21.1 Kilometres

Just before my 30th birthday, I finally began the world trip I’d wanted to take since starting university. Studying, internships, and lack of funds were soon replaced by the right job and a lack of time. Extended travel remained a distant dream.

When I eventually quit, it was clear that “now or never” had arrived. My six-month itinerary turned into a year…and a half.

I planned the trip to make sure every stop had a purpose, with the old days of random backpacking well behind me. Yes, my backpack accompanied me during my travels, but this trip was different from what I had done in my early twenties.

One of my stops on my world trip would lead me to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The Angkor Wat International Half Marathon is a race internationally recognized for the relief of victims of anti-personnel mines in Cambodia. What better way to explore the ruins than doing what you love while supporting a good cause?

I had developed a love of running a few years prior, and it would grow to sustain me, like bread and oxygen. Best early in the morning, when the air has a special taste and the light feels calm, it empties my mind and sets the new day in the right place for beginnings.

Love breeds ambition and I was destined to participate in races, half-marathons, and stair runs all over the world.

The Angkor Wat run was going to be in December, dry season and about 25 degrees Celsius at that time of the year. Wonderful! I am an early bird, so the start time of 6:30 am was perfect for me. I made my way from Siem Reap town to the Angkor Wat temple in a tuk-tuk, in pitch darkness, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds, and arrived at the flat course as dawn began to break.

It felt peaceful and quiet as the rising sun washed the course in its beautiful golden light.This was an unusual race; I ran past ancient trees and temples, and many runners stopped to take pictures, their competitive instincts blunted by the majesty that surrounded us.

A water station was set up every few kilometres, with big smiles and cool cups of water greeting us. After the first refreshment, about a dozen Cambodian kids appeared on the sidelines, waving and cheering us on.

The lighter it grew, the more spectators we got. Kids were running with us as fast as they could. At one point, they had formed a huge line, all holding out their hands. I ran by them and high-fived every single one of them.

Running towards the finish line, I passed the 21 kilometre marker, glancing at the guy holding the sign. It put a huge smile on my face, and I sprinted the last 100 metres.

I feel honoured to have run such a unique course inside a world heritage area. To this day, it has been my favourite race. And, yes… I did go back later that same day to explore the beautiful Angkor Wat at a more leisurely pace.


Check out other travel adventures by this author!

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