The Land of Smiles.
Was it sheer luck that led me to you? Or, was it an inevitable fate to run into your glorious history while searching for my absolute freedom?
I dare say that it was both.
With the ever-reliable customer service, provided by Stephen Price of Dream Travel Canada (DTC), I confirmed my participation in the 6th Khmer Empire Marathon.
I did it April 11, a month after telling Stephen that I wouldn’t push through with my Cambodia run due to my sked. Unexpectedly, the go-signal from my husband to join an eight-day marathon tour alone made me do a 180. Upon hearing this, Stephen provided all the needed information (aside from the full daily breakdown of the itinerary) and assistance to the point of adjusting the due date for my payment. He made sure that I wouldn’t regret my being a returnee to DTC.
Arriving past 1:00 am at Phnom Penh International Airport on July 31, 2019, I did what Stephen advised me to do. First, I bought a sim card for Cambodia use and then took an Uber taxi to Green Palace Hotel where I’d stay for two days before our private transfer to Siem Reap — the actual marathon venue. I used “our” since I’d be with two more DTC clients in this tour which officially began on the afternoon of August 1. It was quite a relief to know that we’d be a troika of two Americans and one Filipino.
So, for the time being, I had to immediately start exercising my absolute freedom which commenced with a much-needed training run around the National Olympic Stadium and ended with a massage on my first day.
Was I fully rejuvenated? Would I be lying if I said “no”, but my smile on the photo gave myself away? Well, if this is the true meaning of absolute freedom, let me leave it that way. Hahahaha…
Seriously, my physical state worried me when I arrived in Cambodia. My training was poorly done since preparation for this marathon overlapped with a major high school event which was held in my province. In fact, there was only a one-day difference between my return from Legazpi City, Albay to Manila and my flight from Manila to Cambodia. Kinda an extremely full schedule, isn’t it? Yet, my “masochistic” side dominated. This turned my travel more stimulating. I quashed my anxiety and redirected my wandering thoughts. Nonetheless, I was ready for any unexpected outcome. Hence, when I met our Phnom Penh tour guide, Mr. Chorn and my two other companions at the hotel lobby for our half-day tour, I was geared up for an alternative warm-up leg exercise.
Finally, I came face to face with my fellow tourists/participants Patricia Waters and Casey Nerau, who were also billeted in the same hotel. I welcomed the feel good vibes. I sensed that spending time with them in the whole course of this tour might not be a waste at all. It was during our first meal when I confirmed that the athletic-looking woman was the marathoner and kindred educator. What a small world indeed!
Now, it would be a pity if I’d treat our string of activities together as merely sidelights in this article. Our adventures (not to mention our misadventures) surely deserve a separate entry. *Wink*
From here, I’ll do a fast forward to our August 3 itinerary — the course inspection …
… and the pre-dinner gala party at Apsara Angkor Resort and Conference.
This marked our first whole day in Siem Reap province after travelling overland the 314-kilometer distance for more than six hours with stopovers on August 2.
You may be looking for my narrative about the race kit claiming, but for the first time in an international marathon I didn’t do it in Cambodia. Our race pack was delivered to us by Miss Sokheng, one of Stephen’s event contact persons, though we’re able to take a peek at the venue.
The marathon eve party ended before 9:00 pm which gave me the needed time to prepare everything for the race day and to fully rest in our accommodation, the Memoire d’Angkor Hotel.
August 4, Sunday, Patricia and I were picked up by our Siem Reap tour guide, Mr. Darit, to be brought to the start line — the Angkor Wat Ruins in front of the Central Sanctuary of Angkor Wat — before the flag-off at 4:30am.
A short program was held, and afterwards the 3,500+ runners from 49 countries were released. The gun start quickly separated me from Patricia who’s a well-trained athlete and joins exotic marathons around the world. With the dimly lit road from the start area, I lost her when she swiftly blended in with the swarm of runners. Now, I was back to being the lone wolf.
Recalling a running experience in Angkor Wat after an eight-month gap is indeed a more daunting task than surviving the run itself. Hahaha… I may not be able to retrace and describe my route thoroughly;
however, I could vividly remember the exceptional encounters I had while running in one of the most famous heritages in the world.
Mother Nature and Man-Made Wonders of the World. They were my source of vigor and awe as I grappled with my own human weaknesses on Cambodian soil. The rustic scenery, which reminded me of my own country and the sight of many ancient temples after battling it out with the different mechanical beasts on the highway, propelled me to progress.
For real, the 6th Khmer Empire Marathon was one of my most grueling marathons! Great that I did not experience any muscle cramp, but my legs reached full exhaustion when I was only at km 18. Powerwalking became shorter. Sticking to my run-walk program was blotted out. My motion solely depended on my legs’ readiness to strike the pavement.
At km 28 I looked for a spot where I could rest. I saw a woman selling buko (coconut) in front of their house, but a few meters away from the race route. I bought one buko for the cold juice and used that chance to remove my shoes and socks. I massaged my feet with the muscle pain relief cream I had with me, and stretched my legs while seated on the wooden bench. How tempting it was to lie down and catch some sleep! After a while, I washed my face with cold water to feel refreshed. It took me around 25 minutes to regain my strength. That respite was my longest in a marathon so far. Resuming my run, I checked my watch and looked around for runners behind me. Zero. I released a deep sigh and accepted the fact that I wouldn’t make it to the six-hour cutoff time.
Prior to my leaving for Cambodia, I requested Stephen to confirm with the organizer whether runners would still be allowed to cross the finish line and receive their medals despite not meeting the cutoff time. Remembering the affirmative reply after that long break was the one I clung to in those moments when I was tempted to already raise the white flag.
Readers, this has a backstory. Blame it to my declining memory. I totally forgot that this event had a shorter cutoff time which I haven’t achieved as a marathoner. Still, I registered.
“It’s a long road
When you’re on your own
And it hurts when
They tear your dreams apart…”
I hummed the melody of Jerry Goldsmith‘s composition with Rambo, one of my all-time fave movie heroes, in my mind. Who would not remember the bloody war he fought and won afterwards? I placed myself in his shoe and empathized.
At km 35, I ran out of chocolate which served as my energy food. Seeing one bystander who was eating pineapple along the road, I shamelessly asked for one slice. He immediately handed an extra piece for me. I uttered Arkoun (Thank you) and he smiled. Ting! Faith in humanity has been restored once again.
Literally, I dragged my feet toward the finish line. Discomfort at the side of my neck and nape added to the arduous struggle. But as always, I relied on the use of willpower and I drew out a strong kick from two female septuagenarian runners who overtook me. Their age and the big number of marathons they had finished were written at the back of their running shirt. Seeing their record was enzymatic!
Handing me my slowest time at 7 hrs, 1 min and 40 secs and my first taste of not beating the cutoff time among the eight marathons I’ve done, Khmer Empire Marathon had me still wearing a celebratory smile at the finish line.
Eight marathons… eight dramatic finishes… eight different stories… I will live to tell the tale.
That’s the place for me
Where I’m me in my own space
Where I’m free that’s the place
Each step is only the beginning…”