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The Khon Kaen International Marathon: One of the best Thailand has to offer The Khon Kaen International Marathon: One of the best Thailand has to offer
by Murray Hunter
2014-02-03 12:33:08
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Last weekend (25 & 26th January) saw the running of the 11th Khon Kaen International Marathon. Khon Kaen located in the centre of the Issan region of Thailand, is a major agriculture, education, and administrative centre, where the prime organizer Khon Kaen University or KKU as it is known locally, with its 28,000 students is located.

This year, the race was run in conjunction with the university's 50th anniversary, so the atmosphere on campus, especially the race registration area on registration day was very festive.

There are a number of reasons why the Khon Kaen International Marathon attracts more than 20,000 participants each year. This year there were 600 runners in the marathon, almost 800 in the half marathon, around 3,500 in the mini marathon (11.55 Km), and almost 15,000 in the fun run.

First and foremost, the Khon Kaen International Marathon is considered the richest race in Thailand with more than 2 million Baht (RM200,000) given away as prize money. 200,000 Baht (RM20K) is awarded to the winners of the men's and women's marathon, 50,000 Baht (RM5K) awarded to the winners of the men's and women's half marathon, and 20,000 Baht (RM2K) awarded to the winners of the men's and women's mini-marathons. In addition generous prize money is awarded to the first 10 place getters in each event and to the winners of each age group.

Besides the prize money, the weather conditions for the marathon are one of the best suited for the serious runner. In January when the race is run, the average temperature in the mornings is only 16.2° Celsius, warming up to an average of 30° Celsius in the middle of the day. That means that most finishers will complete the course around a comfortable temperature of about 23° Celsius. The crispy cool conditions during most of the race are an advantage for those who prefer cool conditions. Weather wise, this is the ideal run.

Next is the course itself. The first part of the marathon goes through part of the town, through the grounds of the Non Waeng Temple, around Khaen Nakurn Lake, before going out on some long road stretches. The half marathon also goes out through part of Khon Kaen town, and then along the road towards Udon Thani where it meets the marathon course around the 9 KM mark.

Both courses have a number of low grade long hill stretches, where elite and experienced runners can utilize these parts of the course tactically. These low grade hill stretches add a moderate challenge to the course, which also takes away the boredom of long stretches of highway. The only complaint the writer heard about course directions, was that the directions within the Non Waeng Temple were a little confusing.

The mini-marathon joined both the marathon and half marathon courses over the last 4km of the run within the university grounds. This lead to a great amount of congestion, making the last few kilometers unnecessarily challenging due to the need to maneuver around slow groups of stragglers at the tail of the mini-marathon.  This is one aspect of the course the organizer must look into next year to make the event smoother and a better running experience for marathoners.

However, to partly compensate for this, runners were given a rousing welcome by Khon Kaen University students along the almost all of last 4km of the race. There were bands, dancers and general cheering and encouragement of all the runners. This lifted the spirits of the tired and weary. This exciting atmosphere was something that runners competing in marathons like Bangkok, Penang, or Kuala Lumpur would not get over the last kilometers. The Khon Kaen International Marathon is worth running for this reason alone.

On organizational matters, traffic control was generally excellent with a large number of policemen and marshals alone the route. There were only a few cases of cars interfering with runners in the later parts of the morning. Refreshment stations were adequate, with a large number of tables spaced out so a runner would not miss a drink. The only real congestion was where the marathon and half marathon merged with the mini-marathon course ad runner became mixed up. The only other negative comment by a marathoner was that there was only a limited amount of fruit available along the route.

Being IAAF and AIMS certified, all of the courses were extremely accurate, almost to the meter, which is something extremely rare in Thailand. Even the half marathon course in the Bangkok Marathon last year was more than 1.3 KM short. At Khon Kaen each KM mark was adequately signed, another unusual thing in Thai marathons. What made the last kilometer much easier for many runners was a sign each 100 meters, designating the distance to go, i.e., 900m to go, 800m to go, to the finish, etc. This was well appreciated by most runners.

