Saturday Night Lights: Energizer Singapore Night Trail 2015
If you think running is hard, try doing it in the dark, out in the trails. Back for the 5th time, the Energizer Night Trail is frequently billed as one of the toughest races in Singapore, and it does a lot to earn that honour. Broken up into three distance groups, the full 18km route has a cumulative elevation gain of over 400m (pretty high for Singapore!), while the 12km and 6km are nothing to sniff at themselves. The race also features a very family friendly 3km obstacle course, with many of the participants in the trail races taking part in the obstacle race earlier in the day with their children.
The staging area, part of the Mandai military training area, is familiar ground to many of our boys in green, particularly the race's key feature, the infamous Hill 265, which many would have encountered in conditions far less casual than this! The rumour on the running forums is that this may be the last time we'll see this race at Mandai before it relocates, so I didn't have to think twice about signing up!
Preparing for Energizer
Training for a race of this magnitude is no mean feat, and I'd like to share a few things that helped me get in the best state for this race.
- Lots of training on slopes and stairs to prepare for the climbing (I personally train at Fort Canning and my HDB block respectively for these)
- Using proper trail shoes will provide you with the traction to survive the loose gravel, mud and rocks, while also keeping your foot safe from bumps and sprains
- Practise running with a headlamp, it's harder than it looks! You need to get used to looking at the illuminated patch about 2m ahead, and then coordinating your feet to land 'blind' in that spot a second later
That's Positive Energy
Upon first entering the staging area via Lorong Asrama, you can't help but be sucked into the infectiously positive mood flowing through everyone. When I got there at 5:30pm, most of the families who'd been in the obstacle course were done, and were enjoying the festivities, carnival-like atmosphere and free ice cream. There was a mechanical bull ride, and a trampoline, and there was even a treasure hunt! A real feast for kids, and really something I'd love to see at more local trail races. It's a great way to get children into the actual outdoors from a young age. The tag-line for most of Energizer's marketing collateral recently is "That's Positive Energy", laying down their mission of enabling happiness and creating positive change, and I definitely felt that mood in the air! There were lots of smiles and happy moments happening all around. Just before the race began, senior officials from Energizer also revealed that $11,000 from our race entry fees would be donated to SportCares Singapore, the race's adopted charity, who use sports as a force for social good, and enable Singapore and Singaporeans to live better through sports.
The start pen for the 18km was more crowded than I remember from previous years, likely a result of the growing popularity of trail running in Singapore. It was also interesting to note lots more people in specialised trail running shoes and with all sorts of technical gear; I remember how a few years ago, I was one of the only people in a trail shoe! Aside from the usual mainstay Salomon, there was a good mix of North Face, Merrell, and even my personal favourite Nike trail shoes in sight. It was great to also see many of the 'celebrities' of the local running scene at the race, two of whom we had the privilege of hearing from before the race began! Lexxus Tan of F1 Runners gave us a really good and accurate summary of the 18km route, mentally preparing us for the climbs to come! Jenny Huang, one of Singapore's top female runners, talked a bit about what we can expect from this race as well.
We started off with a few photos and a video, and then it was time to warm up! Two trainers from Fitness First led us through a series of dynamic stretches, which were definitely helpful as many of those at the start line had just got there! The race began with a flash, and the front pack set a blistering pace from the get-go. It was surreal watching the headlamps wind their way into the dark forest, like stars in formation. Interestingly, and perhaps because Energizer has provided better quality headlamps than previous editions of this race, I found that the paths were much better illuminated than before. I was not the only one who noticed this, and many chose to switch off their own lamps and go by the lights of others! Energy saving at it's finest.
After reawakening a week-old ankle sprain at the 3km mark (and again at 3.5km), I decided to drop back from the lead group and settled into a slower pace. This inadvertently allowed me to better experience the whole race, since with the mid-pack, I managed to go through the merger points of the 18km with both the 12km and later the 6km race, both of which were very well managed by the race volunteers. The slopes were definitely no joke, and were generally a lot longer and steeper than most that would be encountered in regular races in Singapore. Though a lot of the stronger runners powered through to crest the hills, I saw many having to resort to a walk, with some even needing to take a breather halfway. The race course itself was a lot drier than I'd expected after the rain over the last week or so, with only one short section being a little muddy towards the finish line. Hill 265 did pose a challenge to most, not only because of the gradient but also because it was pretty slippery! Kudos to the organisers to having ropes on the side to aid runners.
This was really one of the better organised and well-run races that I've been to of late. All too often, race organisers have been getting sloppy, and not giving thought to important considerations like water points, support and crowd control. There were really good emergency response teams in place, and I even saw someone able to get the medical attention they need halfway between two water points, in the middle of nowhere! The volunteers not only did a great job of keeping runners hydrated and fed (free GU Gel, anyone?), but they cheered at the top of their voices for every runner of every speed. To the organisers' credit, a lot of thought seems to have been put into this race and how it can flow efficiently. Though there were inevitable bottlenecks at the race merge points, and especially at Hill 265, runners never had to stop for long, and personally I never found the route overcrowded or resembling the stampede conditions we sometimes see in less well-organised races. More superficially, the race also has one of the coolest finisher medals!
The only negative I can think of is the choice of timing system – the old school strip attached to your laces. This has long been superseded by integrated bib-and-timing systems, and I wonder why the organizers didn't go with this tried and tested method. I'll probably be back for this race 2016, especially if they secure a new venue. It would be interesting if they manage to have the race at one of the new nature parks up in the West, like Chestnut Nature Park (formerly known as Butterfly Trail to those who used it).
- 5th edition of Singapore's only night trail race
- A great event for the whole family, including child friendly activities coupled with more challenging trail races for adults
- Probably one of the toughest trail races in Singapore
- Well organised event, with a great positive message of supporting sports in Singapore