Running takes the exotic route in Asia

Wed Feb 19, 2014 1:21am EST
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By Saikat Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Out for a jog one day in the sleepy Laotian town of Luang Prabang, Michael Gilmore got an idea. He had just run a half-marathon at the temple ruins of Angkor Wat in neighboring Cambodia, so why not set up something similar in Laos?

After months of work to woo sponsors, about 400 runners assembled in a narrow street opposite the royal palace last October for the first half-marathon in Luang Prabang. Proceeds went to charity.

"Destination races are catching on quickly in Asia, as organizers realize it just takes an extra marginal shift to get more people to a new place," said Gilmore, a British national who works in equity sales at HSBC in Singapore.

"While the turnout may be in the hundreds, as opposed to the thousands that many of the more popular city marathons get, the runners tend to get their families along, which has a multiplier effect on tourism and the local industry."

Gilmore plans to hold the second edition of the Luang Prabang race this year on October 12.

In recent years, races in other exotic locations in Asia have ranged from the Great Wall Marathon in China to paddy fields in Vietnam to the stark landscapes of northern India.

"Our aim is to make exciting races in areas where the runners would love to run and also visit as tourists," said Steen Albrechtsen, a manager at Adventure Marathon, which organizes the Great Wall Race.

Marathons and ultra-marathons in Asia trace their roots to the rise of adventure racing globally in the mid-1990s, when teams took on inhospitable terrain by running, swimming and cycling over long distances.   Continued...

Participants run past Two International Finance Centre (IFC), as they compete in the Hong Kong marathon February 16, 2014. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu