By Prijayanat Kalampasut July 06, 2020
Tatler Thailand talks to five Thais about how they become marathon enthusiasts and what running has given back to them
Running is hard-wired into us. But let’s be honest, these days most of us lead a pretty sedentary life which, sadly, is why many of us could do with joining the growing hoards that take up running not just to get into shape but also to effect a change in lifestyle. Running for leisure-pleasure has become a bug, an acquired taste perhaps but an altogether happy contagion shared by millions all over the globe. So this month we talk to five fleet-of-foot individuals who in their spare time have discovered the joys of ultra-running and are always seeking to beat their personal best.
It has been six years since Noon Kiatfuengfoo, previously a self-declared non-sports enthusiast, started running—a step she took to become healthier and stronger. But long gone are the days when she could barely complete a lap at Lumphini park. Now with 10 marathons and two Ironman triathlons in Australia and Sweden under her belt, she says with pride, “Years ago no one would have thought me capable of such things.”
Noon’s first full race was the Honolulu marathon in 2015. In fact, her decision to enrol in the event was a spontaneous one taken while on a business trip. “I can safely say it was the best decision I ever made,” she says emphatically. Quite the trooper, she had to fit her training in around her work as analyst for the Ministry of Energy—usually in the evenings at the National Stadium—and like all dedicated runners she was prepared to make sacrifices. “I gave up all forms of socialising for a while,” she says.
Pushing her boundaries, Noon joined an Ironman training club specifically created to help aspiring athletes finish a triathlon. Through the exhaustion and despite her tears she says the thought of quitting has never crossed her mind. Three years ago, her goal was realised when in just over 15 hours she completed her first Ironman event in Cairns, Australia. “Crossing that finishing line was my proudest moment,” she smiles. Her husband, Veerapat, joined her in her second Ironman outing, this time in Sweden. “You need at least six months of non-stop training,” she says. “You have to be fully committed. If you take a three-day break for example you will feel the strain when you return to running.”
Runners often get injured. This is common but sometimes we forget triathlons, which take place amidst the wilds of nature, pose dangers that are often out of our control. An incident Noon will never forget came when she got injured during a triathlon in Hua Hin. “During the swim we were suddenly surrounded by a swarm of jellyfish,” she recalls. “It was pretty bad. Everyone stopped swimming, some struggled to get back to shore while lifeguards on jet skis helped others. I got stung pretty badly and as it turns out, I was highly allergic. My face started to swell, everything turned hazy and I had to be taken to the hospital.”
But this won’t hold her back from returning into open water. Up next on her bucket list is to realise her dream of competing in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii and to finish the Boston marathon. She’s also got her eye on ultra-trail runs in the wilderness. “Running has been an uplifting and empowering journey for me” she says. “It is a big part of my life and I’m not ready to set it aside just yet,” says the blogger for Rong Tao Song Koo (Two Pairs of Shoes), a blog dedicated to all things running.
Over the course of almost a decade Kornkakok Yongsakul, better known as Lek, has become a true marathon enthusiast, like other members of her family. Prior to taking up running she says she wasn’t very active, occasionally attending a yoga class and swimming a few lengths. All that changed one morning when her husband and a group of friends encouraged her to join them in a run at Lumphini park.
“I really surprised myself,” laughs the founder of leadership and lifestyle training company RBL Training Academy. “It brought out the natural competitor in me. First I would aim to pass the 3km mark, then 5, then 10. I kept having to challenge myself but I really enjoyed it.” Having built up her fitness and distances, around six years ago she entered her first official event, a 5km run, and followed it by successfully finishing a 10km mini marathon. Since then she has completed no less than 20 mini marathons.
Lek’s husband Kanisorn is a seasoned distance runner and it was he and his friends who encouraged her to have a go at running a full marathon. “I saw it as stretching the body and mind and I like to continually push myself, so I said why not.” From that point on she never missed her daily runs in the park and paired them with a high-intensity interval training routine to keep her endurance and cardiovascular levels high. She also kept to a strict diet and sleep programme.
