A few kilometers north of Vientiane, on the road 13 to Louang Prabang, one can find the National Sport Center, a compound that Vietnam has “gifted” for Laotian sport men and women preparing for the 25th SEA Games. I had made there an appointment with Sirivan on Sunday – 5th of December – at 6 am in the morning. After a long time looking for the “big blue sign on the right hand side of the road” (as if there was only one!) I could meet Sirivan. Sirivan represented Lao PDR in the olympic marathons of Atlanta and Sydney. With a personal best (pb)of 3 hours 22 minutes, Sirivan is also the marathon national record holder. Besides a job in an organisation promoting readings and writing among Laotian children, she is also assistant coach of the national long distance running team. For many ‘falang’ (foreigners) like me she has been a good contact into Laotian road running as well. After a short introduction, she introduced me to the Thai coach and two of their runners. They spoke few English, and I speak no Lao, so the only thing we could really do was starting to run and see what would happen. Just before starting the Thai coach told me “25 kilo, OK with you?”. It was 6.30 am in the morning, pfff, but what could I say? “No problem (I hoped)”. Using signs and few English words, Seng, one of the two running mates, explained me that he has a pb of 37 minutes in the 10 km, and that the SEA Games marathon would be his first marathon ever. Kond Ke, the other runner, has a pb of 38 minutes, and has run the marathon already; in 3 hours and 2 minutes. As we had run 18.35 minutes, I saw a scooter driving by my side: “5 kilo, water!” It was the Thai coach. I had not looked at any km sign on the road, but the feeling I had while running made wonder if I had understood well; “do they have a pb of 37 minutes, or do they want to run today 10 km in 37 minutes?!”… The second time I saw the coach, I was already alone with Seng. I did ask him whether we should wait for Kond Ke, but: “no, no, go, go. 10 kilo, water!” By then I knew already some more things about Seng, i.e. he is 23 and student, he is married, his wife is pregnant (men talk, of course) and more important for me he was going to run a pb in the half marathon… today! Sunday, 8 am, 25 degrees, very humid, I had gone to bed at 1 am…why were we “training” that fast?! After 55’35” (or the third time the Thai coach appeared with his scooter) I decided to play my last card in order to have an “lazy Sunday” I would accelerate, make a gap with Seng and wait for him a little later and run then slower. After some minutes, I was able to make a gap of 50 meters. “Pai pai, pai pai!!” The Thai coach telling Seng to follow me. “Ach!, this guy is going to be tired the day of the race (the marathon is next 15th of December), and I am going to feel guilty for that…” And actually I rather slow down and follow him. Back on the main road I see a km sign and decide to check the speed: last km in 3’43”. “In the stadium do 10 laps, OK?” (fourth time the coach brings us water: thank you!) Once back at the National Sport Center, Sirivan shouted: go, go, go. And suddenly just after stepping on the track Seng slowed down. Don’t ask me why. Anyhow I kept that pace and finished the 10 laps as the coach had told me. About 1 minute later Seng finished as well. Kond Ke, finished 4 minutes behind. I asked Sirivan about the purpose of the training and she explained me that the coach had asked the guys to push that day and test themselves for the games.
Yesterday I went to the new national stadium to watch football with Ebel, Thomas, and Rio. We met there with Michel and Elias. Ebel and Thomas could only stay for the first match (by the way, Myanmar 3 – Indonesia 1). While I walked out with Ebel and Thomas, a young Laotian man walks to me and shakes my hand. It took me a while to recognise him: “Seng, Sabaidee! How are you?” “Good thank you! I feel good for the marathon. Good training. Thank you!”. Lao Su Su!! Seng Go Go!