The capital’s mean streets can be difficult to negotiate on foot but the Running Bongs is one group that has stepped up the pace and embraced the challenge. Editor Marissa Carruthers catches up with co-founder Carlos C Estevez. Photograph by Enric Català.
How did Running Bongs start?
It was September 2015 and my friend and I went for a run and took a selfie afterwards with the hashtag ‘running bongs’. We posted it and it went viral. That became standard and after each run, we’d post another photo. We opened up the run to other people who were interested and by March 2016, we officially started the group. Within three months, we had 20 to 30 runners per session and today we have about 60 new runners.
How has the group grown?
We wanted to provide a platform for people of all abilities who want to run. We started with Thursday morning sessions and there were a lot of people wanting to train for the Phnom Penh half marathon in June 2016. For some it was their first 21 kilometres so it was really exciting seeing them complete that. We noticed people were going at different paces so we started different sessions, such as the beginners for those who run at a slower pace who do 3.5 kilometres, the chasing group, who complete seven to eight kilometres, and the fast runners, who do 10 kilometres. We have four sessions now each week.
What challenges have you overcome?
There are no proper running-friendly roads in Phnom Penh so we’ve had to explore the alleys and small streets rather than the main roads. But this is less polluted and crowded. In Toul Tom Poung, there are lots of small alleys to Toul Sleng and back, which take us through little communities where the kids always get excited when they see us. Dogs sometimes chase us so we’ve created a fake stone-throwing procedure to scare them off. The weather is also an issue so we run early in the morning or in the evenings.
Tell us about the colour run you held.
In April, we had the first Colour Run by the Running Bongs to coincide with Pride. It started as an idea between me and my friend as a bit of fun. We posted an event on Facebook and ended up with 100 runners. We brought some music out, dressed up and took powder paint. It was so much fun and seemed to be a success so we hope to hold another one before December. .
Are you open to new members?
Yes, everyone is welcome. We have the beginners’ sessions for starters and make sure people don’t feel intimidated. Each session has a captain and pacers, who stay at the front and back. There is no membership cost and it is fun. It is mostly expats but we do get a lot of interest from Cambodians for the beginners session. We recently held an open house to let more people know who we are and 80 people came and asked for information. A lot are looking to train for events, such as the Angkor Wat half marathon and Bokor race in Kampot. We can provide people with running plans for that and go to Angkor Wat as a group, if people want to join.
Why should people sign up?
I have met some amazing people through the running group, and it wouldn’t be possible without my Running Bong captains, Georgia, Lea, Arron, Karissa and Roswell, and all the runners who constantly come and run with us. There is the whole social and community aspect to it too. When I first came here, there was a running community but they were elite runners and it was very competitive. I wanted to create something that was also social, and that is what the Running Bongs is.
Why did you start running?
I’ve been running for seven years now. I lived in Singapore before Cambodia and started when I was there. I ran two full marathons and a few half-marathons while I was there. The first real encounter I had with a running endorphin rush was during my first marathon. I discovered there was a very strong connection between my body, my heartbeat, my breathing, my mind set. I enjoyed that so much; it was like a natural drug. I also feel less stressed when I’m running, it clears my mind, and, of course, there are the health benefits.
Angkor Wat Half Marathon is coming up. What tips to you have for first timers?
For those interested in running the 10km or 21km [half marathon], I would really recommend that they start their training first with a 10-week plan. Slowly building pace and distance, with short runs at a fast pace, will be helpful too. Making sure that you take rest in between is also key. Drinking lots of water and eating lots of carbs is necessary for good performance on the day of the race. If anyone is interested, come to our Running Bongs beginner sessions, and we will help and provide some training for free.
What running essentials do you recommend people invest in?
It is so important to have one or two pairs of runners, and it’s essential for the runner to be comfortable while running. Female runners love leggings, although in this hot weather shorts are really the way to go, a bright running top for safety are also good, as you need drivers to see you if you’re running in the streets. Downloading a running app to help you monitor your distance and pace is also a good idea. Make sure to organise your playlist to give you company while doing your run.
To find out more about the Running Bongs and when the sessions take place, follow RB Runners Club on Facebook at facebook.com/runningbongs. To see the group’s Instagram highlights, go to Instagram.com/rb_runners_club.