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I went for a run here in Phnom Penh last week, at about 9pm on a weeknight. I only did 10km, and even then I didn’t run the whole distance — I frequently dropped back to a walk. Only a third of the way along my intended route, my shirt was already saturated with sweat. My lungs were heavy. Breathing was hard. And my legs felt like logs.

Me after Running

Just ten days earlier I ran 16 km far more comfortably than I could have anticipated. But that was in Lucena, Philippines. While the two locations are at similar latitudes, the difference between Lucena and Phnom Penh is stark. I instinctively knew it but now, running through Phnom Penh just a few days after returning from Philippines, I could directly compare. And it’s really not my imagination!

Phnom Penh is dusty. Everywhere you turn, there’s grittiness in your eyes, and you breathe it in. Trucks and cars stir up dust from endless construction and poor road surfaces. Thousands of motorbikes emit heat and exhaust fumes. The smell of urine and rotting food pervades the air.

And Phnom Penh ‘stifles’ you. Because of Phnom Penh’s position tucked in between Vietnam and Thailand, it doesn’t get much less in the way of cooling winds from the ocean and, at this time of year, the air can be dead still and just plain heavy. While the Philippines ‘sea breezes’ frequently blow up into typhoons, nonetheless I’d rather run there than in Cambodia! The Phnom Penh temperature at this time of year is on averages 4–6 degrees warmer than Lucena or Manila, and particularly in the evening I really notice that it’s not cooling down as much.

And then there’s the physical and psychological hurdles. Literally. Footpaths are virtually non-existent in Phnom Penh. Traffic, even at 9pm, consists of a mass of drivers and riders with absolutely zero common sense or driving ability. The road surfaces are uneven and pot-holed. Vehicles park protruding on to the road. Street vendors, roadside eateries, and fruit & veg markets, all occupy what should have been the footpath, and frequently take up half the road as well.

Having said all that, I’m still going to try to get out for a run tomorrow — however, this time I’ll aim for early morning. And on Sunday there’s the Beeline Time Trial — let’s see if I can do 10km a bit more convincingly when I join some other runners for motivation and inspiration!

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