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