After months of punishing training she completed the 2019 Berlin marathon. “It usually takes four to five hours to finish the 42 kilometres,” she explains. “After the first two hours your body starts to ache all over and that’s when you really need to push yourself mentally. Eventually it is your mind that drags your body to the finish line. I am not going to lie, sometimes during the race I wondered why I was putting myself through this.” Using her own method of visualisation and setting short-term goals throughout the run is what really helped her. “I would ask myself, when I reach 30km what will I see, how will I feel? It’s about being self-aware and negotiating with yourself to maintain mental strength.”
After her successful trip to Berlin Lek’s aim was to run the Osaka marathon but her plans were put on hold when she injured a knee that took months to recover. She also has aspirations to complete the Abbott World Marathon Majors series featuring six of the biggest marathons in the world—Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York and Tokyo. “Running is liberating for me,” she smiles. “Frankly this journey has transformed me. It teaches you discipline, focus and mental strength, attributes that can be utilised in every aspect of life. And one of the things I love the most is this sense of community—runners really support each other,” Looking ahead, the idea of competing in an ultra-marathon is one she finds increasingly tempting. “I want to keep pushing myself,” Lek says. “My role model is my father Kanit, who at the age of 72 is still running marathons and completing Ironman events. He always says winners never quit and quitters never win.”
Vasu Surattiantra, or Tum, executive director and co-founder of spa and skincare brand Panpuri, is something of a beast when it comes to running. He has completed numerous marathons and triathlons and taken part in three long-distance Ironman competitions in New Zealand, Germany and Switzerland. This might not sound surprising given his brand’s keen promotion of a healthy and balanced lifestyle but it wasn’t always so. “I was a weakling when I was young,” he laughs. “I had a lot of health problems growing up, including chronic asthma. I couldn’t go anywhere without my inhaler. I was that kid that would sit and watch his friends do sports.”
A workaholic who did not care much about his health is how he describes his old self. Just over four years ago, Tum decided to turn his life around following digestive problems that he thought might be cancer. He began by slow-jogging short distances in his neighbourhood twice a week. “Three kilometres was a struggle then,” he admits. But since those early days he has finished eight marathons. Even more impressive is the fact that in a relatively short period of time he has also finished three Ironman triathlons, which constitute a 3.86km swim, a 180.25km bicycle ride and a full marathon of 42.20km.
“It’s tough,” he says. “And the most challenging part is not the event itself but the day-in-day-out training prior to it.” It took Tum two years to be ready for his first Ironman outing. “There’s no shortcut,” he says. “You have to work hard at becoming good in three disciplines and you have to learn to manage your momentum, mindset and sports skill over 17 hours, not to mention all the brick training, controlling what you eat and so much more. It’s remarkable how much the body can evolve and adjust itself with the right level of discipline and training. But it’s hard work. I am proud to have come this far with zero prior background in running.”
In the past two years Tum has also taken up ultra-trail running and has already completed three 100km trails with the intention to try one of 160km. “I love it,” he says with a smile. “It’s another level of hard because of the terrain. There were moments when literally every inch of my body was hurting, never mind getting blisters on my feet. You need to anticipate and focus on each step you take. Honestly, I feel women have an advantage when it comes to ultra-trail. They seem to have more agility and are lighter on their feet, which really comes in handy.” Another goal is to race in the Grande Randonnée du Tour du Mont-Blanc in France. “It is the holy grail of ultra-trail runs,” Tum explains.
His athletism seems to have rubbed off on his 11-year-old son who not only loves to run but has also participated in the junior section of Ironman. “Unlike my younger self, he is super active,” dad laughs. “It’s great to be able to share this passion with him.” A word of advice from the avid athlete: “Don’t ever push yourself too hard without paying attention to your body. Give it the recovery time that it needs or you will injure yourself pointlessly,” he says. “It is important to listen to your body and go at a safe pace when training.”
The owner of the sophisticated Truefitt & Hill barbershop, Sakorn Thavisin is another who took up running as a lifestyle game-changer. Prior to pounding the pavements he was a frequent party-goer, enjoyed dining out and did very little in the way of exercise. But sometimes, it takes a health scare to shift one’s perspective. “Around five to six years ago I weighed 120 kilos and I knew my health wasn’t good. I was verging on being officially diabetic, my blood pressure was way too high and I had a fatty liver disease. I knew I had to change,” he says.
