When I first started running the half marathon in late 2008, I had a strange phobia of undulating terrains. Just to finish the 21.1km seemed like an impossible feat to me back then, let alone doing it on undulating or hilly terrains. I have since experienced some hilly half and full marathon courses. In fact, I have progressed further to extremely hilly ultra trail marathons too.
It's funny that in 2008, I longed to run on a flat course; I did not think the day would ever come when I'd find a flat course uninteresting. Well, that day eventually came when I ran the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon almost 2 weeks ago on 02 December. The race course in Angkor Wat must be among the flattest courses in the worldif not the flattest of 'em all! In fact Cambodia is a very flat country; there's hardly any hill around!
I've been meaning to run Angkor for a while, but never seemed to find the right time to do it. But some of my friends wanted to do it this year, so I thought I might as well take the opportunity to do it too. It was quite late by the time I really made the necessary flight arrangements; and to my horror, all the direct flights to Siem Reap were sold out. To get to the race venue was quite an epic journey, but I will save that for another post. Suffice to say that the 6-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap wasn't my original travelling itinerary. And then as if that's not bad enough, we had to repeat the same process on the return to Phnom Penh too!
I ran a half marathon in Brunei earlier this year in which I achieved a personal best (PB) of 1:55. But after that, I haven't been racing the half marathon for the rest of the year. I have, however, ran that distance in many of my Sunday long runs as a routine while preparing for other races. I was confident that I could improve the 1:55 by a minute or two, but perhaps not more.
Anyway, the Angkor Wat Half Marathon was quite different from any other half marathons that I've joined so far. There was no fancy goodie bags. The event T-shirt was of simple cotton material. The finisher medal must be the smallest that I have in my collection. Throughout the race course, only water was available at the hydration stations, although isotonic drinks were available at the finish line. But even those were very limited.
Before the half marathon was flagged off, we had to wait for about 10 minutes to see the wheel-chair category off. There was quite a sizable crowd, all eager to start.
It wasn't a very long wait. I was a little concerned about the heat, since the temperature in Angkor Wat wasn't very different than our temperature back home. But when we were eventually flagged off, I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost the entire course was shaded by the trees.
I started at what I felt was a decent pace until perhaps 3km or so when I saw Anslem coming back from the loop. I knew that he's a faster runner, so that must have meant that I was running too fast. Accordingly, I slowed down a bit.
I found it interesting that water was available only in 500ml plastic bottles, as opposed to paper cups which are commonly used in many other marathons in this region. But it soon became clear to me why paper cups would not have been such a good idea for this race. You see, a good portion of the race course was dusty; in fact there were some gravelled stretches too.
There were many young children collecting the bottles, which I'm assuming would be recycled. But apart from collecting plastic bottles, many of them were there just for the sake of cheering the runners and having a swell time getting high-5!
I was fairly amused to see very simple distance markers placed 1km apart throughout the entire course.
I wasn't really paying attention to my surrounding during the race. I thought we were just running through the jungles. But actually, based on these photos taken by Joe who had a brilliant excuse for finishing beyond 2:30, there were quite many interesting landscapes to be savoured.
There were also curious audience of onlookers, probably wondering why on earth these people would travel from so far away to waste their energy when they could very easily ride on the tuk tuk.
More interesting landscapes ahead...
I used to feel that running these endurance races could be such a long affair. But on this day, I could hardly feel the time ticking away. I'm not sure if it's the many distractions from the views along the course; or is 21km really getting too short for me these days. But soon enough, we were already approaching the final homestretch.
As I was approaching the finish line, I was happy to note that I was certainly gonna achieve a new PB. But then I also realised that I may even be able to achieve a sub-1:50. I tried to run a little faster, but in the end, when I crossed the finish line, it was just about half a minute beyond 1:50!
Anslem eventually finished with a PB in about 1:44. Paul had a PB too in about 1:58. Diong failed to get a PB in spite of all the drink they had the night before for nitro boost, but still a respectable 2:08. Amy declined from 1:56 in Brunei to about 2:01. Albert was escorting Joe for the most part of the way (or was it he was being escorted?); whereas Joe had the convenient excuse of playing photographer for the day!
I think the Angkor Wat is a good place to hunt for a PB, but it's not a race that I would want to do again anytime soon. I will try to post something about Cambodia in general in a separate post later.