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If you do call yourself a runner, can you handle the truth?

The Road from Bangkok to Angkor Wat

It was early October when my friend Todd called me and asked if I want to go to Cambodia to run the Angkor Wat Half Marathon with him and his buddy Paul. Well of course I do, but with a two year old and a pregnant wife at home it's not quite so easy to drop everything and travel to a third world country. It wouldn't hurt to ask. "Darling, I was wondering..." "Sure, sounds like a great adventure!" I'm so glad I married her!

I mentioned it to my friend John in San Jose and he joined the adventure on our connecting flight in San Francisco.

The temples at Angkor are spread out over some 40 miles around the village of Siem Reap, about 192 miles up the Mekong River from the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. They were built between the eighth and 13th centuries and range from single towers made of bricks to vast stone temple complexes. Angkor Wat, regarded as the supreme masterpiece of Khmer architecture, is a huge pyramid temple built by Suryavarman II between 1113 and 1150. It is surrounded by a moat 570 feet wide and about four miles long. The mass of bas-relief carving is of the highest quality and the most beautifully executed in Angkor. The event was conceived to raise awareness and money for victims of land mines in Cambodia, left over from the Khmer Rouge in the 70's and 80's. The race is something Todd and I had read about and talked about doing for years. It was taking on mythical qualities with the conflicting dates, supposed cancellations and bits and pieces of information appearing and disappearing on various websites over the years. Certainly there was no official website. That would be too easy. Results were nowhere to be found. At the time of Todd's call one website had it on Dec 6, another on November 29 and another had it marked as cancelled. I contacted an event planner in San Diego, Kathy Loper, who had organized a few trips to the event and was doing so again this year. She hooked us up with a member of the event committee and we sent in our applications. Round trip airfare from Eugene to Bangkok was cheap. The hard part would be getting the last 300 miles to Angkor Wat. Overland or fly? Flying was easy but very expensive. We decided overland would be fun with the trip taking somewhere between 8 and 20 hours depending on weather, bus and or taxis as reported on the very informative www.talesofasia.com. We flew into Bangkok late Tuesday night and jogged early everyday in Lumpini Park and did some sightseeing. We hired a taxi Friday morning to take us to the Cambodian border town of Poipet. After an hour through customs, a Cambodian taxi took us the last 100 miles in four hours and we were in Siem Reap by 6pm. It was a fascinating drive.

The road regressed from asphalt to gravel and car sized potholes to red dirt and back to asphalt. Steel one lane bridges crossed numerous creeks and rice fields. The road was full of ox drawn carts, tractors and motorbikes. Wooden stands held gasoline in various sized glass containers and two liter plastic bottles. It was a scene right out of Mad Max. All sorts of vehicles carried workers and supplies to the rice fields and hundreds of students pedaled home from school. I'm so glad we didn't fly.

The Garden Village Guesthouse was convenient, clean, quiet, friendly and $6 per room with two beds, courtesy of www.talesofasia.com. The guesthouse offered us personal drivers too. During our visit we retained two taxis, which were motorbikes with a two person covered trailer pulled behind. The temples of Angkor Wat begin about six miles out of town.

The next morning we headed to registration at a fancy western style hotel and it was total chaos. A Japanese organizing committee trying to direct mostly non-native (European and American) entrants was rather hopeless. 45 minutes later we had hand numbered race cloths and our official T-shirts. So much for pre-registration.

That afternoon we toured around some of the temples. Banteai Srei was wonderful along with a few more we explored.

Sunday morning we left for the race. Banners welcomed the runners on the road to Angkor Wat.

It was exciting as there were people everywhere at the start. Reporters, photographers, military personnel and various other uniformed official types were looking important. This was a very big event. A land mine victim with race number carried a torch across the moat from Angkor Wat and handed it to the Vice President of Cambodia. As he spoke to the crowd everyone listened and snapped photos. Twenty or thirty beautiful young female dancers were in fancy dresses looking shy and excited.

Finally the race was to begin, thirty minutes late. It was 8am, 70 degrees and maybe 90% humidity. About fifteen land mine survivors were the first to start. Most were in hand powered, home crafted tri-cycles and a few in wheel chairs. This is what it was all about. They all had determined smiles. It was a very moving scene, which I'll never forget.

Our race started with what looked like maybe two hundred runners. After us there would be a 10k for men only, 5k for men and women and a 4k family walk. I don't understand the "men only" 10k when plenty of women were running the half. All told there were maybe five hundred competitors and three times that many observers and race volunteers.

The course was on pavement around and through various ancient temples, including Angkor Wat, Preah Khan and Angkor Thom. At 10 kilometers I finally passed a local kid wearing soccer cleats. Click, click, click. At ten miles Todd passed me as I melted ala Salvador Dali into the molten asphalt. My time was unimportant. Okay, it was my slowest half ever in 1:42. Todd was three minutes ahead, but who's counting? John survived the 10k and non-runner Paul promptly retired his shoes after wearing them out in the 4k.

We spent the afternoon recuperating, eating and exploring more ruins.

Todd and Paul had another two weeks to vacation. John and I flew back to Bangkok to catch our flight home.

Written By Todd Bosworth (3/24/04)

More Race Reports by Todd Bosworth
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Date and time page last updated: 03/14/2013 4:41 PM