Friday 2 December 2016
The last early start. Don’t think I bothered with breakfast other than a quick protein milkshake.
I’d decided today that I could and so I was going to leave pretty much everything out on Stage 6. I didn’t tell anybody that, of course.
With a final briefing from Race Director Stefan we all lined up and were given the off. From which point I just stretched out and ran. And I wasn’t going to stop.
To cheers and laughter, because since Stage 3 I’d been towards the back of the field, I bolted down the road in pursuit of the 5 or so hobbling injured who’d been allowed to leave earlier. At the rapidly fading start line I heard someone say “He finds it now?!”
It felt great, just opening up . . . The first mile: 8m24. Race leader Vicente-Juan cruised by effortlessly: there was no way I was going to keep up with him, nor 2nd placed overall Kurt.
I caught and passed the earlier starters, who were looking at me surprised. The second and third miles also passed in sub-9 minute miles, despite the early heat. Looking good!
Running is absolutely not permitted through the temples themselves so I slowed to a fast march. Not only is this an Angkor Park authority rule out of religious respect but it forces all competitors to admire the stunning temple surroundings: otherwise we’d miss the best part of the race!
The temples really are something else, still standing (and still being discovered to this day) several hundreds of years after they were first constructed. Already they were busy with the sun-rising tourists now checking out temples beyond their day’s start at Angkor Wat . . . some, dripping in sweat through cotton shirts from a short stroll out of a tuk-tuk, shook their heads in disbelief at the stained, smelly rabble running in front of their eyes.
The magnificent Ta Prohm temple came and went by. All around, as I picked up running again through the tarmaced roads, there were endless treasured sites of size and grandeur. It’s truly a spectacular final stage of the race.
Another competitor passed followed by Marcus and Ashley, appearing with Australian grit and hard, hard running. For a short while we exchanged places until I started to flag, giving way to their superior speed as they disappeared ahead.
I really wanted to hold onto my 5th place for the stage (which mattered not one iota in the general rankings) but Ashley was just too strong as I started to struggle in the last couple of miles. He was always just there, just within reach up ahead, but it required too much of a monumental effort to reel him in again.
Finally I could see the massive complex of Angkor Wat which would be our finish line. I pushed out a last hard effort before entering the temple complex itself, which began on the elevated stone causeway, and maintained a fast march.
I wasn’t going to be caught now. A leap onto the finishing grass stretch and I ran up to the finishing banner: 1h41m54s for the 10.5 miles. I was absolutely delighted. It was another final stage redemption and almost a full 8 minutes quicker than my 2015 Stage 6 result. Then, I’d had 2 previous days of complete rest. This time I had 130 miles in my legs from the previous 5 consecutive days.
None of which mattered of course, other than on a personal level. I was delighted to have come back for a second year to nail the race. The memory of my 2015 DNF was shelved.
But . . .
But, but, but . . . such is the nature of those running these things, I immediately began to think . . . I really should (could?) have gone harder in the week. For the simple expedient of keeping myself cooler by dowsing my head regularly with water (duh!) I could have finished Stage 3 at least 3 hours quicker, and how much quicker could I have finished the other Stages? Rather than being in the back end of the field I could have got myself into the top half. Easily.
Worrying about finishing the event at all after my 2015 experience is what held me back.
Anyway, enough of that . . . Celebrations were in order and with each competitor reaching the finish line with huge grins, met with cheers and claps, it felt awesome to be part of this crowd of friends old and new.
Finally we were all back together again, the race finished. Cold drinks were gulped along with coconut waters.
And soon it was time to get on the bus to our final night’s hotel. My first priority was to call my wife whom I missed very much: it had been just a week but something about these races seems to stretch out time beyond its normal passing.
Soft cotton bedsheets and cool showers, delicious food, ice cold drinks whenever required, soap . . . a flushing toilet rather than squatting into a hole . . . the list of ‘missed’ luxuries is endless, and the more they are a glorious revelation for having done without even for just a week. Of course, many on the planet do without their whole lifetimes . . . how fortunate and spoilt we are.
For me I was on an early plane out the following morning back home to the UK, but not before a Global Limits night out in style after the dinner and awards. It was great to receive my award for having completed the Ancient Khmer Path and I was touched to hear Stefan announce before giving it how proud he was to see me come back and finish.
A group of us hit Pub Street in Siem Reap for frivolities and some dodgy shaking of limbs masquerading as ‘dancing’. Once back at the hotel I recognised the early signs of impending void: I wouldn’t be getting up in the morning to run a long way across tough terrain in a tough environment; I wouldn’t be putting warm water into a plastic pouch to rehydrate dried noodles; I wouldn’t be exchanging thoughts with complete strangers who quickly became friends. There would be lots of things I wouldn’t be doing that most would class ‘abnormal’.
It had been a hell of a week: the event organisation had been superb with amazing sights and amazing sounds in an amazing country. Most of all, though, with amazing people: the Cambodian people, the Global Limits team, and fellow competitors.
Until next time . . . The End. Sniff sniff.
Garmin stats: Stage 6
Distance: 10.49 miles (cumulative: 140.58 miles)
Time: 1h42m58s (cumulative: 38h53m33s)
Calories burnt: 1,197 (cumulative: 14,599)
Average heart rate: 145 bpm
Note to self: told you . . . could have gone harder . . .