In the late Eighties, early Nineties the Borobudur Run 10Km was the richest road race in the world, offering $1 million in bonus money on top of generous appearance and prize packages. Hosted by Indonesian businessman Bob Hasan — first as the Bali 10K, then as the Borobudur Run on the island of Java — the race brought together the very best distance athletes of the time to take on the world 10K road record in a setting of timeless beauty.
Staged at the spectacular 9th-century Buddhist temple which lent the event its name, the Borobudur Run was featured on ESPN’s Road Race of the Month series. But the race, itself, was only the beginning of the adventure.
The twin-engine speedboat heeled low alongside the rotting wooden jetty as we loaded our TV equipment aboard the bobbing deck below. It was tricky work, but with legs braced along the gunwales for better leverage, we managed to hand down the cumbersome gray cases one by one from the final rung of the rickety ladder and slide them into position.
Back on the jetty a group of local men with skin the color of burnished wood and eyes dark and unreadable watched our progress in silence, passing among them an amber-liquid filled bottle lifted from the seat of one of the men’s pants.
We had waited for nearly an hour for the speedboat to arrive from the logging company base camp, and now with the sun setting a trembling orange into the Java Sea, we were anxious to be off before the light failed completely. Our destination was an estuary heading inland to the north and west to the logging company base camp some thirty-five minutes away.
With the last case positioned, the speedboat powered off onto Balikpapan Harbor churning low through a field of rusting oil tankers lying darkly at anchor. To the stern, the twin Evinrude motors boiled the water to gray-white foam as the final rays of the setting sun inflamed the towering thunderclouds building off the western horizon.
As we pushed farther from shore the blue-orange gas flares atop the skeletal off-shore rigs shrunk from giant pilot lights to flickering match heads, leaving only their thick oily smell in the rapidly cooling evening air. (more…)