next runcation with your family and friends.