Runners in Singapore do pretty crazy stuff to get their altitude meters in. Be it for general training, be it in preparation for a particular race with lots of positive and negative altitude (and those are on the rise).They climb the same route to the summit of Bukit Timah many times in a row. They go up and down the endless staircase of an HDB tower block. I’m not trying to be disparaging here. My exploits include a 24hr on a 1 km course, and thought that was a terrific event. Know who’s talking. It is just that this city offers so much ‘natural’ altitude meters, which preciously few seem to make use of when running. Stairs galore, overpasses, underpasses, multi-level MRT stations, and many hills other than Bukit Timah.

Yes, I know, efficiency ranks high on most people’s list, and the BT/HDB tower strategies described above beat alternatives in that department. And I am certainly not arguing against them, they work. But I am pretty sure that many who apply them never think beyond them. And why waste the plentyful, maybe less efficient, but way more varied, additional options? Options that give you ‘free’ altitude ‘training’.  One big advantage? They may not be optimal in terms of running down your planned numbers for the day, but the variation keeps your running fresh.

MRT and overpass stairs. So many of them easily build into any regular running route that I won’t even have to give examples. And hills, even me, a very recent arrival, knows that one can run the Southern ridges and one can run them trying to maximize altitude meters. So when that is a regular running route for you, why not make those free meters a standard part of it? From Haw Par Villa MRT station to harbour front MRT station one can go up and down the ridge at least 8 times, hardly repeating any bit of the route. That should be good for around 750 altitude meters in not much more than 10k. Pretty OK in my book for a bit of a hilly run.

Second big advantage of this kind of approach to altitude options? It is the kinda route that might make for a ‘normal’ run for those fortunate enough to live in a mountainous area. Not something they would consider ‘training for dealing with many up and down in a race’. But it is as much this ‘normal’ kinda running that makes them strong on courses with lots of pos/neg altitude meters as specific training.

We just seem to have lost the ability to ignore the easy, obvious, available right-in-front-of-us options, unless we specifically set out to do something the hard way for its ‘training’ effect. Infrastructure has that absolutely weird effect on us. Something easy is available: we take it. There is a route up, across and down the Southern Ridges, that’s the one we take. Why take the ‘unnecessary’ additional up-and-down options?

Anyone ever used the MRT on a busy day in Singapore (well basically anywhere in the world) and watched the spectacle of  a crowd shuffling toward the escalator, while the staircase next to it remains virtually empty? Mmmm, the video below overstates it a bit but we seem totally ruled by habit and comfort. And that is true for us sportive types as much as anyone else. We’re all subject to that weird mindset that also makes us drive to a gym, do a ‘work-out’ and then drive back home. As if we just cannot envision everything we do, any movement to and fro as equally part of what keeps us fit, and makes us happy. Of all you runners, who runs or cycles to work? Yes, I know, there are some practical reasons that are totally legit, but nevertheless, they often don’t apply every day, and some can de dealt with if you’ld actually want to do it.

There are ways to get us out of our self-imposed blinders. Make it fun. Works for a while. I’m doubtful about its longer-term effectiveness. Once the novelty is off, habit and comfort will take over again,

I’m more of a believer in one of two alternatives:

Change your habit. Can be done, but you probably have to take the works best for addicts kinda approach: never take escalators unless they are the only option. Always take the stairs. Don’t think about it, look for the stairs everywhere, ignore the escalators. What eats at your resolve is that holy cow of liberal thinking: choice. Don’t give yourself choice and enjoy the peace of mind that that comes with.

The Singapore government promotes taking stairs for some time already.

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The above, with a lights version (at Doby Ghaut MRT station) of the musical chair idea of the video, is taken from a three year old post on the Health {Promotion Board facebook-page. As far as I can see, still hardly anyone takes the stairs unless ‘forced’ to do so. In other words, the nudging-by-fun appeal doesn’t seem to make a big difference.  Anywhere I’ve seen that only has a staircase (and an elevator for those having physical trouble getting up/down stairs), people seem to accept the option offered mindlessly. The solution seems obvious: chuck most escalators and replace by staircases.

Now all of that is for the normal folks. But you runners out there shouldn’t need to be forced onto stairs! You run, I assume, at least you also run, because you enjoy that sort of self-propelled movement. Why only enjoy it for that extremely limited time you are ‘officially’ training? Why forget about it in the rest of your life? Doesn’t make any sense. No one would need expensive devices to tell them that they have reached their required 10000 steps today….If you make moving your own body wherever that is possible your Standard Operational Procedure (rather than handing it over to available but unnecessary technology doing it for you), you’ll feel better and be a better runner.


3 thoughts on “stairs

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