Running in the Tropics: How To Do It Safely.

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Photo by Greg Rosenke | Unsplash
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If there’s ever been a sport that’s gained immense popularity over the ages amongst fitness enthusiasts, it’s running. And why not? All you need is a running route and a pair of shoes. I can almost hear the minimalist runners out there scoff at the need for “shoes” to run. A quick history lesson reminds us of our ancestors, running across the plains of Africa in search of food and water.

That story was not sponsored by multi-million dollar sports apparel brands. And yet they survived. It seems almost poetic that running has found its way back into the zeitgeist; only this time the need to run lies in a deeper, more existential craving to keep fit. It’s no wonder then that those who run for the love of running, will always find a way.

But what happens when you live in the hot and humid tropics and the urge to keep those extra calories at bay kicks in? For starters, congratulations! You belong to that elite group of citizens who will willingly workout to improve their health. I discovered such citizenry existed when I joined a running group in my local community in the tropical state of Goa, India.

Now these guys take fitness very seriously and meet three to four times a week to run, strength train, and bicker over performance hacks. But then, they break the monotony of mundane life with weekend trips to secret beaches, off-beat jungle trails, and hikes to picturesque waterfalls. It dawned on me that it’s possible to plan my daily activities around being active and experience pleasure without the guilt.

running-on-tropical-beach
Photo by David Nicolai | Unsplash

On one such trip, we did a trail run amidst the forests lining some vacation huts. And another one was spent running along pristine beaches peppered with ocean swims to cool off. Now I’ve lived off the coast all my life and running in hot and humid conditions come naturally to me. But along the way, I did learn that it’s not all fun and games and there are a few things to consider if your aim is not to be a dehydrated prune and stay injury-free.

The running community is often at odds about what works best when it comes to form, technique, nutrition and even gear. Often what works best can only be gauged via anecdotal or personal experience. But the one facet that allows for a factual, more nuanced discussion, is the science of hydration. Because this one is rooted in the runner’s biology.

If you’ve ever experienced a runner’s stitch or cramped up at the end of a long run, you know what I’m talking about. Which is why it is essential to be aware of your hydration status. Especially in hotter and humid climes, where you sweat more and thus lose more of those precious electrolytes. A quickfire way to experience dehydration and heat illness. And the older you are, the more important it is to avoid dehydration.

As an amateur runner in my early thirties, I previously didn’t think it was necessary to pay attention to these tiny details. That was until I saw a friend, a mid-distance ironman triathlete fill up on electrolyte pouches on a camping trip to a seaside gorge. She even had a ritual. Stock up on water an hour before the intended activity and go through roughly two litres of an electrolyte-rich liquid throughout the hike.

coconut-water-drink
Photo by Meimei Ismail | Unsplash

Coconut water or fresh lemonade from a roadside cafe made up for a quick post activity refresh. Her routine made complete sense. Science tells us that it takes roughly 13 minutes or more for electrolytes to be absorbed by the body. And it is necessary to replace electrolyte losses as part of the rehydration process during or after an exercise. All good strategies to exacerbate hypohydration, the medical term that describes the state of being dehydrated. Let this be a friendly reminder to pop over to your closest drugstore for supplies and an excuse to visit the local cafes to keep that hydration level up.

An equally important preventative measure to keep those muscles and joints pliable and alleviate muscle fatigue, is the art of stretching. Exercise associated muscle cramping or EAMC is a real thing and is often associated with athletes who skimp out on a post-run stretching routine. The risk of EAMC only increases under hot and humid conditions. Now I know it’s hard to be motivated enough to incorporate these micro-habits, especially when the goal of running is to stave off routine. But the other option is looking for medical assistance in a remote jungle or a secluded beach in the middle of nowhere. And that, my fellow runners, is a bummer.

At the very least spirits will be dampened and time spent soaking in the views will be cut short, nursing a nagging muscle cramp. A runner I look to for advice on the internet shares a simple mantra: “You can do literally anything for 10 minutes”. A 10-minute stretch seems to me like a good investment.

A final precautionary note on the terrain or route of your choice. While beach runs offer an opportunity for a quick dip in the ocean, and road runs for a hydration stop at a nearby café, trail runs may be tricky. Be sure to check up on the layout of the land with the locals and head out nice and early to use that daylight to your advantage. Connectivity issues may hinder communication in some remote areas. So you will have to rely on your sense of direction to navigate. For all those adventurers out there, trail run by all means but not without ‘exercising’ utmost caution (excuse the pun!).

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Photo by Peter Vanosdall | Unsplash

The last year or so has been hard on all of us. But now with countries opening their borders and restrictions being lifted, the confidence to move around more is slowly but surely coming back. It took a raging pandemic to remind us that we are a global community that is more connected than ever and it is imperative for each of us to act responsibly and adhere to basic principles of safety for ourselves and others. So why not extend those same safety standards on your next run, hike, or swim.

I can’t wait to plan my next holiday. I’m a beach bum, so maybe it’s time to cool off in the hills for me. But wherever that is, my running essentials will find themselves neatly tucked into my carry-on. I will lookout for drugstores and a cafe that serves cold brews. I will keep my stretching bands on hand and a 10-minute timer ready to go. Everything else can be routine free. That in my books is a perfect getaway!

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