Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Running In Saigon

Frustrated that flooding prevented me from running on the streets of Siem Reap, I have been itching to get out on the streets of Saigon. I would have run yesterday if we hadn't booked a full day trip to the Mekong Delta...which required an early departure so we could stop for ca phe sua da before catching the bus from Saigon Tourist.

Concerned that daytime temperatures are significantly warmer (and traffic crazier) during the day here, I wake up at 5am to make sure I am outside by 5:30. It is raining lightly when I first step outside, but the sky is lightening. Perhaps the reason will stop. This is probably the last time I can run during our trip given how long it takes our clothes to air dry (and Valerie does not want to pack stinky running clothes for our long flights home). I take my chances and cross the traffic circle.

I warm up by orbiting the traffic circle's island. Actually, the one in front of the hotel is more of a hemi-circle. I then cross over to the river side of the main street here assuming that I would have fewer intersections to cross by following it south as far as I can. Note that I do not have a hotel provided running map. I will be making this route up as I go along. I have looked at Google Maps, so I know there will be a bridge roughly a half mile from here. I just don't know if I can safely run across it, turn before it, or if I will have to turn back the way I came.

The sidewalk on the riverside of Ton Duc Thang starts wide as there appears to be a park to my left (along with a couple of riverside restaurants). However, barriers prevent me from crossing into the I continue close to the street. This stretch soon ends and I see stairs up to the bridge...and I can see the sidewalk on the bridge has a railing dividing it from the traffic. I decide to cross the bridge. Unexpectedly, this may be the safest stretch of my entire run.

The steps descend to Nguyen Tat Thanh near a pink government building of some kind with a warship clearly beyond. As I continue along street level, I pass Saigon Port (where the ship is docked) and soon come to the first intersection. To the right, this street appears to be a major avenue, but to the left it seems a quiet side street. I do not expect much cross traffic, so I have no issue crossing it...but figure I should see if it brings me to a road that brings me closer to the water.

The neighborhood here is a bit more sketchy, but there are some cafes and food carts here...likely will get busy during lunch given their proximity to the port. I find it amusing how some Vietnamese just seem to stand in front of their homes doing hardly anything. I wonder what they must be thinking about me as I run by them...I can feel their stares. This street dead-ends at a gate, so I must turn back.

I continue south along Nguyen Tat Thanh, but the sidewalk area varies in width. I must watch every step for puddles, mud, potholes, planters, parked scooters, pedestrians. Ocassionaly a scooter pulls out or crosses to park on the sidewalk ahead of me. My pace suffers as obstacle avoidance becomes my primary concern. A pair of buses loading passengers and some rather large flower displays placed adjacent to them push me to the limit, but I manage to get through the crowd safely and without having to divert into oncoming lanes of traffic.

I cross another quiet side street no longer feeling compelled to explore it. The road continues alongside a wall with no ideal stretch of sidewalk to regain my pace. Some low hanging branches cause me to such from time to time and there are still puddles and muddy patches to avoid,but I am feeling much better now.

I come to a fork in the road. One road remains at street level to my left. The other two options lead to bridges. I figure this is as good as any point to turn back.

Traffic is increasing, but, as I have remained on the same side of the street, I am now going with the flow. Should I need to step in the street to avoid something on the sidewalk (or due to lack of sidewalk), I will have to look back first to make sure I don't step in front of a vehicle.

The buses have departed, so the return run seems less eventful even though more businesses have opened and placed stuff on (or have scooters parked upon) the sidewalks in front of them. I even pass a banh mi cart...surprised how early some of these start serving.

Before crossing the bridge back to the hotel, I decide to check under see if there is a nice walkway to run along the canal. It does not look all that nice, so I go back to the bridge.

I continue north past the hotel to see how far I can go without encountering a major intersection. I make it as far as a shipyard. So many vehicles, mostly scooters, flow in and out of or around the entrance...many using the sidewalk beyond it as an additional lane...that I decide to turn back. My run will total more than 5 miles, so this is sufficient distance given how infrequently I have run since arriving in Southeast Asia.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Not Treading Water in Siem Reap

With the streets around the hotel submerged due to flooding from the adjacent river and the rain refusing to stop long enough for these waters to subside I reluctantly decide to use one of the treadmills in the hotel's fitness center.

Hoping to avert boredom, I turn on one of the TVs.  The first one has sound, but no I switch treadmills and try the other.  This one works, but I fail to find anything worth watching.  I leave it tuned to a channel showing 2012...and start my run.

I hate running on treadmills.  I feel like I am going nowhere fast.  I set the pace to 12km/hr to guarantee I complete 10km before Valerie's massage is done. This machine's display is annoying because I can only display distance or time...not both.  I leave it on distance.

Around 1.1km, I lose my footing and  accidentally pull on the emergency stop cable (which I had clipped to my shirt).  Great.  The machine has completely reset, so I have no idea how long I have been running.  I set my distance goal for 8.9 km and start again at 12 kph.

