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A Fascinating (and Fun) History of Running in Singapore

Founding fathers might be surprised to see that running has become the nation’s favourite way to unwind and stay healthy. After all, our rich historical heritage includes centuries of colonization, exploitation and domination before we broke free and earned our independence—at last!—in 1965. What does our actual history have to do with Singapore’s running history? Because if our battle for independence hadn’t been so hard fought, who knows if we would have the freedom to participate in the sport we love today? Are you ready to jog down Memory Lane to see how many changes have taken place on the running scene and Singapore running wear fashion over time?

Year(s)
1920s

Kampong Era

Singaporean runners call this the Kampong Era as the sport was just emerging, thus running was a rather primitive way to get exercise out of doors. If you passed a fellow-runner (usually male!), you'd find him dressed in simple white shorts and relatively little else, since everyone ran barefoot which made them close to nature.

Runner in the 1920s

1934

The Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) was founded to develop, promote and support Singapore to become one of South East Asia's top athletics nations.

1942-1945

The Japanese Occupation made life miserable for all Singaporeans, thus we did not dare run on the streets of our homeland out of profound fear. Did this mean that we stopped dreaming of regaining our freedom? Of course not. We knew we would get our lives back. And we did.

1950s

Post-war Period

At last the war was over, but life remained difficult. Many Singaporeans could barely afford a pair of white shorts, singlet and slippers. But faithful runners found ways to obtain these garments. Also, the running community discovered Axe brand medicated oil, a product that continues to soothe our muscular pains.

Runner in the 1950s

1963

Singapore's Garden City project was celebrated with a tree-planting campaign that led to the nation's green movement, ushering in the creation of natural running spaces.

1967

An official mandate to run in defense of the homeland was imposed by Singapore when National Service began. What a great excuse to run!

1970s

After Independent

Our young, independent nation began to adopt appropriate running attire. In the 1970s, runners were hard to miss, usually dressed in Classic white Converse sneakers, plain t-shirts and high-waist, split shorts. We rehydrated after running with Three Legs Cooling Water, a brand that remains a favorite to this day.

Runner in the 1970s

1970s

The largest park in Singapore, East Coast Park was opened in the 1970s. It has a scenic coastline that stretches over 15 km, it later became a popular destination for runners.

1979

Singapore's Army replaced its old physical fitness test with the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), which included the addition of a 2.4km run.

1980s

Developing Nation

Our favourite sport matured with our developing nation and fashion consciousness became more evident. Brands? You bet. We were stylin' in Nike Air series running shoes in popular colours like browns and tans, but you would also encounter runners dressed in hot yellow Bruce Lee-inspired track suits featuring bell bottoms!

Runner in the 1980s

1982

How could faithful runners ever forget this landmark year when the very first Singapore International Marathon finally put our nation on the world’s running stage?

1987

What goes up, must come down; energetic runners conquered 73 stories of the Westin Stamford, then came down to help celebrate Singapore's first vertical marathon.

1989

We have a homegrown champion! The winner of this year's Singapore Marathon is our nation's first finisher, Ricky Khoo.

1990

A Colourful Age

Those who have been around long enough to recall it know that colourful running attire was in vogue! Instead of running shoes, competitors donned Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes over high ankle socks and wore branded running vests decorated with colorful ads, sponsor messages and logos plus baggy running shorts.

Runner in the 1990

1995

Members of the Singapore Armed Forces happily traded in their boring black gymnasium shoes for spiffy New Balance sports shoes, making military fashion history.

1996

The renamed National Parks Board (NParks) has custody of the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Singapore's nature reserves. NParks continued to maintain Singapore roadside greenery and garden city as well as developed green spaces and new parks with a comprehensive network of park connectors for the running community.

2000

Fashion Race

A new millennium. A new sports fashion decade. We wanted to perform brilliantly and look good while doing it. Sales of comfortable sports undergarments, colourful low ankle socks, body-hugging running tights and tops and cushioned Adidas running shoes soared in Singapore. Who doesn't want to look awesome while running?

Runner in the 2000

2006

Women make history as the Shape Run, Singapore's first-ever competitive women's run, was staged, immediately turning our nation into an equal opportunity sports capital.

2008

Proving that running needn't be confined to daytime, this year marked the first Sundown Marathon Singapore, and set a new standard for nighttime running events.

2010

Running Tech/Social Revolution

We salute the dawning of a new era of technological advances for runners. Manufacturers joined the party by producing and marketing GPS trackers, heart rate monitors, smart phones with running apps, full-compression suits, barefoot minimal running shoes and GoPro Cameras, plus trendy, innovative new sunglasses, running hats, belts and pouches.

Runner in the 2010

2010

Nanyang Technical University sets new records for the Longest Ultra-Marathon, a 218km run around Singapore. NTU's Sports Management Degree has garnered an international reputation.

2011

RunSociety was born with the purpose of uniting the cumulative interests of runners from all walks of life under a common umbrella; keeping them abreast of the latest developments on the running scene from across Singapore and beyond.

2011

It's all about the girls when Class 95FM attracts 160 participants for its first promotional Stiletto Race, where shoes with heels under 2.75-inches weren't permitted!

2012

Women ruled at the Great Eastern Women's Run, the first and only half-marathon staged in Singapore that elevated women's running activities to new heights.

2012

Singapore set a "Most Number of People Running in Synchronized Steps" record when 1,300 members of the SAF Infantry Formation ran in step for 2km!

2012

Gardens by the Bay was created to raise the quality of life by enchaining greenery and flora in the city. Runners welcomed the initiatives and the park has proven popular for event planners.

2012

SportCares was launched to help people live better through sports, working to improve lives of the needy and supporting the community for social good.

2013

566 Preschool Teachers set great examples for their students when they undertook a 5km run that set a first "Most People Running with Bandanas" record!

2014

Singapore welcomed thousands of athletes from around the globe to participate in 70 major running events throughout 2014 that included ultras, marathons and triathlons.

2015

About 7,000 athletes from 11 nations participated in 402 events representing 36 types of sports at this year's 28th Asian Games held in Singapore. Singapore athletics team scored well in the medal haul, with a total of nine national records broken while 16 athletes achieved their Personal Best during the Games.

2015

Singapore Jubilee Year

Singapore celebrates it's Golden Jubilee. There are various interesting programmes and events to encourage Singaporeans participation as we celebrate Singapore's Golden Jubilee as one people.

Runner in the 2015

2020s

It's your turn to speculate. Looking forward, what do you see for our nation's running future? Can you imagine Singapore becoming an Eastern Hemisphere epicenter for the sport? If so, how?

After all we share the enduring values as Singaporeans, values that undergird the Singapore Spirit – values that have stood us in good stead in the past and give us confidence for an even brighter future.