I can’t quite remember how I met Amber, today’s interviewee. Someone (was it you?) told me to contact Ruth Croft, a successful Kiwi Taiwan-based trail runner. Ruth wasn’t able to help but Ruth suggested I contact Amber and bless her, Amber was up for helping! Amber runs the excellent website Taipei Running which gives you pretty much all the information you need to be a runner in Taiwan. So she was the perfect person to interview.
Before we start, a little about Taiwan. Taiwan is an island in East Asia. Its closest neighbors are China and Japan. There’s a lot of controversy over its official status, which I won’t get into here. You can read about it on Wikipedia.Its capital city is Taipei but other parts of the island are mountainous and forested.
Please introduce yourself. Tell us a little about who you are and what you do when you’re not running.
I am a Canadian living in Taiwan with my 2 cats, my dog and my boyfriend. I used to work in sales but found that it didn’t give me enough time for running and was quite stressful. So now I have a running coach certificate and manage a running website, TaipeiRunning.com. When I’m not running, or writing about running, I am usually experimenting with cooking different types of food.
How did you get into running?
My mom was a dedicated runner when I was growing up. I remember her putting on her running shoes as soon as she got in after work, and out she would go again for a run. I was never very athletic in high school but towards the end of university I decided that I wanted to have the goal of running a marathon. I trained hard for several weeks but since I studied in the somewhat remote location of Northwestern Ontario, there were no races nearby. Discouraged, I gradually stopped training. Years after moving to Taiwan I realized there was a huge running scene here. I signed up for my first half marathon and was hooked.
How popular is running in your country? Is it growing in popularity or has it always been popular? Or does no-one really run?
Since 2012, the number of running events held each year has more than tripled. Every weekend there are multiple events all over the island, some being very small, local events and others being huge road races. Although the number of events has increased exponentially in recent years, that growth seems to be slowing. Almost any park you go to in Taipei, no matter how small, you can usually find a runner circling it, if the weather is not too hot or raining.
How popular is it amongst women? Is that a new phenomenon or have women always been keen on running? Are the genders fairly well-balanced?
Running is very popular amongst women. This year, the Nike Women’s Half Marathon held in Taipei was sold out the day it was open for registration. There were 18,000 women who ran that race, either in the 10k distance or half marathon, which is huge for an all women’s race. Still we can see that there are much fewer female runners tackling the longer distances, with a much greater percentage of participation from men in the marathons and ultra marathons. We also don’t see too many strong female runners in Taiwan. The competition in the men’s category is fierce but the women not so much. Many women run to be healthy, over being fast or competitive.
What are the biggest or most important races? What kind of distances are popular?
Racing is very popular in Taiwan, by far the most popular is road running, with half marathons being the most popular distance. That’s followed by marathons, 10ks and 5ks. Many of the 5k races are fun runs and encourage family participation. We also have a small mixture of trail races and ultra marathons. Timed ultra marathons are surprisingly popular here, with runners tackling a track for 4, 6, 12, 24 or even 48 hours.
Is trail running popular in your country? What are the trails like?
Road running is a lot more popular than trail running at the moment, but trail running is increasing in popularity. Taiwan is mostly made up of mountains with plains in the northern, western and southern part of the island. The middle is mostly uninhabitable due to the number of mountains and the more extreme weather found in these mountain ranges. Because Taiwan has such a high population density, a lot of the mountain ranges are protected by national parks and for some it is difficult to obtain park permits, which makes it difficult for runners to make regular trails in many of these areas. In the places where there are trails, the terrain is usually characterized by steep climbs and many tree roots underfoot but the effort is worth the views. I often think of Taipei, the capital, as a running metropolis, with more than 100km of uninterrupted, flat riverside running, it is also surrounded on all sides by beautiful hiking/running trails.
As a woman, how safe do you feel when you run? Are there any particular issues facing women runners?
Taiwan is a very safe place to run. The riverside parks are always very well-lit and the crime rate is very low here. Even if I get caught after sunset on the trails I feel very safe.
