Cambodia’s best-known long-distance runners, Hem Bunting and Ly Nary, left Phnom Penh on Saturday to undertake 83 days of intensive high-altitude training in Kenya’s Rift Valley.
The tour, sponsored by the Japanese branch of agricultural firm AAP, which has operations in Cambodia, aims to help the pair break their personal bests at the 2012 Paris Marathon on April 15, with the potential that they could achieve the official qualification time for the London Olympics.
Bunting and Nary travelled from Phnom Penh to Bangkok and on to Nairobi, where they caught a connecting flight to Eldoret, and on to the town of Iten, home to one of the world’s premier long-distance running training camps – the High Altitude Training Camp (HATC). Forty per cent of its villagers are said to be distance runners.
Their training regimen, which will continue until March 30, involves gradually increasing their speed and stamina with runs across the mountainous region alongside aspiring professional runners from all over the globe and under the watchful eye of expert physicians and trainers.
“I think Kenya is an appropriate place [to train in] to help improve my ability in athletics because this country is well-known in the world for their athletes and contains lots of places to practise,” Bunting told the Post.
“I also want to challenge my ability in Kenya, as I am a representative of Cambodia.”
Bunting has a target of beating his personal best of two hours, 25 minutes, set at the 2009 SEA Games in Laos, where he won a bronze medal. “I expect that I will break this record. Actually, I am sure to break my record,” he said.
The official Olympic qualification mark for men is two hours, 18 minutes.
Ly Nary, with a PB of three hours, two minutes, will try to break the three-hour barrier. A time of two hours, 43 minutes is required for Olympic consideration.
Both athletes will enter the 2012 Paris Marathon, with Bunting booked to start in the Elite Corral of front runners. Nary is in the Preferential Corral, or secondary group.
Nary stressed that the duo were under no obligation to achieve the Olympic grade, and that their sponsor AAP was happy with the runners merely trying their best in Kenya and France.
“We will do our jobs, namely satisfy our sponsors in trying our best and doing well in Paris,” Nary said during an exclusive interview with the Post last week.
“AAP trust us completely and have let me organise everything. What we say we will do, we will do.”
The 41-year-old undertook a similar training course in Iten from August to November 2010, which helped her shave nearly 15 minutes off her marathon time in last year’s Paris race.
Bunting and Nary have been given time off from their jobs as athletics instructor and medical researcher respectively to attend the training course and competition in Paris.
Nary says the sponsors got in contact with her after the Japanese charity organisation Heart of Gold, which organises the annual Angkor Wat International Half Marathon, noted her performance in the event’s 2010 edition.
“If you work hard and believe and try to do the right thing, someone will hear you,” she said.
Ly Nary and Hem Bunting were overlooked by the Khmer Amateur Athletics Federat-ion (KAAF) for last year’s SEA Games competition in Indonesia. The federation cited indiscipline, while the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia say they received a letter from Bunting stating his resignation from the national team.
It remains to be seen whether the runners will reconcile their relationship with the governing body and the NOCC in time for the Olympics, although both sides claim they are willing to seek a solution.
In the meantime, the KAAF held a half-marathon time trial around the grounds of the National Sports Complex last Thursday to help determine their representative for participation at the 2012 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon on February 5.
Four athletes completed the 21-kilometre course, which involved 16 laps of 1,300 metres plus and an extra 200-metre leg. Ma Viro, 24, came home first in one hour, 25 minutes and 42 seconds, nearly five minutes faster than his nearest rival, 34-year-old Peou Hok.
Ma Viro had finished second to Hem Bunting in the marathon competition of the National Athletics Championships held last year in Kampong Cham province. Bunting registered a time of two hours, 40 minutes, with Ma Viro just over half an hour slower.
According to KAAF general secretary Pen Vuthy, the federation will help subsidise the training for the relatively novice runner Ma Viro leading up to the Hong Kong race, and will supply him with new shoes and flight tickets as well as sending an official to accompany him there.
Event organisers will reimburse the flight tickets of any international athletes who achieve a time of two hours, 25 minutes for men or three hours for women.