Ready, steady, MONKEY

Since landing on this little Red Dot some 54 months ago, I’ve completed several organised running events, as you will know if you’ve followed the trials here, here and here. Oh, and one [disastrous] hash run, here.

These days I manage little hobbles around the locale, lightly holding the flab at bay but really not in keeping with any great sporting occasion. When Mr PC suggested we all take part in a small 2.5k family jog around the zoo I was all over it.

Training would be easy, since I was already covering the small distance involved. For Jonah it was harder, as his current pre-teen weekend schedule involves spending as much time as he can welded to the sofa, stuck to phone, computer, X-Box [enter any other kind of electronic gadget here] doing his best to avoid all things Fitness related. We managed to lever him out the door for just two training runs before the event and to start with he was out of shape. The first attempt involved me actually overtaking him and the second was happier since it ended with a roti canai breakfast and a hot chocolate on the way home. Bribery goes a long way in our house.

By the time the zoo run came round he was good to go, though predictably moody at being dug out of bed so early. We set off after Mr PC, whose longer 10K run started at 7am. He met us at the zoo gates amidst the predictable honking and hooting, loudspeaker shouting, warm-up nonsense and bass beats herding wave after wave of blue T-shirt participants into the pig pen and off on various running stages – 10k, 5k, then ours.

We filed into the starting bay; for Jonah this was a very busy first run and I could see he was apprehensive, but the pumping music soon got the adrenline going and we pushed through to the very front of the start line, checking behind to see how many people might overtake us – hundreds, from the looks of it, but fortunately they promised to start us off in waves so we wouldn’t be trampled from the rear.

“Stay with me if you can,” I said, “but don’t worry if you feel like going faster.” HONK went the starter and into the zoo we trotted, waving as we passed Mr PC who filmed us. When you play it back you can see how many people there were; at that point I’m doing a stately trot and there’s Jonah, purposefully edging forward. Fast forward around the corner and you’d see him suddenly kick it up a notch, at which point it very much became a race for Jonah, not a run.

It’s well known that in Singapore many people sign up to organised running events to enjoy a nice wander through whatever venue is on offer. Because of its position, this one was popular and there were packs of slow walkers, elderly ladies with handbags, and lots of family prams, all of which must have made Jonah feel Olympian. “Stick to the right!” I shouted as we passed a slow group clustered around the lion enclosure, and “pace yourself!” as his bandy legs did fast circles around a tight corner. It soon became clear that he wasn’t in such bad shape after all. “You go on” I panted to his back as he edged away from me and legged it past the tapir pen. “I’ll see you at the end!” I wailed, and he did a funny little backwards wave and was off, and as far as ‘Team Partly Cloudy’ went that was that – solo runners trotting separately through the semi-empty morning pathways under the palms.

Due to our fast start my ‘style’ (s.l.o.w.) was all out of kilter. I overtook several slower runners but many others overtook me. At times I was a lone jogger, relishing the chance to see zebras munching leaves, elephants taking a morning bath in the reservoir, stumpy gorillas up trees and a cheetah sitting very upright on a rock. A massive free-flying stork dive-bombed me as I pegged along the path underneath it. It was hilly and I was out of breath but even so this had to be the best venue ever for a run; also the most bonkers.

I’d been a bit worried about the noise at the start line, concerned that it might be upsetting for the animals, but once inside the zoo all was peace and calm. Runners don’t make a lot of noise when you think about it, just a patter of trainer on tarmac (and a spot of heavy wheezing from slow-coaches like me). Having been able to follow Jonah for a bit there was soon no trace of him. Was he OK, had he noticed where the path split into two different routes? I was sure he’d be fine, and I only hoped he’d spot some of the wildlife surrounding us.

A finish line is always a wonderful sight. As this one hove into view just beyond an entire family of pink-bottomed monkeys, there was Mr PC and a very sweaty Jonah, holding up a wet paw to high-five me.

“Yay,” I panted with the smallest bit of breath I had left, “you made it!”

“Actually Mum,” said the new runner in the family, “I came second.”

Jonah’s clearly got a new niche sport to follow but I think I’m all set to retire from organised events. I might just buy a ticket next time I want to visit the zoo.