But it wasn’t until he got back in touch with a group of old school friends, some of whom were very enthusiastic about fitness, that change started to happen. “We formed a running group called Fat Cry,” Sakorn laughs. “At the beginning, it was brutal. I remember my first attempt around Lumphini park. I finished the 2.5 kilometres walking. I couldn’t even run. It really showed me just how unhealthy I was.” The goal from day one for the Fat Cry crew was to one day finish a marathon and despite the challenges, after six months of training and preparation, Sakorn and his friends did finish the Chombueng marathon. “It took me almost seven hours to complete it and I had to alternate between running and walking,” he admits.
Filled with a sense of achievement, this opened up a whole new world to him and next thing he knew he and his friends were getting ready to enter the 2018 Tokyo Abbott World marathon. “Being a newbie I didn’t really know what to expect. Nor was I prepared and geared up (outfit and watches etc) like the other runners,” Sakorn chuckles. “It was super challenging both mentally and physically but we did it.” It was to be the first one of many. “Initially, the idea was to complete one major marathon per year,” he explains. “But we have already done five out of six in three years. Last year we completed the marathons in Chicago, London and New York.”
Next up is the Boston marathon, which has been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Determined to stay healthy, Sakorn welcomed the recent lockdown period and adhered to a strict dietary regimen. “I cook all three meals myself,” he says. “In the mornings, I run five kilometres on the treadmill and again the same in the evenings. I make sure I get to sleep early and get enough sleep.” The experience has turned his life around completely. Having lost almost 30 kilos since he first embarked on this journey, he says he knows the meaning of perseverance and focus. “If you’re new to running, or new to marathons, the distance can be intimidating. Find a goal that really inspires you. Running for the sake of running will get you nowhere. Whether your goal is to lose weight and get fit, to finish a marathon or make new friends, you need some kind of fixed target. The motivation will follow.”
Sakorn says some of his fondest memories are from marathons abroad. “That feeling of hearing strangers, both fellow runners and spectators cheering you on, yelling at you that you can do it when they see you struggling… it’s an incomparable feeling and something that has inspires me.” Sakorn has also recently taken up cycling. So who knows, maybe he is about to join the Ironman fraternity?
Well known in the realm of arts for her unique performance pieces and work in dance movement psychotherapy, multi-faceted artist Dujdao Vadhanapakorn is the founder of Empathy Sauce, a firm specialising in empathic communication services. Given her background in psychology, she understands the importance of a body-mind connection in psychotherapy. “Five years ago, I was going through a rough patch, emotionally and mentally,” she explains. “I decided to start running as a means to refocus my mind, to remind myself of my own strengths.”
At the time her boyfriend (now husband), avid runner Mont Watanasiriroch, was part of the Adidas running community and he encouraged Dujdao to take part. “I recall accompanying him to the Berlin marathon in 2017,” she says. “Even as a spectator the vibe was amazing, so I registered for the race the following year. Honestly, running the Berlin marathon in 2018 was the best memory for me. I didn’t know whether I would be able to do it but I did. I still get goose bumps talking about it.” She also went on to participate in the Moscow marathon and in the last two years has taken up trail running, completing a distance of 45 kilometres.
Runners often follow a carefully worked out routine of cross-training, endurance-training and dietary plans but this wasn’t the case for Dujdao. “I didn’t stick to this kind of preparation as it was hard for me to organise my time,” she says. “My work keeps me very busy but I made sure to get a run in every evening, increasing the distance bit by bit every time I went out.” Much like her approach to art, her attitude to athleticism stems from spiritual catharsis and self-discovery. Running marathons helps her tap into potential she didn’t know she had. “It is like medicine for the soul and mind,” she says. “It allows me to think about and rationalise my anxieties and fears. In moments where you have to push yourself you are also learning not to let your emotions get the better of you.”
For Dujdao, much like the performing arts, running has profound psychological benefits. Many runners will tell you it’s a competition with one’s self, but for her there is no competition. “It’s more like being alone with myself and taking that time to reconnect to my own internal world. It’s good that my husband takes it seriously too,” she laughs. Running aside, the adventure-loving couple also go kayaking as members of the Save the Planet Association, helping to collect plastic waste from the ocean.