It's cranking up again – the annual fitness test that’s called the Angkor Half marathon, set for Sunday December 4, and its attendant Angkor Wat Bike Race & Ride 2011 which is to be held the day before on December 3.
The bike race and ride is organised by human rights NGO Village Focus in association with the CIMB Bank of Malaysia.
The NGO has already appointed a volunteer, Hayley Newnham, to start organising the day and last month she released what will likely be the first of many press releases aimed at rallying troops to sign up.
According to the release, since the bike day began in 2006, it has raised $100,000 to go “towards empowering young people and communities [to help] break out of poverty”.
This year’s rally is predicted to be the biggest ever, with the ambitious target of raising over $50,000.
The more serious Angkor Half Marathon attracted a record number of both runners and spectators to Siem Reap last year, and already the city’s streets are dotted with local runners limbering up for the stamina test.
But with an increasing interest in the race and an expectation of continuous growth, there have been calls for more safely provisions to be put in place.
The main bone of contention is that, unlike most major marathons in the region, the runners are not sealed off from traffic. This means participants have to dodge errant tuk tuks, motos, pedestrians, spectators and tourist buses.
Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa general manager Hanno Stamm, who has competed in the 21km half marathon for the past five years, said a professional organisation should be hired to run the event.
Of last year’s run he said: “I did feel unsafe a couple of times, yes. Quite a few people I spoke to complained about the traffic and you just had to get out of the way of it.
“It was very distracting. It was bad enough having to concentrate on running, let alone the traffic.”
Stamm said another part of the problem was the number of clapped-out participants whose pace slows to a walk.
Furthermore, some simply aren’t fit enough and can’t cope.
“I heard that a Japanese lady fell flat on her face but an ambulance didn’t arrive for 20 minutes,” Stamm said. “That is unacceptable. When the ambulance came, they had no oxygen bottles and it was all a bit messy.”
Stamm said that in other regional marathons he’d competed in such as in Thailand and Singapore, there were ambulances on the course.
He is also unhappy that runners were forced to stop for buses at the Bayon Temple gate.
“When you have to stop, it’s murder,” he said. “It’s not how long you stop for, it’s the fact you have to stop. The Bayon Gate was near the end and my legs stopped. Last year I was stuck at the gate for three minutes.”
An Old Market area café owner who did not want to be named said her sister’s friend who competed in the race had to jump out of the way of a tuk tuk, but was not injured.
She said the public should be made more aware of the hazards of Cambodian drivers but felt closing off the entire road is not the answer.
“People say it’s the most beautiful run they’ve competed in. It would take away from the event to shut it down. Maybe they could put it down to one lane,” she said.
But Stamm said the entire road should be closed to traffic until the majority of the field has finished.
“If Singapore can close down an entire area for their race, surely Apsara could close down the road for two hours. The government should get more involved to control traffic a bit better.
“It would be a real shame if one day someone got killed. We should address the issues before something happens,” he said.
But despite his concerns, Stamm believes the run is one of the best of its kind in the world.
However, he did have one final criticism: “They don’t make the event very sexy. Other countries have better entertainment and I think we need to have something more happening at the end.
“They should make it a really big event. Why not?”