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First Mud

The boys go on a hash run every fortnight, through various bits of jungle around Singapore on alternate Sundays. This is keeping it in the family for Mr Partly Cloudy, whose parents met through a regular hash run in Ipoh, Malaysia in the 1960s. He’s been enjoying a local kids’ version with Jonah, and they’ve both wanted me to come along too. ‘If you can do Bukit Brown,’ said Mr PC this week, ‘it’s not that much harder.’ I know, I know. We didn’t need a crystal ball to tell us that in this sort of weather, those might be famous last words. No matter, I’m now the proud owner of a pair of properly muddy post-hash trainers, and I’ve got vine splinters. And yes, there is satisfaction to be gained. And yep, I might even do it again. Talk about a baptism of fire, though. Or water.

You jungle-doubters, there is thick foliage here in Singapore, you just have to look for it. It helps to have a group of willing explorers happy to spend their free time trekking through the undergrowth, tying hankies around trees and bits of rope up steep slopes so that nutters like us can crash through a few hours later. The prize at the end is a back-of-the-van meal for kids and a beer tent for adults. Nice one.

It’s plain to see why the boys have been persuading me to join, but I have always had an excuse up my sleeve. This week, though, after Mr PC knocked his ribs in a game of football and began wheezing and slowing down, I decided that the only way to stop him running the course was to join in. Little did I know that my first ever hash would coincide with a whopper of a monsoon storm.

Stop a minute here and just take some time to think about what you need to do when marching through a bit of jungle. We’re told, don’t stray off the path, snakes are there. We’re told, don’t touch the tree trunks, you don’t know what’s perched on them, creeping along under them or slithering around them, and that’s before we’ve even started on the possibility of poisonous plants and huge giants crashing through undergrowth eating all the villagers. OK not that last bit, but the other stuff, definitely. Would you ever, in your stupidest moments, give a tropical trunk a full body hug, or lie down in thick jungle mud and slide your way from A to B? Course not, because that would be silly. But wet weather conspired against us and turned the course into a slipway, which meant that as cautious drops turned to full on downpour, not holding on would have been even stupider.

We all fell over, slipped along, tore our skin and got mud in our eye. Thorny vine? Give it here. Three-inch-thick mud slope? Sit right down and slide, why not? And actually, to begin with it was quite fun whacking through vines like Sylvester Stallone in First Blood, and Starskying across fallen trees in an effort to keep up. Fortyfive minutes of that, combined with comedy buckets of rain, and let me tell you I was limping along grabbing handfulls of sodden foliage wherever I could, crashing over trunks like a shot elk, pushing my shoulder into the bottom of the stranger in front as she limped wetly up an incline, in a desperate effort to just move the whole thing along. Time crawled, like us – it was all taking a wee bit longer than planned. My specs frosted over with rain; the kid in front of me noted the clouds of steam puffing up from me and Mr PC any time we paused. I began to wonder when it might get dark; if we’d ever get home. Jonah, at first a buoyant and proud guide, showing me the ropes, lost his bravado and took it in turns with me to alternate moods: one of us would nobly shout ON ON! while the other mewed about a sore foot or hurty shoe, and all the while Mr PC darted between us, helping us up and down steep banks and around spiky tree trunks. Fun for all the family.

All the normal people in our group took the short route, but Jonah chose the 5k signpost and so it was that we ended up sliding through thicker and thicker soup, wondering when the helicopters would start circling, and wishing we had opted for the home option, the one that came with telly and a nice cup of tea. I’d just been persuaded to stop sobbing for the third or fourth time when a big hoot went up from my friend up ahead, and out we popped onto the Green Corridor, an old train track and well known running trail. We ran the last 500 metres to the beer tent; Tiger never tasted so good.

I apologise to all the small children I pushed out of the way when I saw that patch of white sky as jungle gave way to clearing. I’m sorry to my friend and also to my husband for having a proper weep at that very tricky slippy bit. And most of all I’m sorry to my bottom for giving it such a very muddy afternoon when all it really wanted was to sit on the sofa at home. In the end we did a grand total of 2.4 miles. It took the best part of two hours. We forgot to pack bus cards and did not dare call a cab, so totally caked in mud were we, so we had to walk to a bus stop and pay a full ten dollars for the three of us just to go about 8 stops, standing in the pram space the whole way home, stinking slightly of mulch. A caterpillar appeared on my vest, and bits of mud fell off Mr PC’s arm every time the bus changed gear.

