Christmas draws near, and for our family, this signals the time for a pilgrimage back to the land of our births (well, mine & J’s anyway) to attend an annual christmas eve reunion dinner, and to spend time with the relatives and friends we grew up with. It’s a costly trip to Singapore, more so now that E has turned 2 – flights cost us over half of my monthly salary, but in our view the importance of maintaining family ties and keeping up with old friends is well worth it.
Of course, this also gives me a chance to revisit some of my old playgrounds – trails that my dad used to bring me hiking on back when I was a wee lad, and the ones which kindled my love for exploration and the great outdoors. Running in Singapore (or anywhere in the tropical belt) is a slightly different ballgame.
For starters, temperatures typically reach the 30s during the mid-day heat and humidity typically sits upwards of 75%, with levels of between 85 and 100% not being unusual. This means that, realistically, the best times to run are dawn or after the sun goes down. On top of this, during the monsoon seasons (which take up 8 of the 12 months of the year, and which incidentally fall across the time of our annual visit), we have weather forecasts that typically look like this:
Now, I know what you’re thinking. If I have no qualms running in snow, near zero temperatures, gale force winds and freezing rain and 40 degree heat back home what’s the big deal? Well, the thing is, Singapore’s weather seems specifically designed to be crippling to outdoor activities. When it rains, it rains proper. The ocean seems to fall from the sky, and 15-20mm of rainfall (what we get in a typical month in Melbourne) can get chucked on you in a matter of minutes. The sheer weight of the rain can fell large trees and crack branches over 50cm in diameter, and if you happen to be caught in the deluge, it will take less than two seconds for you to be thoroughly drenched by the stinging barrage of massive raindrops. It makes even hailstorms seem like a confetti shower. Visiblity is reduced to tens of metres by the rain itself, and unpaved surfaces are quickly flooded and reduced to a mushy, foot trapping slurry. Add frequent lighting strikes to that mix, and trail running just isn’t a good idea in any sense.
Then, when the storm is past and the sun comes out, a decent chunk of the rain that just fell promptly evaporates into the atmosphere, sending humidity levels through the roof. Steam rises visibly off every surface, and it the air becomes dense and thick. Every breath is chokingly uncomfortable, and sweat clings and drips off every square inch of your body as the saturated air denies you of your body’s main cooling mechanism – evaporative cooling of sweat. As your core temperature rises, so does your heart rate as blood is pumped to your skin in a last ditch effort to stay cool. Sweat pours out of every pore, raising the risk of dehydration and cramps, making running just a crappy experience in general.
And then on the days where it doesn’t rain, the air tends to be dead still, and the sun just beats mercilessly down. Humidity remains relatively high as the water from the ground continues to evaporate, resulting in an unbearably stifling heat that just overpowers your body’s ability to function. I’ve tried running on a day like this once, and went through no less than three litres of fluid over a mere 10km, and still reached the end of my run dehydrated and parched. In fact, because I was drinking plain water rather than an electrolyte mix, I felt pretty sick from the initial symptoms of water intoxication.
In short, it takes quite a high level of planning, flexibility, commitment and maybe a couple of loose screws to be a regular trail runner (or any outdoor runner) in Singapore, and I have a lot of respect for those who puts up with the ridiculous conditions (not to mention the crazy working hours typical of a southeast asian country) to just get out there and run. When back in Singapore, getting my workouts in around a busy schedule of meeting friends and relatives involves a large amount of both planning and spontaneity. Workouts are planned based on available time and the weather forecast, but at the same time, if an opportunity to run comes up and I happen to be free, it’s usually best to grab the chance.
My first run in Singapore this week was a stark reminder of the above. I had teed up a time to run with an old buddy back from the army days. We’d fixed up a time at 1700h on Saturday to go have a plod through a popular 10km trail loop which was within walking distance from both our respective homes. I was particularly excited as it would be my first trail run in over a month, and after all the injury down time I was just itching for a solid, heart pounding, rock hopping run through the tropical jungle. On the day, the weather looked promising – a partly cloudy sky kept the worst of the sun’s heat away, and the maximum temperature was a relatively cool 27 degrees. It remained this way for the entire day all the way up to 4:30pm, when, as if on cue, a strong wind suddenly began blowing, bringing with it looming and foreboding nimbus clouds and the warning rumbles of thunder. The deafening wall of rain that followed promptly extinguished any embers of hope that remained. It rained for precisely 45 minutes, and then as quickly as it had come, the rain left, the clouds cleared – just long enough to ensure I couldn’t sneak in a run as I had a dinner appointment that evening. It was all a conspiracy!
Thanks to jet lag, I was up at early the next morning, and as soon as the glow of dawn began to illuminate the sky, I popped outside for a look. The weather was cool, and the sky a pretty blue. I had originally planned to make up a run that afternoon, but my thoughts went to the day before and I knew I had better seize the moment.
I chucked my shoes on, fired up “Zombies, Run!” (see here for more info) and went for an easy 5k round the neighbourhood, which incidentally is in one of the parts of Singapore that still hasn’t quite been hit by the overpopulation crisis.
My route took me through the quiet back road of Jalan Mashor, past the Riding for the Disabled Association, where the staff were busy giving the horses a morning trot. Other than that, the area was pretty much deserted. As I plodded along the back roads, I picked up some rather enthusiastic barking just over the soundtrack playing through my headphones. I turned back, and was greeted by the sight of two stray dogs at full gallop, teeth barred and headed straight for me. I had a good hundred or so metres on them, so I picked up the pace a little, hoping that they would give up and turn around if I could get outside of their territorial zone. Five seconds later, I turned around to check, and to my dismay they had closed the gap and the frantic barking had now been replaced by menacing snarling. There was no way I was going to outrun them now, so I decided to take a gamble. I turned around, and charged directly at them, yelling and waving my arms like a maniac. The ploy worked – the two dogs stopped dead in their tracks and looked at me confused for a full two seconds before fleeing back in the direction they had come. I continued to chase them until I was certain they were in full retreat, and then, relieved, I turned back around and went on my merry way.
The rest of the run was, thankfully, uneventful, and more notably, I did not get one single complaint from my troublesome tibialis posterior. Not even the slightest ache. For the first time in three really long months, I felt like I could really put this nagging injury behind me, and turn my attention for real to TNF100. It was that thought which brought a hint of a grin to my face as I wound my pace down to wrap up my first pain-free run since September. The weather induced disappointment was now all but forgotten as I strolled home satisfied and excitedly anticipating the next run – hopefully one through the tropical jungle of Macritche Reservoir park.