A Hazy Shade of Winter in Bangkok

The past few weeks have been pleasantly (relatively) cool here in Bangkok. The occasional dawn temperature of about 18c although highs have still be in the low 30s.

There was a cold front pushing down from China, strong winds that kept the skies crystal clear, so clear you could even see a few stars at night – a rarity in light-saturated Bangkok.

Then the winds stopped and an inversion layer set in, trapping the pollution and suspending it in the humid tropical air. This morning, I drove in the dark to Rama IX Park and the view the whole way reminded me of driving in the fog of my native San Francisco.

By the time I arrived at the park, I was wondering whether it was a good idea to run. Stretching out and warming up, I captured the above image. All the lights had been turned off already except for one bright flood light in a parking lot across the park.

The light beams cut through the filter of the pollution, streaming between branches and backlighting runners who looked like zombies moving in the misty distance.

The temperature was pleasant and I decided to run. It was my fastest run in nearly a year, 5 km in 35 minutes. Not a record setting pace but good for me. By the end, though, I could feel the irritation in my lungs, the soreness in my throat, and the burning in my sinuses. No doubt, the air was not fit for strenuous exercise.

Hopefully, in a few days the inversion layer will break and the air quality will improve. Until then, indoor exercise only.

Reflections on my first race

A few years ago, I started running regularly. While I didn’t enjoy running when I was growing up (I think I was always sprinting – nobody ever told me you can pace yourself!), I quite enjoy it as an adult and get that “runner’s high” that I had often heard others speak about. After repeated suggestions by other runners, I finally joined my first official race: the Amazing Thailand Marathon 10k.

The race started at 5:45 am with a burst of fireworks near Democracy Monument in the old town part of Bangkok. I ran with a few friends including a colleague who has recently started running. To be there on time, I had to wake around 4:15 and leave home about 4:45.

Our winter has been warm with extraordinarily bad air quality, to the extent that I understand many registered runners decided not to show and the race was almost cancelled. That said, there was still what looked like several thousand people running the 10k and who knows how many who started earlier for the full and half marathons. There was also a 5k scheduled but that didn’t seem challenging enough.

I did okay, running about eight of the kilometers and walking two. I finished, but think I could have run the whole way if I had done a few things differently.

But what of the experience? Many people encouraged me to run a race because the energy and thrill of the crowd will help carry you along. Others seem to really value the medals they receive, tokens of accomplishment.

Me? I don’t think the race experience was for me. It involved getting up earlier than is necesary. It involved running with a much larger group than necessary (making it difficult to reach my pace). I ended up getting separated from my running partners. What I enjoy about running with friends is the social nature of it. And the medal? As I crossed the finish line and approached the table to collect my medal, I almost didn’t take one. It is just a hunk of metal I am going to have to dispose of eventually.

Following the race, many of my race running family and friends have dispensed advice: I should run somewhere with cooler weather, I should run a smaller race, I should eat more carbs when I first wake up so I have the fuel to finish the race…

Maybe so. But I’m not convinced any of those things would make much of a difference in my enjoyment of the experience.

This morning, though, I woke at 5:30, picked up a friend and headed to a nearby park. We ran 8 km. It wasn’t crowded so we made good time on our run. We were able to chat along the way and enjoy the fresher air of a park than of the city streets. At the end, no medal awaited us. There was no blaring rock music, cheering crows or unnecessary fireworks.

And that was fine. Because for me, it is the run that I value, not the race.