What do female runners wear in your country? What kind of brands are big there?
Most female runners in Taiwan tend to be conservative. Some wear long sleeve shirts or long pants, even in the summer to keep their skin from being exposed to the sun, others where what you would see in any other country, such as shorts and tank tops. Something that you don’t see is many runners topless, even in the evenings, when the sun is down but the heat still hangs in the air. I feel like we would see that a lot more in other countries.
I think there are many brands that are popular here for road running. Merrell was very popular for trail running but more and more there are other brands entering the market, and taking hold in Taiwan.
What do runners in your country use to fuel and to hydrate?
For fuel, fruit is big here, bananas with salt etc. We also have a Taiwanese company (Runivore) that has created an all natural energy bar, you can see a lot of people eating that. Especially cyclists, triathletes and trail runners.
Does the weather cause any challenges to runners in your country?
Taiwan’s weather is full of challenges. Summer is hot and humid and usually comes with high risk for overheating or getting a sunburn. Winter, especially in the north is cold and gloomy with lots of rain. The best seasons for running are Spring and Fall and in those two seasons many of the big races in Taiwan are held.
Who are the well-known runners/running heroes in your country?
Over the years there has been many good Taiwanese athletes, one of the best known is Chi Cheng. She was a track and field Olympic medalist in 1968. She now works to promote sporting events in Taiwan. Ruth Croft is another local running hero, although she is originally from New Zealand she lives and trains in Taiwan. Although she is an amazing road runner she really excels on the trails locally and internationally.
How big is social media within the running community in your country? Which are the best known blogs? Any good Twitter users we should follow? Which are the most important magazines and podcasts?
In Taiwan there is a forum system that is popular with locals, where they can discuss upcoming races but people mostly use Running Biji to post about races or All Sports to get information and post pictures. There is of course my website as well, Taipei Running where I do race recaps, shoe recommendations and trail running routes.
If I landed in your country/city, where would you send me to find out about the local running routes, group runs or races there?
I would definitely send you to the site we most use to find out about upcoming races . If you like to mix drinking and running, I would point you in the direction of the various hash house harrier groups in the area or here’s an article containing a little more info on them.
If I was going to do any race in your country, which would you recommend and why?
My favorite road race, hands down is the Wanjinshi Marathon. It’s run every March on the northeast coast of Taiwan. Although the route takes you through a lot of small rural communities, it seems that everyone comes out to cheer the runners on. It’s also a great way to get out of the city and admire the beauty of the island.
I would also recommend the Taipei Marathon in December, the half marathon course is really nice and it takes you through lots of districts of Taipei, unfortunately, the full marathon course doesn’t seem as appealing because, although it covers more distance, everything that’s worth seeing is in the half marathon course.
For trail races, I would recommend The Beast Trail if you want to get a real feeling for the challenging terrain Taiwan has to offer. Both the 26km and the 50km courses are beautiful but very difficult. There is also the Taiwan Trail X in September which has been held consecutively for the most years in Taiwan. It offers nice scenery and draws a big international crowd to the hills of Maokong.
What are the best and worst things about running in your country?
For me the best thing is how easily accessible nature is from Taipei, the capital city. There are mountains on all 4 sides and most are accessible by public transport. These mountains make it easy to get out on the weekend and if run at night they also provide impeccable views of the city at night. The city also takes great advantage of the river that runs through it, making riverside parks which span more than 200km of continuous paths, which extend to all ends of the city.
There is nothing bad about running in Taiwan but I would say that the most challenging aspect is the weather. Summer and winter are the worst for running, winter is surprisingly cold and the constant rain can make it challenging to get out. In the summer it’s incredibly hot and humid which makes it equally challenging.
Amber, thanks so much for all your help in pulling this post together. Please do visit her site TaipeiRunning – even if you’re not heading to Taiwan in the near future, there’s some great general-running stuff on there and some lovely photos. You can follow Amber on Twitter HERE, on Instagram HERE and on Facebook HERE. Her IG account is particularly gorgeous.