Training in Timor Leste

I hate the heat. No, let me rephrase that. I REALLY hate the heat. This was brought home this week when I was in Timor Leste (East Timor) and so had to experience the pleasures of trying to train in 30+ degree C weather with high humidity. And that was at 5 a.m. before the sun came out.

When I told my mother I was in Timor, like most people do she said ‘where’? It is a small country pretty well due north of Darwin, Australia. Originally a Portuguese colony, it was occupied by Indonesia in 1974 and finally got its independence ten years ago. The capitol Dili is a quiet seaside town which is great for running. If you want hills you only have to head inland and you are soon in very mountainous terrain.

The morning after I arrived I was up at 04:30 and out by 05:00.  Much to the chagrin of the night watchman who I had to wake up to let me out the door. As I mentioned above I don’t like heat and my only option was to get my run in before the sun came up. Even so, it was still much too hot for my liking. But more about that later.

I ran from the hotel to the waterfront and had two options: east or west. I turned left and headed west towards the port.


Although it was still very dark, I could see the form of many people sleeping on the side of the road. There is such poverty in Timor Leste and it is always around if you look for it. When I passed the port gate there were already some 30-40 men sitting tightly in front of the gate—probably day labourers hoping for employment. Life can be very difficult in this country.


As the sun came up over the mountains the harbour area was very tranquil. There were people out in small boats fishing and the streets gradually came alive.

Dili has an unusual facade of prosperity, brought about by the large number of foreigners here. The UN has a very strong presence, providing police and other peace keepers. The streets are awash with large white Toyota 4WD’s—one of which almost took me out—and there are lots of restaurants and cafe’s to serve the expatriate community. I was very surprised to see quite a few people out so early, almost exclusively walking or riding bikes. Only crazies would run in this heat … but there were a few of us!

The street vendors in Dili are an interesting breed. DSC01011There are a large number of young men (always men!) who are touting mobile phone SIM cards and recharge cards. They will spot you from 100 m and come running waving cards in your  face. Very assertive. By comparison, those who have graduated to push carts—like my friend to the right–are much more relaxed and wait for you to approach them.

He was my saviour. I ran 7 km to the river before the airport and then turned DSC01010back. By the time I got to the port again I was in serious meltdown from the heat.  I was very grateful for the drink I got from my instant friend, which kept me going the last few kilometres. I just wish that Kiribati had these sorts of vendors strategically placed at regular intervals!

When I got to the hotel I stood in front of the air conditioner making a big puddle on my hotel room floor. Thank goodness for Mr. Carrier inventing A/C!

The next morning I had an hour of plyometrics in my training plan. I went over to a local park with my Zune media player and did them in the pre-dawn light.  About half way through the routines the night watchmen woke up and began watching. It was no end of amusement to them to see this foreign fellow jumping around in their park. I always find it a bit embarrassing … but it sure is great exercise!

For my second run I decided to do a 15 km run to the east towards the statue of Christ overlooking the bay.  It is kind of like a miniature version of the one that Rio is famous for. I was passed by a few cyclists on mountain bikes who were doing some serious training. They were probably preparing for the upcoming five day mountain bike race ‘Tour de Timor’.  This was a very popular route and I met quite a few foreigners running, walking and cycling.


One thing about running in Timor is that the dogs are so relaxed. Most of them ignore you, a few bark, but in both my runs never once did I get chased or threatened by a dog. A nice change from some countries! Next week I’ll be in Tonga which is the total opposite.


There were quite a few beaches, restaurants and hotels along the road. It ended at the base of the hill with the statue where there is a very nice parking area and beach development. During Indonesian times the road continued around the hill, but like many of the roads from that period it has decayed.

I’m certain that the beach development was provided for and built by the Chinese since the colours and design reminded me so much of what I regularly saw in China. My colleague Chen said that it also reminded him of the old days in China … but he couldn’t confirm who had built it.

I ran up to the statue which was hard work. With 553 steps (I think I counted right) my heart rate just about hit the maximum. I tried to use the steps to DSC01014focus on running form, but the last 100+ were very hard work. At the top I met four policemen on assignment here from New Zealand. Two were from near us in Blenheim, and a third was from Christchurch. I took some photos of them and they reciprocated. Bad camera and even worse photographer!

By now the sun was up and there were great viewsDSC01018 up and down the coast. I can see why this is such a popular place for people to walk, run and bike. For me it was time to head home so down I went. I was surprised to feel it in my quadriceps: they never bother me, but that was probably in part due to the plyometrics yesterday so I stopped and did a few stretches before continuing to the bottom.

I was even hotter than the previous day and fortunately a restaurant was open so I got a bottle of cold water. I decided that an even more effective solution would be to take my shoes off and hop in the water for a short cool down swim. But then I noticed the sign below at the beach resplendent with two photos of fresh water crocodiles.


I have no idea what it says, but the message was ominous. On the way over I had picked up the local paper in Darwin which mentioned that 200 crocodiles had been captures within 5 km of Darwin’s city centre in the last year. It also had a very long list of those ‘taken’ by crocodiles. Given the sign I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. I’ll save the swim for another day when I can make sure that I will make it out again!

By the time I finished my 15 km and got back to the hotel I looked and felt like I had taken a swim. Back in front of the A/C to cool down and some heavy duty rehydration.

Next trip I’ll start heading inland. Will also need to start running with a hydration pack! Still, it’s great to know that I’ll be working in a place which has good places for running (even an annual marathon!). Just wish I was better at coping with the heat …


4 responses to “Training in Timor Leste

  1. Always feel like training in lycra or other tight materials atracht a great deal of attention outside the Western world. Maybe that’s the reason that you get spotted from far away…

    Love you training locations btw – you do seem to pick them.

    • Good observation about lycra! In Azerbaijan it is considered very offensive to wear anything form fitting – I’ve met runners who had stones thrown at them! Fortunately the Timorese are a lot more relaxed about things. I’m not so sure I pick my training locations – always work related. NZ is by far my favorite place!

  2. I found that even some spots in the US are aversive to lycra. According to Ironman, many communities that hold races had to get used to seeing people walk around in lycra. How about shaved legs?

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