Sorry for the delay with the continuation of the Cambodian saga. I have been trying to juggle a visit at home with the completion of my fellowship with moving from New York to Florida with the holidays. Here is the first half of the Cambodia race:
1st stage:What a huge difference from last year! At the end of the first stage one year ago, I had 14 very sick runners on my hands and I was wondering who the heck put me in charge! This year was wonderful. The race started with the Cambodian national anthem. Which is apparently the longest national anthem therefore they only played a portion of it. Then there was some chanting by local Buddhist monks.
The runners were all pawing at the ground, raring to get this race started. The very initial portion of the race begins with a short loop to a local village and then brings the racers back past the start line. It’s always fun to see the initial ranking of the runners as they strut by just a few kilometers into their epic race. I was at checkpoint 2 and it was a quick car ride over smooth-ish red sand roads. Laura and I manned this pit stop for the runners. It was right in front of a tiny local shop and the owner was kind enough to lend us plastic chairs and kept the cooler full of cold-ish coke. The red plastic chairs were quickly snatched up by the village children and we were left inching our way from shady spot to shady spot. I didn’t have the heart to kick the kiddos out.
The runners started coming in quickly. The full effects of the heat hadn’t quite caught up with everyone yet and most spirits were high. After we closed up shop, it was on to the finish for me. Our accommodations were provided by a small village. There were several homes which had cleared out their top floor for Global Limits. Everyone looked great as they reached the finish line and it was a fairly relaxing evening in camp. A bored race physician is a happy race physician…
Jenn and I opted to sleep in hammocks again owing to the intense heat of the upper floor and got some help setting them up underneath the house. I got the dinner sweats bad while eating my dehydrated meal. I felt totally crazy until Jenn admitted that she got them too. We were able to use the house’s washroom. I still don’t really understand how to get clean with just a bucket of water. And how do you wash your hair??? I spurted and sputtered under the bucketfuls of water that I dumped on myself but I don’t know how much my cleanliness improved. That’s okay, you get a new layer of sweat and dirt mere minutes after stepping outside so it wasn’t like my overall lot had changed all that much. The family with whom we were sharing an adobe had an affinity for Western music. It was surreal to be hearing Adele and Imagine Dragons in an incredibly remote Cambodian village. Just one of the very cool moments to be had while traveling. My swaying hammock lulled me to sleep quickly however my reverie were broken at 3am to a cacophony of village dogs. They were either having a party, or having a fight, but either way it was quite the ruckus. Then shortly after them the roosters decided that it was time for everyone to be awoken by their raucous cries. But then the dogs didn’t want to be left out of the fun so they started in again. This continued until I couldn’t take it anymore and finally decided to start my day at 4:30. I had totally forgotten about this early morning scene from last year but I’m almost positive that things had gone almost exactly the same way last year. Oh well, life could be a lot worse.
Okay, things are starting to derail just a bit. Instead of getting acclimated, it seems like the heat is catching up with the runners. As mentioned earlier, the day started prematurely. I jumped in our race car just prior to the start so that I could get over to checkpoint 1. We opted to have the checkpoint just before the bridge where it was technically supposed to be located in order to have a little shade for our runners. I started to see some runners with nausea and vomiting – now this is starting to feel like Cambodia… After the checkpoint was closed, we slowly made our way to the finish. We stopped by each subsequent checkpoint for a little chat and visit. The finish line and camp are amazing! Even though I had seen this same site last year, it was not any less impressive. A row of tents lines the final few meters of the race course with a looming and decaying temple as the back drop. Indiana Jones was filmed here (awesome movie by the way).
I got a chance to stroll around the entire site and marvel at the temple structures that seemed to grow right out of the unkempt grounds. I think the temple actually looks cooler when it is in ruins. These are the kind of scenes that you think only exist in movies but then when you actually stumble upon them, it just kind of stops you in your tracks.
