Go Trail Running with Job Thanapong

Now that the domestic spread of covid-19 has finally subsided, trail running is increasingly gaining popularity among avid runners and those who are conscious about their health. Trail running offers a new kind of experience to runners who want to be exposed to real nature, outside of public parks, and ultimately escape from the chaotic city life. It’s a great way to recharge yourself.

Trail running is a type of sport activity that involves running on adventurous hiking trails where you don’t know what obstacles you might encounter along the path. Since it usually takes place in natural settings such as mountains, fields, waterfalls or streams, rough terrains and a certain amount of climbing are to be expected. Although the trail may vary depending on each trail running event, the path is usually well defined which means that you’re required to follow the direction indicated. The distance also varies, ranging between 10-40 km and 50-200 km. The run is typically timed, with elevation gain on the route taken into account. While both fun and challenging, trail running requires stamina and participants must prepare themselves by undergoing a rigorous training.

Speaking of trial running events in Thailand, one of the most well known would have to be Ultra-Trail Nan100 or UTN100. Famed for its natural beauty and a level of difficulty, the competition brought us its latest champion Thanapol “Job” Chankrachang, a 29-year-old barista/owner of “Nuan Cafe & Bistro in Chiang Mai. Not only did he finish the course at the event’s best 13:32:49 hours, Job was also the sole runner who made it to the finishing line before the sunset.

“I used to be in the cheering crowd right behind the finishing line, waiting for runners to finish their 100 km-run. This inspired me to give this same course a try,” he recounted the time when he took part in the 50 km division of UTN around three years ago.

After missing the 2019’s edition of UTN due to his participation in Indonesia’s IJEN TRAIL RUNNING, he returned to compete in this year’s UTN100. By choosing fewer events, he then had more time, about four months, to train for the race. True to his motto “train like it’s race day, race like it’s training,” the focus of his training included things like energy-developing flat terrain training, muscle-strengthening weight training, and running uphill and downhill to condition the body. UTN100 was his one and only race of this year. “I deeply believe that everything has its own time and place. I always wanted to run the 100 km, and the fact that I also got support from my sponsor Hoka, who was like a family to me, made me want to do it even more.” 

The UTN100 course is deemed challenging due to the overlapping hills that seem to go on forever. Set against the beautiful scenery, these hills remain steep throughout the entire course. “It gets really hot at the foot of the hills, but it’s nice and cool when you get to the top.” Job added that the UTN100 had two challenging parts. “The first was during A2 > WS2, or the climb from Ban Pha Wiang onwards, at the 28th km if I’m not mistaken. The accumulated vertical climb then was around 1000+ meters. The jungle part was quite difficult to run because it was a single track full of slopes and slippery mud. I even fell on my butt once. When I did, I heard a ‘clack’ and my heart was in my mouth. I thought I’d lost my walking pole but it was actually a twig. There were corn fields along the shoulder of the hills and it was so thrilling looking at them. When I finally reached WS2, I felt relieved because then it was just a long way down towards Bo Kluea.”

Then came the second part, which was a climb from Bo Kluea to the top of Doi Phu Ka otherwise known as viewpoint 1715. “Running on a paved road with the gradient between 9-10% was already tiring, but the midday sun was also out in full force. Every kilometer was a struggle and felt like forever. Luckily, there were tourists driving up and down the mountain at the time and they were constantly cheering me on. That gave me a boost.”

Once he made it to the peak of Doi Phu Ka for the second time, the rest of the course was a breezy descent or “a happy meal” as he put it. The most difficult parts were over and all he had to do was keep on running, taking in the scenery and encouraging fellow runners.

What kept Job going was, of course, his own stamina and well trained body. But mental strength was also important for long-distance races, especially ‘ultra trails.’ Nothing could quite beat the moral support from passers-by whether they were tourists, villagers or fellow competitors. “When I’m totally exhausted, hearing encouraging words like “keep fighting” or “well done” is like a dose of energy that pushes me to continue even further. Sometimes I even had tears in my eyes. Thanks to everyone involved with the UTN100 and thanks for creating such a fantastic event.” 

Now that the competition is over, Job’s back at his day job. And even as a full-time owner of a cafe that’s open seven days a week, he continues to train 6-7 times per week. 

How do you balance work and training? 

  “Balancing things can be difficult for me. It depends on a given period and how I adjust my scale. Right now, I’m not a pro athlete so I still need to earn a living to support myself and my running. But whether it’s running or working, everything has its own timing. When work gets overwhelming, I run less. When workload’s light, I then have more time to train.”

Ultimately, the most important thing is family. Job’s family is understanding and supportive enough to let him pursue his passion. His wish before he turns 30 is to become an ultra trail runner who can go as far as possible. If you need a little workout, running is a good way to do it. But if you want to discover the world, ultra trail running will let you do just that.

Job’s face lights up whenever he gets to talk about his trail running experience. He gets even more ecstatic when he sees family members or people in his life starting to take up the sport.

Ever ecologically conscious, he’s also aware of the impact trail running has on the local community. It can’t be denied that trail running events help support the local economy and bring revenue to local residents. For example, the neighborhood called Khun Chang Khian village where he trained has now become bustling with local businesses such as shops, restaurants and cafes. However, the development is not without a few cons like noises and litter. For Job, he tries to do whatever he can to help alleviate the issues, whether raising awareness among runners not to litter along the trail or avoid training at night when local residents are resting.