Running The World: New Zealand

Once again, I have Jen to thank for today’s Running The World interview. She introduced me to Sheryll, a New Zealand running blogger and warned Sheryll I would be in touch. When I dropped her an email, Sheryll was more than happy to give me the low-down on running in beautiful New Zealand. And then she sent me some photos to use and I died a little inside and started googling flights to Aukland! I was intrigued to find out more about where running fits into this super-outdoorsy, extreme-sports nation and this is what I found out.

 Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi, I’m Sheryll, I’m a clothing designer/pattern-maker living in central Auckland with my husband and 14 year old son.

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​Running the Tussock Traverse 26km in the central North Island’s volcanic plateau

 

How did you get into running?

I started running a couple of years ago and it has totally enhanced my life.  I’m particularly fond of off-road running and always have some event on my calendar that I am training for.  I started with 5-10km events, then last year I ran my first half marathon, and I have run a couple of trail halves since.  I’m gradually building my way up to a marathon – and I suppose then I will want to run an ultra!

How popular is running in New Zealand?

Running in NZ has been big ever since I can remember.  Before the Kenyans came along, NZ had some of the greatest distance runners of the world due to the influence of the famous NZ coach Arthur Lydiard.  I remember Arthur coming to our school and talking to our cross-country team, which first peaked my interest in exercise physiology as a career choice. I ended up studying radiography and ultrasound, before U-turning to a more creative career.

Is it growing in popularity?

I am sure the running scene in NZ has grown even since I started 2 years ago – the local Auckland Marathon has record entries (17,000), the number of event options keep growing so much that it is becoming hard to decide what to do, and even my husband has added to the numbers by taken up running again! Most cities in NZ have their local marathon/half/10km/5km event, and in Auckland it’s in early November (late Spring).

 
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Running the Dual 21km across Motutapu and Rangitoto Islands in the Hauraki Gulf

Who organises races in NZ? How much do they cost?

A local event company I frequent is Total Sport, they organise great events in stunning locations with an awesome vibe (example here) – and you will see a lot of their race reports on my blog! (Cat’s note: do check out that last link to a youtube video about a wonderful looking race).

There are plenty of other event organisers too, and if you want to search for a race in NZ the place to go is nzrunningcalendar.co.nz.  This has listings of all the races around the country and relevant links.  As a guide, race entry fees for events with chip timing are often around $50/10km, $100/half marathon, and $150/marathon, but you can pay a lot less. ($1NZD ~ $0.86 USD). The big city marathons are always popular. One thing that is less common here is a finisher’s medal – they are generally only given to runners completing a marathon or ultra.

How big is trail racing in NZ?

I think the biggest recent growth has been in trail and ultra running Many sell out quickly and have waiting lists, new races such as the Hillary Ultra Trail are coming on board all the time, and the Vibram Tarawera Ultra Marathon has recently become part of the Ultra Trail World Tour and consequently attracted a lot of international interest.   We now have our own NZ Trail Runner magazine too, which I am excited about.

A personal favourite race has to be the Kepler Challenge, even if I have never run it – yet.  This 60km ultra is based from my home town of Te Anau in Fiordland, and if you have ever read the story about the name of my blog, then Kepler IS those mountains.  I plan to run it one day, and at the top of Mt Luxmore I will stop for a moment and look back towards Te Anau Primary School where I ran that little race.  Swings and roundabouts :)

I think it is interesting to mention that although the term ‘trail running’ is used in New Zealand today, it is a relatively new to our dialect.  Here we would normally use the word ‘track’ for anything that is not a vehicular road (like our tramping tracks the Milford Track or the Kepler Track), or ‘off-road running’ for anything, well – off road!

 Tell us about the demographics of running in NZ. 

In the events I enter, there is a relatively even balance of men/women.  One thing that always strikes me is the wide age range – from kids to masters (me!) and even legends 60+.  This is one of the great things about running – anyone can do it and be competitive, in their age group, gender, or with themselves.  I hope to be one of those legends one day too!
NZ 3

At the beginning of the Routeburn Track, Mt Aspiring National Park

How does the weather in NZ affect the running community?

The weather in NZ is really similar to the UK, except Auckland and the North, which is bordering sub-tropical. Surrounded by sea, Auckland has humid summers with min/max of 17 – 24 C and winters of 8 – 15 C when most of our rainfall occurs. This makes perfect daytime winter running, but summer can be a bit too humid and warm during the daytime – well for this Southern Girl anyway.

Further south, summer in NZ is more variable, and winter has regular frosts with snow on the Southern Alps. The West Coast and Southern Alps also experience high rainfall and you really need to be prepared for four seasons in one day!

What about running gear, especially for women. Are NZ female runners well catered for?

Style-wise, Kiwi women love their capri tights, and running skirts are far less common, even though many of the top NZ female ultrarunners wear them.  All the big international brands are available in NZ, but there are a couple of local brands worth a mention:

  • Icebreaker – when it is wet, wool retains warmth unlike any other fibre, and I swear by merino wool for trail running in cool wet weather.  I have a few t-shirts which are great for running in the rain, and I even have some underpants that keep my glutes cosy!  I plan on buying some Rush 3/4 tights this winter as I’ve noticed my quads can get cold in polyester tights.
  • Kori Kita started a small range of running skirts and tops last year, with unique NZ influenced prints.  Although I don’t own any items yet, I hope to one day soon – I am eyeing up the the running skirt with capri length leggings underneath for winter – such a great idea!

What fuel do NZ runners use? And how do they hydrate on long runs? Is it vastly different to US/European runners?

As far as fuel goes, the common brands are GU, Clif, and Sport Beans. To be honest I’m not sure how popular they are, but I sometimes take a couple of GU gels during long races as I can stomach them well, but I also like to take some real food on trail runs – like homemade oaty cookies, fruit/nut balls – they are a great pick-me-up treat!

How safe do you feel as a female runner in NZ?

I have always felt safe running in NZ.  My personal safety level is to never run alone in isolated areas, and I have no doubt you could do this 1000000 times and have no issue, but why take that risk when you can run locally or run with friends – much more fun!

What about social media? What role does it play in the NZ running community?

With communication the way it is today, I don’t think New Zealand is different to the rest of the world as far as trends go. There are several New Zealand running blogs out there and I link to the ones I’ve discovered on my blog sidebar.  Most bloggers are totally uncommercialised and post less frequently, but when they do it is a usually an inspiring read about a recent event.  Most events have a facebook group too where you can connect with other like-minded people.

Auckland! Source

Auckland!
Source

Who are NZ’s running heroes?

NZ has a lot of running stars, but nowadays many are based overseas and are possibly more of a household name in Europe/US than New Zealand! Here are a few to follow:

  • Anna Frost runs for Salomon and has won Transvulcania, Speedgoat 50k, and several European titles
  • Ruby Muir has won the Kepler Challenge and Tarawera Ultra
  • Jo Johansen is one to watch – she only started running off-road a year ago, and won this year’s Tarawera Ultra followed by the Hillary Ultra a couple of weeks later!
  • Jonothan Wyatt is another Salomon/European based mountain runner
  • Vajin Armstrong is a consistent place-getter who is currently 2nd in the Ultra Trail World Tour
  • Kim Smith 3x Olympian, BAA Distance Medley 2 years running.
  • Nick Willis 2x Olympian, 1500m silver medalist

If I came to New Zealand, where would you suggest I start if I wanted to tap into the running community there?

Definitely runningcalendar.co.nz  - tells you everything that is going on in this country!

If I was going to do one race in New Zealand, what would you suggest?

That would be so hard to pick. For the road runner, I’d pick the Auckland Marathon or Half-Marathon – a scenic run round the bays and over the Harbour Bridge. For a trail run, the Tussock Traverse 13 or 26km is hard to beat, and if you are an ultra runner, you can’t go wrong with the Kepler Challenge, the Hillary Trail or the Tarawera Ultra. .

The Keplar Challenge Source

The Keplar Challenge
Source

So what are the best and worst things about running in New Zealand?

One of the best things about running in New Zealand is that you are never far from an amazing place to run. Whether it is straight out your door or half an hours drive away, there will be some bush-clad mountains, sandy beaches, or coastal clifftops waiting for you with some spectacular scenery to enjoy.  And within our National Parks you will find many of the world’s great walking ‘tracks’ – just waiting to be run!

Apart from some occasional rain and wind I can’t think of any real negatives.  We are lucky to have a temperate climate so you can run outdoors year round, although the weather can change rapidly especially in the mountains so you have to be prepared for that.  We are also lucky to have no dangerous wildlife like spiders, snakes or mountain lions to watch out for – thank goodness or I might have to stick to the roads.  You also needn’t fear being considered a crazy running nerd in this adventure sports-mad nation!

Sheryll, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me!! You can read Sheryll’s blog Run to the Mountains HERE for drool-worthy tales of trail running in New Zealand. 

You can read the other Running The World interviews HERE

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Weeeee-hooooo

What does a running blogger post about on a Monday when she’s done absolutely no running all weekend?

