Training · Singapore

Singapore’s Most Inspiring Trail Runners – Part 1

by On Jan 20, 2020

If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all. But our top trail runners will give you the tricks to get started.

Singapore's Most Inspiring Trail Runners - Part 1

There is no shortcut or easy way to be a successful trail runner. Besides training for trail races, it is the spirit and perseverance that led the trail runners to continue and end strongly at the finish line.

We are excited to introduce the first part of our 5 elite trail runners in Singapore. It is a pleasure to speak with these down to earth trail runners as they share their race experiences as well as their ups and downs.

Additionally, we managed to get them to share with us their tips and tricks on trail running too!

Moving on, let's find out about their incredible trail running stories and hope they can inspire you to try out trail running.

1. Cindy Poon

Bio: 36 year-old, Receptionist

Cindy has been a road runner until her friend introduced her to trail running few years ago. Ever since then, she didn’t look back.

10 Motivational Trail Runners in Singapore
Trail Runner: Cindy Poon

RS: What do you like trail running?

Cindy: I dislike my foot on tarmac for hours, it hurt! Trail running gives me different terrains to experience - on softer ground, which is lesser stress on my foot, using different muscles when on encounter rocks, uneven trail, roots, up or downhill, sand, volcanic ash, sometimes you can even walk on snow.

Somehow, it pushes me beyond my limits where I find it impossible, turn out possible. Trail running allows me to go with the flow and loosen up, move freely!

RS: Where do you go for your trail training?

Cindy: In Singapore, where else? Between MacRitchie and Mandai. That’s the only trails left in Singapore, otherwise it would be Hong Kong because their trails are accessible by public transports and quite safe too.

RS: Every trail runner has their own training plan. Can you share with us your training plan?

Cindy: I don’t have a fixed training plan, I don’t like the idea of it, because I feel that it tied me up, I can't do whatever I like. I will go as I feel and when the race is getting nearer, I would increase the intensity. I always train alone because everyone’s pace is different.

If I run at my friend’s pace, I feel like I am running for the sake to catch up, not on my own pace.

In the end, I might get stressed up and bonked in no time. If I can beat my own pace than the previous pace, that’s the result I want to see.

RS: What excites you the most throughout your trail running journey?

Cindy: Reaching a pit stop after a hard climb – even though you bring water/food with you, you will surely buy drinks from the pit stop, because your body is craving for some energy drinks for booster and a rest before continuing.

Finally a downhill and my lungs can breathe smoothly! In the race, it will be COKE! That’s the sugary bursting energy drink, I needed most. It's so effective that I say it's better than nutrition drinks.

Next would be FOOD! You would be surprised that the checkpoints for some races, they are like serving food like buffet spread. One of the most impressing was the race in the Formosa Trail race in Taiwan.

They were serving fresh ‘’high end’’ fruit, honey melon, red dragon fruit, and even porridge with some side dishes like Teochew porridge. 

10 Motivational Trail Runners in Singapore
Trail Runner: Cindy Poon

Run with your heart your mind and your body.

RS: What is the beauty of trail running?

Cindy: I enjoy the solitary when I’m on the trail, I can plug in with my favourite songs and switch off my mind. When I’m in my zone, I rarely smile and is very focused. I will smile when I need to.

So some might think that I look fierce or cool when I bump into them. Well, that’s me and my true self and I don’t care what they think of me. Sometimes, when I run, my mind also runs through a lot of stuff, which I needed to sort it out.

Trail running gets me free from the outside noise and the concrete world workplace. It brought me to the mountains, forests and trails, the remote places and running the ridgelines that you will never get it on the road.  Furthermore, you never get that far when you are on holiday.

The reward is when you climb hard, reaches the summit for its stunning views. Especially in the morning, I like to smell the freshness of the greens, the ground, the mist and the air, which to me like absorbing ‘’vitamins’’ into my body. It's totally recharge me spiritually!

RS: What do you think are the traits to have in a great trail runner? 

Cindy: I would say you will have to be mentally and physically tough, because one day you would be all alone out in trail, especially in the night time, dealing with unpredictable weather, lost, injury, fatigue, hunger/thirsty and emotions. Additionally, these are the traits I think a trail runner should possess.

  • Have faith in oneself
  • Endurance
  • Sense of Adventure
  • Patience
  • Self awareness
  • Self control
  • Focus
  • Respect (the mountains, the Mother Nature and the people)
  • Acceptance
  • An outdoor person
  • Love to eat (is a must)

RS: Do you have any advice for the newcomer who join in trail running?