I might go back next time. I will have to think about it. I liked the crowd, the theory of it all and the beer. I do admit to feeling brilliant at the end, with that pleasing muscle ache a few hours later that lets you know you’ve actually done something with your body. Where would you ever see jungle like this if you didn’t follow such trails? I think the people who set the routes are amazing, and I love how they do it, and yes, it is organised, and yes, it is good fun. So I’ll be back for some more Rambo fun shortly. If it rains, though, you know where to find me: #sofaplease

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New route round the block

After a three-week break from running (house move, end-of-term, mild dose of chest-bashing Mycoplasma), I laced up my trainers early this morning and set out on my new route. I say ‘running’, but I must admit I’m not much of a runner these days. Jogger. Hobbler.

I’m an early morning girl, preferring to get out there before the sun turns my lungs to liquid, and so I’m often doing my routes in that bit of dark before dawn. Singapore is essentially a safe town but you do hear of the odd incident, so I like a few people dotted about here and there, and I plot my routes carefully and accordingly. My new route looked good on paper – four right angles round the block, roughly 3.5k, through areas that looked quiet and green but still populated.

Having lived in the leafy Holland Road area for three years I wanted a run that took me under a few trees, but before you hit any greenery around here you have to first navigate the weird bit of land just before Orchard. It’s a funny old area – like the outskirts of any major city, the road loops along placidly for a good few miles before suddenly getting excitable just before the action of the city centre. Our nearest strip of main road has a line of odd buildings that look like they ought to be on the outskirts of a city, perhaps just approaching the main train station, or something equally noteable. There’s nothing wrong with the buildings, they’re innocuous, but when someone says ‘Singapore’ you usually have glitter or jungle in mind, not pink faux Tudor.

No matter. Once I’d turned away from the odd bit of main road I was in embassy land, and my route took me limping past vast houses set back from the road and swish condos with shiny gates – if you know Norf London then I might just say ‘Bishops Ave’ and leave it at that. In theory I had thought this would be a good road to go down, being semi-populated; in fact it was dark and deserted, and absolutely no one would have heard me being bundled into a car and captured, as they were all sleeping in the back of their 20-bedroom cluster apartments, with Fort Knox locks between me and them. So I turned down a side lane that I knew would lead me back a bit sooner and found myself galloping weakly along a leafy track that reminded me so much of Sevenoaks I immediately started constructing a letter in my head to my Aunty who lives there, before a passing car (YAY, people!) reminded me to keep my mind on the road.

After that it was back down to the Tudors for a wobbly sprint along a nice flat stretch before a last painful pant up the path to home. Just shy of three-and-a-half of your best kilometres, and a nice little notch on my Nike app for the month of June.

One nice thing was that I ended up skirting the Botanic Gardens, which made me think of Dad, who adores the place. So Dr P if you’re reading this hurry up and come back again, there’s lots more to show you. Promise not to make you run.

10k v2

What a difference a daytime run makes. The night-time stagger to the Finish at my first 10k last May left me thinking: never, ever, ever again. So who’d have thought that just five months later I’d be cantering over my second 10k Finish? Well, not me, clearly.

It was Book Club Louise’s fault. I really didn’t ever want to run a 10k again but she suggested giving it a go. No harm in going in for round two, I thought. I’m a morning person and so the crack of dawn start was nice, with a cool rainy breeze and quiet, peaceful roads down to the Flyer. By the time the sun came out we were halfway round the course and the pavements hadn’t had time to reach baking point; when you do a nightime run the roads are slowly going back down to a cool temperature but they’re still very warm. Running in the day also meant that you could see where you were going: result.

I won’t lie, I didn’t ‘canter’. The first 5k was great, 7-9 was bad. It hurt. My knees have been hating me all day. Having hosted my best buddy on a visit to Sing for the last two weeks, my training routine had been all about eating and drinking, and I wasn’t at all ready. Last time my spreadsheet was printed out and stuck on the wall beside my desk and I followed it religiously. My curry, cocktails and cake routine and the odd saunter round the block will never make it into any professional training manual. Still, being a plump but happy runner has its benefits: it made me much jollier about lining up at the start, but I can’t say it did me any physical favours.

That’s it for me with 10ks, for sure, my knees will be happy to hear. I’m leaving it to people like Mr PC who actually like running for an hour and a half, often longer, in temperatures approaching 32C. I’m not sure Louise will be doing one again, but she should – she flew round the course and had already picked up her bag and banana by the time I limped under the flags. I think I’d rather have healthy knees than a banana.