Cycling, of course.

The Dude was born into a cycling household. Before he was born, we cycled everywhere and were obsessed with cycling, similar to my running obsession now. Once he was here, running was a whole load easier than getting out on the bike…and gradually running took over. But over the past four years, we’ve had a number of contraptions to enable us to cycle.

1) The trailer

Bought second-hand when I was four months pregnant. We used this from when he was 4 months old, with his car-seat strapped into the trailer until he was old enough to sit in it alone. We’ve loved it (and trashed it, over the years) but now he’s older he finds it a little lonely and boring behind me.

The Dude's first bike ride in the FREEZING cold of a UK March

The Dude’s first bike ride in the FREEZING cold of a UK March

2) The Skuut

Found in the dumpster at our apartment complex, the Husband mended, painted and strengthened it and the Dude ADORED IT!

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He was so flipping cute when he was little!

3) The bicycle seat

Found for $5 in a garage sale here in California, this has been by far my favourite method of cycling with him, primarily because he’s so close that we can chat really easily. He ADORED it and has been really comfortable in it, even sleeping in it. Alas there’s a 40lbs weight limit which he now exceeds and I’m not comfortable carrying him in it any more. The danger of tipping is too great. I’m heart-broken that these days are over.

Me Dude Cycling

4) The bike

Wow…we actually bought this new! The Dude’s little Trek bike was worth every dollar – we bought him a decent one so that he’d love riding, and it worked. He finally ditched the training wheels on New Year’s Day and hasn’t looked back.

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However I’m very nervous about letting the Dude cycle on roads, no matter how quiet, which means that family bike rides would be limited to paved trails around the local area. So we wanted to find something that gave us more freedom to cycle as a family whilst still keeping the Dude safe. We had two options.

5) The tag-along

Rented in SF a few weeks ago, we liked this lots and considered buying one. My only concern was that we wanted this for longer trips when I’d do the bulk of the cycling…and his little bottom might get sore if we pushed it too far, plus he’d have to hold his body upright for longer periods of time.

Tagalong

And as of Saturday….

6) The Weehoo

I first saw this a few years ago and was fascinated by it. It has all the benefits of a tag-along but in a better set-up. The Dude is very securely strapped in and is lovely and comfy in his seat. He can pedal if he wishes, or rest if he doesn’t. It also comes with panniers for the inevitable pile of cr*p that having a child involves. We bought it second-hand from Craigslist on Friday for about $150 off the RRP at REI and are delighted with it. We took it out for a 6 mile spin on Saturday and it got the big thumbs-up from its small passenger. I found it a little scary and wobbly at first but by the end I was feeling a little more confident. I feel that with time I should get better at pulling it. It’s heavy…but everything is.

IMG_2714 IMG_2720

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Do you think we like this?

I’ll do a proper review of the Weehoo when we’ve put some miles into it, but first impressions are good!

Between his bike and the Weehoo, we should be covered now for a few years. However I’m still dreaming of this, when he’s 8. He tells me he’ll still want to cycle with me when he’s 8! We’ll see, eh?

Just what I want, Husband, in case you read this. A yellow Bike Friday tandem.

Just what I want, Husband, in case you read this.
A yellow Bike Friday tandem.

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This week’s training

I have to be honest, I’ve struggled with motivation a little this week. It’s always the case in the week after a race, and more so this week for a couple of reasons.

1) It’s been Spring Break for the Dude and so the times I usually set aside for running have been taken up by hanging out with him, which is always awesome so I am not complaining.

2) Following Saturday’s race, I went down with a nasty cold and felt a bit grotty this week.

3) For the first time in a LONG time (2 years?) I don’t have a race in the diary to motivate me. My next signed-up-for race is a relay in Colorado in August – the next few months are all about the Husband’s IronMan training and our trip to the UK in June. It feels a little odd to be so aimless, I might need to do some thinking about it and find myself some sort of goal to work towards.

This week wasn’t void of running however.

Saturday: 10 mile trail race on Angel Island in 1.48 at 10.46 pace. 3rd in AG (old girls).

Happy!

Happy!

Sunday:  Rest day. Struck down with the Dude’s germs. Sat on the sofa and ate pizza all day, and watched the London Marathon coverage.Bought back many happy memories of the day I ran it and also made me sob at the wonderful story of the Bone Marrow donor and recipient who ran the marathon together. Watching the wheelchair athletes, the blind runners and Richard Whitehead on his blades was a wonderful opportunity to talk to the Dude about adversity and how you choose to handle it. I think this deep life lesson got lost in some ice-cream and paper aeroplanes.

Monday: Additional rest day due to germs.

Tuesday: 4.3 miles easy run at a 8.46 pace.

Surprisingly fast for someone so snotty (and period-y, sorry if TMI). It was the anniversary of the Boston bombings, and like runners everywhere I spent some time thinking, remembering and being grateful.

Wednesday: 3.5 mile bike ride with the Dude. Lots of fun.

Thursday: 6.3 miles steady run at 9.12 pace. Unremarkable.

pm – 1.8 mile hike at Wunderlich Park with the Dude and our friend.

wunderlich trails

And that, alas, was it. I feel a little sluggish and lazy, I’m getting right back into the groove next week! First, I aim to eat all the Easter chocolate. Have a great weekend everyone.

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Running The World: Singapore

I have Jen to thank for today’s Running The World interview. She introduced me via Twitter to Grace, who’s a Singaporean runner. Grace responded to our tweets by quoting Call Me Maybe! Got to love that!

Grace also suggested I speak to Holly , an American ex-pat and running coach  in Singapore for a second perspective on Singapore Running. They were both fantastic to talk to and this is what they said.

Before we start, tell us a little about Singapore.

GraceSingapore is a city of about five million people. But it is also its own country – not in China, not in Malaysia, not anywhere else! We have arguably the best food in the world: laksa, char kway teow, nasi lemak, roti prata, the list goes on! I love to eat and I love to run. The two kind of feed into each other… As it’s a tropical island, Singapore is also quite small (42km across) and very hot. You know how runners in North America start complaining when the temperature creeps up above 70 or 80 degrees F? Over here we call that Tuesday morning. More on that later.

Holly – Despite limited space and lots of people, though, the government has made a concerted effort to maintain green spaces.  So although they are more ‘urban park’ than ‘ginormous wilderness national park’, there are green spaces with lots of trees, playgrounds, paths, and water features.  There are also a few areas that have been preserved as forest.  Singaporeans, in my estimation, love all these spaces – the parks, trails, and green areas are always full, especially on the weekend – with people of all ages.

Singapore's beautiful Botanic Gardens. Photo Credit - Grace

Singapore’s beautiful Botanic Gardens.
Photo Credit – Grace

Cat’s note: Singapore’s square mileage is 240 square miles. That’s basically the same size as San Francisco or just under 2 x the Isle of Wight in the UK. I was pretty gob-smacked that the entire country was so small!

Tell us a little about yourselves.

Grace – I’m Singaporean (ethnically Southern Chinese – Singapore is multi-ethnic, and while the majority is ethnic Chinese, there are Indians, Malays, Filipinos, Indonesians, and other newer waves of immigrants and expats). I was born and grew up here, but lived in the US for five years while getting my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I’m a journalist for one of the local newspapers. I’ve been living in Singapore for the past six years but will be moving back to the US (Boston) at the end of this year for a while, as my ridiculously clever husband is ridiculously clever and got into his first choice PhD programme first go. Besides running, I like to eat, cook, dance, play board games, travel, and read a lot.

Grace volunteering at an ultra race and spritzing runners with ice-cold water

Grace volunteering at an ultra race and spritzing runners with ice-cold water. Photo Credit: Pictureart

Holly – I’m a 31 year-old American living in Singapore with my Chinese-Singaporean-American husband, zero kids, a few tomato plants, and my vermicomposting worms.  I was lucky enough to have my mid-life crisis about 20 years early (at 31 years old), and after spending 8 years in research science (including a PhD in Biochemistry), I started an online run coaching business (Run With Holly).   I also have certifications to teach indoor cycling and Pilates, and freelance at several local gyms. Basically, I love helping people find empowerment through being fit.

Holly

Holly

How did you get into running?

 Holly – I was a swimmer in high school, and distinctly remember telling my swim coach, during pre-season dry-land training (which included running), that I shouldn’t run, “…because I’m a fish.  Do you know what happens to fish on land??  They DIE.” But, I started running on my own volition in college, initially because I calculated that it was the most efficient way for me to avoid the “Freshman 15″.  Gradually, I started running outdoors, and actually enjoying my runs – they were a respite of quiet “me” time in the frenzy of college life.

Upon graduation, I moved to Rochester, NY, where I learned what it meant to be part of a running community.  There were so many experienced runners there who patiently taught me how to run long, and longer, and even longer, and really long, and then really long on trails.  They taught me how to run in the snow, and the ice, and in the middle of a blizzard, and when it was 10*F. They taught me about hydration, nutrition, and Body Glide.  For all of this (but especially that last part), I’m forever indebted to them. Nowadays, I love trails the most, but log miles on a mixture of trails and roads.  Last year, I raced distances up to a marathon (road) and 50K (trail).  Half-marathon training is my happy steady-state place, but I’ll increase for a longer race about once a year.

