"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Sri Chinmoy 7 Mile Trail Race, Siem Reap, Cambodia, February 9th 2018
It's not often I get a chance to race abroad at longer than 2 miles or 5k, but with only a few weeks of the year gone I unexpectedly had my second foreign race of 2018. After a chilly 10k in Dubrovnik on New Year's Day the contrast couldn't have been greater - a trail race in the middle of nowhere just outside Siem Reap. Anugata got inspired to offer a longer race than the usual diet of 1 or 2 mile circuits around the hotel grounds and with a bunch of guys including Prabuddha and Amalendu out scouting on mountain bikes it was only a matter of time before they tracked down a course.
We left Siem Reap on buses at around 6am and headed along the Apsara road, which was flanked by pan-flat fields criss-crossed by reddish dirt roads. Surprisingly the bus drivers were happy to off-road and drive us down one of these trails to park up near a primary school and offload over 80 runners just as the sun was coming up. We had ample time to warm up and meditate on the rising sun (a pale red disk through the dusty haze) before race prayer, brief silence and On Your Marks....Get Set....Go.
Abhinaba led from the off with Shyamalya in pursuit and I went out at an optimistic pace in the circumstances, having started in the third row back from the fast guys. I'd been nursing injuries in recent weeks and been too sick to race just 2 days before so the fact I had started at all was a minor miracle from my point of view. So, I set my sights on 7 minute pace or thereabouts and hoped to break 50 minutes.
The course was on flat, stoney, sandy roads that ran in nice straight lines between the fields and around the tiny settlements and trackside houses. We were encouraged by smiles and waves from kids and adults alike and no more than harmless barking from the numerous dogs. As the sun began to rise higher I felt the post-dawn coolness disappearing rapidly and both heat and humidity starting to rise. The first bend, I guess around 1 mile in, seemed to take a long time to arrive and I realised I was running as hard as my body could handle to stay in touch with Prabala and Martin from Salzburg. I'd overtaken Pramodan early doors and ahead of us was Cliff from Johannesburg but he soon showed us a clean pair of heels, disappearing into the dust and haze up ahead.
The second, third and fourth corners of the square loop came around in tortuously slow fashion as I got hotter and pushed hard to stay alongside my two markers. We weren't getting close to Abhinandan, the only runner I could make out up ahead, so I realised it would be a case of trying to hang on to my place which I guessed was around 10th. Very optimistic!
At the end of the first loop I doused myself with a bottle of water and managed to sip around a third of it to sooth my already dry and dusty throat. We moved to the sides of the trail to let mopeds through and the occasional larger vehicle, ran through the smoke of early morning garbage fires and I tried to breathe through my nose to avoid inhaling too much. Not easy at race pace.
Photos by Bhashwar (http://www.ever-glowingsun.com/):
I was tiring now but determined to keep the effort going as long as my body allowed. The trail fell silent apart from our laboured breathing and I began to appreciate the sounds of the open country, the birdsong and some distant local music playing in one of the houses - all in all uniquely Cambodian. I was chanting inwardly to keep myself going. At the fifth turn we came on to a soft, sandy trail where the route was marked with flour arrows, hash runner style, and I began to feel a twinge in my right calf. I reminded myself I wasn't really race fit and told myself my main aim was not to break 50 minutes but to get out of Cambodia still fit to run. I slowed a little, shortened my stride. Martin was soon away from us and then Prabala began to leave me behind as we joined the trail alongside the Apsara road. Bahadur came through fast and overtook. I wasn't really racing now, having slowed to a pain-free pace which was no more than brisk training pace, but still it was a hard effort in the heat and feeling post-viral. The last turn took me up a slope onto the red dirt road our buses had come in on and I ran on the right to let the camber ease the pressure on my right calf - it seemed to help. More runners passed me including first girl, Jayasalini, and Pramodan who must have been close behind us the whole way round.
I was happy at the finish with my 51:00 and 15th place - really a great result on the day. Kokila had been too tired to come out to the race but I did hear a kokila bird at the finish with its distinctive song. After warm down there was no cramp or pain in the calf and it stayed that way all day - just a touch of stiffness even when I got off the 2 hour flight to Guangzhou - so it seemed like mission accomplished; a hard race in a unique location and a look at rural Cambodian life along the way.
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