Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Running in Angkor

Last December I read about the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon, and I immediately thought, "Now that would be a cool t-shirt to earn!"   Combine that sentiment with cheap Air Asia flights from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, and voila!  Recipe for an adventure (I'll blog about what Mali and I did together later, after I've sorted through the pictures).

As you can see, everybody's smiling BEFORE the race

The Angkor Wat International Half Marathon is held, surprisingly enough, inside the Angkor Wat Archeological Park.  I figured I might never have another chance to run a race at such a totally cool venue, so I was glad to have the chance.  And it turned out, several people from the embassy here in Bangkok had also signed up for the race.  Several of them trained together, and it was great to be able to get together before and during the race to offer moral support.  And after the race we ate together, which was fantastic.  Oh, and we got to make really cool race t-shirts, which I designed.

This is my best side, and you can't see how slow I was running at the end of the race.  I have run one previous half marathon, so part of my brain understood what I was in for with this event.  Despite that foreknowledge, I failed to adequately train for this run; the longest training run I did before the race was 9.5 miles.  I know there are plenty of training programs for marathons and half marathons that say you don't have to run the full distance, that the last three to four miles or so are purely mental.

In my honest opinion, that is the kind of advice that leads to so many first-time marathoners--or half-marathoners, in this case--being sore (or worse, injured) for several days after a race.

Yes, those last few miles of a long distance race requires mental fortitude, but it also requires your body knowing that it can handle the abuse of those miles.  And that is why the next time I run a long event like this, I will have at least two training runs longer than the actual race distance under my belt.
This was about ten minutes after I finished, after I had stretched a little bit and re-hydrated a little--before the pain really set in.  Oh, and see how my race bib is tucked into my shirt?  You'll also notice that the safety pins are still in my shirt.  The numbers were printed on this felt-like paper that didn't stand up to my perspiration output.  I slowed down to re-pin my number.  Twice.  Eventually I just tucked it in my shorts.

I am also giving a thumbs up and a wink in recognition that I totally dodged the conjunctivitis bullet.  See, there were tons of Cambodian kids lining parts of the race course, and since I knew I wasn't going to even come close to winning the race, I gave high-fives to as many of them as I could.  I don't know about other folks, but when I run I don't carry hand sanitizer or wet-naps, and I for darn sure rubbed the sweat out of my eyes after slapping hands with those little kids.  So far, no pink-eye, but if I do come down with it, I'll at least have the grim satisfaction of knowing that I probably helped spread it to a couple hundred other kids, too.

I'm always grateful for Mali's support at these events.  She really likes the ones where they have bagels and yogurt as well as bananas afterwards, because being the good husband that I am, I grab them for her.  Sometimes she'll even pretend to hug me, even though I'm sweating in unholy proportions.  Seriously, ever since I got home from my mission, when I exercise I sweat so much that I can literally wring the water out of my clothes.  It's pretty nasty, and here in Southeast Asia with the constant high humidity, it seems to be even worse.  I am not kidding when I say I lost at least six pounds during this race.
After everybody gets some more water and a banana or two, they're all smiles.  The reason I am not smiling in this picture is because Erin is standing on my left foot, which had...


Now for those of you who haven't figured it out yet, I am a barefoot/nearly barefoot runner (I even created a logo for it!).  About three years ago I started running in Vibram FiveFingers to help overcome patellar tendinitis in both legs.  And since moving to Thailand, I have transitioned to doing most of my running completely barefoot, which is quite safe where we live because they sweep the streets here daily.  I ran my last 10K in the US in the FiveFingers and had my fastest time in 10 years, but I knew that with the half marathon my finish time this go-around would be much slower than my previous--I finished this one about 14 minutes slower than my other half, but I'm working on getting faster at the longer distance with my chosen (lack of) footwear.

Even though I feel comfortable running barefoot here in our neighborhood, I was not sure what the roads for the race would be like, so I brought my FiveFingers along.  Good thing I brought them, because the road surface was pretty nasty and would have made the soles of my feet into hamburger.  And I was one of at least three guys running in FiveFingers.  Okay, so add the surface to my already mentioned propensity for excessive perspiration, and you have a recipe for serious blisters when wearing the Vibrams.  Despite all the charms and advantages of the FiveFingers, the insoles when wet are slicker than snot, and in this humid environment the sweat runs down my legs and does not drain.  To help mitigate this, I also wore a pair of Injini toe socks, which kept me from getting even worse blisters than the one I had, but obviously didn't prevent that one.

All in all, pretty good experience.  I learned a lot about myself.  This is a race I would like to do again, given the opportunity, and I recommend it to anyone who has the time (and means) to get to Cambodia in early December.  But remember to get those long training runs in before race day!


  1. WOW...way to go but pretty rough looking foot, I may add! Great that you guys were able to enjoy as much as possible before returning to the states :~)

  2. Wow!! Awesome job Brent! I bet those kids were thrilled to receive those high five's from you. That gesture in itself exempts you from pink-eye. Great to see Mali and the kids came out to support you. Angkor Wat's 1/2 marathon is in my bucket list. :) Great blog! Thanks for sharing. I like to try to run without shoes someday.