 Grace - You can read a little bit more about this on my blog, but both my parents ran for exercise when I was growing up. My dad even ran a few marathons, in the days before tech t-shirts, fancy shoes, or gel; in fact, he ran at least one marathon wearing a cotton shirt and old-school nylon shorts, carrying a baked sweet potato wrapped in foil… He still runs, just not marathons. And my mum runs every day. So I grew up running, too. (But not competing – I haven’t a competitive bone in my body.)

I was always a restless kid, and my ‘thing’ was ballet. I used to follow my mum on her jogs around the block, but didn’t start running seriously or training for specific events till I started working in 2008. Now, it’s how I blow off steam.

How popular is running in Singapore?

Grace – It’s is absurdly popular. Here is an example of the kind of numbers we get at races:  the Singapore Marathon recently had to cap the number of entrants at 10,000 for the half-marathon and 20,000 for the 10k!

 Holly – Running has exploded here in the last 5-7 years.  When I first visited Singapore (in 2006) there were only a few races the whole year.  These days, there’s a run or triathlon almost every weekend.   As in the US, running is an upper-middle class dominated sport.

How popular is running amongst women in Singapore?  

Grace – The flagship Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore had mostly men and 16 per cent women finishers, but that’s shifting. Last year, there was an all-women’s half marathon (the Great Eastern Women’s Run) and 10K – it was packed! I think younger generations of women are more likely to be running than older generations – it’s probably the same in every developed country around the world. My grandmother ran track races in school, but it wasn’t considered a pastime for grown women. My mum jogs every day, but she claims it’s just to keep fit and she doesn’t race – I’m trying to change that!   That’s not to say they don’t care about fitness – you’ll often find gaggles of older women going for a stroll or doing tai chi together. And some of them are very fit indeed. My parents’ generation (the baby boomers) is also more into running than the previous one.

Holly – Everyone is running (more younger and middle aged than older, obviously), but the longer the distance, the higher the ratio of men:women.  People tell me there’s still some social/societal stigma surrounding women doing hard-core exercise (getting sweaty, etc) – I’ll admit that I haven’t noticed much difference between Singapore and the US, but I primarily work with and surround myself with folks who are already running.

As a female runner, is safety an issue for you when running?

 Grace –  In Singapore, I feel perfectly safe. Singaporeans are generally very polite, reserved and well-behaved (at least, they will keep their thoughts and remarks to themselves…or to social media). A woman out jogging on her own is not going to be catcalled or whistled at.  

Holly -  It’s really, really safe.  Singapore is a ridiculously safe country, period.  I describe this way: I could get in a taxi alone, ask the driver to drop me anywhere, then run home – and not worry about running through a “bad” neighborhood.  It is SAFE here – and there are people out everywhere, almost all the time. I have never been whistled at or cat-called here AT ALL – even when wearing something smallish or tightish.  Guys may watch (I see their heads/eyes turn), but there are never any lewd comments.  This contributes to my feeling of safety while running out here.

What do women tend to wear when they run?

Holly – Most of the women here run in shorts & a short-sleeved shirt. Some wear tanks (UK – vest top). Very few run in just a sports bra.   I typically wear shorts and a tank, but will sometimes go with just a sports bra, depending on when and where I’m running.  If I’m running trails and don’t think I’ll need the shirt to wipe my face, I may go in just a bra. However, I have to run past some outdoor eating areas to get to the trails, and if I’m wearing too little, I feel a bit self-conscious.  But that’s me, no one has ever said anything to me.  I will note, though, that the more traditional Muslim women do still run and race in while fully covered, in pants sometimes even with a long skirt on top, and hajibs.  It’s quite awesome.

Holly racing!

Holly running TNF 100 - she did the 50k

Are women catered by the Singaporean running industry?  

Holly –  Apparently, the importers and sellers haven’t yet figured out that lots of women are running and (gasp!) also want to look cute.  For example, Lululemon opened 2 small showrooms in the last year, and now I see women wearing Lulu anywhere that women are working out.  There’s simply no one else bringing in that kind of gear for women.  

Grace – There aren’t really any shops here that are dedicated specifically to women’s running, alas. I think it’s an under-served niche. Most of us just end up buying things from Amazon and shipping them over, or shopping when we travel.

What is racing like in Singapore

 Grace Races will sell out or close MONTHS in advance. For last year’s Safra Singapore Bay Run and Army Half Marathon – that’s one event with a 21K and a 10K – 46,000 people showed up.

Grace looking unbelievably cool at the Venus Run, an all women's 5k

Grace looking unbelievably cool at the Venus Run, an all women’s 5k Photo: Running Shots

 

Holly - Most are sponsored by a big name in running shoes or apparel (Brooks, Adidas, Nike), and executed by a local event production company. A few have banks or other large corporations as headline sponsors.  There are very few small, local, fundraiser races.   Most distances are 10K or more, and a third marathon was added to the race calendar this year.  (See below Re: Distances people race). Short races are slightly more expensive than in the US (~$35 USD), but the longer races (half, full) are pretty comparable.

There is one main area in Singapore that is wide and free from traffic (along the waterfront downtown), and near to large congregating spaces. There is approximately one road that the government will agree to close for a race.   Virtually every long race – and many of the shorter runs – are done along some slight variation of this course. (Racing here can get boring fast.)   Races are huge – usually thousands of people (2,000-4,000 for smaller races; the larger multi-distance events can have up to 40,000).  Start times are early (4-5 AM for longer distances), starting pens are packed, not separated by pace, and HOT.  The same guy works the mic at virtually every race I’ve attended. People don’t line up by pace (this happens in the US, but it’s worse here), so if I don’t arrive early enough to get at the very front, I spend much of the race dodging people.  Courses are often routed over narrow bridges and paths, and bottlenecks are common. Aid stations frequently run out of water and/or electrolyte beverages.  Finish areas tend to be packed and sometimes chaotic.  Having said all that, I love seeing people out being active – and of course, I am so glad to see the running community growing.

Interestingly, volunteers are usually local students fulfilling mandatory or extra credit volunteer hours, so they do their jobs as best they can, but aren’t runners and often make mistakes (lead runners have been mis-directed, or allowed to run off the wrong way, by misinformed or uncertain volunteers – in at least 2 races that I know of!).  They also don’t really know how to cheer.  Spectators are rare (see: early start), so courses tend to be very quiet.  

Side note: swag bags are called “Runner’s Entitlement”, and are a VERY BIG THING here.  Most include a technical shirt (you get before the race), and some other goodies.  Runners LOVE these bags, and you should have seen the wrath unleashed when a run at the Singapore Zoo exchanged a stuffed plush toy for something else (I forget what) in the Entitlement.  Folks were quite furious.

 Final note: Registration works VERY different from in the US:

  1. Race dates are released 3-5 months in advance.
  2. Sign up are open until 1-2 months before the race date.  (NEVER any day-of registration – EVER)
  3. Packet pick-up occurs 1-2 weeks before the event (sometimes special consideration is made for folks traveling here to run).  (NEVER any day-of packet collection).
  4. Thanks to this, buying/selling of bibs is officially prohibited but occurs often, even on public websites/forums.

What kind of races do you like?

 Grace - Most of the time I look for small, local races. I just volunteered at an overnight ultramarathon with 200 participants.  

Holly –  I’m pretty lukewarm about most of the races I’ve done here, although I did really like the Yellow Ribbon Run (here’s my race report) – it’s one of the few fundraisers, it’s run in a totally different location, and organization was decent.

Is Trail Running popular in Singapore?  

Holly - Yes, but the trail running here is pretty tame.  The most notable bit are the monkeys, which are always fun to watch, and almost guaranteed to be spotted during a trail run. :)  There are a few rooty or rocky areas – although what seems to happen is someone will fall in such a spot, complain to the parks association or publish a complaint in the newspaper, and shortly thereafter, that section is filled in with gravel.  Kinda takes the fun out of it. In general, Singaporeans (through no fault of their own) have grown up in a city, and act like it.  They like to be out in nature, but complain about tree roots.  I ran a race along a grassy stretch that used to contain railroad tracks, and many of the participants were upset/worried that there were a few slightly muddy sections. Periodically, people get “lost” in the tiny section of forest in the middle of the island.   There are some die-hard trail lovers, though – and those folks (including myself) do our best on the island, and happily escape to run trails in Hong Kong or New Zealand whenever possible! :)

Holly and a monkey on a trail run!

Holly’s running friend and a monkey on a trail run! Photo:Holly

 

Grace – Yes, BUT. Because Singapore is so small and doesn’t have a lot of trails, what trails we do have are very, very well-pounded and super busy on weekends. I like to run on the MacRitchie Reservoir trail, an 11km loop around a reservoir, and on the Rail Corridor trail, a disused railway line with the tracks removed.

