Last year I decided to run the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon in Cambodia.
I just love the idea of combining exercise and travel, my two favorite hobbies. This is why a few years back I have decided to participate in running races in different parts of the world.
Living in Asia for the past four years, visiting Angkor Wat archeological complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia has been on our bucket list. One of my good friends who is also my running partner told me she was going to run the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon in December and suggested I should sign up for this awesome race. Of course, I jumped on that idea and talked my husband and family to come along and to my surprise I talked my husband into signing up for the race as well. He is not a long distance runner, so he joked he got a discount and signed for the 10K race.
On Friday morning, Dec 4th we landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia and I felt an immediate excitement as on our way to the hotel we saw countless signs advertising the 20th Angkor Wat International Half Marathon. After checking into our hotel we headed to pick up our registration packet which made me even more excited about the race and visiting Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat has the designation of UNESCO world heritage site, and it is one of the most important archeological sites in South East Asia. Its vast area of some four hundred squared kilometers contains famous temples that are representative of Khmer Empire, ruins, villages and forests. Saturday we spent all day visiting the most important and interesting areas of Angkor Wat complex and tasting yummy Cambodian food. The nerves started to kick in by the late afternoon thinking about the next day race. We could not end the day without the mandatory carbo-loading on pizza at a local Italian restaurant. I have to admit, it was a great pizza despite the fact we were in Cambodia.
I can never sleep well the night before a race and this time was no exception. I am always worried I will sleep through the alarm clock; it actually happened to me before. I got up at 4:15 am and went through my pre-race routine: put on my running gear minus the running bib which I always put on while in transit to the race site, ate a banana and a piece of baguette (I usually eat a bagel but was not able to find one in Cambodia), drank some water and visited the bathroom last time before departure. Our tuk-tuk was ready for us at 5:00 am and took us the start area at the foot of the astounding Angkor Wat Temple. The sun was slowly rising and the nerves were playing tricks on me. Of course, had to visit the infamous port-a-john. It is mind-boggling that at almost every race I have participated in, there are so many runners and so little bathrooms. But I never waste time and stretch while waiting to use the toilet.
At 6:00 am sharp, after listening to the Cambodian national anthem my two friends and I and thousands of runners from all over the world were off to a great start of the 20th Angkor Wat International Half Marathon. At this point all the nervousness went away and I felt pure joy running in the foot steps of the Cambodian ancestors and experiencing the beauty of Angkor Wat Temple. We headed towards the villages where the residents greeted us with warm smiles despite the early hours of the morning and all local children shouted “hello” to the runners. Many children waved their hands to the runners to slap five. I could not help myself to run close to the side of the road in order to slap five with as many children as possible. That kept me going for kilometers until 10 km marker where a glimpse of a very motivating lady caught my attention. She was encouraging all runners by clapping and shouting inspiring phrases: “come on, let’s go!”, “great work!”. Soon I realized, she was one of the race directors but not just any director; she was Yuko Arimori, a Japanese Olympic marathon runner, silver medalist at Barcelona and bronze medalist at Atlanta Olympics. I decided to catch up to her to let her know how remarkable it was, she was running the course with race participants and how efficient was the organization of the whole event. We ended up running together for about two kilometers and chatted about no other topic than running. I felt really honored to have had the opportunity to run along side an Olympic runner.
At a 18km marker, Bayon Temple, I came across a large crowd of people cheering on the runners. What caught my attention was a boy, around ten years olds standing in front of the crowd, asking runners where they were from. As he heard the country, he would shout out its capital. When I neared him, I said: “Poland” and he immediately hollered: “Warsaw”. Wow! Did that ever make me feel awesome and gave me extra boost of energy to finish the race.
Coming across the finish line I saw my honey who has already completed his 10K race. Together we waited for our friends to arrive and cheered on other runners who were coming through the finish line.
I loved the whole experience and the atmosphere of the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon.
I was very happy about running pain-free as it was my first race after a chronic hip injury; I felt like I could have run faster but in the end beating my PR was not that important. What was significant was running in such a spectacular location, enjoying the sights and being able to share this experience with my hubby and my two friends, especially my running partner. It was her very first time participating in a half marathon and I am sure after this awesome event, it will not be her last one. I am sure, together we will be combining travel and running very soon.