Tara Savage has lived in Bangkok for more than 15 years. In that time, she’s fallen in love with one of the world’s most vibrant cities, and accepted the constant din of nightlife as a fact of life.
On the night of April 11, just after 10 p.m., Savage was five hours into a 50-kilometer run — all on the roof of her 33-story condominium building — when something happened that stunned the Clifton Park native and 1995 Shenendehowa High School graduate right in her tracks.
Blaring, bustling Bangkok fell completely silent, its citizens forced inside by a 10 p.m. curfew due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The whole city was completely quiet,” Savage said during a Zoom video chat earlier this week. “No motorcycles, no cars, no barking dogs. It’s such an alive city that’s open all the time, buzzing, it’s been built for pure entertainment, and it was just dead quiet. All the lights were on, it was stunningly beautiful.”
Savage’s long-distance runs often involve heading into the steamy jungles of Thailand with a machete to hack the brush away and clear a trail. Running in a small loop on the roof of a 33-story condo complex certainly seems a bit tame in comparison.
Then again, running 50 kilometers over any kind of terrain, especially when any stumble could turn into a terrifying 33-story tumble, is a feat.
“I couldn’t get any speed,” Savage said. “I tried, but I was like, ‘I don’t want to fall to the next level, so I’m just going to take it slow.’”
Savage has spent the last 20-plus years living across Asia. For more than 15 years, she’s lived in Bangkok where she teaches at the Berkeley International School and is raising her three kids.
She wasn't much for sports in school, outside of a brief stint on the modified track team when she attended Koda Middle School, but picked up running as a serious hobby about four years ago and “just kind of dove right in, headfirst.” Now, she’s an ultra-long distance trail runner, usually taking part in races of 50 kilometers or longer. In February, Savage took part in her first 100-kilometer event.
With the COVID-19 pandemic putting most of the globe on lockdown — including her normally bustling adopted home — Savage couldn’t take part in the group runs throughout the streets of Bangkok or the wild trails about an hour outside the city limits.
She still wanted to run, and taking inspiration from seeing stories from people on lockdown attempting long-distance runs on their porch or in their living room, she hatched a plan.
“I was just like, ‘For sure, I’m going to do something crazy like that, because I can’t just be cooped up and not move,’” Savage said.
Running in a loop on her roof of about 20 to 40 meters per lap — depending on how wide she wanted to make the loop — seemed like her best option.
And, as she saw the economic toll the pandemic was taking on Bangkok’s poorest citizens and heard stories of similar hardships being faced back home in the Capital Region — where her parents, Ron and Joan Hoffman, still live in Clifton Park — Savage decided she wanted her run to reach across the globe and give back to people in need.
She set up a crowdfunding campaign at https://gogetfunding.com/rooftop-ultra-to-fight-corona-virus and established relationships with charities on both sides of the world. In Bangkok, she’s raising money for both Thailand COVID Aid and the Mercy Center, while in the U.S. she’s working with the Capital Region Community Kindness Project and also providing some funds to support friends of hers working on the front lines of the crisis in New York City.
Soon enough, she found she wasn’t alone.
Savage is an administrator in a running group called Bangkok Runners, which organizes many of the long-distance events she takes part in. After posting about her campaign, other members of the group — some in Thailand, others who had moved to other countries — decided that they wanted in.
By the night of the run on April 11, 10 others had joined Savage to attempt a quarantined 50K. One person in Vietnam split the run into two stints, sandwiched around a shift at work.
Another did the entire 50 kilometers on a treadmill.
“On a treadmill. For 50K,” Savage said. “Respect, man.”
For Savage, it was a Saturday night run on the roof, starting at about 5 p.m. and ending a little bit after midnight. Savage has been doing most of her running at night lately, in an effort to avoid as much of the sweltering midday heat and humidity of her tropical locale.
Saturday was the perfect time for her, as it avoided any conflicts with her current online teaching schedule. School had just gone on break for Songkran, the Thai New Year celebration, though the normally boisterous festivities were canceled.
“It’s a giant water festival,” she said, “and they had to cancel all of it. In this steamy, ridiculous heat, they had to cancel it. It was a big bummer. We still had our holiday, but we couldn’t go anywhere. It was a good time to run all night.”
On the night of her run, a pleasant breeze and relatively comfortable temperatures buoyed her throughout seven long hours.
As the run wore on, she fell into her usual, Zen-like state.
“A lot of time to look at the lights,” she said, “a lot of time to think and do my little meditative thing that I do when I run — I count.”
Of course, she wasn’t entirely alone.
Her three kids — 12-year-old son Joe Joe, 8-year old daughter Jade and 5-year-old son Jesse, all of whom were born and raised in Thailand — joined her for a bit of the run. Joe Joe ran a little more than 10 kilometers throughout the evening, and all three spent a good chunk of the night sitting and watching their mom wear a determined path over the roof.
And, in a time with limited entertainment options and no spectator sports, Savage’s run also provided something for a few of her neighbors to watch — at a safe social distance.
“A couple people came up with a beer, just stood off to the side and watched me run,” Savage said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. OK.’”
Savage spent the last two hours on her own, with only the city lights as company. Eventually, she finished in seven hours, 16 minutes and 41 seconds. It’s not a particularly fast time, but that wasn’t the point.
The number that really matters is the money raised, which so far totals more than $2,400. Savage said she’d like to push that total to at least $4,000, and that after taking this week off from running, she’s gearing up for another 50K as soon as next weekend.
This time, it won’t be entirely on her roof. Savage said she’s planning on switching up the scenery a little bit, taking advantage of her building’s parking garage and an adjacent mall to give her a little more room to stretch her legs — though she’s once again planning to finish up on the roof and cross the virtual finish line while looking at those same city lights that guided her home the first time.
It’s her way of chipping in at a time when so many are trying to find a way to be useful.
“There’s only one way we’re going to get through this,” Savage said, “and that’s to unite. If we go against each other, every man for himself, we’re going to flounder and be in this particular situation in lockdown for a lot longer. The only way to get through this is for us to be humans together. That was my goal, was to get people to understand that all of us have a bit to share.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.