Goal: Run a 10K — in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Nathaniel Fish is a senior Berea College, studying abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

It was so early on a Sunday morning that it was still dark out. I wedged myself into a throng of eager runners jostling around the starting line, trying to stay warm in spite of the cold wind. At 6 a.m., a whistle would blow, and hundreds of people would start on a 10K run (6.2 mile) along the banks of the Huay Tueng Thao Reservoir — a vast and deep manmade lake just outside of the Chiang Mai, Thailand city center.

My friends and fellow USAC Chiang Mai study abroad classmates, Lindsey Wyner and Delaney Uehling, were with me in the crowd. USAC program assistants Ms. Sirisorn Sittirin (Siri) and Miss Araya Amaekngan were there, too. We had all been preparing for this race in our own unique ways.

Personally, I made it a habit to run the 30-odd kilometers to the local temple on Doi Suthep every Saturday. It was a way to get outside and enjoy Thailand’s beautiful scenery, but also a way to help me integrate into the vibrant local running, hiking, and sporting culture.

Delaney and Lindsey had been preparing for their first half marathon, which they would run in Bangkok. They used this 10K race as a check-in to see how they were doing.

Siri was an avid outdoorswoman and had been training for a while. She often shared the progress on her training runs with us, which included treks through the beautiful rice fields behind her home.

For Araya, this was her first race. She was the youngest of our group and had only started running a few months before. But, by keeping a consistent schedule, she worked her way up to the 10K distance.

As the whistle blew, adrenaline rushed into our bodies. The hours of practice and training took over.

The course was stunning. We began running along the banks of the reservoir right as the sun was peeking over the horizon. Once it breached the surface of the water, the sky began to glow crimson red.

Although the runners began to separate as the race progressed, the energy and flow of the racers helped me along. It give me the push I needed to keep fighting the whole way through. There were large groups of onlookers cheering along both sides of the road, which was both surprising and inspiring.

The joy of the run and the passion of everyone involved kept building and building. I continued to build up speed throughout the race. The crescendo came and I finished with an exhilarating kick.

I made fifth place — a wonderful accomplishment. I ran at speeds that I had not run since my high school cross-country personal records! I was quite satisfied with the work I had put in this semester.

Overall, I can confidently say that we all did well in line with our own respective goals.

Delaney and Lindsey finished in second and fourth place. They will certainly go on to have an amazing time running at the Bangkok race. Lindsey is personally inspired to try to run races in every country she visits.

As no surprise to anyone, Siri made a wonderful pace and achieved fifth place. She will soon start training for her next race — although she is taking a well-earned vacation to Japan.

Araya finished strong. As each of us finished, we were able to go back along the course and cheer on the next USAC member. We simultaneously caught sight of Araya and all ran alongside her to the finish line. I am confident that she has found a new hobby, and I look forward to hearing more about how her running progresses in the future.

USAC Chiang Mai students and staff pose after 10K run.
USAC Chiang Mai students and staff pose after 10K run.

We all had a fantastic time. I will have this memory about the joy of pushing ourselves to our limits, making new friends, and that cold morning for the rest of my life. I encourage everyone to push past that moment of discomfort with unfamiliar experience — and jump.

Taking on a study abroad program was well worth it. Chiang Mai offers so much, whether you’re a nature freak, avid adventurer, cafe connoisseur, or aspiring Thai chef. The day before the race, I joined a group of USAC students in watching the sunrise from Doi Inthanon, the tallest mountain in Thailand. I’m also planning to go camping with a group of friends at Doi Pui tomorrow. It’s one of the many local National parks overlooking Chiang Mai.

Push yourself. See what you are capable of. Seek the joy of new experiences. Overall, just don’t be afraid to fail and don’t stay in your comfort zone for too long.