Kids Corner


Harmander Singh:
Marathon Runner Guide to World Cities





Harmander Singh admits to being “a naughty boy” at school. He says he took up running to keep out of trouble, a remedy that has since seen him clock up 80 marathons in 18 different cities around the world, raising more than £60,000 for charity.

The 54-year-old social policy analyst, who will be running his 30th straight London marathon on Vaisakhi Day -- Sunday, 13 April, 2014 -- has gained a unique perspective of cities across four continents – so who better to give us a long-distance runner's guide to urban infrastructure?


I really like the mix of low- and high-rise architecture. There's a lot of glass and steel, and interesting shapes mixed with traditional buildings in the city centre.

Frankfurt has a bit of history, and you have the modern architecture. It’s vibrant and the tall steeples made of red brick seemed unusual. Near the start and finish line, there's a tribute to it being a manufacturing city: a moving statue of a man beating a piece of metal with a hammer and anvil. The finish is in a festival hall; the great dome in the middle is fantastic.


The organisers know so many people want to run because of the prestige, and they take advantage of that. For example, there are no lights in the covered bridge about 15 miles in, so you can't see the potholes. In fact, there are a lot of potholes all along the route, and overall the event could be more user-friendly – especially given the entry fee of $300.

You take a bus to the start-line at Staten Island, but because they close the bridge, you have to arrive several hours before you start running – on a cold November day. We were looking for cardboard boxes to sit on.


For an international run, the organisers could have chosen a better route. When I did it, there were puddles on the side of the road from all the recent rain, and open drains in some places which were not exactly aromatic. Maybe they didn’t have the drains in parts of the race.

You need a route to appeal to a wide range of runners from abroad, particularly if you want to show the best bits of the city. There again, it’s understandable as Lahore isn’t one of the modern economies.

But the finish was fantastic as it was inside a stadium.


The roads were wider and cleaner than any other city race I have run in – a mix of tarmac and concrete – and it was one of the fastest times I’ve done in the last 10 years: four hours, 28 minutes and 59 seconds.

The roads were also not so congested with traffic or parked vehicles, even where they were still part-open during the race. New York, by comparison, is an older and more built-up city than Chicago. The pavements are relatively small, and the tram-lines can be a hazard for runners.


If you’re a good marathon runner, you won’t need to use the portable loos at halfway – but in Toronto they were at just the right place for me and, best of all, they were clean.

You come out of the town centre to the lake side, and you know exactly where they are – which is important, bearing in mind the clock is ticking when you go. In some marathons, the loos are located 100 yards after the finish, or outside County Hall ...

Generally, there could always be more at certain places to reduce the queues, but you will be more disappointed with yourself for needing to go.


This marathon starts at 7pm; you run a few circles of the city, past residential areas, up and downhill. They try to cater for every client group and know how to promote their city.

People are still out there cheering you on at 1am – particularly around the town square, where the bars and restaurants are still open and packed with social drinkers cheering the slower marathon runners. They try to embrace diversity because of the international money markets upon which much of Luxembourg's economy is based.

As an ethnic-minority runner, you feel very welcome.


There is no rubbish on the roads or foot paths. During my visit, I saw two-year-olds running around trying to find bins for their sweet wrappers instead of them throwing them away.

It’s a cultural thing, the people are disciplined and I like that. People don’t litter because you get fined, it’s a mindset. It means as a runner, you know you’re not going to trip up on any litter as the streets seem to be cleaned as if by magic.

They start the race at 5 am because of the humidity but the city is always clean.


There isn’t that much green space in Hong Kong, but you do have Victoria Park where the race finishes. It's a great spot to crash out and have a massage.

You don’t feel inclined to rush back to your hotel; you can just soak in the sun or use the shade of the well laid-out tree lines in the park. You feel extremely safe and are close to all amenities. There are hundreds and thousands of people in the area but you are left alone; it’s big enough for everyone.


In my home city, the runners are well supported by the public throughout the 26 miles – even in bad weather. The crowd has a fantastic sense of humour: they'll cheer the world-class athletes 100 metres into the race by saying: ‘You can do it, don’t give up.’

Everyone is having a laugh. You’ve got music from bands and little kids offering sweets and oranges to runners between the feeding stations; it is charming.

This year will be my 30th consecutive London marathon; I’m looking forward to the crowds at places like Tower Bridge and Big Ben.

The author, Harmander Singh -- most famously the coach for the great centenarian marathoner Fauja Singh -- is also one of the founders of the “Sikhs in the City” running club. He is raising money at the London Marathon for the charity “Visually Impaired Children Taking Action” (Victa).

[Courtesy: The Guardian]
April 11, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Raj (Canada), April 12, 2014, 7:01 PM.

Here's my take: MOST DANGEROUS CITY: Have you ever been out in Delhi in the night? Try it ... and if you're wearing a burqa or ladies' garb, see what happens. BEST PUBLIC TOILETS: How could you forget traveling through the Ganges plains? Did you ever look outside the window. Try early in the morning for best results. WORST DRAINAGE: In India - "What the hell is a drain?" BEST QUALITY ROADS: try any road without patronage of politicians, we'll beat it hands down. BEST PARK TO UNWIND IN: Roadside thekas, have a peg of Weeskie or vadka or child beer. NOISIEST CROWD: s#$t, you have never been to a Jagrata, an all-night religious singing of poems on tunes of Bollywood songs. MOST IMPRESSIVE ARCHITECTURE: Go to Mumbai and see Ambani's vacant house shadowing over the shanty towns. Need I say more ... India shining ...

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Marathon Runner Guide to World Cities"

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