Great Strides: Running in the Philippines
Less than two hours from Hong Kong and comprising 7,107 tropical islands, the Philippines makes for an ideal weekend getaway. But surprisingly few Hongkongers visit the archipelago compared to more popular spots in the region such as Bali or Phuket.
So if you are looking to escape the tourist hordes, then the Philippines could be right up your street.
Metro Manila has a reputation for traffic jams, pollution and crime. But in recent years, the city has cleaned up its act, and the level of crime has dropped to the point where you can feel safe running around town.
"Just run this side of town," reassures my hotel's gym manager, Juan Buenavista, who leads a daily 6am run starting from the InterContinental Manila.
Makati, where the hotel is located, is where you are most likely to find yourself staying in Manila. This is apparently the "right" side of town to keep out of trouble.
Running in the Philippines is largely a university sport. You will notice that many runners you see around town proudly wear their college tracksuits.
Despite Manila having so few open areas to offer the distance runner, a dedicated and motivated group called the Pinoy Runners pinoyrunners.org promote running culture with regular group runs. They also provide up-to-date information for those wanting to run in and around Manila.
For the country's best running, you must head further afield to the island of Boracay, or just outside the capital to places such as Tagaytay, where you'll run against a backdrop of volcanoes.
Best running spots
Mall of Asia (Bay Walk) One of Asia's largest malls with more than 2,500 shops, it is also home to the city's most popular running spot. The eight-kilometre loop is free from traffic and follows Manila Bay's esplanade. It continues along a boardwalk into the parkland of Intramuros, the Spanish walled city.
The Fort An upscale suburb where residents live in private estates known as "villages". Forbes Park and Dasmarinas Village are ideal for running as they have numerous tree-lined boulevards and parks. As it is a gated community, you won't run into too much traffic.
The main event: Milo Manila Marathon
Over the years, the Milo Manila Marathon milo.com.ph has built a reputation as one of the country's major sporting events.
The aim is to help popularise running, make it accessible and encourage a healthy lifestyle for all Filipinos.
It is a star-studded event with local television and movie celebrities taking part, and a Milo campaign that brings the Milo Manila Marathon to everyone in a Tour de France-like showcase across the country.
The event is one of a series of 18 races across the country held between July and December, with each attracting up to 20,000 competitors. The race distances vary from five kilometres to 21 kilometres, and it all ends with the full marathon in Metro Manila on December 9.
However, the event's focus is more on participation and entertainment than the race itself. With poorly marked kilometre signs and unopened bottles of energy drink at stations, it is hard to expect any world-class fields or times at this event. But generous prize money is still on offer for those expecting to complete the race in about 21/2 hours.
In a country with so much poverty, it's great that everyone gets the chance to experience the simple joys of a big running event.
To experience the true spirit of the Philippines, you must journey to the islands of Cebu, Palawan or Boracay. With their white sandy beaches and crystal clear water, it is no surprise that they are often voted among the top 10 beaches of the world. The tiny island of Boracay is one of the Philippines' premier tourist destinations, and running there is an unforgettable experience. It's also an ideal way to see more of the island.
The best spots for a run on Boracay are:
• White Beach: an immaculate four-kilometre stretch dotted with resorts, bars, restaurants and shops. At the northern end, a path is cut into the cliffs which takes you to hidden beaches. A popular training spot for foreign triathletes.
• Mount Luho: the island's only mountain, it has rewarding views of the entire island once you reach the summit. Numerous roads and tracks wind through the lush jungles.
• The Philippines turn on excellent Spanish-inspired buffets, which are ideal for refuelling after a run.
• Manila is peppered with shopping malls. Many leading brands of running shoe are made in the Philippines, and these malls sell them at half the price of most stores in Hong Kong.
• Most of the islands offer action sports such as banana boat riding, quad biking, diving, caving and water shooting (a type of white water rafting).
• If you visit the island of Bohol be sure to look out for the tiny tarsier, one of the world's smallest and rarest primates, which is endemic to the Philippines.
Great Strides is a series of city running guides by Troy de Haas, sports travel manager at Flight Centre and a former Australia representative in orienteering, mountain running and tower running