Before you start this is a long one, even for me!
The end of 2008 has been one of the busiest 6 months of my life and you know me, I don't sit down for very long.Whilst trying to get sorted to move out to Thailand I marked two different exam papers, tried to finish the house, raise the garden several inches and make sure all my affairs were in one piece.The week before I moved, I nearly finished the kitchen (with Dad's help), packed three times and managed to have dinner in Lincoln, Nuneaton and Beccles, didn't make it to Essex due to the number of times I had to repack (Sorry again Craig).
I thought that once I arrived it might all slow down a bit, but no - new culture, new school, new pupils, new syllabuses and making new friends have all been in full swing for the last 5 months.I decided I needed some relaxation in there so I started running, just up the cycle path along the expressway near my apartment. When I say running, I don't want to caught under the trades description act, so let me clarify myself. I started shuffle/speed walking along the cycle path. Started out at 3km, trust me in this heat that was all I could manage, worked up to 6km.It appeared to help with the lunchtime conversations at school and slowly I realised there were a lot of people at school that ran and were talking about doing 10km races here and there and every so often someone would talk about an adventure race, I usually replied, I'm too slow and that I am not sure that my granny waddle was suitable for racing.
These conversations continued over a couple of months and then in briefing Heath Buggs (PE teacher) asked if anyone was interested in a midnight 6km.A group of 6 teachers from school did it, some more successfully than other - Andy Martin came 4th in the 6km race and a couple did well in the extended 12km version.Now I had a race under my belt, the conversations got more serious.Whilst a little tipsy at a birthday bash I agreed to start running with Tamara Baxter (Head of English) and Clare Sansom (ESL co-ordinator - Language support) on a Wednesday night.Thought it would do me good to start a routine and we have a good chinwag on the way round. Somehow our Wednesday jog, turned into training for an adventure race.
I will explain an adventure race; there are several elements the ones in Thailand seemed to mainly consist of cycling, running, swimming and kayaking.I had no problem with the paddling or swimming (I have been putting in some serious lengths in the pool on top of running), but I didn't have a bike and running is not my thing at all.Anyway I agreed to partner Clare in the Bangkok Challenge. Purchasing a bike was easy I went to a shop that is run by a Chilean guy, who had lots of useful and then watched me hand over a lot of money, the hard bit was getting it home, I had to cycle across Bangkok at rush hour.The route was fairly easy, only 4 roads, but two of them are major routes through the city. After several near misses with motorcycle taxi dropping off and picking up, I decided my best chance of survival was down the centre of the four lane highway, think I cut up a couple of bus, but after a while I stopped looking behind me and focused on going forward.
The advantage of having the bike is that instead of a 20 minute walk to school, through the delights of the Bangkok smell (absolutely nothing delightful, mainly rotting waste) I now have a 4 minute cycle and you can hold your breath through the bad bits.
Back to the race, I warmed up the weekend before with a 10km race for one of the Thai cancer charities. I was so good in this race that as I did my final loop of Lumphini Park they had cleared away the course and I had to find my own way round.They were giving out the prizes as I got back in, safe to say I didn't win anything.
The big day arrived and we met at school about 6am, Nick was driving our hire truck and we loaded all four bikes and novice competitors, plus Paddy our official supporter and headed off in a mini convoy.Arrived at the start and tried to look like we knew what we were doing, strapping up knees, raising saddles, checking tyres and cable tying our numbers to our bikes. Before we started there was a minute silence for the King's sister who was being cremated that day.And finally we were off, litres of electrolyte water on my back and power gels in both pockets. First there was a cycle and I spent the first 5 minutes teaching Clare how to change gear, she had borrowed June's bike. The cycle was reasonably long and went along several khlongs (a water way system - not always clean water), between the paddy fields and past several small settlements. Nick and Tamara over took us towards the end of the cycle.Stage 2 was a 5km run, having discovered the power gel didn't agree with me we walked most of this, during one of our attempts to run I took a short cut across some mud, realised as my trainer stuck fast that there was a reason everyone else had gone round it.I sunk up to my ankle and carefully pulled my now brown foot plus trainer out. I had started out with two white socks, now there was only one.
Stage 3 there was a second cycle, you don't mind the cycling when you are looking at such great scenery, you can see some of it in the album, thanks to Paddy and Julia who spent the day cheering us on and offering helpful hints. It was during this stage I did a great impression of a stunt man, I headed overt the briefing it had been announced that there was a cut of time for reaching the kayak stage, if you missed it they sent you on your way, no kayak and an hour added to your time, this became our number one objective to get in the boat.We arrived and checked in, grabbed a boat and got ready to seal launch, Paddy and Julia said that they hadn't seen anyone do it properly and stay on the kayak.We were number one at this as we launched and paddled away dry.Nick and Tamara ran passed us on their return leg, that was one of the good things about the course it looped and you never felt alone, as we regularly saw people ahead of us or the extreme racers coming through. We completed the kayak and Clare held the boat to help me out, but as I moved it shot backwards and I tumbled out into the water and jog the 3kms back to the bike, and jumped on for what we hoped was our last cycle.
This was the most eventful section of the course - more eventful than a stuck trainer and falling into a khlong I hear you say - Yes.We set off and had to carry our bikes along two pieces of bamboo, did this fine, although Clare did end up having to throw her bike as she lost her footing. We were helped along by some locals pointing out the route for us and even managed to catch up with the two students who had entered.We caught them at a rather unfortunate moment, Janna had met a local coming the other way and it somehow, and I still haven't worked it out, ended up with the man in a stream.We came round the corner to see this old man with his chicken strapped to his chest in a baby sling, trying to clamber out. We helped him out apologised profusely and we all went on our way.Most of this cycle was around the edges of paddy fields, so it was narrow and very bumpy, there were several places where we gave up and walked the bikes, it was along one these 'not so sure' bits that Clare decided we should be braver and cycle, so on we got and I set off in front, I hit something that made me swerve a little it slowed me down and then the one thing I was dreading happened, in slow motion I toppled sideways.I ended up laying on my side, bike between my legs in a paddy field, which I can only assume had just been slurried, it was wet and stinky.Clare was the perfect teammate and asked if I was alright, I replied fine, 'Give me the camera then' was her next statement. Waiting to see what the photo came out like.Managed to get myself and the bike out, both covered in a thick layer of black sludge, which slowly dried as we cycled and itched loads. It also seemed to entertain everyone we cycled past, they were actually pointing and laughing!!!
We finally made back to the finish only to be sent out on a mini assault course on our way to the lake. Before you enter the water you have to don a buoyancy aid, they had one that went over me and my backpack, and you collect a big rubber ring that needs to finish the race with you. The swim was actually very relaxing, with the ring and the buoyancy aid, you can only lay back and enjoy the ride.
The final kilometre was a little jog, plus rubber win up the first hill we had cycled down and pack to the finish.Not only did we finish, Clare and I completed the course in 5 hours 18 minutes oh yes.We came 33rd overall, but managed a very decent 17th on the kayak stage.