Words by David Shum
A race that I do enjoy flying in to attend, the Yoma Yangon Marathon is now into its seventh year. The 2019 edition started at the Thuwunna Indoor stadium on 20th January and was a loop race, meaning that the starting and ending point is at the same place within the stadium grounds. One of the largest sporting events in Yangon, the race covers the city centre and snakes its way out to the suburbs where iconic monuments and structures provide a picturesque backdrop to most of the route.
The race expo was held over three days, from 17th January to the eve of the race. Hosted in an indoor hall, it was roomy and spacious, with sponsor booths orderly set and systematically arranged. There was a positive and cheerful vibe in the air, with lots of smiling faces from the race crews and volunteers. The runners were greeted with warmth and plenty of helpful assistance at the race pack collection. It ranks as one of the better collections that I have experienced.
Event details and schedules
The full marathon race started at 5:00AM, and followed by the 21km run at 5:30AM. The 10km and 3km fun run/walk had their starts at 6:45AM and 7:30AM respectively. In the predawn hours, the race area was well-lit with sufficient space for warm up.
Participants arrived as early as 3:30AM to soak in the race atmosphere. The cool and fresh morning air of about 19o Celsius allows for a fast pace and provided runners an edge to get it going. However, the air started warming with the sunrise and a change of condition could be felt as early as 7:15AM. This did not really worry the fastest runners though, as the top full marathon runners, including the pack of Kenyans, crossed the finish around that time.
The full marathon route is filled with inclines, U-turns, and sharp bends. By running the streets and cutting through suburbs, the race felt like a ‘homestay’ of a different kind. The support and hydration points were sufficient at regular intervals. Full marathoners run pass the iconic Aung San Su Kyi residence, and along some parts of Inya lake. The majestic Shwedagon Pagoda serves up a charming and picturesque view for 21km runners. The 10km and 3km fun run/walk stayed with a route that went through the city centre. It was a unique race in a sense that every distance had different things to see along the way.
The race finish was just as organised as the beginning, with plenty of sponsors outlets with special promotions as well as recovery massages for runners.
Ultimately, it’s not as fancy as a major marathon, but there is a highly hospitable feel to the whole weekend. One may choose this race as part of full-dress rehearsal for a specific race later in the year.
There are many direct international flights to and from Yangon, and hotels are wide ranging for every budget. I would advise that you check for regular promotional prices and book early.
International runners must fill up their visa applications at www.go-myanmar.com in order to enter and exit Myanmar. It is prudent to check for the permitted length of stay although there is a provision for Visa-free travel.
Upon clearing customs at the airport, service providers such as local telcos, currency exchange outlets, travel agencies and car rental companies are all right in front of you for efficient travel within the country. The recent Grab services has made it even more convenient for travellers these days.
The recent economic growth in the construction and tourism industries in Myanmar had fast-tracked the development of infrastructures such as hotels, residential properties and shopping malls. Therein lies the crowds and bustling commercial activities at every corner street from small vendors to large establishments. Traffic jams are normal everywhere.
Welcome to controlled chaos!