Cindy: You are going to spend more dollars than road running. Get the right shoes, gears, food, adjust your pace and move. Also, love the nature and prepare to get muddy and dirty if it rains.

Bear in mind that, your pace won’t be the same on the road due to different terrain and elevation in trails. Last but not least, you are going to have black toenails soon.

RS: What does trail running means to you?

Cindy: Run with your heart your mind and your body. You are between heaven and earth, appreciate mother nature and her beauty.

You can follow Cindy on Instagram: @_cindypoon

2. Abimanyu Shunmugam

Bio: 48 year-old, Civil Servant

Abi first ultra was in 2012 and it was the The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT) in Sabah. Since then, he has done quite a few ultra and over the last few years he had started doing longer ultra; ranging from 230-315km.

The longer ultra, the more attractive it is, because it not only challenges you mentally and physically, but it pushes your boundaries that you never knew existed. That is, when you realised what you are capable of achieving. That mentality not only applies to trail running, but also to the life that we lead.  

10 Motivational Trail Runners in Singapore
Trail Runner: Abimanyu Shunmugam

RS: How did you get started in trail running?

Abi: When I first started doing trail running, I made many mistakes as a novice. But I learned from them and gradually saw myself becoming better at it.

As I became better I realised that the mind is so powerful that even after your body decides to stop, you can will your mind to move.

Especially, when the race is a tough one where it pushes you to the limits. It is also the community of trail runners, always willing to share and look after one another even though they themselves are exhausted. 

RS: Where are your go-to places for trail training?

Abi: Not many places in Singapore, but my “second home” that is what I like to call is Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. You get to climb and if get bored climbing I can hit the trails at Chestnut to Mandai for a run.

In addition, that is where the community of trail runners head to over the weekend, where I can catch up for a chit chat while running. The other place I love to train in is in Nepal.

Every year I get an opportunity to head to Nepal for a month and it is a glorious playground for me. There are some many beautiful mountains nearby that I never get bored exploring every single one of them.

RS: Do you have a special training plan for trail running?

Abi: From 2012 to 2018, I drew my own program and trained. This was based on what I had read and what other trail runners shared with me. It was based on how much weekly mileage I ran.

In addition, I also did CrossFit as a form of weight training. It did serve me well, but it was disorganised. Disorganised, because I will have a plan in my mind for a weekly mileage and based on how I felt the morning will execute the run or not.

I also tried running based on heart rate and power meters, but I was not patient enough to follow it through. So I fell back to perceived effort (PE) running. PE basically categories your run from 1 that is easy to 10 hardness.

Then in 2019, in order to be better organised I decided to have a coach. That is also when I stopped doing CrossFit but maintained body weight exercises.

The program was tough as I was put on harder stuff that required me to push hard but I enjoyed it. It was also based on PE that I was used to.

A typical season will see my training blocks planned in a 3 month cycle. The first month is with shorter and faster running. The second month is with slightly longer with more steady state runs with the weekends focussing on endurance based long runs. The final month will see more endurance based runs and a tapper.  

RS: What excites you the most throughout your trail running journey?

Abi: The excitement of trail running is always seeking out challenging races where the completion rate is low. I love doing such races as I know it will push me to my limits.

The travelling to different parts of the world and seeing the beauty of mountain attracts me as well. These are places where you do not gain access unless you are doing a race. And making so many friends from all over the world that are always willing to share and understand you as a trail runner.

10 Motivational Trail Runners in Singapore
Trail Runner: Abimanyu Shunmugam

Trail running helps me to explore my inner self and leaving myself exposed when I am at the lowest moment.

RS: What is the beauty of trail running?

Abi: The beauty of trail running is the community of runners. They are always smiling even though they could be in the lowest moment because they know that a smile will spur you on. And they also know that you are feeling the same. I love that about the community.

RS: What traits do you believe a good trail runner should possess?

Abi: I guess the traits to have as a trail runner is you need to be discipline - we are part time runners so running does not take centre stage in our lives.

But to do well you need to put in the time. And that means you may need to wake up when everyone else is still in bed and sleep when everyone is still out.

A problem solver - many things can go wrong even though you would have planned every single detail for a race. When that happens always focus on the task at hand and solve the problem so that you can finish the task.

