Running from Shadows

My Marathon des Sables . . . and beyond

The next adventure: The Ancient Khmer Path (Cambodia)

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Today I received the email I’ve been waiting for from GlobalLimits’ Founder, Stefan Betzelt: “I herewith confirm the receipt of your deposit for GlobalLimits Cambodia 2015.” And so my entry’s now in for my next multi-day extreme running adventure in another gruelling climate . . . the addiction must be fed! Read on . . .

Stefan, a veteran of the Marathon des Sables and other extreme multi-day running events, founded GlobalLimits in 2012 with its first event with just 26 starters and 22 finishers, The Ancient Khmer Path: 220km (138 miles) in six stages through the remote villages and jungle of Cambodia. This new brand of multi-day event organisers has since expanded with a race now in each of the Kingdom of Bhutan (first edition: 2013) (wow!!!!) and Sri Lanka (first edition: 2015) (wow too!!!!).

My research shows it can be expected to be hot around November time in Cambodia: 28C – 35C. Not as bad as the 50-odd C experienced in the Sahara Desert on the MdS , as far as pure “the numbers on the thermometer” go, but what will make The Ancient Khmer Path especially difficult and feel like far higher temperatures than (pah!) 35C is the crushing humidity: 55% (at its lowest, not so bad) to a melting 95%-plus, a level at which it is extremely difficult to keep the body cool by sweat evaporation from the skin.

But I’ve got months to worry about how to deal with that!

The 2014 edition of the Ancient Khmer Path, which finished just a few weeks ago, saw 43 starters with 35 finishers. Entries are strictly limited again for the 2015 race with around 45 deranged idiots runners permitted to enter. In the first three editions of this race just 10 people from the UK have ventured out to try and complete it with 7 having reached the finish line at the 1000-year old temple complex of Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Why this race? I first visited Cambodia a few years ago and fell in love with the place, a country of contrast between the numerous reminders of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge exterminating up to 3 million of the 8 million population in just four years in the 1970s, and yet the happiest, friendliest people I’ve met. And a beautiful country to boot with Buddhist temples from the 9th to 14th centuries all over the place, some of the ruins of which will be runners’ accommodation after some stages of the race. These ancient temples are still being discovered and reclaimed from the Cambodian jungle to this day, as are the Khmer Rouge land mines . . .

There’s also the undoubted difficulty of the challenge of distance in those humid temperatures but fortunately it looks like I’ll only need to carry a maximum of around 4 kilos of kit (food, water and compulsory items) on my back on each day’s stage: a bag-drop is permitted of up to 10 kilos which is transported by the organisers to the end of each stage.

Going off the beaten track, the race consists of the following stages:

Stage 1 (day 1): 19.25 miles;

Stage 2 (day 2): 22.75 miles;

Stage 3 (day 3): 38.9 miles;

Stage 4 (day 4): 18.5 miles;

Stage 5 (day 5) : 27.5 miles; and

Stage 6 (day 6): 10.5 miles

but, unlike the MdS which gave a day off after ploughing into the early hours of the following morning to finish Stage 4’s 51-mile ultra, there is no day off after the Stage 3 ultra of the Ancient Khmer Path.

Other challenges? Wildlife. While some species are almost extinct over there, I’ve heard of fire ants and tarantulas (both common, and edible after cooking), elephants, panthers, bears and tigers. I don’t really want to meet the last three. Wikipedia also tells me that “poisonous snakes are numerous”, with terrifying names such as “Indochinese spitting cobra” and “radiated ratsnake”.

Do not sleep outside of your tent at night-time, even if it's 95% humidity

“I am a radiated ratsnake: do not sleep outside of your tent at night-time, even if it’s 95% humidity.”

Which reminds me: on the last Cambodia trip I spotted a young boy on the Tonlé Sap lake spinning and paddling madly towards us through the floating village for a dollar tip: he was naked in what can only be described as a large, spherical steel bowl in which you might cook noodles and in which he could barely sit . . . his party piece, for which I gladly handed over a few dollars so he would damn well spin and paddle back off again, was a very large python wrapped around his neck.

My Aspivenom pump will be dusted down of its Sahara dust and coming with me.

But the distance, the climate and the wildlife aren’t immediate challenges: for now, it’s getting fit again. Weighing in today with a lot of timber at 15 stone, 7 pounds (98.4kg), I have 11 months to lose 2 stone (12.7kg), and hopefully a bit more, to allow me to cope with the heat and humidity of Cambodia and get used to again running a long way day after day.

(And it really is about time I finally kicked the sugars anyway (but I’m still sweeteners- and caffeine-free since 17 October!)).

You guessed it, the training programme has gone to pot over the last few months. But now I have the motivation as Stefan’s email arrives on day 1 of my new training schedule.

Off we go!





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