Because Singapore is in the tropics, it has incredible biodiversity. There are more species here in one tiny island than in much larger parts of North America. You’ll find pangolins, tree frogs, freshwater crabs, colugos etc in the nature reserves here. I once saw a real live pangolin scuttling across the trail on an early morning run!  

Can I plead with runners not to go off-trail or run on trails at night in Singapore? Runners may chafe at being barred from certain areas, but what they don’t realise is WHY: when they run in protected nature reserves at night or go off-trail, they really do affect and endanger wildlife here. Some animals are nocturnal and don’t take kindly to being disturbed at night. In some cases, if you run through a freshwater stream, the stream gets silted up which can affect fish, frogs and other wildlife. For that reason I won’t do an overnight trail run, it just goes against my nature lover principles! Fortunately, there are a lot of other parks and paths to run on.  

Pandan Reservoir, one of Grace's favourite places to run.  Photo: Grace

Pandan Reservoir, one of Grace’s favourite places to run.
Photo: Grace

 What’s popular in terms of gear?  

Holly – Running doesn’t require much gear, but even a pair of sneaker will set you back ~$160 USD (or more!).  Runners do love the newest coolest shoes, though – and the trends seem pretty similar to those in the US. For example, recent launches by Brooks and Adidas were pretty similar in timing and content in both countries. Singapore is a very affluent country, so although the population is small, it’s not a bad place in Asia for companies to market expensive gear.   Really, the most notable things about gear are the price, and the limited selection.  Most of the brands are similar to those in the US – there are a few others that are local, but they aren’t that amazing . There is also some nice stuff that comes out of Australia & New Zealand (I discovered wool Icebreaker gear here, for example), but not tons.

What trends are taking off within Singaporean running?  

Holly – Running more.  Running longer.  Singaporeans have, in general, incredible mental fortitude, and an intense desire to succeed at everything they do.  This leads to some dangerous running habits that drive me utterly crazy as a running coach.  For example, there aren’t many 5Ks here, and I firmly believe one of the reasons is that people don’t ask/demand it.  They are quite confident that, without any training, they can go out and run a 5K.  Even 10K and half-marathons aren’t that big a deal.  People want to know if you’ve run a marathon.  It helps that the first super popular race here was a marathon. Lots of people under train, then go out and run 42K – walking, hobbling, whatever it takes to get to the finish line.  Race finish times here are probably some of the slowest in the world (I intend to do a thorough numerical study at some point, but don’t have hard data now) – average marathon finish is probably about 5.5-6.5 hours.  Granted, heat plays a role – but so does massive undertraining.  On one hand, I give the Singaporeans kudos for their mental strength – but kinda want to smack them upside the head for their lack of preparation.  (Of course, there are runners, and training groups, that do prepare thoroughly and properly.)  But what happens when 5K and 10K aren’t noteworthy distances? The whole spectrum shifts, and suddenly people who want to do more…enter the ultra world.  There are lots of informal – and a few formal – ultra runs.  Based on what I’ve seen, I only expect to see this grow. 

What do Singaporean runners use to fuel when running?

Holly – Similar products to the US. I can find my favourites (Honey Stingers) here, along with other common products. But like apparel, selection is less and cost is higher (up to $3.50 for a packet of Honey Stinger chews). Good thing customs doesn’t mind that we bring back several boxes of chews on each trip back to the US.

And for hydration?

Holly – Given the heat and humidity, this is obviously an issue – and there are actually a few local electrolyte beverages that are much more common (and cheaper and slightly less sweet) than Gatorade including Pocari Sweat (Cat’s note: I drank that in Japan purely for the name) and 100Plus. 100Plus is carbonated which makes it impossible for me to drink while running, but those bubbles are a deliciously refreshing thing at the end of a run. That said, I rely heavily on salt tabs for keeping my electrolytes replenished.

If you could encourage a traveller to do any Singaporean race, which would it be?

Holly – Good question!  As I mentioned previously, most of the races are run along a similar route.  And although this route gets boring for regulars, for any visitor, it’s a great view of the downtown area.  That said, given the organizational issues I’ve experienced, I can’t strongly recommend one race over another.  Just sign up, arrive early, and prepare for a bit of chaos.  Also, if you’re just visiting, choose a 5K or 10K.  There’s no reason to stress your un-acclimated body to a half-marathon!!

Who are the running heroes in Singapore?  

Grace – One of my favourite runners is Dr Mok Ying Ren, who won the marathon at the last South-East Asian Games last year, and is trying to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics. I hope he makes it!  

Holly – Singaporeans don’t glorify sports heroes in the way Americans do – for children, athletics take time away from their studies.  So although kids might play a team sport in school, the majority of their time is spent on academics.  Athletics aren’t a viable career option, even for the most talented.  I think people look up to folks who do really crazy things such as Jeri Chua  a lady who is doing a multi-day stage race through Italy (the Tor des Geants)

Cat’s note – Both ladies mentioned these next two inspiring people!

2. These guys, who ran the Marathon des Sables to raise money for shelter dogs;

3. Ah Siao, a local guy who runs marathons dragging a tire, and just ran 31 marathons in 31 consecutive days, to raise money for the Bone Marrow Donor Program (‘Ah Siao’ isn’t his real name – it’s a nickname that means something like ‘crazy’ in one of the local Chinese dialects)

How does social media and the internet play a part in the Singapore running community?

Grace –  A lot of the action is on Facebook.  In terms of websites to check out, Running Guild puts on a lot of community events and  Running Shots are a photography collective who volunteer and provide their race photos free of charge.

Holly – Lots of little communities, forums, FB, Twitter, etc.  Not tons of bloggers with new/innovative content, and from my experience everyone is loyal to whatever fits him/her best.  Nothing crazy.

Singapore

Singapore skyline. Photo: Holly

 

What are the best and worst things about running in Singapore?

Grace – The best thing is the running community. People are incredibly generous, friendly, and welcoming. Next best thing is the huge network of paths and park connectors to run on. You’ll find them in almost any neighbourhood, around the reservoir or alongside the canal.  

The worst thing is the heat! A few weeks ago I ran a 5K that started at 5pm. And it was something like 32 or 33 degrees Celsius (about 90F). I broke a sweat just walking to the start line.  Once you learn to deal with the heat (and I am still afraid of the heat), you will be a much, much tougher runner. But always wear sunscreen.  

Holly - Worst: Humidity! Singapore is classified as tropical rainforest climate – average temps are 80-95*F, average humidity about 70-80%; so it’s HOT and HUMID.  The body acclimates, but it’s very hard for me to challenge my previous PRs, simply because hot weather is more stress on the body.  Plus, dealing with sweat in eyes, soaking wet sneakers (from sweat running down legs), associated chafing (that no amount of Body Glide will save), and simply staying sufficiently hydrated/salted is its own task/challenge.  

Best: Well, I suppose the heat/humidity is a double-edged sword, because while my friends in Upstate NY were tromping through snow, freezing their nosehairs, and wearing sixteen layers…I was still gallivanting about in shorts & tank. :)  Also, I get an amazing speed boost when I travel and run/race in lower humidity!  

Ladies, thank you so much for the time and effort you put into this post when your lives are so busy.  You can (and should) follow both their blogs – Grace’s is HERE and Holly’s is HERE and they are on Twitter – Grace HERE and Holly HERE!

For other Running The World interviews, click here.

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Race Recap: Ayala Cove 10 Miler

On Saturday morning, I ran the Ayala Cove 10 mile trail race, which is its formal name..I’ve always called it the Angel Island 10 miler. Angel Island is an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, between the city and Marin. It’s car-free except the little tourist bus and some park ranger vehicles, so everyone who visits hikes or cycles. You can camp here, but there’s currently no residential houses. It’s peaceful and beautiful. Mt Livermore rises 788 ft/240m above the bay and the island is crisscrossed with beautiful single-track trails lined with forget-me-nots or with simple fire roads. We hiked there three years ago and I’d been dying to go back and run there.

In this post, I’m using a mix of photos from Saturday and from our 2011 hike. If the sky is blue, it’s an old photo. If it’s a photo of the race or the sky is grey, it’s from Saturday.

The race was held by Zoom Running Events and incorporated a 5 miler, a 10 miler and a 15 miler. The 5 miler goes straight up to the summit. The 10 miler climbs half-way up and loops the island on a fire road before doing the summit loop, and the 15 miler circles the island on the flattish road at the bottom before doing the fire-road loop then the summit loop. I have to say, Zoom managed this event perfectly, I was really impressed.

I’ve mentioned before that this race was particularly exciting because my friend Louise was running it and it was her first ever race. She only really started running in November when she and I did an ‘exercise exchange’. She took me to yoga, I took her trail running. Now I do yoga fairly regularly and she is totally hooked on running. Watching her increase her distance and fall in love with running over the past few months has been a real delight and I was so excited to see her run her first race!

