“The running shoes, always in the suitcase”
My brother Javier loves this quote very much and he sticks to it whatever the trip he embarks himself on. I learned the habit from him and, although not as constant as he is in following it, it has provided me with good moments knowing the cities I have visited from another perspective while, practising sport.
So, when this year I fulfilled my old teenager dream of travelling southeast asia for some weeks (“in the pursuit of the brother pea” as my father would mock me 🙂 ), my running gear was with me.
Running in the places I have visitied has been an enriching experience and in this post I want to share it commenting about that runs. I will tell chronologically as I travelled the region.
The intense megacity was my first stop in a tour that would take me to five countries. I stayed in the Suk11 hostel in the crowded Sukhumvit street. With high rise hotels, somewhat creepy backstreets I needed a proper place to run. From the elevated monorail to Silom Road I spotted the meadows of Lumphini park. On the third day I went there to run.
Even though after two days I got used to the mix of high humidity, above 80%, and temperature, running in these conditions was another business. I went running two times to Lumphini Park and the first day I almost collapsed. Bangkok had beaten me at my first attempt. Around the park I completed 5,1 km at 6:35 min/km. I was determined however to come back and try to do some sprints. Knowing the place already, and where to buy drink water, I succeeded. I a round split of 2,44 km I ran at 5:24 min/km. I had my revenge.
The Lumphini Park is surrounded by embassies and high end hotels, providing an asian version of New York´s Central Park near Columbus Circle. The running atmosphere was ok, with mix of western and asian runners in the park the two days. I recommend visitors of Bangkok to put this park on their agenda.
Second stage in the tour took me to the beautiful indonesian island of Bali. There I would meet good old friend Juan, who had arranged an amazing 4 days weekend. With a program full of activities it was not until the very last morning, before taking my taxi to the airport, that I went running to the beach of Seminyak, where our villa was located. Running on beach sand is quite healthy, but it prevents you from clocking good paces…unless a storm breaks and obligues you to take shelter and run as fast as possible to get back home, which is what happened to me. Of the 5,2km that I run, the first 4 were averaging 6:30 to 7 min/km, while the last one, rushing back to the villa under the rain was at 5:10min/km with peaks of 4min/km.
The town and beach of Seminyak being a spot for high end resorts and villas, it was not unexpected to find westerners running or walking along with me, even though the weather and hour, 7 AM, were not the most inviting:
After discovering the jungle and modest villages of Bali, the contrast couldn´t be bigger arriving at the high tech city of Singapore, one of the most developed enclaves in the world. At the beginning I feared that the central location of my hotel, in such an urban environment, would make it difficult to find a place to run. The entire city proved me wrong. Even though I had the Fort Canning park few minutes from the hotel lobby, in the first walk to the riverside I discovered that Singapore was a city on the run. Nice walks, bike lanes and passages made it easy for the runner to go wherever he liked. And there were dozens of them, at every hour, in the morning or the evening. Never had I seen such a density of runners, except in the race events. My pick was to run around the Marina Bay, with its fantastic skyline scenery. I was not alone in my choice. I went running at 8:30PM but the humidity, a constant in the region, was very high. The Garmin recorded two separated legs totalling around 5,1km at paces between 5:30 to 5:50min/km.
The highlight, apart from the scenery, was that on that weekend the Formula 1 Gran Prix would take place and the street race course was already set up. The organization opened it for visitors the very evening I was running, so that I had the chance to run some 100m of a strip where Fernando Alonso, Hamilton and the rest would be driving a day after. Unfortunately the Garmin did not engage the GPS signal, so I have only the time, 25s, but not the exact distance or pace.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Next stage in the tour was the neighbouring Malaysia. In Kuala Lumpur I had a bargain price for a 4 star hotel…not precisely with the best location. While it allowed me to know parts of the city no so touristic, I really did not find a park or a good spot in that jungle of asphalt and concrete to go running. The only option left to me was real street running. Considering also the heat, humidity and packed visit program, I went running on last day at 7AM, as I did in Bali. The surroundings of the hotel were really not the best and I recorded just 2,6km. The pace at least was quite decent at 5:16min/km.
In contrast to Singapore, so full of runners, or even the beaches in Bali (at 7AM!) or Bangkok´s Lumphini park, the morning view of Kaula Lumpur was not very inviting. But even in these conditions, I think I spotted a fellow runner. For the pace I am not sure that he was running at all, but his sporty gear and shoes were evident…
Siem Reap /Angkor, Cambodia
Final stage of the southeast asian tour was the imperial region of Angkor, where the visit to the legendary khemer temples was planned. Although I will ellaborate more on that visit in a dedicated post, here I focus on the running side. The small city of Siem Reap is the base from which to visit the woods where the temples are located. Again, the location of my lodging was not very centric and offered the same “real life” taste I had had in Kuala Lumpur. The adjacent streets, in contrast to Malaysia, although not especially inviting, had less traffic and were more comfortable to run. I reserved the day before the departure for a morning run. At 11AM I started and parted for the royal gardens in the city center. In total 5km at a relaxed pace of 5:38min/km, ok considering the heat and humidity conditions that I had, by that time, gotten used to.
The streets offered a view of small shops and tents in the sidewalks, with nobler buildings and museums as I approached the city center and the royal gardens. This time, however I didn´t find any fellow runner. No one. I noticed some curious faces looking at the guy running along the street, but I continued. In fact, with Singapore, this run was the most comfortable of the trip. I had had a great stay in the city and had enjoyed inmensely the visit to the temples. I guess my face reflected it 🙂
In summary, having my running gear in the suitcase allowed me to run some 26km spread in 6 days during the 3 weeks. This modest amount of kilometres is clearly not enough to keep up with a typical training plan, but provides for an enriched travel experience, for example observing the differences in the “runner” atmosphere among the countries. I could gain also new running experience having suffered that extreme humidity in combination with heat. Now I know how my body reacts to it, as learned also troughout the years running in the snow, under heavy rain or with chilling low temperatures. And finally I reinforced the connection feeling with the cities and places I visited, and it was definitely healthier than not doing it.
For my next long holidays be sure I will repeat it.