Tales from Siem Reap Part I: The Half-Marathon

Looking down at my running bib - Angkor, Siem Reap

Looking down at my running bib – Angkor, Siem Reap

It was a sleepy 5:15 in the morning in Siem Reap when I was seated in a tuk tuk, struggling to peel a tiny banana and then slather a piece of toast with what smelled and tasted like pineapple jam. (It was very dark and I lack the visual acuity of an eagle’s eye, so I had to make an educated guess on the fruity origin of the jam.) One of the sweet women working in the restaurant at the Villa Siem Reap where I was staying put together boxes of these power snacks for me the night before, to get me ready for the half-marathon I was going to be starting in a little over an hour.

(Let me just take a moment to say this: I am not a runner. I have short legs, weak ankles, and bad knees. However, sometimes I make poor decisions and do things I am neither physically nor mentally equipped to do. Evolutionarily speaking, I would be the animal that gets wiped out first.)

While I sat in that tuk tuk, riding briskly through the unusually chilly Cambodian air, I came up with three goals:

  1. To not sprain my ankle again (I sprained my right ankle just a month before the run, which made the original tiny seed of motivation I had for marathon training virtually disappear)
  2. To not faint from heat stroke
  3. To not be the last one to finish – and also, to finish, since that’s a pre-condition for not being the last one to finish
Finally done after so long, too tired to care about posing for photos - Angkor, Siem Reap

Finally done after so long, too tired to care about posing for photos – Angkor, Siem Reap

I am pleased to report that all three goals were achieved, though I did pay dearly in the form of water blisters, blood blisters, and a case of sports bra-induced back chafing. The medal for crossing the finish line hangs limply on a wall in my room. It is a measly yet sentimental metallic reminder that a magical combination of the following factors will fuel anyone like myself to jog-trot-limp-then-sprint 21 kilometers:

  • the guilt that you would lose money because your race registration fee cannot be refunded;
  • the thought you might be able to casually mention in future conversations that you once raced through the regal splendor of Cambodia’s ancient temples;
  • listening to a playlist consisting of hits featuring a range of musical styles, from the country crooning Lady Antebellum to the way-too-pretty-haired One Direction;
  • seeing streams of children giving you high-fives (although to be honest, as cute as the youngsters are, the novelty starts to wear off after the 50th kid and you genuinely start to appreciate all the smiling and handshaking that peacemaking diplomats have to do);
  • thinking the extended period of cardiovascular exercise will nullify the previous month’s lack of cardiovascular exercise, and perhaps also hand you an advance on the next month’s worth of cardiovascular exercise;
  • wanting to get to the next water station, and then a kilometer following that station, wanting to get to the next water station after that – it is a vicious cycle;
  • the occasional Khmer policeman-traffic man-security guard-some sort of authority figure, who silently smiles at you and firmly gives you a thumbs up; and
  • the insatiable longing to get to the end faster, so you can stop sooner, shower sooner, and inhale your next meal sooner.

All of these factors played a role in getting me to run the marathon, in an exhausting 2 hours and 34 minutes. But there was one vital factor. The year 2012 did not start off on a happy note – I dealt with frustrating stress-induced facial acne, was rejected by a slew of graduate programs, felt helpless over family troubles developing far away, and bore consistent disappointment in love and friendship. Because of this, the vital factor that truly pushed me on that mad dash towards the finish line was an unrelenting longing to finish something off well, to win at least once this year. It is the year of the dragon anyway. It is supposed to be my lucky year.

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