Tomb racer: Angkor Wat International Half Marathon

Greetings from Cambodia, and more specifically the jungle temples of Angkor Wat! Famous for being the setting of Tomb Raider, one of my favourite films of all time (for the amazing plot, acting and direction of course), the place could seem a bit of an odd location for staging an international running event. However the race has now been going for 20 years and is going from strength to strength by all accounts.
You might think it’s a hell of a long way to go to run a half marathon, but as my wife and I have been spending the last 2 months or so on an extended travelling trip around South East Asia and the Far East it turned out to be a convenient warm up race in my aim to stay marathon fit for Tokyo Marathon in February.
Staying fit has proved to be quite difficult whilst on the road (heat, humidity, long bus rides, poor roads, crazy dogs, cheap beer etc all on the list of excuses) but popping in a few races along the way has helped to focus my training a little at least. So following Jakarta Half Marathon at the end of October, Angkor Wat HM was to be the next of our warm up races, with just one more in China to come at the end of Jan.
With all that in mind my expectations for Angkor Wat was to get round in under 1:25:00 and take in the wonders of the site. Not overly ambitious goals but still enough to give me a few concerns about achieving it. Therefore the pre-sandbagging was perhaps a bit more heavier than normal despite Cat not believing a word of it!
As we arrived in Cambodia and Siem Reap late the night before the race we didn’t get to experience the race expo but the lovely owners at our guest house kindly picked up our race packs for us and laid on a TukTuk to pick us up from the airport. 
So after moderate faff both in Manila changing planes (in the nick of time to catch our second flight) and at Siem Reap airport sorting our visas we finally got to our guest house by 11pm. Just enough time for about 5 hours kip before slipping on my Lara Croft shorts (that would not be a pretty sight) and being picked up by the same TukTuk driver who dropped us off the night before (most TukTuk drivers seem to sleep in hammocks in their vehicles) and heading to the race.
Being an international race, it is pretty popular on the Asia circuit, particularly among expats who come over from Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur etc. to take part. I’m not sure of the exact numbers but the total field was around 3,300 and I would say at least half of that number were international entrants.
Walking round the race village (which is situated right in front of the Angkor Wat and looks amazing at sunrise) we could even hear quite a lot of British accents, and I even spotted a Phoenix vest before also spotting Mark Halls in the corral. Just like being at home. Sort of. Ok, not really unless you live in a thousand year old temple.
  
We executed the drop off, both bags and kids at the pool, with the latter bringing home the importance of bringing toilet paper with you to Asian races (and Asian places in general) and without going in to the detail, let’s just say the water and bucket system was fully utilised.
The event actually had 3 races going on that day with the half marathoners set to head off first at 6am just after sunrise. They were then followed by the 10kers ten minutes later albeit on a slightly different route. Then ten minutes after that a 3k race headed off. This meant for a slightly confusing corral area and lots of bodies. However after taking a quick selfie with the Mrs and wishing her luck I rushed to somewhere near the front ready for the off.
  
I needn’t had rushed however as the Cambodians love a presentation ceremony it seems. We stood there for about 15 minutes while a couple of important looking chaps made speeches and the national anthem was played, before getting out an Olympic style torch to light a fire with! Pretty cool and certainly the Cambodians we’re loving it. Perhaps Arena should consider getting Bob to do this at the next Hove Prom 10k!?
The sun was up by now which meant that the Mercury was rising and the humidity seemingly worsening also. However there was still significant amounts of shade along the mostly tree lined route of the complex so as the gun went, everyone shot off up the road to start with a half circuit of Angkor Wat. The roads are pretty good on the site and there are many long straight sections with absolutely no hills of any note so I perhaps went out a bit too hard. 5:50 for the first mile. Woops.
Within 1 mile it became apparent that the top four were in a league of their own. A group had formed up front and they headed in to the distance only to be seen again briefly at about 4kms after a hair pin double back section. At this point I had settled in to a pretty nice rhythm and slowed my average pace down to a more manageable 6:00 min/mile. I managed to hold this for at least 8 miles and spent most of this time reeling in a couple of guys who had started quickly and were beginning to fade.
I’d like to say that as I ran through the temple complex that I became inspired by the ancient temples, achieved a Buddhist zen like state of calm and marvelled at the mystique of the ruins, with all of this helping me surge onwards. However this would be lying. What I did in fact was pretty much what I do every race. Head down, grit teeth and shuffle as quickly as my tiny little chicken legs will allow.
Thankfully the chicken legs were shuffling reasonably well and took me to 10 miles in pretty much dead on an hour. By this time I had caught one more chap and was close to another guy. I estimated top 10 and felt pretty pleased. 
At this point, I also managed to see a site! Although only because you pass directly under it. Victory gate is one of the east entrances to the Angkor Thom, which means the great city temples. For you history buffs, apparently it was the last capital of the Khmer Empire and was built by one of its most popular kings – Jayavamaran VII. He must have been a bit of a big head as his face is on loads of the statues but he built an amazing city so fair play to him, why not plaster your face everywhere!
  
In addition to the Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, there are many other temples you pass by, including Ta Prohm which features heavily in Tomb Raider, and if you are looking you would also see Banteay Kdel, Ta Keo and Baksei Chamrong to name a few. No I’d never heard of them either, but they all offer something a little different and are actually a mix of Hindu and Buddhist temples in case you were wondering.
Just after passing through Victory gate the half marathons and 10k routes merge, and as it tends to be the tail enders of the 10k race running through this point the course does get a bit congested, particularly when big groups stop under an archway for a selfie and block the way. The Jakarta Half Marathon did something similar with courses merging as well and although I like the idea of holding several races at once to ensure increased participation and choice, the routes would be better segregated either spatially or races held at different times in my opinion. 
However after a little bit of weaving for a mile or so another straight section takes you the final two miles back to Angkor Wat and the finish. By this time the guy in front of me had disappeared and I just needed to get my head down and hold on. The last two miles seemed to take forever but pace wise I only dropped to around 6:10 min/miles for this part so finally the finish came in to sight and with the clock approaching 1:20 I put in a final little burst (certainly not a sprint) to dip over the line in an encouraging 1:19:44.
I headed straight for some shade and water and sat down (collapsed) ready to cheer in Mark and Cat. Ten mins later Mark came through and a further 14 minutes later Cat arrived. By this time the sun was well and truly burning so after a quick photo opp there was no hanging about and it was off to wake up our TukTuk driver from the second phase of his nights kip to head back in to town for breakfast.
  
Overall the race was pretty amazing and well organised. Water stops and km markers were every km and the race village was well set up (toilets discounting), and with a free technical t-shirt and nice drawstring bag in the goodie bag it’s hard to criticise it. The setting really makes it special even if you only truly experience it before and after the race. The only downsides I suppose would be the merging of the 10k and half marathon routes but that really that wasn’t too bad considering.
I would therefore highly recommend it if anyone is visiting Cambodia and fancies a different type of race. I’d get in some heat / humidity training beforehand though as you’ll need it, and don’t forget your Lara Croft hot pants!
Till next time and as I won’t see you before Happy Xmas!
The shuffle.