Angel Island from the ferry on Saturday

Angel Island from the ferry on Saturday

We travelled together up to Tiburon, the pretty little town in Marin from where all the runners would get the ferry over to Angel Island. The original plan was for my boys to come with us and cycle round the island whilst we ran, but the Dude picked up a germ at pre-school this week, so they stayed home.  It was a late start – the ferry left at 10 am, which made fuelling for the race a little tricky – when should I eat breakfast? should I have a snack beforehand? Packet Pick-Up was smooth and simple – I think only about 150 people ran any of the three races – and soon we were on the ferry heading to the island.

Packet Pick Up

Packet Pick Up

Ready to run...

Ready to run…

We knew it wouldn’t be hot but it was surprisingly grey and bitterly cold. We got pretty chilled before the race started. The 15 milers set off at 10.50 and the 10 milers set off at 10:55. We were literally freezing so really glad to get running. As ever, once we started running, we were warm enough pretty much immediately and the weather was perfect for running.

Ayala Cove

Ayala Cove

The 10 miler was made up of two loops. The first loop started up some beautiful single track. There was a little passing to negotiate (both me passing other people and being passed myself) but it wasn’t too bad or stressful and it was never badly crowded. About half-way up the mountain-side, we veered off onto a fire-road and after that I was pretty much on my own for the rest of the race, which was blissful. The fire-road turned a corner and there was the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge and I just had to marvel once again at how lucky I am to be living here, how flipping beautiful this city is and how much I love it.

I ran on – the fire road was pretty flat and nicely surfaced, it was a real pleasure to run it. At one point, I took a wrong turn and headed up a hill (obviously) but two ladies whistled and yelled at me and I got back on track. Soon enough, I was heading downhill to the end of the first loop – we had to run all the way back down the mountain to the start point. The trail was quite steep and rocky – I ran it as fast as I could whilst still being careful not to fall, it was a bit of an adrenaline rush, I loved it. We finished with some brutal stairs and a flat paved stretch back to the staging area. When I got there, Louise’s husband and children were there cheering, it was lovely to see them. I had enough drink in my handheld so yelled back at them and kept running.

Angel Island trails

Angel Island trails

Tiburon, Sausalito and Mt Tam from Angel Island

Tiburon  and Mt Tam from Angel Island

The second loop was tougher. We initially followed the same trails up the mountain and it was impossible not to compare how much harder it felt on this second loop, on tired legs versus how fresh I felt last time. Having said that, it was very do-able and both Louise and I managed to run the entire race, the first time I’ve not had to walk during a trail race, so the gradients were great. Where we veered off on the fire road on the first loop, we continued climbing on single-track towards the summit. The trails had left the woods now and the views were stunning. I was so very happy running here – so much pleasure. I choked down a Gu and a few minutes later, it kicked in.

The City from Angel Island

The City from Angel Island

The final push was an out-and-back to the summit. My legs were tired from what felt like the constant climbing but I was now determined not to walk. So I slogged up the final stretch. There were times when I might have walked faster but I kept running and before long, I was at the top, turning round and plunging back down the mountain. Just as I finished the out-and-back I saw Louise looking amazing and strong so yelled some encouragement at her and started flying back down. The downhill stretch was awesome, except the moment when I had to bend low down to climb under a fallen tree. My muscles did NOT want to stand up and start running again, it was hilarious. Down the rocky, steep trail again and down those horrible steps and then I was flying along the paved road to the start. There was a guy in front of me and I focussed on the poor man, determined to catch him and flew past him in the finishing chute. I finished in 1.47.50, a few minutes less than my goal time. I was utterly delighted.

Pretty happy with that! Photo: Lou's husband

Pretty happy with that!
Photo: Lou’s husband

I got a medal, a fat coke, my race t-shirt and a hug from Louise’s lovely husband and we stood to wait for Louise to finish. She slowed up a little on the final descent, wisely opting to be careful rather than risk falling on tired legs, but soon enough we saw her running towards us and before we knew it, she’d crossed the line. I am so incredibly proud of her – it wasn’t an easy race (it had 1,350 ft elevation), she ran the whole thing and finished in 2.01 (she’d expected to finish in 2.30, I thought she’d run it in 2.15) so she utterly crushed it. It was a really lovely moment.

Louise wasn't unhappy with her performance today!

Louise wasn’t unhappy with her performance today!

As icing on the cake, when I went to confirm my time I found out I’d come 3rd in my age-group, only the second time this has ever happened. Last time, I didn’t find out till I’d left the race. This time, the race director shook my hand and congratulated me. It flipping made my day!

angel island

AG medal and race medal

Louise's daughter ran off with her medal so we shared mine ;)

Louise’s daughter ran off with her medal so we shared mine ;)

(In case you think these photos are ridiculously enormous, please know that these are the size options WordPress is giving me at the moment. The one of me alone is ‘medium’ and this one is ‘large’. I’d say ‘small’ or ‘HUMUNGOUS’. Grrrr)

We were thoroughly chilled now, so got the ferry home as quickly as possible. I’d had a niggle in my throat all morning, the Dude’s germs, and the chilling didn’t help – the next day, I was all croaky and snotty and delightful!!

Proud husband ....aaah!

Lou and her proud husband ….aaah!

In terms of the race itself, it was beautifully organised. I wish it started earlier but understand the limitations due to ferry times. The course was utterly beautiful. A few more sign-posting ribbons would have been useful – several people took a wrong turn (including yours truly) and Louise was stood under a tree for a few minutes waiting for someone to join her and confirm which direction she should go in. But apart from that, it was perfect. The loot was great – a really nice t-shirt and a big, heavy medal.

Loot! And the best EVER race number for a Brit!

Loot! And the best EVER race number for a Brit!*

All in all, a pretty cracking morning!

* 1066 is the one date that every British school-child knows – the Norman conquest, the last year Britain got invaded. Kind of like 1776 for America but without the glory.

As an added bonus for you, I mentioned to Louise that she might like to do a race recap. It’s so easy to take racing for granted and forget what it’s like to do it for the first time. This is what Louise said.

I was running a weekly total of six miles when Cat suggested I try a ten miler on Angel Island. I signed up, secretly confident that I could stretch my distance in three months and be in a strong position to run my first ever race. As I scrolled through the course information I do recall a pretty graph outlining some kind of elevation, but in all honesty I didn’t pay it much attention. And then I boldly announced my first race plans and received a barrage of well meaning concern; ‘If you don’t hill train you will struggle’, ‘Perhaps the five miler might be more your thing’ and ‘I once climbed to the top of the mountain there.’ (There is a mountain? You only climbed it once?)

With the help of a plan Cat put together for me I did two training runs a week over 11 weeks in preparation, building up to one flat ten miler and managing three hill training runs, the longest being a five miler.

Cat warned me to hydrate as much as I could before the race, but the drive up to Ferry Terminal at Tiburon was too much for my 37 year old bladder. I was thrilled when her beady eyes spotted a restroom on the side of the road. I hobbled down the embankment only to find it wasn’t a restroom. I now deeply regret the 2 minute watering I gave the garden of the people who live at number 64, but I really had no choice.

I wasn’t as intimidated before the race as I thought I might be. There was a fun spirit on the boat, and a spread of age and ability amongst the runners. Seeing Angel Island for the first time as we approached was impressive, and I no longer needed a graph to picture a 1390 ft elevation! Cat never left my side and only found encouraging, positive things to say. As a result nerves never set in.

I am not a natural runner, having run outdoors for the first time five months ago. I knew nothing about gels or PRs (or clearly elevation!) I was determined for my first ever run not to be about timing, had never trained with a watch, and had no idea what speed I ran at. I hoped I would run it in two and a half hours, Cat suggested I could do it in two hours fifteen. I then couldn’t get her prediction out of my head and it pushed me several times during the run!

The race was a double loop of the island, the first five miles was a climb of 500 ft and back down to the start, and the second loop repeated the first but included a stretch up to the summit – a 890 ft climb. Initially the runners ran close together. I concentrated on green jacket lady in front of me and pink pigtail girl behind me. The trail path was varied, initially as narrow as my shoe, later a wide track. The covering was exposed in beautiful streaming sun, and then into dark glossy leaves. I hadn’t prepared for running on loose rock, and stumbled a few times. The twists in the track meant that you were often turning and climbing at the same time, and I felt pressure to maintain pace by runners behind me. As I climbed the summit I was gasping at the clear view of San Francisco Bay from a 360 degree view looking down on Alcatraz, the city and the bridges. It was a remarkable distraction.

I was surprised at how competitive I felt. I was aware of the distance building between Cat and I. I wanted to keep up with Green Jacket Girl and was gutted when Pink Pigtails flew past me on the downhills. I pushed harder on the second exhausting climb, a gel kicking in, and found myself with more space around me. I was surprised by the ‘off the beaten trackness’ of the trails – a fallen tree we all had to crawl underneath and a huge bush to climb over. I was not prepared for running down steep gradients at speed, and found the loose rocky ditches frightening.