The finishing procedures were also well organized, where the finish times were clearly displayed for each event. Medals were quickly given down the finishing chute, so runners could easily collect a drink. Free massage was available and a wide variety of food was available in specific marquees reserved for the finishers of each event. This greatly assisted runners getting food and drink very quickly after finishing.

Pre-race registration and collection of bibs and race kits was at the ground floor of the convention centre unlike previous years where it was on the top floor. There were no queues and the hall had a carnival atmosphere to it with the adjoining runners exhibition. There was adequate space provided for camping with shower facilities provided, airport pickup for pre-registered participants, and a free pre and post-race tour provided by the Tourist Association of Thailand (TAT), which was grossly underutilized by participants.

In Khon Kaen there is adequate accommodation ranging from 400 Baht (RM40) per night for a clean and comfortable room with hot water, air con, and satellite TV, to the mid range four star hotels in the town. There are a number of guest house apartments which are walking distance to the event. Khon Kaen airport is serviced both by Thai and Air Asia from Bangkok.

The results were of an extremely high standard (and competitive with more than 30 African runners taking part) for a regional event. The overall winner of the marathon was  Charles Kimutai Kigen of Kenya in 2 hours 17 minutes and 9 seconds, from Zemenu Tsega Workneh of Ethiopia in 2:17:22, with Sammy Kipkorir Kibet of Kenyan 3rd in 2:17:32. Five runners managed to finish under 2 hours and 20 minutes, with 41 under 3 hours, and 189 finishing under 4 hours.

The women's marathon was won by Bavush Shiferaw Abebe of Ethiopia in 2:53:41, from Ayelu Abebe Hordofa, also of Ethiopia in 2:53:44, and Immaculate Chemutai of Uganda 3rd in 2:53:44.  Seven women finished in under 3 hours.

The men's half marathon was won by Daniel Kiarie Gachui of Kenya in 1 hour 4 minutes and 22 seconds, from Barnabas Cheruiyot Kiplagat of Kenya in 1:04:25, and Solomon Kipyego Keter, also of Kenya 3rd in 1:04:29.  The women's half marathon was won by Mary Kiguru of Kenya in 1:20:04, from Worrknesh Dugassa of Ethiopia in 1:22:24, with Carolyne Jepkosgei Chepkwony 3rd in 1:25:35.

The men's mini-marathon was a clean sweep for Kenya with Paul Kimani Wambui 1st in 35 minutes 14 seconds, John Kprop Samoei 2nd in 35:35, and Lawrence Saina 3rd in 35:50. Shelin Selin Gabriel won the women's mini-marathon in 42:21, with Viola Jepchirchir Kimeli 2nd in 42:36, and a Natthia Tanawat 3rd in 48:53.

The secret ingredient of the Khon Kaen International Marathon was the hospitality extended to the participants over the weekend. The crowds along the last 4km will be unforgettable for those who experienced it. This was definitely superior to the last stages of the Bangkok Marathon, something more akin to the Melbourne Marathon, for those who have had that experience.

If the author had to rate this marathon, it would get 4 1/2 stars. To get 5 stars, the congestion over the last 4 kilometers has to be sorted out by the organizers.

The Khon Kaen International Marathon already has the reputation of being one of the best in Thailand. The race attracts participants from Europe, Us, Australia, Japan, China, New Zealand, Singapore, Myanmar, Philippines, Laos, with only a very small number of Malaysians competing, even though there is just so much at Khon Kaen on offer for the 'diehard' runner. This is an event where more Malaysians should attend next year. It will definitely be on the writer's calendar.

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Overall winner of the marathon Charles Kimutai Kigen of Kenya in 2 hours 17 minutes and 9 seconds

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The Author with Professor Superchai "palm reader extraordinaire" and who completed his 251st marathon at Khon Kaen last Sunday.

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