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Pre-Race warm-up in front of Angkor Wat Temple

Greetings from Cambodia! I will absolutely be writing a follow-up post about this incredible trip (spoiler alert: after two visits I can confidently say that this is one of my favorite places on earth), but I just got back from the Angkor Wat Half-Marathon and 10k (I ran the tenner) and wanted to post my thoughts while they were still fresh in my head.

This was THE. MOST. INCREDIBLE. RUN. I’ve ever done, and one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever been lucky enough to participate in, period. We not only started and finished right in front of the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat Temple, but we actually ran across the naga drawbridge at Angkor Thom and THROUGH its South Gate:

Photo courtesy of impressive.net (click for link)

We ran past Buddha shrines, and packs of monks in saffron robes (some of whom were smoking, ha). The entire route was lined with children, many of whom were scavenging for discarded plastic bottles. I got an energy boost each time one of them grinned and gave me a big wave.

The race is a collaboration between the Khmer Amateur Athletic Federation, the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, a Japanese NGO called Hearts of Gold, and a number of other charities and government organizations. Proceeds benefit Cambodian land mine victims (Cambodia has among the highest density of land mines and unexploded ordnance in the world due to decades of war and strife under the Khmer Rouge) and a  local youth HIV/AIDS initiative. There is even a separate race for amputee racers and those with artificial limbs.

The incredible scenery and the tranquil atmosphere within the temple complex – not to mention the relatively cool early-morning temperatures as compared to Singapore – made for perfect running conditions. Most inspiring of all, though, were the amputee racers that I saw during the race. There were actually two men near the front of the pack (!), each with artificial legs, and I ran alongside a couple guys with amputated arms as well. My eyes literally welled up with tears seeing the spirit and drive of these athletes, who have suffered unspeakable terrors I couldn’t begin to imagine, yet were out there leading the competition on a wonderfully joyous and beautiful occasion.

I can’t properly articulate how this place and its people affect me — it is so beautiful and serene, and the people without exception are the friendliest and gentlest I’ve ever met. This is a wonderful thing in itself, but that they are this way in spite of overwhelming poverty and decades of war is nothing short of remarkable and (sorry to be using this word over and over) inspiring. I can’t think of any place that’s provided such perspective, or so convincingly demonstrated the power of goodness and love.

With so much wonder surrounding me during the race, I’m not surprised I ran a new personal best. I’ve never felt lighter, or more energized, during a 10k. I think I had a dopey grin on my face the entire time (I’m sure there will be pictures forthcoming to prove it). My only minor gripe would be that the starting line was clogged, and because there were so many walkers and picture-takers up front for some reason it added about 30 seconds onto my final time. But that stuff really doesn’t matter. To be here, to be a part of something so happy and wonderful, is truly a blessing.

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