I found the distance much easier than the gradient. I recognized the final approach and knew Cat and my family would be waiting. I wanted to finish on empty and found energy to speed up on the last stretch to overtake Green Jacket Girl. Two hours, one minute, and sixth in my age group.

And collapse.

The run was totally different from any training experience. Because it’s race day there is a natural competitiveness that gets you mentally moving. The entire race was a mental and emotional journey and I relished rising to the challenge of picking up speed, climbing the incline and wiping negative thoughts from my mind. I was a ball of jelly that evening. My body ached more than it did after childbirth, and my insides were in knots, but the next morning I just felt pride and a huge sense of achievement at nailing my first ever race!

And naturally, sensing my competitive spirit Cat has already indicated my next race to me and subtlety suggested what my time might be. She’s good isn’t she? We start training this week.

Hehehe…. x

 

 

 

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Getting ready for the Angel Island 10 miler

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the Angel Island 10-miler (aka Ayala Cove). I’m really looking forward to it. We all have to get a ferry together from Tiburon over to the island, kind of like a school trip for runners. And I’m going to be joined by my friend Louise who is running her first ever race. She’s never run a race before and she’s chosen a hilly trail race on an island. She’ll either love it or hate it. I think she’ll love it.

The elevation is fairly tough…

Source: 

My own goals for the race are as follows:

  • Have some fun. I’m not ‘racing’ this. I’m doing it to explore new trails, run in new places and take some great photos.
  • Run it well. Despite my first goal, I still want to run this well . I don’t want to dawdle, I want to run as much of the hills as I can and push the downhills, without twisting my ankle.
  • My very unofficial goal time is 1 hr 50 but that was chosen quite arbitrarily and frankly, if I ran it in two hours (or even more) and had fun, I’d be happy!

This week’s running has been mainly about practicing trails and practicing hills.

Saturday: 10.4 miles on San Bruno Mountain at 13.01 pace.

The hills are alive...

The hills are alive…

(Is it really sad that every time I looked down and saw my blue skirt swishing, I felt like a slower, non-Swedish Emelie Forsberg??)

My quads were absolute agony on Sunday from that rocky descent so I ditched my usual easy three miler and sat by the pool reading a book.

Monday: 6.6  hill repeat miles

My quads were still very painful and quivery on the stairs, but I knew they’d be okay for running so I headed to a local park to do hill repeats. I ran up, across the top, down some stairs and down the gentle descent back to the start. Each lap was roughly 0.5 miles and I did it 10 times in the surprisingly hot sunshine. Ended with a loop of the hill at the end. 6.6 miles in 1 hr 04 at 9.40 pace. Felt good, apart from the shaky quads on the way down the stairs.

Lovely views today.

Lovely views today.

Wednesday: 7.2 trail miles

Back to Edgewood for 7 miles, packing in as many long, steady ascents as I could do. I am starting to really love this  park – it’s quite small but by doing different loops you can get decent mileage. The hills are runnable yet challenging.The trails are well maintained.  Best of all, it’s busy with hikers (so I feel safe) and doesn’t scream MOUNTAIN LION HABITAT, even though I’m wary!

I love this photo!

I love this photo!

- Yoga in the evening to stretch those poor legs. I actually think I’m getting worse at yoga!

I chose to have two rest days on Thursday and Friday to rest my legs and get them fresh for Saturday.

Angel Island

Angel Island in the bay!

And finally…on Sunday, it’s the London Marathon, which this year is going to be an absolute corker if you follow professional running (which I don’t, if I’m honest). Mo Farrah, the UK’s running hero, is running his first marathon and the UK general public pretty much expects him to win it. It’s unlikely, bearing in mind he’s up against the absolute cream of marathon running, but it should be amazing to watch!

And that’s it. Happy Weekend, everyone!

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Running The World: India

I am enormously excited about today’s Running The World post because we’re talking about what it’s like to be a female runner in India! I spent the week emailing with the amazing Preeti and she put so much time and effort into her responses to my questions, it’s been fascinating. As ever, this is just one person’s view and is not meant to be a definitive view on Indian running. 

I found Preeti when I googled ‘Indian Running Blogs’ and ended up at the blog of an Indian PHD student based at Stanford, about 10 miles south of me. I asked him if he knew anyone suitable and he copied Preeti into his reply to me, saying she’d be perfect. She quickly replied to say she’d be up for talking and warned me she could talk about running forever. Like that’s ever been a problem! So without further ado, may I  introduce you to Preeti.

Tell  us a little about yourself.

I am an Associate Professor in Chemical Engineering. I teach undergraduate students and have several research students to guide as well. I spent several years in the US during my graduate school studies. We moved back to India in 2002. My husband is also an exercise freak like me and we have a ten year old daughter who hates running ( she loves swimming though!)

Preeti

Preeti

How did you get into running?

I have been running a very long time. I was a sprinter in school and college and we trained several months of the year. It wasn’t the most scientific of training routines and anyway I was too preoccupied with studies to pursue running in any big way. In the US I found it very cathartic to get out and go for a run at least during the spring/summer months. I played basketball otherwise (despite being very short! I am only 5ft!). In Boston, during my Post-Doctoral appointment at MIT, my research group ran a charity 5k and that’s when I discovered these ‘races’. In India I was in Mumbai when the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon first began in 2004. I missed that year as I was pregnant but have taken part in that race every year since then, even though we don’t live in Mumbai now.

Moving to Chennai was a big shift, and I initially really suffered with the weather. I continued to do Half Marathons and have been lucky enough to make great friends and meet lots of people running. I graduated to Full Marathons in 2011 and train as meticulously as I can nowadays for races.

I take part in 2 full marathons and an informal local ultra (50km); and at least half a dozen half marathons, every year. I mostly sign up based on the company I will have with me. I have a big group of friends and we run and train together. I run 3-4 times a week and do tempos, intervals, and long runs. I also do strength training – a little bit – and have been trying to swim and bike a little of late. My favorite is the Half Marathon distance though I do enjoy the 50km run we do every december.

This year I ran a Full Marathon at Mumbai in January, a Half & a 10km locally, up to now. I am gearing up for a women only 10k next week and also the Chicago Full Marathon in October, aside from a handful of Half Marathons I will do later in the year.

 I am on the organising team of what is called The Wipro Chennai Marathon and we work solidly for 6 months to put up our ‘By the runner, for the runner’ race every December. Our numbers are increasing rapidly and Dec 2013 saw 10,000 runners on the streets, and the feedback was pretty awesome!

Does India have a history of running?

Recreational running is quite new to India I would say. We have our athletes and they of course have been training for years and we have a good track and field culture, but it’s all been quiet till this past decade when recreational running started taking off like this.

Preeti India

How popular is running in India? Is it increasing in popularity?

Right now, it’s nowhere as big as in the west. I would say we are still in the fledgling state. I feel like this type of recreational running that we are talking about  started in a big way in 2004 with the Mumbai Marathon. Now, 10 years later, every major city has a full marathon or at least a few half marathons. There are some really beautiful trail marathons coming up in various parts of the country – some real tough ones as well – such as the summer Corbett Marathon or the Leh-Ladakh event which is at very high altitude.

It is becoming really increasingly popular, I myself have seen, in Chennai, which is a relatively ‘conservative’ and ‘traditional’ city in the South, how crazy people have gotten. In my first race here, there were 100 participants. These days, we have to be real careful how we announce events as at the click of a finger, 500 people will line up and we have the local authorities come in and question us and ask us if we have permissions etc.

It is DEFINITELY growing, no doubt. Number of races, number of running groups, number of people – on all parameters you can imagine.

India is clearly a huge country – do you have any idea if running is popular throughout the country or in specific regions?

Running is definitely the most popular in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Pune. It’s becoming popular in many of the smaller cities as well, and in the rural areas too. The advantage of the cities is that we have access to lot more information and shoes and so on. The advantage of the rural areas is that they have such beautiful vistas.

Who is running? In the US, the current running boom is primarily led by women, is there a notable gender difference in India?

Right now, or I would say up until now, it has been largely men who are running. Middle aged men mostly. But definitely this is also changing, because more young people and women are getting into this as well. It’s amazing to hear of it being a ‘woman’s sport’ – I hope it will become that here as well. But at this time, it’s dominated by men though there are several of us in this ‘space’ who have carved a niche. There are three Indian women completed the Comrades marathon in the past few years for example and a group of 3-4 women from Bangalore who qualified for Boston this year, and a lady who has been organising these insanely difficult trail races across the city.

Is running popular within specific social classes?

Generally, the bulk of participants are from comfortable economic means. There are a few people who participate for the prize money. In our Wipro Chennai Marathon, we try to help out underprivileged people under a program we call ‘Star Runners’ These are Indian athletes training under various coaches for national and international events, they are typically not very well-off. We help them participate in our race in various ways. They are good – and win the prizes – but not really well-trained enough. I wish we could do more for this class of people, for sure, as they are talented and get lost in the mire.

Let’s talk a little more about women running in India. Do you have any idea about the numbers of women running?

