Special Feature: Where the Tarmac Ends
Fact: Just this year, there have been more than 100 running or run-related (e.g. triathlons) races in Singapore alone. And the irony is we're an island nation of only 5.2 million people. Without a shadow of doubt, the sport of running has witnessed a phenomenal surge in popularity. Do the math. The figure translates to nearly two races EVERY week!
"I came to Singapore four years ago and initially thought the weather was too hot and humid to run – though I've enjoyed running since my junior track days. It has really only been during the last two years that I started running here. And I was amazed to discover that Singapore has a really strong running community,” says Mark Callon (USA), 43, winner of the Mizuno Wave Run Men’s Open and HomeTeamNS-New Balance REAL Run Men’s Veteran. “Relative to the population, Singapore has quite a lot of races that have thousands and thousands of runners. It seems like there is one every few weeks. I’m originally from the San Francisco area, which has a population of eight or nine million, and there aren’t as many as there are in Singapore."
Running’s more often than not referred in the context of road (or hard surface) running which isn’t surprising in Singapore’s highly urbanised environment. Nonetheless, there have been handfuls that possess an acquired taste for off-road trails.
"Looking at the number of running races locally, in no time, the folks will turn to trails eventually as a base for runners to be consistent in building up endurance. Also, it's only natural that they will turn to trail running as it offers a wider range of challenges and most importantly, running on the trail can be less painful." says Hadi Masron, a Salomon-sponsored athlete who’s a member of the Adventure Madness team. "With the introduction of better trail running shoes and clinics, more road racers are hitting the trails. One simple reason: anyone can run fast on flat terrain but can anyone run faster in their climb? Especially climbing on the trails?"
In an interview RunSociety conducted with Kilian Jornet (see the article, Off the Track: An Interview with Kilian Jornert), the world champion mentioned that "the best of trail running is every step is different."
Trails aren’t like paved surfaces where the terrain is predictable throughout entire stretches. Runners have to be on guard 24/7 to ensure they land sure-footed especially on rocky outcrops. There is certainly an element of tranquillity involved when one gets immersed in nature, something which is lacking in our modern fast-paced society. Adding on, because you’re treading on uneven grounds all the time, the risk of injury is minimised as the force of impact doesn’t concentrate itself on one particular area unlike on flat road surfaces.
Trail running isn’t without its risks too. In the seclusion of Mother Nature, it’s not advisable to head in alone. There have been instances where runners were left stranded for hours after being immobilised by a major mishap with no one to call out to – except to wait until someone crosses paths. This is where a simple ‘whistle’ would come in handy. Hydration packs are also advisable to have on back. More so, if you’re covering distances that extend over 10 kilometres.
Touching on safety tips, Masron adds "Trail runners have to be more alert with the undulating terrain and they have to be more agile especially when they hit downhill."
Having said so much, the golden question has always been whether trail running is just a current fad or a sustainable branch out of conventional running. From the way we see it, it’s going to be around at least for the medium term.
The North Face is one brand that’s been aggressively promoting trail running since 2008 when The North Face 100 (TNF100) debuted with 300 participants. It has since grown to 1,200 runners in 2009, followed by 1,300 in 2010, and reached a peak of 1,530 this year – with a pre-race trail series spanning over seven months.
"This year, we started a trail run series (a monthly trail run covering 10 – 15km) in February to encourage aspiring trail runners and seasoned runners to join us in exploring trails in different parts of Singapore like the Lorong Halus Wetland, Pulau Ubin and so on. We received fantastic response and have between 40 to 50 runners with us during each session.” shares Karen Chua, Marketing Manager, Outdoor Venture Pte Ltd (local distributors of The North Face). “We hope to continue this series next year and to see more and more new faces. We may also look at conducting workshops to impart runners with the knowledge of choosing the correct gears (such as hydration packs and trail running shoes) to optimise their trail running performance."
Salomon, heralded as the world’s leading name in trail running, has also made its mark in Singapore’s trail scene. The Salomon X-Trail Run (SXTR) for one, has been a popular off-road race since its inception in 2008. Unlike TNF100, which is targeted at elite runners, the favourable 10-kilometre SXTR distance has been a perfect introductory fit to entice road runners to convert.
The brand (Salomon) is serious about Singapore. And we say that on the back of its recent standalone store opening at Velocity@Novena Square which saw the legendary Kilian Jornet in town to lend his support.
With all these initiatives in place, it’s evident that trail running in Singapore has a future that’s far from bleak. The question is whether runners would eventually utilise the small pool of forested trails on this island. At present, there’s only MacRtichie Reservoir, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Tampines Bike Trail, Mandai Road and Bedok Reservoir. Only time will tell.