For my first destination marathon, the Laguna Phuket International Marathon was supposed to be a cushy experience. Having been to Phuket and the Laguna area at least three times a year for the last three years, I had a very good idea what to expect and could prepare well for it. It would be like racing at a home away from home.
But as I’ve learned from every marathon I’ve done, nothing is certain until the last kilometer is run. I guess that’s what makes for good stories, right?
Arrival in Phuket
My parents and I landed in Phuket on a rainy Thursday afternoon after a long day flying from Manila via Singapore. I had booked a one-bedroom suite at the Allamanda Laguna Phuket, one of the many hotels in the Laguna resorts area.
Laguna is kind of a posh place to stay in as it has some of the island’s top luxury resorts, but the Allamanda is one of the better options for the pocket. Our suite had a massive living room, a real kitchen with refrigerator, toaster, microwave, electric teapot, electric stove, cookware, dishes, and utensils, a private bedroom with queen-sized bed, and toilet and shower.
My extra bed was placed in the living room. I had a beautiful view past the sliding glass doors out to the Laguna golf course (and of course since my parents took the bedroom I was spared my dad’s snoring *wink*). While it was only 1.9 kilometers away from the race venue at the Laguna Grove beside the Outrigger beach resort, it was such a quiet, restful place to come home to roost every day.
Like I do most times I’m in Phuket, I rented a car from a trusted local company. While Laguna has free shuttles that travel all throughout its resort area, to go outside and see anything else you need to hire a taxi (which will most probably charge a fixed rate, not going by meter). Having a car gave us the liberty to go as many places as we wanted at any time.
Two Days Before the Race
On Friday, we had lunch and did groceries at the big Tesco. Then we drove northward to the Sarasin Bridge that connects the island of Phuket to mainland Thailand, ate some mangoes from a roadside vendor, and visited the Phuket Trickeye Museum. Then we met up with my mom’s medical school batchmate, a Thai who had gone to school in the Philippines so he could take over his father’s private practice in Phuket Town. He took us up Phuket Hill for a better view, then had us try some authentic Thai food for dinner.
It rained a bit throughout the day, but the weather cleared in the afternoon.
One Day Before the Race
Saturday was packet pick-up day. Last year I had managed to talk Jinoe Gavan into signing up for this race, and since he was also staying at the Allamanda (on my suggestion, haha) we all drove to the Laguna Phuket International Marathon expo to pick up our kits and look at merchandise.
What really impressed me about this marathon is how government agencies had all thrown their support behind it, particularly the provincial government and the ministry of tourism. This is a race that has been held for 11 years and is an integral part of the island’s tourism drive. I even got chills when we saw the exhibit about other marathons across Thailand. It had me wishing we had the same integrated sports tourism efforts in the Philippines.
After that errand, we drove down toward the big three tourist spots in the south of the island: Chalong Temple, the Big Buddha, and Promthep Cape. While I had already visited these, Jinoe and my parents had never been to Phuket so I had fun showing them the sights.
We managed to dodge the busloads of tourists at each stop. We took our time snapping photos, shopping for souvenirs, and snacking on food such as roasted cashews, chicken barbecue, and durian ice cream.
While we had a bit of drizzle making our way to Chalong, the rest of the day was clear and I knew if the weather held, we would have a hot race in the morning. Eeek!
To tell you the truth, I was starting to regret having signed up for the full marathon when I could have just as easily just registered for the half marathon. I said as much at the race’s pasta party that night when Jinoe and I met up with Eva, an ultramarathoner and fellow Filipino. The trip to Phuket would still have been worth it without so much running! But there was no turning back.
Laguna Phuket International Marathon Race Day
What I loved about having my parents around was that my mom made breakfast every morning, including on race day. (Then my dad would do the dishes. Heehee!) I had such a good meal: French toast, bacon, and coffee. And then I got dressed, bundled myself into the car, and drove down to the starting line.
We had agreed that my parents would either walk or take a shuttle to the race venue a little later in the morning just in time to catch my finish. Then we would meet inside the expo tent so I could drive us back to the hotel. (No way was I going to walk or wait around for a shuttle post-marathon!)