The runners slowly trickled in and everyone was looking really great. There were some minor foot issues but I was so pleased that the runners were all genuinely interested in learning to take care of their own blisters. I think it’s a great skill to have if you are a distance runner. You know what they say, teach a man to fish…
I had taken care of a runner at the first checkpoint who had unfortunately stumbled within the first bit of the race and struck her face. Jenn and I were just getting ready to figure out the best way to safely and cleanly put her back together when I got the call that a runner was found down out on the course. Jenn put in a suture and cleaned the rest of the runner’s face up – and had absolutely phenomenal results! So good that we are planning on writing up a case report about wound care in the wilderness. One of our local drivers is incredibly helpful and jumped right into his Land Cruiser to take me as far into the jungle as possible. By the time we caught up with the runner and our volunteer (who happens to be a doc), they looked much better. After a brief check, the runner decided to continue on. Everyone made it in safely and we only had one DNF. Half of our team had to leave tonight in order to be able to man the checkpoints in the morning so I was manning the sick bay on my own. No major issues though and I spent part of the evening sweating my you know what off while eating dinner in my tent. The mosquitos and ants were so irritating outside that I finally gave up. It was so dark and so quiet out at this remote site that I had a really good night’s sleep. The long day is looming ahead in everyone’s mind.
My day started off with a cup of tea and I treated myself to strawberry granola with powdered milk for breakfast. I feel like those instant oatmeal packs keep me full for exactly 20 minutes and then I want to eat every single snack that I have in my bag. We had a staggered start this morning so the slightly slower runners started an hour before our slightly faster runners. Today is going to be a looooong day. The best estimate is that the final runner will not make it in until 11pm. I stayed behind in camp until the last runner was well into the jungle, just in case someone had to turn back or get evacuated out. I felt really fortunate to get to go into a tiny village nearby and enjoy a coffee. Having a coffee in the smaller villages is a neat experience. The coffee itself is super strong and super sweet. And you get to sit in a teeny tiny restaurant with a bunch of the local men who are sitting there with their respective coffees and cigarettes. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but sitting in that setting watching the village life swirl around you is an experience to be had.
Once I got the all clear from the boss, we started the 150 km car ride to the finish. It was quite nice to get about 3 hours in the air conditioning. There is a touristy town right in front of the temple so I was able to have cold fresh coconut water and fried rice. Sweet! I seriously cannot believe how hot it is today. I hope the runners do okay out there. It is a long straight road in the sun to the finish. We have several cars going back and forth with our staff in order to check on the racers more frequently. Calls started coming in about runners dropping out. We had 2 earlier in the day who got a tractor ride out of the jungle, and a third a little later. The heat was really taking its toll on people. Several hours at the finish yielded just a few people coming in. There was quite a lot of time between runners. We had someone come in who really didn’t look well. Thankfully she cooled off gradually after wetting her down and fanning her off and after about an hour was able to sit up and start re-hydrating. Most folks looked exhausted and extremely hot but oddly perky. I guess they were just relieved to be done. I can’t imagine spending that kind of time in the heat. The bright sunny day turned into a very buggy dusk but still the heat continued. I think this may be hotter than last year. I think it was overcast on the long day. But I don’t know, either way, it’s hot, damn hot (for those of you who have seen Good Morning Vietnam, I hope you find this weather report humorous).
Once darkness set in, we got word that another runner had dropped out but still no other finishers. I was getting eaten alive at the finish line so decided to move one of our tents to the finish so that I could read my kindle in bug-free comfort. We finally got down to the final few runners. I was able to run into the small town opposite the temple in order to grab some dinner. As soon as I got there, I started seeing head lamps bouncing in the dark down the road. It’s ironic how I sat for hours and then the moment I try to get dinner, people start coming in. I like to check all the runners as they come in after a long day like that. I was able to check some of our runners out on the road before they made the turn into the final stretch. My daily coke was excellent and the food was pretty good too. I opted for the cashew chicken since I had seen cashew nut trees on the drive earlier. The other volunteers also slowly trickled in and soon they were 3 of us sitting in the finish line tent. The last runner walked across the finish line around 10:30pm. It was nice – all of the volunteers were at the finish line when he came in. What a long day. Before bedtime, everyone looked foot weary but ready to face another day.
Jenn and I walked a little ways away from camp to set up our hammocks. While we were doing that, two local guys came over to help us hang our hammocks. Apparently they were not impressed with our knot tying skills. But then they set up right by us too and they were some of the most impressive snorers that I have ever experienced. The one guy sounded like he needed to be on a CPAP machine. He was snorting and grunting and spurting and sputtering. And there were somehow roosters and dogs around the temple grounds. But luckily the animals got it out of their system by midnight and I got about 5 hours of sleep. Another long stage over.