I accidentally swat the emergency stop cord with my arm around 3km into the run.  I decide to not clip it to my shirt when I continue.  But before I do, I look too se what the temperature in the room is set to.  The humidity is really getting to me.  Sweat pours down my face and my shirt is sticking to my chest.  I find the thermostat..the air conditioner is not even on!  I flip the switch, set it to 25, and restart the treadmill with 7km as my distance goal.

By 5km, I feel the temperature has reached a more pleasant level...but the damage has already been done.  I am struggling to maintain the 12kph pace.

Another hotel guest looks in the window of the fitness center.  She appears to be staring at me, perhaps in total disbelief that someone is actually running here. I haven't seen anyone use the fitness center since we've arrived.

As I approach the 7km mark, I decide to stop.  I probably could have continued if I was willing to reduce the pace...but didn't want to do so because I can still easily compute my total running time.

35 minutes.  Not bad.  12kph is roughly 8 minutes per mile, a decent pace considering I hadn't run in over a week.  If I had run outside, I surely would have been compelled to run further.

That said, I would have really loved to have run around Angkor Wat.  Perhaps I should return here for the (half) marathon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Running in Ha Noi

At 5am, I start getting ready to run. I am really curious to see if I can tolerate the heat and humidity...and for how many miles.

I am out the door by 5:30am, but it takes time for my Garmin watch to acquire the GPS signal. The sun may or may not be is overcast and a tad foggy. As expected, it is very sticky and warm.

I run thru the parks that neighbor the Metropole en route to the lake. Many people are already out and about working out in one form or another. Certain individuals appear to be doing nothing more than simply moving their limbs. At least they ARE moving. A larger group has gathered by the statue of King Ly. Someone on the steps appears to be leading this group and music accompanies their actions, though I would hardly describe it as synchronized. Amusing to watch as I run by.

I decide to circle Hoan Kiem Lake clockwise...the direction Valerie and I walked yesterday afternoon. The surrounding streets are one way (though scooters view this as merely a suggestion) in the opposite direction, so I can see the traffic coming should I need to avoid people on the sidewalk. Most of the people here are either trying to follow along with the group in the park or do similarly stationary activities. There are a number of walkers...with only a few exceptions they are flowing opposite of my direction. I am constantly avoiding people near the lake, so I decide to stay closer to the street on subsequent laps. A lap is barely more than a mile long (and it would be far too dangerous to run anywhere else), so I plan to do at least four.

After my second lap, I decide to reverse my direction and go with the flow. I notice that I am taller and quite a bit faster than anyone around me...even though I am only averaging between 8:00 and 8:30 per mile. I am not entirely sure this is the better way to go. I soon notice quite a few runners going in my original direction.

On my fourth lap, I decide to stop take photos at various locations I have noted along the way. I am pouring sweat and really feel the heat on my back when I stop moving. The sun momentarily breaks through the fog as I am on the far side of the lake. This will be my last lap for sure.

As I run back through the parks, I am a bit surprised to find the large group by the statue still working out. Not only that, their leader seems to be orchestrating some kind of synchronized laughing as part of the routine. So surreal. A lot of people are playing badminton within the park and on courts that are located upon the sidewalks. A miss hit birdie could easily end up in the street.

I return to the Metropole having logged fewer than 4.5 miles, so I do one complete orbit of the hotel before calling it quits. I would run longer, but Valerie and I have to be ready to meet our tour guide for breakfast.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

21.5 Miler Ahead of Trip

With interest in doing one half or full marathon before the year ends, I've stepped up my training. In the past month or two, I've managed a couple of 16's and, last week, ran an 18 miler. Though I usually ramp up using a very specific schedule, I attempted a 22-23 miler this morning, but fell slightly short with a still respectable 21.5 miler (at an average pace of 8:43/mile).

There are two reasons I wanted to run more than 21 miles this week. For starters, I really wanted to see how feasible running to work would be. If we had showers at the office, I would definitely consider doing so at least once a excuse to add a mid-week 10+ miler would probably do wonders for my training. I long said I wanted to try running to Naughty Dog (basically a marathon from my house). This run took me around an hour-and-half, less time than it took me to drive to Santa Monica on some mornings...and today's run proves I could actually consider commuting to and from Big Red Button! But my primary reason for today's effort was to squeeze in one last long run before my upcoming trip.

For the rest of the month, I will be touring Vietnam and Cambodia. The weather forecast suggests temperatures that will feel like they are well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, but never cooler than the 80's overnight. Frequent visitors to this my blog know I do not run well when temperatures inch over 80. I also have no idea how much time I should devote to running given that this is a tour. Chances are I will not attempt a long run while I am there because I do want to have energy for hiking...and taking a lot of photographs (I will be carrying 15lbs of gear on my back most of the time). When possible I will wake up before sunrise and run outside, but suspect I will spend more time on treadmills in the hotel fitness centers. To balance the loss of long runs, I will probably run daily at far shorter distances (i.e. 3 miles) than usual. I'm not sure what I'm going to do while I'm on a junk sailing around Ha Long Bay though...
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