In the pre-dawn darkness, the air was very still and my skin was already most with sweat. It was a weird feeling popping into the Laguna Phuket International Marathon race venue with no transition area to set up. This is the very same grove the Laguna Phuket Triathlon is held out of, but this time it was just me, my two legs, and the road.
Then I heard his voice, the voice that has commentated all my half-ironmans. Whit Raymund! I went over to see him, super happy to see a familiar face on race day. It was a boost to my spirits that I sorely needed as I set my mind on finishing the race no matter how long it would take me.
In the end, it took me four hours, 17 minutes, and 19 seconds. It was my second-best marathon time behind my PR of 3:57 at the 2010 Milo Marathon final, and definitely much better than my first marathon attempt at 4:24 and my Challenge Roth marathon split of 4:47. But dear Lord, it felt like the toughest among them all!
While the total elevation was about 147 meters, most of it was concentrated around the Naithon Hills which I had underestimated in terms of gradient as well as length of climbs. I took to walking the steepest of them and actually managed to overtake those who had bounded up the hills.
I walked through all the aid stations, taking on water and ice-cold sponges to cool myself off. To fend off cramps in my legs, I stuffed sponges and ice down the legs of my tri shorts (I was so thankful not to have worn tights!). I also took some walk breaks towards the back half of the marathon just to bring my racing heart rate under control. There have been way too many incidents regarding heat illness in marathons, and I didn’t want to get into that kind of situation especially in a foreign country.
It was about energy conservation and survival, because I certainly didn’t want to do anything that would end my race prematurely.
And just like that, with Whit calling me across the line, I was at the end of a two-week endurance racing journey that I had inadvertently put myself on. Well, if I could survive an ironman, I could definitely survive back-to-back weekends of racing an Olympic distance triathlon and a marathon in exotic locales that satisfied my wanderlust.
I just think it was a totally bad idea, and you shouldn’t emulate me if you’re looking to perform at your peak. ;) I could have made it easier on myself by racing only the Laguna Phuket International Marathon; maybe I could have gone a little faster over 42 kilometers then. It’s fine though, if you’re only aiming to participate and complete no matter what the time. But in a perverse way I look back and laugh at me torturing myself and hating life while racing, swearing never again — only to do it again. There’s a strange feeling of empowerment knowing you can go through a personal hell and come out alive.
I was the 19th of 313 females to cross the finish line (although there were two late starters behind me who clocked faster times) and third Filipina behind marathon champion Lany Cardona and 4th placer April Rose Diaz. Not bad to be 119th of 1416 participants and 12th among the 159 women aged 30 to 39.
After the marathon there was a whole day left to do things. I didn’t want to waste it, so I kept my legs moving by taking my parents out to Sunday brunch at Trisara, then heading to Phuket Town in the afternoon with them and Jinoe to check out the Old Town street market.
Phuket Old Town is the oldest settlement on the island, a boom town constructed during the heyday of tin mining. The Sino-Portuguese architecture of the shophouses and mansions has been carefully preserved. On Sunday afternoons until 10pm Thalang Road (the former main market street of the town) is closed to cars for a street flea and food market set up.
The Day After the Race
Keeping on the move through the previous day had helped me keep the mobility in my legs, so we were able to do some souvenir shopping before heading onto the beach for a massage and to watch the sun set.
The weather, far from the predicted rains over the weekend, had held sunny and bright through most of our stay. Although it wasn’t the best to run in, it made touring the island much easier and more pleasant.
I’m not sure how possible it is for me to record a personal record at destination races. I just want to go around and be a tourist instead of setting aside two or three days for the race before going places. But maybe all I need is the right race and the right time — and here we go again!
Seriously speaking though, with the Laguna Phuket International Marathon I confirmed to myself why it took me such a long time to do another open marathon. I had been hesitant about not being able to break that record I set on what seems to have been a perfect day for it. But there are other reasons to do marathons over and over again. I just don’t know how or when I’ll be persuaded to pull the trigger again.
For now, I’m going to enjoy a well-deserved break. :)