Attitude - When you are sleepy and food deprived tempers will flare and that is when you need to be level headed so that you can complete the run. 

RS: Do you have any advice for the newcomer who join in trail running?

Abi: For anyone wanting to join trail running my advices are as follows:

  • Decide why you want to do this; for some Is to lose weight, for some is to complete a run, and for some is to compete. If you are clear on your goals, then you can plan your training accordingly. 
  • Talk to fellow trail runners and find out about the gears. When I started doing trail running I had spent quite a fair bit on gears and found some worked and some did not. Talking to fellow runners you do not have to go through that process. You kind of short cut the process. But having said that; always, always try your gears prior to a race.
  • Be realistic – if you just started doing trail running build up slowly and do not rush into doing too many races in a year as that could leave you burnt out or even worse injured. Take your time and enjoy the process.
  • Nutrition - this is very important and you need to figure out what works for you. What works for me may not necessarily work for you. So during training play around with the type of nutrition that suits you.  
  • Have a program - have a plan by either getting a coach or work out one yourself.
  • Rest - always plan a rest day in a week. No point running everyday. Because running everyday does not necessarily improve your performance, but resting well. And look after your body by going for regular sports massages.

RS: What does trail running means to you?

Abi: When I rephrase this question to: “Can I see myself not running?”, the answer is no. I guess trail running for me is exploring my inner self and leaving myself exposed when I am at the lowest moment. It is at the moment how I bring myself back up again and push through it. This is what trail running is to me. 

You can follow Abi on Instagram: @abi_ultra_runner

3. Tsui Xin Rong, Stella

Bio: 36 year-old, Packaging / Brand identity designer

Stella was born in China and she moved to Singapore 17 years ago. She started running consistently in 2013 and did her first trail race in 2016. She fell in love with trail running immediately after the race. Stella is also a foodie and love to travel as well.

10 Motivational Trail Runners in Singapore
Trail Runner: Tsui Xin Rong, Stella

RS: Why did you like trail running?

Stella: I like to run in the big mountains, I see nature in awe, and make memories. Running in different mountains also give me a sense of adventure and freedom, and allows me to get away from "normal" life, experience other cultures.

I enjoy the progress of planning and training for a race event and fulfil my dream when crossing the finish line, these are the reasons why I like trail running

RS: Where are your go-to places for trail training?

Stella: I like to run around the trails near Bukit Timah hill on the weekend. For weekday after work, I try to do hill repeat on Mount Faber once a week or once in every 2 weeks. 

In Singapore, we are restricted to the length of climbs available to train on, so we need to do repeats, although that sounds boring but it works.

RS: Do you have a special training plan?

Stella: I don’t have a fix plan, but I try to make the training more specific for the upcoming race events.

I don’t have the luxury to run on the mountain that often, I like to run from the office to home after work, because it is the most time efficient way for me to train.

RS: What excites you the most throughout your trail running journey?

Stella: The highlight moments for my trail running journey are the moments I get to see different spectacular mountains and views, and the moments people cheering and calling out your name during the races and at the finishing line, these are once in a lifetime experience.

10 Motivational Trail Runners in Singapore
Trail Runner: Tsui Xin Rong, Stella

I enjoy the progress of planning, training and fulfilling my dream when crossing the finish line, these are the reasons why I like trail running. 

RS: What is the beauty of trail running that makes you keep going for trail running?

Stella: Mountains are there, races are tough, that is why we keep on trying. The more joy we feel if we complete a greater challenge.

RS: What is the most important trait to have in a good trail runner? 

Stella: Perseverance - most of the time, once I decide to do something, I do not want to give up.

RS: Do you have any advice for the newcomer who join in trail running?

Stella: For trail running, it is alright to power-hike, you don’t need to keep running all the time. Other than pace and distance, there are more things runners need to look at for trail running. More climb and technical terrain will slow you down.

You need to stay patient and train in progress. You might not be good at hiking and running downhill when you just pick up trail running, but you can learn and improve day by day.

Consistency is important, spent some time to train for your upcoming races. If you want to have a better experience on the race day, make a proper training plan and follow the plan.

It is hard to see the progress from a single training, but if you spend weeks on training, you should be able to see the result. A part of running, you can incorporate other cross trainings to improve strength and balancing too.

Training doesn’t equal to running all the time. Nutrition and rest are also parts of training, you should eat better and rest more to help your body perform better. 

RS: What does trail running means to you?

