Some months ago now I was sitting at work and was just about to hit the delete button on yet another promotional email that had appeared in my inbox. Something intriguing stopped me and made me read the email a little closer. It said “The Inaugural Bagan Temple Marathon”. My thoughts went “Where the hell is that?” followed by “temple??” probably means Asia followed by maybe warm = READ FURTHER. Then it included tropical beach option, really like that after all I do live in Tasmania!
So, I jumped up from my desk and went and found my training buddy and work mate (also middle aged female) and said “how about it???” The long and the short of it was that she couldn’t do it but much to my surprise my husband (who is totally allergic to running) said he would come! He too likes Asia although not running, and we were both keen to see Myanmar before it became too developed. Before he could change his mind I was entered and had booked for us both.
My running history included 4 half ironman triathlons, 3 half marathons and 2 marathons. Two of the half Ironmans had been in Cairns and they didn’t kill me so I thought “how hard could it be???” I probably should add that I only took up running at the age of 49, 5 years ago!
So I set myself a training regime and sort of stuck to it but the only problem was, training for running in the heat when you live in Tasmania! I tried a couple of sessions on a treadmill with the heater on but it just didn’t really do it for me. So I convinced myself that I would be fine, I’d done Cairns twice so it would all be ok! We arrived in Yangon, Myanmar 2 days before the Bagan Temple Marathon (31st October 2013). It was great to be in Asia, food was good, people friendly and the heat and humidity was about as different to Tasmania as you could get. Coming out of a very long winter this was good…. Or was it???
We flew to Bagan early the next morning, requiring a 4.30 am wake up. Everything we did seemed to require an early morning wake up! The airport was interesting, and after a sticker placed on our chests we boarded Air Bagan. We arrived early but were able to check in to our very pleasant motel. The day was ours to discover the ins and outs of Bagan, mostly temples but also lacquerware, markets and great food. That night was the registration and pasta night which wasn’t too bad considering we were in Myanmar!!!
Marathon day began with yet another early morning wake up call, early breakfast and a bus ride to the start line. It was already warm and it was only 6 am. The Myanmar minister for tourism was there along with a number of tourist police and some hot air balloons to see us on our way. We were all pumped and ready to go. 7am arrived and off we went. It only took 20 minutes into it to realize just how hot this was going to get. And if the heat wasn’t enough we had mud to run through in the first 5 km so we started off with wet, muddy feet. Not far into the race I kept coming across pairs of running shoes on the side of the track. It wasn’t until I got back that I discovered that they belonged to the local runners who obviously started out in shoes but quickly discarded them. The race was won by these local guys in bare feet!
The course was a big circuit around an endless number of temples of all sizes and conditions. It also went through a number of very small remote villages where the locals came out to cheer us on. We had to share the track at times with goat herds, ox driven carts and several farmers. It was amazing scenery and I was loving it. However it was hot! The track varied from thick soft sand to gravel to the odd bit of bitumen. But it was all hot. The temperature rose to 43 degrees in the sun and 38 in the shade with 100 % humidity.
It was odd to tip water on your head and it never evaporated. Mind you the water was still cooler than my head so it was still worth tipping it over. I ran with a 4 bottle fuel belt as well as carrying a 600 ml bottle of water. There were plenty of water stations so we had good access to bottled water. I estimated that I drank over 10 litres and didn’t even need a toilet stop which was good because there were none!
By the 25 km mark I was reduced to doing a bit of walking. I then got into quite a good run 1 minute walk 1 minute pattern which kept me going really well. At times I really felt the heat and had to listen hard to my body. When I started feeling dizzy or shivery I slowed down, drank more and tipped more water on my head. I can remember getting to the 32 km mark and thinking that I still had 10 km to go! It was hard but I just kept up the 1 minute on and 1 minute off and eventually that magical 40 km mark came around. The last 2.2km seemed so far but I made it and even managed to wave to all the fantastic supporters that were there from all over the world. As I crossed that finish line a magnificent medal was put around my neck and never have I felt more proud of myself.
My very relieved husband was waiting for me at the finish line and kept saying how amazed he was at how good I looked. He had been getting a little worried as he saw a large number of people coming in by medical vehicle and had been regularly checking the medical tent for me. It had taken me 5 hours 44 minutes which was 44 minutes more than I would estimate my time for a marathon. I was happy with that though as the conditions were like nothing I had ever raced in before.
The organization of the marathon was pretty good. The track was very well marked and at no time did you feel that you could get lost. There were plenty of water stations although it was difficult to know how far away from one you were at any given time. It would have been nice to have been given a map prior to the run but I understand that the course had to be changed at the last minute due to rain 3 days prior to the event. I take my hat off to the organizers of the event as it could not have been easy to have done this in an undeveloped country like Myanmar.
Overall the event was awesome, challenging and an experience of a lifetime. I would encourage anyone who likes an event that is a bit different to have a go but keep in mind it is not an event to do under prepared. After the marathon there was a presentation evening at which the Aussie contingent had a very good time! A number of drinks were had and a number of photos taken.
Following this a number of us flew to Ngpali Beach for some well earned R and R. It was beautiful and just what my 8 black toe nails needed!
A Brief Summary of the Inaugural Bagan Temple Marathon
- Spectacular scenery
- Amazing people
- Extremely hot and humid conditions
- Massive variety of running surfaces (mud, sand, gravel, bitumen but luckily not many hills)
- Great new running buddies
- Fantastic finishers medal
The most awesome experience ever. If you love running, travelling and Asia then it is a marathon not to miss. Do it now before the country becomes too developed.