Run by GlobalLimits, itself headed by seasoned German ultrarunner Stefan Betzelt, it ran its first multi-day stage footrace back in 2012: the Ancient Khmer Path. The GlobalLimits portfolio now includes a footrace across Sri Lanka and the Kingdom of Bhutan. I’d heard good things about GlobalLimits and the AKP so it was the natural choice after my aborted 4Deserts Jordan race last year (whether or not I’ll do another one of theirs . . . that’s another story!). And having visited Cambodia back in 2009 and fallen in love with the place it was always a country I’d want to go back to: the opportunity to run across it seemed a great excuse to return.
Next week sees the start of the 4th edition of the AKP: 138 miles (220km) across Cambodia’s forests, jungle and tracks and through its villages, farms and 1,000 year old ancient temple ruins.
It’s a countryside that really has barely changed over literally centuries. Hard to imagine, nowadays. Even now archeologists are discovering large temple complexes and ruins that have stood for centuries and this despite the best attempts of Pol Pot and his hated Khmer Rouge to destroy them.
Many will have heard of Pol Pot, the man who masterminded the extermination of 21% of Cambodia’s people in the 1970s, some 1.7 million men, women and children. To this day that still bears its mark on a beautiful country with some of the happiest, smiliest people I’ve ever met, despite every adult you meet having suffered or known of that suffering. I remember visiting some of the sites of that time during my 2009 trip: the silent screams and ghostly horrors of the Tuol Sleng prison, S21, and the ominous grassy mounds on otherwise flat land . . . the infamous “killing fields”. I think part of the pre-race itinerary involves a tour of Phnom Penh and I don’t think I’d want to visit those sites again: they were genuinely harrowing (and I’m not easily perturbed).
Anyway, back to the race . . . It finishes after six days at the famous Angkor Wat temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The race has a strict entry limit and next week 35 runners from across the globe will toe the start line and I’ll be one of the just four Brit entries. In fact, only 10 Brits have attempted the race in its previous three years and, of those, seven have finished.
It’s a race that will be very different from the two desert races I’ve experienced previously and there are plenty of concerns to think about: whereas visible sweat in 40C-plus of dry desert air is non-existent (the air acting like a massive moisture-suction pump), the heat combined with the forest and jungle humidity of Cambodia at this time of year will be a crushing challenge: up to 35C and 95% humidity. Overnight, it is unusual for the temperature to drop below 25-26C.
Basically, I’m expecting to be soaked through with saturated, stinking kit from the start of day one right through to the end.
Sleep will be at a premium: trying to sleep in mid-20C with that humidity will be tough whether it’s in a two-man tent, a Buddhist temple, or some of the ancient temple ruins (all of which we will be sleeping in during the week). I’ve heard of previous competitors having to make some hard choices: toughening it out in the oppressive confines of heat, humidity and tent . . . or braving the outside heat and humidity and the jungle floor with its attendant “killer ants” (of man or other insects I do not know) and whatever else the Cambodian forests throw out in the middle of the night.
Like monkeys. A colleague at work ribs me for drinking coconut water because some manufacturers chain them up and enslave them for the purpose of getting coconuts for people like me to drink the contents of thousands of miles away. So I now also have an unhealthy concern about gangs of Cambodian monkeys dragging me legs first from my sleep at 3am, arms flailing into the jungle never to be seen again . . .
Tarantulas: there’s another jungle-floor hazard. But fried, they’re a Cambodian delicacy . . .
Something I’d like to try while I’m out there, if only to reduce by one the numbers that might come after me in the middle of the night, but judging by the look on UK chef Gordon Ramsay’s face in this youtube clip when he tried them on a trip I might stick to just the legs.
I digress again . . . there’s some running to deal with! As follows:
Stage 1 (day 1): 30.8km/19.25 miles;
Stage 2 (day 2): 36.4km/22.75m;
Stage 3 (day 3): 62.2km/38.9m;
Stage 4 (day 4): 29.7km/18.6m;
Stage 5 (day 5): 44km/27.5m;
Stage 6 (day 6): 16.7km/10.4m.
That’s right: unlike the Marathon des Sables or any of the 4Deserts events, there is no rest day after the 38.9 mile longest day is finished. So for any competitor finishing late into the day or night, it’s straight to bed after some food and up a few hours later to knock off 18.6 miles . . .
Fortunately, being both a hot and humid race as opposed to simply being hot, the race organisers will carry a rucksack containing up to 10kg of kit from stage to stage, leaving each competitor to run each stage with some compulsory items including water and food for the day. This seems to be the norm for hot and humid races, for example, it’s a method used for the Amazon Jungle Ultra race. Carrying too much weight in humid, hot conditions is simply too dangerous and man is not equipped for it.
But, as I’ve learnt in previous years, 10kg is not a lot. So I have been paying attention again to keeping my overall kit and food list down because, if that bag is more than 10kg, the competitor carries it.
Thus luxuries will be minimal (please note here that I count a small mouth-inflated pillow as a luxury item!) and food will be just enough to keep me hopefully operational for the week: the race-legal minimum is 2,000 calories per day and I’ll be at or just above that for each stage. For the long stage of 38 miles, for example, I’m only intending to have about 3,600 calories for the day. It’s unlikely, in the conditions, that I’ll physically want to eat all of it.
And that means calorie deficit. On average I expect to use up about 4,000 calories a day minimum from the running/walking/crawling and simply keeping my body going. I’ll eat an average of about 2,300 calories a day. Combine that with dehydration and water and muscle loss and I expect to lose around 7-10lbs (3-4kgs) over 6 days.
So there we have it in a nutshell: 138 miles across 6 days over some tough but beautiful terrain in around 33-35C with up to 95% humidity and blazing sun, “killer ants”, tarantulas, dehydration, water-borne diseases (the race might involve deep crossings after storms, the “hands-above-head-with-your-kit” type), commonly-occurring green tree pit vipers (bite: serious but rarely fatal), sores and serious chafing, commonly-occurring Asiatic cobras, sleep-deprivation, pythons and, my old friend from the Sahara, scorpions.
An ice-cold can of Coke and cotton bed sheets at the end will be simply awesome, unless I’m beaten to it by those vengeful coconut-wielding monkeys . . .