Stella: Running in the nature is my personal time. A time to be quiet and reflective, where I clear my mind, and where I feel more capable of working through situations that in normal life get clouded by external influences.

You can follow Stella on Instagram: @stellastellastellar

4. Alvin Png

Bio: 37 year-old, Credit Controller

Since young, Alvin was extremely active and enjoyed climbing trees, running and cycling around the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, he stopped exercising after leaving school and lead a sedentary lifestyle throughout his early adult life. 

Alvin's journey into the running world was somewhat unconventional. A lower back slipped disc injury from his army days meant that he had to build a strong core to support his back.

One thing led to another and he embarked on his journey into endurance sports through road cycling, triathlons and finally in 2009 after witnessing a friend taking part in a charity round island Ultramarathon in Singapore, he found his calling for ultra trail running. 

The decision to take up ultra trail running was almost instinctive as it stirred something from within. What began as a goal to get in shape led to the rediscovery of a forgotten love that he had since young – the love of moving under his own strength.

10 Motivational Trail Runners in Singapore
Trail Runner: Alvin Png

RS: Why did you like trail running?

Alvin: It is indeed the challenge that draws me to the sport. The difficulty of the sport allows me to push my limits and I love to challenge myself to see how far and high I can go!

RS: Where are your go-to places for trail training? Why? 

Alvin: Based in Singapore, the choices are pretty limited, so I usually do my trail training on the Bukit Timah hill, MacRitchie reservoir and the surrounding central catchment area. 

I include plenty of stair repeats in high rise buildings for my training as well. This builds strength and muscles necessary for climbing, especially when preparing for races where there are a lot of elevation gain and descent.

These repeats are very taxing on the mind and I see it as a positive training tool to develop grit and mental fortitude that is extremely important during races. 

RS: Do you have a foolproof training plan?

Alvin: One thing I learnt after a lot of trial and error on training methods and nutrition over the years is that every individual is different and special.

One has got to be bold and experimental. Do not be afraid to try out new things, eventually you will find what works for you and what doesn’t. 

Personally, I discovered that instead of mixing everything up and try to do all at once, focusing on individual system in phases works extremely well for me. 

For instance, I will focus on my V02max furthest away from my A-race. This raises my cardio ceiling to facilitate the next phase, which is the lactate threshold (LT) aka tempo effort. LT intervals help to improve speed, endurance by teaching the body to buffer the build-up of lactic acid when running at higher speeds. 

As race day approaches, I will try my best to do training runs that simulate what is expected during the actual race. You can look at this phase as a series of rehearsals.

Try to practice running at the pace you are expected to during the race. Sort out your nutrition, ensure everything is working for you. If possible, run in terrain that is the closest to the actual race course. 

Another thing that has significantly improved my running is not to restrict myself to just trail running. Both road and trail running are excellent complements.

For example, the strength and agility one gains from the trails will improve your stride and power on the road. Similarly, the high cadence you get from road running will improve your speed on the trails. 

RS: What excites you the most throughout your trail running journey?

Alvin: I would proudly say it's the community. The camaraderie is simply amazing! Most folks in the fraternity are extremely supportive just like family.

Everyone looks out and takes care of each other even during races. I have personal experience umpteen times over the years to prove this. I also love travelling to exotic destinations for races.

Several of these destinations are places off the beaten track, which you will not usually visit.

Every trip holds something new even if it is the same destination or race. This really keeps things exciting and interesting for me all these years.

10 Motivational Trail Runners in Singapore
Trail Runner: Alvin Png

The difficulty of the sport allows me to push my limits and I love to challenge myself to see how far and high I can go!

RS: What do you get out of trail running?

Alvin: I love the feeling of freedom it gives me. My legs are like my wings. Like what my good friend Alex says, “Running is like flying. There is freedom, symmetry and levity.” Being in nature always makes me feel very at peace. Never fails to perk things up when I am stressed or unhappy. 

RS: What are the traits a good trail runner should possess?  

Alvin: Grit and resilience. Without these, one will not be able to push through the lows during a race or training. Some lucky folks are naturally blessed with them, but the good news is - it is 100% trainable. 

RS: Do you have any advice for newbies who would like to take up trail running?

Alvin: I would recommend keeping the approach as gradual as possible. One can begin with a few kilometres to test things out first. From there, increase the distances accordingly, but always remember to listen to your body. It will tell you when you are ready to increase the distances.

