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Charity Marathon to be held in Luang Prabang

The ancient Royal capital of Luang Prabang organizes its first marathon on October 5th with the proceeds going to NGO Friends International.

Luang Prabang Half Marathon La Procession (1)Organisers and official supporters for the inaugural Luang Prabang Half Marathon (LPHM), “La Procession”, are looking to fill out the field of runners for the 5 October 2013 charity event, being held in Laos’ renowned UNESCO World Heritage site, with the proceeds going to Friends-International (FI), an award winning International NGO with an upcoming project in Luang Prabang.

According to marathon organisers, more than 100 runners had signed up within the first three weeks of registration, placing the race on track for at least 400 entrants, though LPHM is shooting for 800 to 900 runners, evenly split between Lao and foreigners, to take off when the 06.00 starting gun fires.

La Procession is divided into three separate race distances – 7k, 14k, and 21k – over the mostly flat 7-km circuit, which starts at the NationalMuseum and passes many of Luang Prabang’s most famous attractions.

All the races are fully-sponsored, though entrants make charitable donations to compete, with the minimum donation set at USD200, while Gold Medal runners contribute USD1,000 or more. This ensures that FI receives all of the entry donations, while the sponsors cover the organisation costs. The process for Lao runners to enter the race is separate.

LPHM organisers and sponsors stressed that unlike some destination races that take place in poor areas of the world and are run for profit, La Procession is solely for the charity, which they believe runners care more about.

FI aims to protect children and youth from all forms of abuse, and support them to reintegrate into society as functional and productive citizens, though the selection of just one of Laos’ many causes was a challenge, according to the organisers.

“There are many things going in Friends-International’s favour for this run: that it will set up a sustainable social enterprise, that it focuses on vocational training, and that the restaurant training school should be a valuable asset for Luang Prabang,” said one organiser and runner, Michael Gilmore.

The seed for the LPHM was planted during a chance meeting in Siem Reap between Mr Gilmore, who works in HSBC’s Singapore office, and Bere Olmedo, who was employed at the Amansara hotel in Siem Reap, when both were competing in the 2011 Angkor Wat Half Marathon. In Easter of 2012, they again ran into each other during a jog around Luang Prabang’s peninsula, and the idea for La Procession was born.

Mr Gilmore quickly found eager financial supporters at Aman Resorts, HSBC, and Lao Airlines, and several local businesses soon jumped in to back the effort. Interested sponsors are still welcome to back LPHM.

He also discovered that the community is extremely enthusiastic. “Local industry, authorities, runners, friends, everyone I speak to see this as such a good idea, and regularly offer to help out, making it (LPHM) something we just have to do.”

Mr Gilmore admitted that there was some initial and very understandable local scepticism about why a group of people, including himself and Barbara Oravetz, the race director, who live in other countries, would want to organise a marathon in Luang Prabang. “But I think now all the businesses see that we are trying to organise something that can help local business as well as local causes, and so the community has been really helpful,” he said.

Mr Gilmore concluded that one of La Procession’s objectives is to hold the event annually. “That’s definitely the aim, as races generally become more ‘valuable’ over time. Runners really like to know that an event is in the calendar, and either do it again and again, or look out for it if they missed it the year before. That’s how we’ll get more and more people wanting to run in Luang Prabang, by keeping it on the same weekend every year, if we can.”

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