Only 10-15% of the total participants in the big races in India  are women. You can definitely quote me on this as I have studied the numbers are least for Mumbai Marathon and our own Chennai Marathon. :-) The numbers are on the increase, no doubt, but still we are a gross minority here, sadly.

We hear a lot in the West about the safety of women in India. How safe do you feel when you run?

Safety during training is a big deterrent actually – I did a survey few months ago of many women runners across India, and at least 90% felt that the “Eve Teasing”, hooting, name calling, staring, and even, in some cases, physical assaults were becoming a big problem for women runners who want to train seriously, With our weather and various household responsibilities, we really cannot afford to run through the course of the day and have to get it done early morning or late evenings. Although many of us have ways and means of keeping safe (the easiest being to run with a group – there are many to choose from now), this is a problem that we constantly grapple with.

Currently the awareness on this is very high with the worldwide focus on violence against women, particularly in India. There are many cities, many areas in any city, many times of the year (festivals,for e.g.), etc when it is just not recommended for women to be running alone, that too in a zonked out manner with earphones.  Personally, I run early mornings, and stick to routes that I am familiar with. I do run with a group and have a large number of people who are quite happy to run with me on my terms – anyhow we are usually training for the same race, together, on similar plans, anyhow. But I also do run alone when I feel like it.

What do female runners wear?

The cultural aspect comes in also in many ways, primarily with the clothes.I wear shorts and a t-shirt, though I am in the minority in this. Most of the women in Chennai wear capri pants (nice ones from Nike or Reebok) and t-shirts. You won’t see any woman in India running, even if it is the peak of summer, in a sports bra and shorts. That wouldn’t be looked on too kindly, at least not right now, I expect.

Preeti and some of her female running friends

Preeti and some of her female running friends

Let’s talk racing. How popular is racing?

Racing is definitely on the rise now. It is again nowhere close to as popular among recreational runners as in the west but we are getting there! The Half Marathon and 10k are popular though the Full is picking up steam fast.

Many have timing chips now – maybe 10-15 of them. Both the shoe tie version and the bib version. There are a mix of big and small races. The biggest & most ‘important’ ones are:

  • Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon
  • The Wipro Chennai Marathon (that’s ours!)
  • Airtel Hyderabad Marathon
  • Airtel Delhi Half Marathon
  • Auroville Marathon
  • Running and Living Marathons (several)
  • Kaveri Trail Marathon
  • TCS 10k Bangalore

I do the Mumbai, Hyderabad and Auroville without fail every year. I been on the organising team for the Chennai Marathon all along so I can’t manage to run it, though I live here. Auroville is super as it’s through a natural forest and inside a beautiful community living space (no timing chip!).

The marketing reminds me very much of that other Wipro sponsored race, the SF Marathon

The marketing reminds me very much of that other Wipro sponsored race, the SF Marathon

Who organises the races?

The races are organised by corporates such as Procam Running / Life is Calling or by running groups, like us, the Chennai runners. Other groups that organise races are  Hyderabad Runners, Runners for Life, Running and Living.

If you could encourage a traveller to do any Indian race, which would it be?

Travellers would enjoy the Mumbai (Full & Half) and Delhi (only Half) marathons I think, as they are corporately run and you get to see these two cities. Ours is an up and coming race but we have lot of heat and some real challenging humidity – so it would be challenging! There are some beautiful races up north in the country that I haven’t personally attempted.

How expensive are races?

They are not very expensive in absolute terms (max. : $30-$50 per registration – which usually comes with t-shirt, finisher medal, online certificate, timing chip, etc. . But it is definitely something that the lower economic strata would think twice about.

What trends are becoming popular in Indian running circles?

I think triathlons and duathlons is now fast picking up steam and growing in popularity here.

Trail Running is growing hugely in the US. Is that the same in India?

Yes, it’s not booming per se, But lot of people are keen on rural and trail runs. Auroville is the oldest trail run and is very popular in running circles. It’s not a challenging trail in terms of terrain – it’s just uneven ground – pebbles and roots – not hills or anything.

Locally, some of the guys training for Comrades this year have been exploring some insane sounding hills and other areas. Some day I will check it out (these are small, invitation only events) and report back to you! :)

Preeti at the xxx trail marathon

Preeti at the Kaveri trail half-marathon

 

Where do Indian runners buy their gear – and what brands are popular?

People tend to buy their running gear at general sports stores as opposed to running specific stores. Nike, Reebok and Adidas apparel is the most common and for shoes, it’s Asics, Nike, Adidas and Vibrams…and some barefoot runners. There is reasonable gear available for women right now (it wasn’t so even as recently as 3-4 years ago). Many of us do end up buying stuff when we travel abroad (which also tells you about the economic class of people running!). Garmins are also popular.

 Who are the running heroes in India?

Interesting question. We have a handful of Indian elite athletes who win at races. We mostly have separate categories for Indians vs. Foreigners else the African athletes who come over take all the prizes. They are somewhat known.

Some of the women who have recently done super well are well known. Roshni Rai is a Comrades finisher who also organises a group of underprivileged athletes from her hometown to participate in races, she is known. Neera Katwal is a fitness expert/coach in Bangalore who is enormously successful and a podium finisher often. Vaishali Kasture is a banker who is a Boston Qualifier this year. Timtim Sharma is a young girl who is running really strong and fast these days and even beating the Indian athletes. Kavitha Kanaparthi organises these tough marathons with her company Globeracers. Rahul Verghese organises several marathons in North India. Ash Nath and Kothandapani are coaches and speedy runners

Don’t forget Milind Soman – a famous male model and runner who organises Women Only running events under his brand ‘Pinkathon’. (Cat’s note – check this link out, it’s amazing). These are shorter races – 3, 5, and 10k that are becoming very popular. He is a big heart throb (though old- think George Clooney !) but very dedicated. In fact Pinkathon Chennai is next weekend. I am one of his city ambassadors so am on Facebook so much these days!!

 Cat’s note: Preeti celebrated her birthday last weekend with a run, a cake and the aforementioned gentleman. I like this girl’s style!

My birthday is in February

My birthday is in February, Mr Soman

What do Indian runners use to fuel and hydrate when running?

There is a big movement towards natural foods – bananas, dates, oranges – though lot of us use Gu gels and chomps. For hydration,  Gatorade and its local variants are popular though most people are thinking about home-made natural versions with honey and lemon and so forth.

How does social media fit within the Indian running community. Are Twitter and blogging popular?

Twitter and Blogging are somewhat popular. But the biggest trends seems to be that all groups have Facebook presence and like billions of photos of every single training run ever run are uploaded and people tagged everyday!!

If I landed in your city, where would you send me to find out about the local running routes, group runs, and local races?

Without doubt, the Chennai Runners Facebook group!

Preeti and some of her Chennai running group

Preeti and some of her Chennai running group

And finally…what is the best thing and worst about running in India?

The best thing? It’s a great way to meet people!  Everyone in the running community at least here in Chennai, is really uncompetitive and sweet. It’s almost like hanging out at a friendly neighborhood bar !

The challenges? Infrastructure is the problem in most cities. Roads aren’t great, first of all, and unsafe many times. Traffic can be crazy. Pollution can be very high. No ‘beautiful vistas’ accessible in easy driving distance. And of course safety is a great challenge for female runners.As race organisers the thing we struggle most with is getting permits to close roads for traffic so we can conduct our races or even identifying reasonably running routes to traverse 21 or 42 kms and be convenient to runners.

Preeti, thank you so much for all the time you put into helping me on this blog post. I hugely appreciate it! People, you can (and should) follow her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.  

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Conquering San Bruno Mountain

Before I start…Wordpress has recently changed how it lets you show photos. Beforehand I was able to select the size quite specifically. Now I either get to choose miniature or enormous. Clearly, I’m the kind of girl who will always pick enormous. I am sorry about this – you’ll just have to forgive me. 

Anyway…

As you drive north on the Peninsula towards San Francisco, you pass by this enormous hulk of mountain rising out of nowhere. It looks a bit like a sleeping giant. This is San Bruno Mountain. There’s a trail that runs across the long ridge at the top. We hiked up there once when the Dude was just a baby, and the views were spectacular. You can see San Francisco to the north, the Bay and the airport to the east, the ocean to the west and the peninsula stretching out to the south, all at the same time. It’s amazing up there.

I've used this photo before but it shows San Bruno in all its glory!

I’ve used this photo before but it shows San Bruno in all its glory!

Since I got into trail running, I’ve wanted to run there – along that trail specifically. And the idea has nagged and nagged away at me. Every time I drive past on my way to the city, I look up at the mountain and wish I was up there running. And on Saturday, I finally got to do it!

I met up with Jen and her friend Jess at the park in Brisbane. The Dude had been poorly all week (he is fine now, I didn’t abandon a sick child) so I’d had plenty of time inside to plan the route. However pretty quickly we discovered that a route on Google Maps bears very little relation to what it looks like on the ground. We got a little lost climbing out of Brisbane but with Jess’s smartphone map, we soon found ourselves at the base of the trail, Siskyou ‘Avenue’. It was basically a rough, steep hiking trail up. So up we hiked. It was almost vertical and awash with poppies. Soon enough, we emerged at the top onto the ridge trail and the views were spectacular!

