Glenn Gabriel Bona is a trail running athlete based out of Bangkok, Thailand. This past weekend he participated and completed the Thailand By UTMB Inthanon 4 which is an 80km course with about 4030+ meters of elevation gain and loss.
Being one of the few foreigners able to participate in this event, I decided to get to know him and get his thoughts on trail running in Thailand, it’s community and what it means for this country to host an event like UTMB.
Could you explain a little about your background. Where are you from in the US and what made you come to Asia?
I’m a Filipino American who was born and raised in San Diego, California.
Almost 4 years ago I was given the opportunity to move to Thailand to help my buddies grow their marketing company. To be honest the idea of living abroad was so intoxicating and I couldn’t be more blessed with the chance to be out here.
I fell in love with many new things and feel extremely fortunate to live in such a stimulating, friendly and growing country.
How did the race go? Can you share a little about your experience?
It was incredible and also very muddy!
The mud added an extra element to the race, which made you focus on each step even more than usual. But that made you appreciate every single moment during this beautiful course.
The view at the top of Pha Ngam, aka Two-Seasons Mountain at 2,060 meters was one of the best i’ve ever witnessed during a race. It was also very beautiful running through many hill tribe villages and rice fields.
The event was so well organised, had great volunteers, amazing food at the aid stations and was marked with flags very well.
I just feel super grateful to be able to do an event like this, not to mention the only UTMB event in 2020!
Have you always been a runner or is this a relatively new hobby?
It’s relatively new! I never thought of myself as a runner although I’ve done a half marathon in the past.
Things changed when I trained and did my first marathon in February of 2019 in Taichung, Taiwan. Since then i’ve done 2 more marathons in 2019 and competed in 5 trail ultramarathons in 2020.
What made you become a trail runner?
Well, what made me take running seriously was that I was able to see so much more of a city i’ve never been to by doing a marathon in it.
I just loved being able to be on streets and see landscapes I wouldn’t normally experience if I just drove by them.
Then I saw an ad for an ultramarathon hosted by The North Face in Thailand and that slowly started to take over my mind. I just wanted to see if I could do the distance but I stayed trail running because of the connection with nature, the challenges it offers and the community.
What is it about trail running that’s so appealing to you?
I think there’s a lot that can be learned from running long distances. Running is a really easy way to explore tough life concepts and doing it over 50 km or more really helps you practice staying present moment.
Add in the fact that you’re in nature for most of the day, struggling to climb to some of the hardest peaks and that experience alone will humble you. I think that’s why it’s so rewarding for most people.
How do you train for distances longer than a marathon?
Well it’s no secret that you should run, a lot. But what was surprising to me was that most of that running is done at a slower pace than what you might expect.
There’s probably one day or at most two where i’m actually doing a speed workout. And lucky for me, most of my trail training runs are done with friends on the weekend. I want to give a shout out to the Bangkok Runners Facebook group!
I also have a coach to thank for my improvement in trail running, Zoe Rom from Microcosm Coaching based in Colorado. You don’t need coaching to excel in this sport, but I do want to say, for my first year running trails and going for 5 ultras, I wouldn’t be as committed to my individual growth without the learning, custom training, community and guidance that she provides.
It seems like the trail running community is so close and really cares on another level compared to other sports, why is that?
I think that’s definitely true and it’s probably because we all recognize that everybody will struggle at some point during the race.
The race is so long and so many things can happen to each of us at different times. For example, the weather can affect one person in a different part of course in a negative way while it might help another positively.
For the most part we are all struggling and that is why the community supports and encourages each other more. There’s no reason to bring your fellow brother or sister down, and that is something we bring back to life outside of trail running.
We also have the best volunteers. They spend all their time out on the course making sure we’re hydrated and fed. Some of my most uplifting moments have come from checkpoints because of the people who help me there.
It’s those moments you realize that finishing a trail race is more about the people who helped you get there than anything else.
Why is the UTMB such a big deal? And what does it mean for Thailand to host the only UTMB in 2020?
The Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is the biggest trail running event in the world and brings together every outdoor running enthusiast into the small town of Chamonix, France.
There are several distances offered but the most notable, the 100 mile (165 km) UTMB, takes you through the Alps in 3 different countries; France, Switzerland and Italy.
The views of the Mont Blanc and the many mountains surrounding it, is something special and a privilege to witness.
I believe that the UTMB coming to Thailand means so much. Not too many people outside of this country realize how much the Thai people have embraced running. You can find a race every weekend!
For a brand like UTMB to have one of their races take place in Chiang Mai will certainly turn that city into more of a premier trail running destination in Asia and eventually the world. I’m excited to see that city grow!
Will you run Thailand by UTMB next year? If yes, which distance?
It’s a tough choice but I believe so. There are so many other races I would love to do like Ultra Trail Nan and PYT. But my priority right now is to collect more UTMB running stones to run some of the bigger races in Chamonix.
Next year I’m looking forward to doing the 120km Inthanon 5, it looks like fun!
What’s next for you?
For now, lots of rest and recovery! And also more learning through my trail running podcast and brand called NomadWolf.
It was a project started after a very tough trail race that I didn’t get to finish, the UTKC 100. So I’m really excited to give it another try with everything I’ve learned from so many great athletes based in Thailand, Malaysia and America.