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Running through history: The Ayutthaya Marathon 2013

Running through history: The Ayutthaya Marathon 2013

Ayutthaya, just 80 kilometers from Bangkok offers charm that other cities cannot. Tourists can stay in quaint lodgings away from the hustle and bustle of places like Phuket or Pattaya, in a very unique manner.

The markets still have a strong local oreintation, without that tacky tourist flavor, offering some of the cheapest fruits available in Thailand, not forgetting the host of local traditional sweets.Ayutthaya was the former capital of the land that was called Siam and was ravaged by the Burmese in 1767. The remnants of what was once a great civilization, provides the backdrop to the inaugural Ayutthaya Marathon which was held on 15th December 2013.

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The marathon was preceded by a spectacular sound and light show, surrounded by stalls selling traditional Thai foods with sellers donning traditional costumes to add to the atmosphere. Bands were serenading diners and Buddhist monks were available for people to make offerings. This is all going on within the Ayutthaya Heritage Park, along part of the course the races would follow on the Sunday.

For those who had time to go around Ayutthaya in the days preceding the marathon, they would have been pleasantly surprised with the “Thai village” atmosphere that still exists so close to Bangkok.

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The Ayutthaya Marathon doesn’t offer the commercialism that some of the big city marathons have acquired over the years. However, it does offer RFID timing chips for a run around temple ruins that are nearly 1,000 years old, on a completely flat and fast course. Although there are a few “round about” turns over the course, these allow the leisurely runner to see some of the most spectacular sights available. The mornings in Ayutthaya during December have an almost crisp freshness about them where late finishers don’t experience the heat stress that they would in some of the other Thai marathons. If the serious runner wants to go all out, this is the place to do it.

The aim of the organizer, Unique Running, is to organize runs around heritage sites in Thailand. And where better than a city founded in 1350 by King U-Thong which was Siam’s capital city for over 400 years. The Ayutthaya Marathon was conceptualized to celebrate this heritage through bringing people together from all around Thailand and the world to run.  Ayutthaya was made a World Heritage Site in 1991 by UNESCO and the marathon run in conjunction with the Heritage Park Authority celebrates this in a very festive manner.

For many in their 40s and 50s, the Asian marathon circuit is a chance to see the region and at the same time become the athlete they were not able to in their youth. Only this time, the marathon is the selected sport event which allows people to take a serious challenge on their own terms in an exotic place of their choice. The 40 somethings running boom-ers also bring a camaraderie among people who meet at these events. Ultimate Running has seen this demographic’s growth and produced runs like the Ayutthaya Marathon to fit this aspiration.

The Ayutthaya Marathon offers the full 42.125 Km for the diehard runner, and the 21.1 KM, 10 KM, and a 3.5KM Fun Run to complete the bill. All routes go around the park with the spectacular scenery, something most unimaginative runs fail to offer. Even the 3.5 KM Fun Run goes through the old city allowing one many photo opportunities along the route.

The marathon had just over 200 finishers this time and this was of a similar standard compared to other Thai Regional marathons. The winner was Ivan Vlasanko who finished in 2 hours 32 minutes and 45 seconds. Tenth position came in at 3 hours 32 minutes, and 21 people finished in under 4 hours. The first female Karen Benat finished in 3 hours 56 minutes with eight others finishing under five hours. However according to some runner’s GPS watches the marathon course may have been a few hundred meters short of the full 42.125 KM.

The half marathon was won by Joseph Odhuno in the time of 1 hour 17 minutes and 15 seconds. Nine people finished under one hour and thirty minutes and one hundred and four people completed the course under two hours, of the 400 odd people who finished. Jennifer Treiner won the women’s division in 1 hour 44 minutes and 59 seconds, with ten women went under the 2 hours mark. According to the author’s GPS watch, the half marathon distance was very accurate.

Both the 10 KM and 3.5 KM fun run attracted more than 1,000 starters respectively, making the total crowd participating in the Ayutthaya Marathon at almost 3,000.

However the events had a number of shortcomings. Some participants, especially those in the marathon complained about the generic nature of the finisher’s medal, being the same one for all events. In addition, much of the course was very sparse of marshals leading to a number of traffic problems especially along the highways. Other runners complained of being chased by dogs over parts of the course. The organizers badly need to enlist more volunteers and police to be deployed out over the course next year to solve these issues.

Another difficult aspect of the run was the merging of the 10KM, half marathon, and marathon together over the last few kilometers of the race. This made for much congestion with struggling 10KM runners walking to the finish, especially for marathoners who were tired and they need space to make their run home. The start times and/or course requires some rethink by the organizers to stop this issue reoccurring next year.

This led to a catastrophe for some of the longer distance runners who found that all the cups at refreshment stations had finished and thus it was very difficult to get water to drink, particularly over the last 4 to 6 kilometers. The organizers deployed only one table per refreshment station, which contributed to the congestion. Six to eight tables for each refreshment station are probably needed next year, and probably many more at either 2 or 4 kilometer intervals would have been better than the five kilometer intervals they were deployed at. Many runners suffered through the slightly warmer than usual conditions that occurred on race day.

Another issue was that some runners had paid for access to the Heritage Park and entrance to the sound and light show, but no special tickets were given at registration. Lack of awareness and poor English skills on the part of the park management meant that entrance wasn’t honored on the basis of prepaid registration receipts. This led to some frustrations, particularly among non-Thai speakers.

Finally, although the quality of the food was superb, the range available was very limited compared to some of the other runs around Thailand.

However, after chatting to Far and Steve from Unique Running on the day before the race, the author believes that the management will be looking very seriously into all the above issues and have most of them solved before the next event.The author took a straw poll around a number of runners and most gave the event three stars and said they would be back next year. This is not bad for a first year effort in re-invigorating a smaller run into a full marathon program.

There will be most likely many more foreign runners next year as Go Adventure is taking over the online registration for the event next year. This however will also mean that the race fees will be much higher than this year as well, with foreign runners paying a premium.The Ayutthaya marathon attracted people from all over Thailand and both ‘running tourists’ and expatriates from Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Europe, Russia, and a particularly large Japanese contingent. This made for the great marathon experience at Ayutthaya for those who made the effort to come to the event.

What more, accommodation was both cheap, comfortable, clean and plentiful around town.

The author believes that the Ayutthaya marathon will very soon become to be considered one of the best boutique marathons in Asia. The writer will definitely be lining up at the start next year.

 

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