Angkor Wat International Half Marathon

I don’t recall where I first heard about it, but I think it was in a National Geographic. There was an article about a landmine victim in Cambodia who ran on an artificial leg and competed in the annual Angkor Wat Half Marathon. Well, that sounded really cool. Getting to run amid some of the most spectacular ruins on the planet, while at the same time raising money to support education and the victims of the awful plague of mines in Cambodia. As our plans for traveling around the world started to come together, I told Alina that this was definitely something I wanted to do.

After not too much convincing, she got excited as well, and we even trained a bit back home before starting our journey. However, we knew it was going to be a bit dicey; we wouldn’t be able to run at all for about a month between leaving home and getting to Siem Reap (Angkor is just north of town). In fact, our only real exercise would be our trek in the Himalayas, but we hoped that would at least count as some cross-training, and who knows, maybe the altitude would help.

Well, any help we might have gotten there disappeared and then some when we got horrendous food poisoning in Delhi 10 days before the race. It took us a full week to recover, and at the end, we were drained, tired, and weak. So what did we do? We cheerfully went to the registration station and confirmed our plans to run, of course! I was feeling relatively secure, but Alina still thought she might switch to the 10k on race day, as she was still pretty sick.

Sunday morning arrived, and we caught a tuk-tuk from our hotel to Angkor Wat at 5:30 am, catching part of the sunrise over the moat surrounding the temple.

The race was set to begin at 6:30, aimed to finish while the sun was still mostly hidden behind trees and before the heat of the day struck. We milled around with about 5,000 other runners, spread over several races; the regular and wheelchair half marathons, several 10k options for able and handicapped runners, and a short fun run for the locals.

Alina had decided to gut it out and go for the full distance, so we lined up next to one another and set off at a turtle’s pace as the race commenced. Here’s a short clip of the start!

Race Start

Although it was early, it was still quite hot, and I was drenched within a few kilometers. Alina was in a lot of anguish and had some moments of doubt around 5k in. But we pushed through together and continued onwards, beginning to pass some of the scattered temples by the sides of the race course.

The local children who live in the park were out in full force, lining the road, and we gave them all high fives as we ran by.

At about the 15k mark, we passed through the eastern gate of Angkor Thom, the walled city of the the Angkor empire, and then continued past several temple complexes.

Towards the end of the race, I started to lose energy, and Alina was picking up the pace. We both started running much faster in the last kilometer, and actually crossed the finish line moving at a respectable speed.

That being said, we came in with a truly horrible and unrepeatable time (but it was a PR for me, yay first half marathon! and a personal worst for Alina by about 50 minutes!). We thought this picture of our finish with the time was particularly hilarious.

Turns out that insufficient preparation, sickness, semi-starvation, and dehydration tend to make finishing a long distance race kind of difficult. But we did it! and that’s what we set out to do. As we sat in the back of our tuk-tuk heading for our hotel, I raised my water bottle to propose a toast: “Here’s to setting unreasonable and unhealthy personal goals, and achieving them”. We drank deeply, and reflected on the overall amazing experience we’d just had.

That night we celebrated with a full meal that payed tribute to the local culture with some spring rolls to start but fell back on some much needed carbs with some good ol’e pizza and beer to finish things off. Despite our performance and pain, our spirit was not dampened and we have already signed up for another half marathon in Chiang Mai, Thailand on December 23rd!

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