How to get started with running in Bangkok

by Erik Bohm
Erik Bohm

Please join me in this not-so-unlikely-scenario-in-August. You have relocated to Bangkok recently. Found a great place to live, swimming pool right at your doorstep, kids are going to a wonderful school, you managed to locate your favourite Thai street food vendors and are ready to pick up your sports routine again. Life is good, you are getting settled and so you decide to go for a run in the nearby Queen Sirikit Park.  

The first thing you notice after donning on your running shoes and reaching the park is that it is remarkably quiet at 11am on a Sunday morning. You went out after you had set the kids up for success with a nice family breakfast and immediately find yourself running in less than ideal circumstances. You did not bring any water or put on sun protection because you never did that back home. After your warm-up you notice that the running shirt you usually wear is already drenched in sweat. “I better get going”, you think, only to find out that there is an impenetrable wall of humidity in the park that prevents you from picking up any speed whatsoever. You double check your sports watch because that Heart Rate must be wrong. After one exhausting lap of the park you return to the safety of a shaded tree and rethink your plan to go out and run in what now feels like a sauna. “Whoa… I am really out of shape with the move and all”, is what might go through your mind. Deflated, you return home to spend the rest of the day nursing a headache that arose shortly after you stopped running.

If this sounds familiar to you, rest assured, you are not that out of shape. You just experienced a little piece of Bangkok’s beautifully suited climate to drain every bit of energy out of you. You are simply not used (the proper term being acclimatised ) to this environment, yet. Here is the upside; it will get better! Until then, learn to do what experienced BKK runners do. 

Erik and kid8 Tips and tricks to get you started with running in Bangkok
Avoid running in the heat of the day

This is a must-do for runners acclimatising to Bangkok’s humidity and temperature. The reason it is so quiet in the parks at 11am is that very few people will opt for a heat training session other than some experienced runners who are purposely training heat sets for their (ultra)marathons. Most parks open at 5 am in the morning so if you set your alarm you can be running in a relatively cool period of the day from 5 to approximately 7.30 am. Trust me when I say you won’t be lonely in the park at 5 am. There are a  surprising amount of people active that early in the morning.

Not a morning person? No problem! Parks stay open quite late so you can also opt for a cooler sundown session at night. Equally as many people out and some you may even recognise from your morning outing.  

Shorten your training runs

As it takes time to adapt or acclimatise to your new environment, shorten your training runs for the first 6 weeks after moving to Bangkok. This is an ideal time for you to step back, be kind to your body and establish the routine first before adding volume to your running. Three sessions of 20 to 30 minute jogs in a week are better than one single long run over the weekend. I always encourage people to take this 6 weeks acclimatisation period to make some changes in your running form. This way you go out there with a purpose rather than just running for the sake of running. Not that that is such a bad thing but hey, make the most of the given situation!

Drink… lots

Drink, drink, drink… If you do not own a water bottle, get one. Running in Bangkok is absolutely safe as long as you make sure that you replace your fluid loss. I argue that a water bottle should be standard gear in your bag for just moving around Bangkok, let alone running. There are great hydration packs out there if you intend to go for one of the many amazing trail running events in Thailand in the future. For your acclimatisation period, a simple water bottle will do just fine.

Replace electrolytes

Apart from losing too much fluid and becoming dehydrated, there is a real risk of losing too much minerals as you are acclimatising to the Bangkok heat and humidity. One of the effects of heat acclimatisation is that our bodies become better at conserving the precious minerals our body needs to function properly. A diluted (less minerals) sweat response is a very useful way of heat acclimatisation but it takes our bodies quite a while to reach that stage. In the meantime, make sure that as you drink, you also consume one sachet or tablet of electrolytes on training days to compensate for the mineral loss.    

Running
Join a running community like the BKK Runners

Bangkok has many running enthusiasts. Some competitive, some more social. Whatever your pedigree, the BKK Runners (FB) are a great group to join to get you started with your running adventure here in Bangkok. Friendly, knowledgeable fellow runners who are happy to share their knowledge and expertise on anything running and non-running in and around Bangkok.

Track, anyone?

Starting with a running routine, you could do worse than going to the track for a run session. I was quite surprised to learn that the National Stadium track (at the conveniently equally named BTS stop) is open to the public from 5am to 9am in the morning and 4pm to 9pm in the evening. It may be a mental hurdle (could not resist it…) to get to the track if you are not familiar with track workouts. But the National Stadium track is honestly one of the most accommodating facilities to ‘emerging’ runners you can find. You can stroll onto the track and find loads of people just doing their daily rounds at a leisurely pace. No need to bring out the spikes and lycra, it is a great way to experience what track running can be. Several structured sessions are offered at the National Stadium track that you could join once you feel up for the challenge. Try it, you will love it.      

Familiarise yourself with the event organisers

There is no shortage of event organisers here in Bangkok or Thailand in general. Gotorace, Jog & Joy, Runlah, C55 Events, Wingnaidee, Spartan Thailand are just a few of the many organisers out there. All organisers are very well aware of the challenges of running in the Thai heat and humidity so you will see ample water stations on the courses and medical assistance is available with reputable race organisers. When you start to feel more comfortable with the heat, humidity and the time on your alarm clock, start looking for a race to participate in. There are a vast number of event organisers out there that offer almost weekly races of all kinds. Road race, Trail running, Triathlon, Obstacle courses, Spartan races. You can find it all right here in Thailand. My advice is to start with a race that is well within your comfort zone and work your way up to more volume or pace as you gain more experience with running in Thailand. Search for your next race on the websites of the above mentioned event organisers and guaranteed you will find something of your liking.

Leave your watch at home

You are adjusting, acclimatising to the weather. It takes time and for a while, you can forget about running a personal best. Conditions are just not favourable for fast times (yet). Do yourself a favour and forget about hitting a certain time or getting in the mileage. The first weeks of running in Bangkok are all about the transition into a tropical country and its climate. Enjoy the journey, let you body grow used to this climate. Pay attention to other things than the average pace per kilometre. Appreciate that you made it to the park before the sun is up and when you are there, do not forget to respectfully wai the 80 year old lady who manages to beat you there every single time you go!

Happy Training,
Erik   

Erik Bohm running

Erik specialises in transforming joggers into effortless runners. Join one of his monthly workshops or contact Erik through runningwitherik.com for a gait analysis and/or training plan. You can subscribe to his Youtube account (Erik Bohm) or FB @runningwitherik for all the corrective drills and tips & tricks.

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