Sunday, November 27, 2005


Bonking and Running

Bonking is the name of the movement required to be done continuously when one is dragon boat racing. It involves leaning forward as the paddle is inserted vertically into the water then sitting back up straight as the paddle is brought through the water thereby using your back muscles rather than arms.

After a few Sunday morning bonking training sessions, we were as ready as we’d ever be to compete in the Phnom Penh water festival, a huge 3 day holiday where about 400 boats from all over the country race each other down the fast flowing Sap River watched by a couple of million people on the bank and another many million on television.

The actual race was the least interesting part of the whole experience. We, having trained only a handful of times and being generally not as adept as the Khmer teams, never stood a chance. They should have put us against girl teams or other mixed teams or at the very least boats from land locked, non- riverside towns! As it turns out, we always came second (there are only two boats each race) - except for once when we came third because the winner of the next race pipped us at the finish line. But we did really well and managed to paddle in time and didn’t disgrace ourselves and most importantly didn’t sink in front of the King like they did last year. I saw one boat sink which was actually really funny. It was just racing along next to its opponent one second then the next second, it had stopped and all you could see were white caps at water level making out the shape of a boat. I am especially happy we did not sink considering the amount of rubbish that made its way into the river generated by the million spectators. In training the week before, we had to disembark into thigh deep mud next to a sewerage outlet and it was suggested we all take worming tablets... but the worming tablets I had were for children and were chocolate so it was not such a bad thing!

There was a really great atmosphere on the river when we were waiting to race alongside the nearly 400 other boats from all over the country all struggling not to get swept downstream to Vietnam. We said hello and good luck to everyone and danced to the drums some teams used to keep time. There were teams sponsored by various NGOs, restaurants, beer, cigarette, condom and concrete companies and many more but most t-shirts were only in Khmer script so I have no idea where they were from. There was also an all HIV-positive crew to raise awareness about AIDS in Cambodia. We all wore the red ribbons which one of the boat crews were handing out. Each boat had their shrine offering bananas, cakes etc the Buddha and some had what looked like human hair hanging off the back of the boat. I’m not sure what that was about. Some boats had dancing girls in traditional costume at the front. We had a huge blow up Kangaroo (about half our crew was Australian...). Being the only barang boat I think we must have been on par with the Cambodian national team for popularity. Or more likely the crowd just enjoyed laughing at us! An especially large crowd always formed to watch us to our warm up and stretching.

On the last night of the festival, we watched the fireworks from the boat then got out into the middle of the biggest crowd I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t bear fighting my way to the bar for the team celebration. I had such an overwhelming need to get the hell out of there. The moto home took ages as the streets even far from the riverside were nearly at a standstill with cars, motos and pedestrians. I’m very glad to have experienced the Water Festival here but would happily forgo the experience next time…

On the Tuesday of the Water Festival, only five days before the event, having not run once in 5 months, I decided to run the 10k race of the Angkor Wat Half Marathon. This involved a 6 hour bus trip to Siem Reap on Saturday then a 6 hour bus trip back on Sunday. Madness. I managed 2 training sessions beforehand and did the run in under 1 hour so was very happy. It was pretty special running past Angkor Wat, through the gates of Angkor Thom, past the Bayon etc. The run is for charity, “to bring Artificial Limbs to Mine Victims and Save the Youth from HIV/AIDS” so there were many wheelchair athletes and amputees running on prosthetic limbs. It was very inspiring. The official guide book for the race was clearly not proof read by a native English speaker and provided us with much pre-race amusement. The official web site is also pretty funny and under “How to apply” has the instructions to “7-Join to our official overnight party” (an overnight party – before a marathon?!) and “8-Please enjoy your running on the day of the race” … you can check it out at

So it was a pretty energetic and action packed week for me. It was lots of fun and kept me well distracted from the fact that Jono is away for a month. He gets back in a week!

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