Event: Angkor Wat International Half Marathon
Date: 2 December 2012
Venue: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Distances: 3k, 10k, 21k
“The temples of Angkor, built by the Khmer civilization between 802 and 1220 AD, represent one of humankind’s most astonishing and enduring architectural achievements.” (www.sacredsites.com)
The Angkor Wat International Half Marathon is a gem of a race. Held in the province of Siem Reap in Cambodia, the kingdom of wonder, the course takes runners through a tour of the majestic temples of Angkor, the biggest temple complex in the world. The sights are spectacular and breath-taking. This alone makes the race—and the entire trip—worth every single cent and raises it a level comparable to the bigger races in the world.
The 17th Angkor Wat International Marathon attracted 6,241 runners this year, 70% of which were foreign runners. The 21k started at 6:30am (quite late for Manila’s standards), but the weather was cool all throughout the run. The fast, mostly flat or gently sloping downhill course was lined with trees which meant runners enjoyed the shade most of the time. Local spectators, mostly adorable smiling children who lined up eager to high-five the runners, came out of their homes on race day.
Despite the huge international interest in the event (its first race in 1996 only had 654 runners), race organization remains simple, almost like a small community event. Water was served every 2.5k in bottles and handed out mostly by local children. No sports drinks nor food were given out. Kilometer signs were folded cardboards and spray paint on the road. Marshals, in the face of Cambodian guards, were few and far between. But, it’s this kind of simplicity that keeps the local culture alive in the race and adds to its uniqueness and beauty.
The race started at Angkor Wat, considered to be the biggest pyramid in Asia. Unilab Active Health teammate and good friend Bic and I lined up along with the mass of international runners eager to run. We had agreed early on that we would run at “tourist pace” this meant two things: 1) We would run at easy pace and 2) with our cameras in our belts or hands.
The first 10kms of the race took us through the rural roads of Siem Reap. The roads were wide, clean, and, best of all, flat or slightly downhill. The air was fresh and cool. With no temples in sight, we ran at a steady pace of around 5:55 hitting our 10k split at 59 minutes. I felt great at this point.
The only “highlight” of this first half of my race was when I, the Bull Runner, got bullied by a big, bald, foreign runner. As I slowed to a walk (on the side of the road) to take my gel at a water station, Bully Runner who, for some reason, didn’t see me even if he was running from behind, yelled at me: “If you’re going to walk, get off the road!” If I had more time, I would’ve yanked him off the road, sat him in a corner, and pulled out an invisible race bible that states: 1) Runners can walk in any race, especially if they are eating or drinking by a station, and 2) Male runners, or non-runners for that matter, should always treat a woman with respect (Where is your mother?!) Since there was no time for this, I yelled one word back that summarized everything I wanted to say at that point: “As$H@L3!”
At 11k, the road narrowed and we entered the temple area. As soon as we spotted the first temple, Bic and I slowed and pulled out our cameras shooting and smiling like tourists. We would run together, spot another temple, shoot photos together, then proceed to run once again. It went on like this for the next 7k.
It was at this time that I almost had to pinch myself to remind myself I wasn’t dreaming. There was something about being surrounded by these spectacular temples, by so much history and culture, by nature, that I suddenly felt immense gratitude for being given the opportunity to participate in this fantastic race, and, even beyond that, for being alive. Sometimes you need a kick in the butt, or, in my case, an awesome race to remind you about the beauty and blessings that exist in your life.
My favorite portion was the Victory Gate at Km 15. The gate wasn’t a temple but an entry point into Angkor Thom. The path towards the gate, lined with statues of gods and demons that supposedly watch your every move, is called the Victory Way. For me, it was almost like a rite of passage, a journey from the past to a better future.
As I took photos, a runner stopped beside me with his camera and proceeded to pull out a sheet of paper from his pocket. As he struggled to gingerly peel off the sheets soaked in sweat, I offered to help by taking his photo. He thanked me and showed me the paper. It said: “Happy Birthday, Mom!” Aaw, how sweet is that? Thank God it wasn’t a proposal for marriage because I may have hugged him and answered “Yes!”
Around 17 to 18k, I lost Bic. I waited for her at a temple and, after a few minutes, I wasn’t sure if she had passed me or she was still on her way. So, I decided to move and run the last few kilometers on my own.
I stopped by temples and exchanged cameras with other runners who couldn’t help but marvel at the sights like me. I ran at a relaxed pace and allowed myself to see and hear everything around me. I allowed myself to enjoy the entire experience without focus on time.
– Check out that view –
Sadly, the last kilometer of the race was my least favorite portion of the event. As we made our way towards the finish line at Angkor Wat, tourists started trickling in along with vehicles and motorcycles on the race course. Runners were forced to run in a line and weave through cars and try their best to avoid getting dust from the vehicles in their eyes.
– Things got a bit messy here with tourist, vehicles, and lots of dust –
Thankfully, in the last few meters, the road freed up once again and the roads were lined with spectators cheering runners on towards the finish.
I finished at 2:28. I ran the first 10k at almost an hour and the next 11k almost 30 minutes more! No regrets! I’ve got tons of pictures and a fantastic experience that’s worth more than a personal record!
Check out who I bumped into at the finish line!
FLIGHTS TO CAMBODIA:
Cebu Pacific has direct flights to Siem Reap three times a week
– Try Le Meridien Angkor or Hotel Sofitel Angkor. We didn’t stay here but we did see them and they looked quite impressive. They’re near the temples and the race course.
– If you’re on a budget, you can stay at Angkor Riviera Hotel where we stayed. It’s not very impressive (reminded me of the hotels in Subic), but it’s a clean room to sleep in and its location is near the Old French Quarters (row of restaurants and pubs) and the Old Market
ANGKOR WAT INTERNATIONAL HALF MARATHON WEBSITE:
Thank you to Unilab Active Health for sending me on this great adventure!