- Race Name: Angkor Empire Marathon
- Date: August 9, 2015
- Country: Cambodia (3rd country)
- Start Time: 4:30am
- Cutoff Time: 6 hours
- Hotel: Apsara Angkor Resort & Conference (4 star)
- Size: 481 (Full), 601 (Half) and 515 (10k)
- Course: Big Loop
- Scenery: Ancient Temples and an epic sunrise
- Hills: Flat
- Water Stops: Well staffed; water and energy drinks
- Bathrooms: Not many, hold out for the one at 20km
- Crowd Support: Sporadic, lined up school children = high five heaven
- Registration: Straightforward, packet pickup in a tent outside main hotel
I flew Cathay Pacific Business Class into Bangkok and then purchased my airfare to Cambodia using SkyScanner.net. I started my vacation on July 30th and did a week in Phuket and Bangkok before heading to Cambodia. In Phuket, I stayed at the Sleep with Me design Hotel @ Patong (4*) and in Bangkok I stayed at the Majestic Grande Hotel (4.5*). For the marathon, I stayed at the host hotel, Apsara Angkor Resort & Conference (4*).
I planned this marathon so that it was about 10 days into my trip. This meant I needed to train while on vacation (always difficult). Vacation training in SE Asia takes difficult to a new level.
To start, drivers in Phuket ignore pedestrians so road running is a risk. I used my GPS watch on a quarter mile alley that was basically empty. Running up and down it 12 times gave me six miles and I had stray dogs and heckling masseuses to keep me company. Luckily, after a few passes they realized I wasn’t interested in a massage and I became the ting tong farang (crazy foreigner) running circles in bright blue clothes.
I arrived in Bangkok late at night en route to Cambodia. The hotel gym was closed so I wedged a bar of soap in the fire escape door and, six days before my marathon, I ran two miles of stairs in a windowless, concrete stairwell. There were also security cameras on every floor, so I’m sure somewhere there was a Thai security guard wondering what this crazy bright blue ting tong farang was up to.
I started antimalarial drugs two days before leaving for Cambodia. Most known for inducing vivid nightmares, antimalarial drugs have a wide range of unpleasant side effects. The night before my race, I dreamed I was running the race. When I woke up at 2am to get ready for the race, I spent the first few minutes trying to figure out why my alarm was going off and why my race clothes smelled so good.
The race started at 4:30am and I ran in a tight pack through light rain as everyone huddled near runners with headlamps. The sun rose just before I entered Siem Reap, the main city near Angkor Wat. The police did a great job of directing traffic and keeping runners on course but morning rush was hectic. I was pinned between an 18-wheel fuel tanker and a murky ditch for much longer than I wanted to be.
After clearing the city limits, we followed a straight, empty road towards Angkor Wat. There was a canal filled with stagnant water on either side of the road and at one point, I passed a local taking his morning bath. I took a lot of precautions to get ready for this trip and spent hundreds of dollars on vaccinations and medications to keep myself from getting sick. That canal was full of everything my doctor told me to avoid. It was just part of his daily routine.
As the race continued, it quickly dawned on me that I needed to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, there were very few bathrooms along the route so I started scouting for a stretch of roadside light on spectators. I left the road for the jungle and the first tree I got behind had a pile of crushed snakes and something that looked like a large, pale scorpion. I decided to hold out for a toilet.
Crowd support is always appreciated, but running through the villages on the out and back of the course exposed me to real poverty for the first time. I grew up and live in a Washington DC suburb and I was racing in a country where the average annual salary is around 1,000 USD. Between my iPhone, Epson GPS watch and running gear I had more than a years’ salary on me. Marathons are physically demanding and it was a struggle to stay focused on what I was there to do. I loved this race and the people I met in Cambodia but this was a difficult experience for me.
I have now run two marathons in SE Asia (2015 Bangkok Marathon) and can officially say it is not a marathoner friendly region. If you are a “casual” marathoner (4+ hours), SE Asia is too hot and humid to run for the long periods of time required. It’s an amazing place worth the stop but I would really recommend running a race somewhere else in SE Asia.