Sundowner for starters

10 steps to 10k (when you’re not a real runner)

1K       10.30pm, Singapore Flyer, 32C, clear skies – off we go! No warm-ups for me, no need. I’m relaxed, in shape, feel good. Whoo, look at me lift my heels! Careful not to set off too fast but feeling fine. I take my first jellybaby from the little bag Mr PC gave me – one per K for energy levels, apparently. You got it, Mister! That’s one marathon technique I’m happy to follow. Salute as he waves, departing for marathon start, maybe I’ll do that next? Sip from water bottle, lid a bit stiff but prise it open with teeth, no probs. Stay hydrated, keep cool. Yeah!

2K       This is so easy: all that training paid off. There’s a breeze, the stars are out, we have perfect running conditions. Look at the view! Look at all the cars stopping for all the runners! Look at all of us! I love this town. Ankles are fine, knees holding up, all good. Jellybabies are working nicely. Trot past first hydration station, don’t feel the need yet, am still getting stiff water bottle open and closed with teeth just fine, all good. Really pleasant so far.

3K       Trotting along, lovely, jogging past the walkers at a nice pace, getting a little warm, sure, but nothing I can’t handle. Jellybabies are an inspired choice, I can really feel the power-surge kick in as they melt in my mouth. Water bottle cap still locking a little but look, I can yank it with teeth, no probs.

4K       Out of my way slow-coaches, I’m a lean, mean running machine and I’m coming up on your right! Just kidding, I’m a sensitive co-runner, nipping and gliding in-between all the poor little walkers. Feeling the heat, pause at 2nd water stop for an ice-cold 100+ – the most well-equipped runners still listen to their body when it says: it aint half hot, mum. I’m a natural! Why don’t I do this more often?

5K       Bit bored, if I’m honest. Pass the time by spotting people with same shoes as me. Also spotted several cramp victims, poor things, so glad I trained at night, it’s got me so prepared. Breeze drops suddenly, very sweaty now: sweaty hair and sweaty calves, bizarre. Need drink: water bottle now very stiff, wrestle open with one hand, shower the darn jellybabies clutched in the other;  bit wet now. Hang on, hill…

6K       …still on the bloody hill. Very hot indeed. Only 6K? Tap phone, check it’s working. Absolutely no breeze at all and a million sweaty porkers herded round the paper cups at the 3rd water stop. On your right, all of you, only joggers and runners should get the 100+ before the walkers. Need a wee. Shoe game a bit boring. Jellybabies very moist.

7K       Eyebrows sweaty. Christ it’s hot. OUT OF THE WAY. Whose idea was it to run us through all these dark patches? Stick up a simple arc lamp, why don’t you. Trip over twig, paper cup, walker. Jellybabies now sticking together in one big clump. Can’t sit down, onlookers hogging picnic benches, polite clappers in the dark. Very sweet but I could make more noise opening a crisp packet. Probably snakes in hedges so can’t stop for wee.

8K       Hill, slight but long, can’t breathe, very hot. Stupid jelly babies, stupid water bottle. Peel off single head, chuck the whole lot in hedge. Sweat now coming out of eyes, dripping off nose. Sweatband smells of a farm. Whole air smells of a farm. Last water stop, sip half warm cup, throw rest over head, shower man behind me. Arc lamps in sight, sound of band at finish line. Oh God, the finish line…

9K       …the finish line? Not the finish line, just a long bit of track that goes right by the real sodding finish line only to have us limp all the way down to some godforsaken dark spot at the far corner (where there are no toilets, incidentally) and back up again to the real end. Note to organisers: PUT THE END AT THE BLOODY END. Sweating buckets. Will I run out of sweat? Will I start to sweat wee-wee? Might help.

10K     Final few yards, clappers in earnest. Too late, can no longer hear, ears full of sweat. Sweatville, Singapore. Is it the finish line? It is the finish line. Underwhelming limp under arc-lit banner. Trip over bib line. Snatch medal. Ignore banana. Find cab. Sweat. Divert to Daily Scoop. Wipe sweat patch with $2 bill. Limp down road licking ice cream. Limp up stairs, into shower, put medal in bin, have wee, bed.

Woken at 5am by post-mazzer husband ruefully binning bagful of sticky jellybabies.