It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times… Well, not exactly, but the two places that I visited over the summer did offer a pretty striking contrast in climate-friendliness to running.
First up was Taipei, Taiwan, in mid-June. Taipei has a latitude of 25 degrees N, which is about the same as Miami, Florida. That means that summer is hot and humid. I had to get up by about 6 in the morning to go running, and it was already over 80 degrees and provided the equivalent experience of running in a sauna. (Sure, I could’ve gotten up even earlier, but hey, I was on vacation!)
Technically, this post should be a tale of three cities because we started in Kaohsiung City, which is the southern end of Taiwan. Being the geographically illiterate that I am, though, I’m going to consolidate Kaohsiung with Taipei.
We stayed at the Kindness Hotel (Main Station) in Kaohsiung. This was an awesome hotel with free breakfast and evening meal every day! And I don’t mean continental breakfast, but a complete Chinese buffet. The only thing the hotel was missing was a gym. Kaohsiung is pretty dense so running on the sidewalks was not appealing; there would be crowds to weave through and lots of stoplights to break up the run. Fortunately for me, Kaohsiung Senior High School was just 1/4 of a mile away.
Happy that I found the track, I started off at an easy pace, although the heat and humidity didn’t make it feel easy. Yet, somehow I finished the first lap under 2 minutes, which would mean that I was running at a sub-8:00 pace. I knew I wasn’t running that fast. A quick glance at my GPS watch provided the answer: the track was only 300 meters, not 400. How weird…
It shouldn’t have mattered. Distance is distance, right? But for some reason, 3 miles ended up being more than enough for me. If you’re doing the math, that’s 16 laps of 300 meters instead of 12 laps of 400 meters. The “extra” 4 laps ended up being mentally taxing, I guess.
Something else weird about tracks in Taiwan is that there are no football fields in the middle of them. If you look at the picture below, there’s a track in the lower right, and you can see that there are two basketball courts inside.
On to Taipei, which is the biggest city in Taiwan. As a side note, if you are vegetarian, Taipei has incredible restaurants for you! There are entire vegetarian buffets, vegetarian dim sum, and more. One place we tried had vegetarian sashimi. It really looked like salmon or tuna sashimi and tasted kind of like it too.
We had an Airbnb rental in Taipei, so again no gym access for me. However, I was again fortunate in that across the street was a large city park; running its perimeter was a little over a mile. At one end of the park was a hip area with restaurants and curio shops where people did tai chi in the morning. The park spread out from that one corner across a rectangle one block wide and three blocks long, with grass fields, playgrounds, and a marked paved path inside that was a quarter of a mile (though too crowded to use for interval reps).
In the mornings when I ran, it was warm and humid, but on a couple of days it was overcast at least, which made it tolerable. Parts of the path also had decent shade either from trees or overhead traffic lanes.
During these runs, I noticed that the other runners were going clockwise, whereas I’m used to going counterclockwise. I wonder if that’s an American habit? (Though the track races at the Olympics are counterclockwise…)
I ended up running three times in Taipei, but my paces did not reflect any kind of heat adaptation. In fact, I got slower and slower, although the weather conditions also became less and less favorable. On the third day, it was 83 degrees with 83 percent humidity, making it feel like 91 degrees. I called it a day after 1.7 miles.
All in all, I had a wonderful time in Taiwan eating the food, reconnecting with distant relatives, exploring the museums and other landmarks, and experiencing the culture. The running part, though, was not so much fun as it was simply carrying out a habit.
In early August, my wife and I drove to Victoria, British Columbia, for a short getaway. We stayed next to Fisherman’s Wharf, about a mile away from the inner harbor. The ferry from Port Angeles got us to Victoria around 2:30, and clearing immigration didn’t take too long. We had dinner reservations but not for several hours, so with the weather being mild and cool, I had to go outside.
Victoria is located at the southwestern part of Vancouver Island. It’s actually well south of the 49th parallel, which is the dividing line between Canada and the U.S. on the continent, so one wonders about why the American negotiators didn’t get this nice part of Vancouver Island for the States.*
* That 49th parallel is pretty exacting otherwise. It turns out that there is a little exclave called Point Roberts that is south of Vancouver, B.C., but not contiguous with the rest of the U.S. American kids there have to bussed through Vancouver back to Washington state for 4th grade and up.
On that first run, I headed along the coast toward James Bay — i.e., away from downtown. I chose that direction because when I came out of the hotel and looked at the inner harbor path, I saw that it was full of people. However, running away from downtown, I discovered the source of the people. It was cruise ship season, and the cruise ship dock was on the other side of Fisherman’s Wharf, about half a mile away.
Victoria is the last stop for many summer Alaskan inside passage cruises. A Friday-to-Friday cruise would stop at Victoria on Thursday, a Saturday-to-Saturday cruise would stop on Friday, and a Sunday-to-Sunday cruise would stop on Saturday. And yes, as it turned out, there were cruise ships there every full day we were there.
Past the cruise ship dock were a series of neat little parks on the oceanfront. There were a few parasailors on the water, adding a splash of color against the blue sky.
I could have kept going for much farther (both in terms of mental stamina and the peaceful sights), but I did have to get cleaned up for dinner, so when I hit 2 miles, I turned around. However, when I got back to the cruise ship dock area, I saw the long pier out to the lighthouse and decided to run the length of it.
That is a pretty long pier! I think it added about a mile round-trip, but it was well worth it for the sense of running out over the ocean.
I got up the next morning and headed the other way toward the inner harbor, circling around to the other side of the bay from where I was staying. It was again a mild Northwestern morning, a mixture of sunshine and clouds, and comfortably cool.
That path took me past the ferry depot; the pick-up area for various Victoria tours (including one of pedal pubs — seems like a blast, except I don’t drink); the inner harbor causeway with its buskers; the whale watching tours depot; and then across the Johnson Street Bridge to the other side, which was immediately more serene and isolated.
There’s another small park on the north side of the inner harbor that highlights the culture of the First Peoples in the area. In fact, one of the neat things about Victoria is that there are many totems throughout the downtown area that serve as a cultural reminder of who was there first.
On my way back, that drawbridge has been raised and was slowly lowering itself. We have several drawbridges in Portland, but I don’t think we have one with this design:
Conclusion: The heat and humidity in Taiwan was quite a challenge for me (whereas the conditions in Victoria were ideal), but I usually find running to be one way I like to experience a new location. That’s true even where it was just running around a 300-meter track. It also tends to reinforce the universality of running.