RUN the Silk Road: A Central Asia Marathon


Good travel is often about pushing boundaries and testing out limits. Sometimes these things are mental boundaries that must be overcome: situational fear like eating fucked-up foods and interacting through a language barrier. Sometimes limits are physical, like pushing your body through 42km of running on a hot day at high elevation. Sometimes, travel gives us opportunities to tackle both.

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Such is the case at Kyrgyzstan’s ‘RUN the Silk Road’ marathon — at least for some. I didn’t run of course, because that isn’t me. Plus, it would have made it WAY harder to take photos!

Plenty of people did run — around 500 across the various distances. Many of these were on the 5k — but in a country without much of a running culture, even a 5k can be a personal boundary.

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Much more ambitious, of course, are the folks who decided it was a good day to run 42k alongside Kyrgyzstan’s most famous tourist attraction — the Pearl of the Tian Shan — Issyk-Kol Lake.

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Above and beyond the physical stress, a number of these runners actually came all the way from their countries just for the marathon. For some, like the Russian and Uzbek winners, the trip wasn’t far. Quite a large portion of the Full and Half Marathon participants were from Japan, largely due to the strong ties between the governments and the huge number of projects in Kyrgyzstan that are supported by Japanese NGOs (the Marathon is being one of them).

Even that small fact has, as it turns out, been an impetus for personal growth. According to one of the event’s organizers, many of the volunteers that work with RUN the Silk Road have their career goals aimed at Japan. For them, this is an opportunity to learn the language and culture, and even try the food.

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For others who clearly knew what they were doing, the challenge is speed. There was some cash on the line, and not a small bit of it by Kyrgyzstan standards.

Yet I wonder, was that the impetus? OR was it just the chance to once more test personal bests and see how much further they could push those limits?

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Author: Stephen Lioy

Stephen Lioy is a travel photographer who spends most of his time living in or wandering through Central Asia while working to create a lifestyle that combines full-time nomadism with an unhealthy amount of adventure and exploration. When not watching horsemen wrestle for goat carcasses or eating grilled sheep fat (both popular Central Asian pastimes, we’re assured), Stephen can often be found contemplating his next big hiking trip or swilling coffee by the pot full. You can follow Stephen’s erratic course through the world on his Travel Blog, Facebook Page or Twitter. Alternatively, check back in at Vagabundo for his next update from the road!

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RUN the Silk Road: A Central Asia Marathon