When I started running in hot and sticky Kuala Lumpur, I had no experience of running in cool, dry weather. I scanned American and British running magazines offering advice on keeping warm and treadmill training in winter, happy not to have to worry about wearing layers and shielding fingers from frostbite. Yet running in year-round heat and humidity comes with its own particular demands. Staying hydrated can feel like a constant battle. And anyone who has run Personal Bests in temperate climates can lower their expectations when running in Malaysia; tropical humidity demands that you use a lot of energy on regulating your body temperature, energy that would otherwise be directed to your lungs and legs.
Resist the urge to hide away from the heat and humidity on a treadmill – unless you really love running on a conveyer belt. Don’t use the heat as an excuse not to run. Embrace the year-round opportunity to exercise outdoors (haze days aside of course) and join an every-growing community that is making the most of tropical running:
- Rise and shine. Running before sunrise is standard practice. It never gets cool, but at least before the sun comes up the temperature hovers in the mid-twenties (Celsius). Evenings are also popular for the same reason. Wear sunscreen and a cap during daylight hours, even when it’s cloudy.
- Forget slimming black. Invest in lightweight, light reflecting, high visibility clothing, especially if road running. A reflector or light is also a must for those early morning weekend LSDs (Long Slow Distances). All the big sports brands have stores here so there’s no shortage of gear.
- Make friends with salt. Electrolyte replacement is a must as no matter what time of day you run, or how far, you will create puddles of sweat. GNC, Athlete’s Circle and the Marathon Shop all sell gels, electrolyte tablets and sports supplements. You’ll have to experiment with what works best for you as the heat and humidity aren’t always kind to the digestive system so what might work for fuel in Perth, might make you nauseous here. Always hydrate before, during and after a run.
- Stock up on shoes. If you run several times a week, buy at least two pairs of running shoes. Not only does alternating your shoes make them last longer, it also gives sweat a chance to dry before you slip them on again.
- Always carry Rm10 on your runs in case you need to stop to buy a sports drink or if you twist an ankle and need to hail a taxi home. A wet Rm10 note is better than no Rm10 note when an emergency thirst or injury situation occurs.
- Leave the loot at home. Avoid carrying phones, MP3 players, jewellery and wallets. Mugging by motorbike is a problem in Kuala Lumpur so the less attractive you look to a thief the better. Being smelly and sweaty simply aren’t deterrent enough unfortunately. It’s also best to keep your eyes and ears on full alert for traffic as even early in the morning, the roads can be busy. Avoid running alone in the dark or in secluded areas.
- Rinse your clothes while you shower to minimise the stink that is inevitable from running in the tropics. Anti-bacterial washing powder/liquid is highly recommended if you can get hold of it.
- Leave a towel hanging on your house or condo door for when you return. Puddles of sweat on marble or wooden floors are not only hazardous (and kind of gross) but they will not improve relations with your cleaner. If you do your own floor mopping, why make a chore to deal with when you come down from your post-run high?
- Coconut water is available in most supermarket chill cabinets for around Rm3. It is a fantastic electrolyte replacement and a very satisfying, sweet but natural, post-run drink.
- Be cautious on distance and pace to start with. Whether new to running, or just new to running in Malaysia, this advice holds true. It’s better to build up your humidity miles slowly than bonk on your first day out and feel defeated.
Finally, though it’s not always possible to avoid running alone, if you do so, stick to well-lit areas frequented by other runners. The running community in Kuala Lumpur is one of the friendliest and most inclusive I have come across anywhere. Make the most of it. Happy running!
Johanna Leahy started running in 2012 while living in KL. She has since relocated to cooler, drier Perth and is now an Athletics Australia Accredited Level 2 Advanced Recreational Running Coach. She loves talking (and writing) about running almost as much as she loves running. (https://www.facebook.com/theexpatrunner/)