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Up we go…

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Jen and Jess ‘pausing to admire the view’. We did a lot of pausing to admire views today

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The finest bottom in California :) Photo Credit – Jess

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Made it!

We set off westwards along Ridge Trail. It was a steady climb up to the radio towers at the top, but the trail was a total roller-coaster of steep little uphills and downhills. The views were amazing though and the weather was perfect.

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Heading West Photo Credit: Jess

Heading West
Photo Credit: Jess

At the radio towers, we switched onto Summit Loop Trail which we took in a clockwise direction. We ran into a hiking group and did some mountain goat scampering to get past them, which was fun, and then Jess took a dramatic tumble from which she bounced up declaring ‘I’m okay, I’m okay’ and we ran on! The trail descended steadily down to a little creek with a very lopsided, rickety plank-bridge.

IMG_2533 From there, we faced the inevitable climb back up to the radio towers. It wasn’t too bad and the trail was beautiful!

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San Francisco in the distance Photo Credit: Jess

Back along Ridge Trail in the way we had come.

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Downwards!

From there, we were all looking forward to our well-earned descent. But alas no. The trail we took down was as ridiculously steep as the one we’d initially climbed up, but was covered in large stones which made it somewhat treacherous. I ended up on my bottom at one point. Eventually it became a little less steep and easier to run.

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Staying upright with the city in the background

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Photobomber! Photo Credit: Jess

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Finally, a runnable stretch of downhill Photo Credit: Jess

From there, it was an easy run back into Brisbane to the car, and then up to Madhouse Coffee for coffee and sandwiches. I’d been excited about my sandwich for a few miles now but alas they don’t do sandwiches at the weekend so I had to make do with a bagel. Sob.

If you’re interested in the logistics of the run, here is the route we took, minus the initial getting lost in Brisbane. I’d initially wanted to do this route but couldn’t find any online details about picking up the trail at the end of Harold Road so we opted for a different route. I believe the Harold Road route is do-able but am not sure.

All in all, we ran 10.44 miles in 2.16 at a 13.01 pace – not that that is important at all. The best thing about this run was the sense of adventure and exploration that we had. There’s something kind of cool about running up a mountain, around it and back down and an amazing sense of achievement. It was pretty brilliant, to be honest. Thanks Jen and Jess for the company and the entertaining conversations. What goes on the trail stays on the trail, eh??

BTW…on Wednesday, this week’s Running The World interview is with the amazing Preeti from India. I am honestly beside myself with excitement about it!

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This week’s running

Guys, thank you all for your comments and enthusiasm about the inaugural Running The World post. I was so excited about it and I’m so glad you liked it. I’m hoping to have something great for next Wednesday as well.

In terms of running, this week looked like this:

Friday: Long run – 12 miles at 9.22 pace

Sunday: Hills – 5 hilly trail miles at 11.09 pace

Pic courtesy of FitSnap app. Promise not to subject you to too many of these!

Pic courtesy of FitSnap app. Promise not to subject you to too many of these!

Monday: Tempo run – 6 miles at 8.35 pace

A decent tempo run. M1 – Normal, M2,3 – Tempo, M4 – Normal, M5,6 – Tempo with tempo miles averaging 8.19 pace. Those tempo miles did get progressively slower…but whatever! :)

Wednesday: Intervals – 4 miles at 8.35 pace

The Dude was poorly all day which is horrible for both child and parent. In the evening, when the Husband was home, I got outside for the first time all day and knocked out a sluggish run. Unremarkable but I was glad I did it. The pre-twilight light was beautiful!

What else? Yesterday afternoon, I went to the wedding of two dear British friends at the beautiful San Francisco City Hall. The Dude was much better but not well enough to go, so the Husband came home from work to look after him so I could go, which was very sweet. I love a good wedding!

Lovely girls

Lovely girls

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Every now and again, I like to get dressed up!

This weekend is going to be a corker because I’m going trail running with Jen and a couple of other people up San Bruno Mountain. This was the run we postponed in January due to one of the few deluges we’ve had this winter. But Saturday promises to be dry, if not even sunny, and we are finally running the beast that’s whispered to me every time I drive past it!

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We’ll be running along that ridge!

And if that wasn’t enough….IT’S FLIPPING GAME OF THRONES WEEKEND! Bring on the dragons! Dracarys!

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Running The World: the Czech Republic

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a weekly feature where I ‘interview’ runners from around the world about what it’s like to be a runner in their country. Please remember that this is just one person’s view and therefore subjective – I’m not claiming this as groundbreaking journalism but rather a fun way of learning more about the running culture around the world!

We’re kicking off with the Czech Republic, in the heart of Europe.  This week’s interview is with the lovely Michaela (or Myjka), a Slovakian living in Prague! I was put in contact with Myjka via our mutual friend Pavlinka, a fellow Slovakian living in the UK. Pav asked her if she’d be willing to speak to me and she gamely said yes!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Myjka. I’m Slovak but I’ve been living in the Czech Republic since 2006. I studied and worked in Brno (the Czech Republic’s second city, 200 km from Prague) and three years ago, I moved to Prague. I live with my boyfriend in the city centre, near the Vlatava River. I’m 27 and I work in Customer Support. I like animals, reading, running and yoga, and I like cooking and baking healthy goods.

Myjka!

Myjka!

Tell us about your running

I started running in March 2012. My first goal was to lose weight – I lost about 40 lbs. I’m not very fast but I like running and now I run for fun. Sometimes I run races. I’ve run six half-marathons and this year I’m planning to run half-marathons in Prague, Karlovy Vary and Ústí nad Labem. I’ve not been running so much over the Winter but Spring is in the air and I’ll run more. I started my blog Bežkyňa in 2012 to help me stay motivated. Bežkyňa means ‘Runner’ in Slovakian.

Bezkyna 1 Czech

How popular is running in the Czech Republic?

Running is as popular in the Czech Republic as it is around the world. I’m meeting more and more joggers, and races are selling out weeks in advance. It’s popular with both men and women.

Due to the popularity of running, in Prague we have the first Running Mall - a place where you can train, learn and relax alongside your fellow runners.  They organise running events every day.  Cat’s note: It’s worth checking this place out via the link above, there’s an English translation button. It looks amazing, I’m jealous!

And I’m going to Nike Training (a running club held at the Prague Nike store) twice a month. I’ve got a running friend there and we are now the best of friends!

What is the racing scene like? 

The biggest company is RunCzech. They organises races in 5 Czech cities from the Prague Marathon to some half marathons and some family runs etc. Of course there are a lot of other races…both shorter and more extreme. At the moment, RunTour is really popular – a series of 5k and 10k races in 7 different Czech cities. You can earn loyalty prizes if you run all seven. They also organise kids’ runs of 500 or 1,000 metres too. Also popular is We Run Prague, a 10k race which is organised by Nike. Races cost anything from under 100 Czech crowns ($5/3 GBP) to a thousand crowns ($50/30GBP), depending on how big the race is.

The biggest race in the Czech Republic is the Prague Marathon in May with 10,000 participants (roughly $120 entry fee) and the Prague Half Marathon in April, which has about 9,000 participants, but my favourite is the half-marathon in Karlovy Vary due to the beautiful views of the city.

Where is this?? xxx

Mjyka crushing the cobbles in Plzeň

Is trail racing popular there?

Trail Racing is getting bigger here, like in America. For example, we have the ŠUTR ,a trail ultra near Prague. Also really popular is the Spartan obstacle race!

ŠUTR - photo from their FB page

ŠUTR – photo from their FB page

Which brands are popular in the Czech Republic?

My favourite is Nike but I can get cheaper running clothes at Tchibo (a cafe that sells running clothes every few months) or DirectSport, so I tend to shop there. I wear Adidas shoes.

Tell us about the running media.

I know of Behej.com (both a website and a published magazine) and Run. There was a magazine called Bĕžec (‘Runner’) which I wrote a few articles for, but sadly the magazine closed.

czech myjka

Who are people’s running heroes?

My favourite running star is Miloš Škorpil. He is a trainer  and ultramarathon runner and he is the founder of  a running school – Bĕžecká Škola.

Are there other Czech running blogs out there?

Yes, I read a couple…Baborka On the Run (English language),  http://kilometrzakilometrem.blogspot.sk and Mojetelo.

Bezkyna 4 Czech

Finally…what is the best and the worst thing about running in the Czech Republic?

The best thing is that you can always find someone to run with if you want to. The worst thing? Running through the cold, dark Czech winters!

Thanks so much Myjka for all your help pulling this post together! Do check out her blog, there’s a ‘translate’ button so you can see it in English.

I would really welcome your feedback about the structure of these Running The World posts. Are there any questions or issues you want me to cover in particular, were there any questions I missed out? Please feel free to let me know.  

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