A general rule of the thumb is not to increase more than 10% of the total mileage per week. Even for seasoned road runners, who is making the switch to trail running.

It is imperative to start out gradually because trail running taxes the body in a much different manner than road running does. 

In trail running, every single step is different due to the unique nature of the terrain. Strength and agility are required to navigate the terrain, especially while moving swiftly.

I would recommend folks to implement strength and agility exercises into their training regime instead of just running. This will help to prevent injuries and make the transition journey much more enjoyable. 

A question I often get from fellow runners is how one improve their confidence on technical trails especially on descents. This involves a lot of motor skills and can be trained. It's all about educating the mind. The brain is like a central governor and one of the most important duty it holds is to ensure you don't die.

Every time something new is introduced to you, the brain will always play things on the safe side. For example, in this context if one encounters a very tough and technical descent for the very first time.

The brain will tell you to slow down and approach with caution. But once the brain has been exposed to it, it will know what to do the next round as it is no longer something new and it knows what to expect. The more you do it, the better you get. 

Lastly, I have seen many accidents happen because people hesitate. When you hesitate, your next move will be half hearted and that usually will lead to accidents. Remember always trust your instincts, be confident, pick your line and go for it. 

RS: What does trail running mean to you? 

Alvin: To me, trail running is freedom. It is wild and primitive. Going back to the basics and never stop exploring. 

You can follow Alvin on Instagram: @alvin_png

5. Jeri Chua

Bio: 45 year-old, Owner of Red Dot Running Company

Trained in PE and English, Jeri also specialising in Exercise and Nutrition Science. Jeri developed a love for endurance sport starting with triathlon, and progresses to Ironman distance and discovered trail and ultra-running in 2009.

10 Motivational Trail Runners in Singapore
Trail Runner: Jeri Chua

RS: Why did you start trail running?

Jeri: Running on the trail is exciting. It is presented as a multi-sensory experience where your attention is on the terrain, your surroundings, and navigating the natural obstacles ahead of you.

I love the places that trail running takes me. I get to see parts of the world that aren't normally open to tourists, watch the sun rise from the mountain tops, and meet like-minded runners who appreciate the solitude of the trails.  

RS: Where are your go-to places for trail training?

Jeri: There isn't a huge amount of choice in Singapore for trail running - Macritchie and Bukit Timah are the staple loops that I'd be trained on, normally.

I'd also do some stair training, usually at a 25- or 40-storey HDB block as the stairwells are better ventilated. The trails in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve have been upgraded and offer some varied terrain and elevation that helps with skill training.

RS: Do you have your own secret training plan?

Jeri: I actually work with a coach, Andy Dubois from Mile 27. My schedule is very busy, and over the years, I've found the best way to train well is to trust your coach.

I let Andy take away the stress of planning my own program, and that means I can focus better. An external perspective allows better feedback and a balanced approach to training.

He can see if I'm overtraining, he helps me prioritise training sessions when my work week implodes and I miss workouts. I'd recommend everyone who's keen to improve (elites and amateurs alike) to get a coach.

Working through your own program is fine, but it really helps to have an expert guide your training so that you get the most out of every session, especially if your time is limited and your schedule, like mine, is constantly changing.   

RS: What excites you the most throughout your trail running journey?

Jeri: I've had so many incredible experiences so far, met so many amazing people and travelled to some truly wonderful places. To me, trail running is about a personal challenge.

Exploring new trails, pushing new boundaries. I've been trail running for over a decade now, and my current motivation is to help build our trail and ultra-running community. It's exciting to see new runners discover the delights of trail running for themselves.

They come to the store looking for advice, gear, and inspiration, and I'd like to think that my team and I are instrumental in helping them on their trail running journey.

Connecting them with the rest of the community, introducing them to new people, new experiences, and of course, new gear!

10 Motivational Trail Runners in Singapore
Trail Runner: Jeri Chua

The trails have always represented freedom, challenge, and a chance to get away from the stresses of daily life.

RS: What attracted you to trail running?

Jeri: I like how multi-sensory trail running is. You can run for miles and every step can be different, you see and hear so many different things when you're in the midst of nature even in Singapore!

I'd pick a trail over road any day. Even when I'm tired or unmotivated, the trail offers a soothing environment to be present in the moment, be more mindful and just enjoy where I am.  

RS: What trails do you think a great trail runner should have?

Jeri: I think most trail runners are natural introverts. We like spending time alone, perhaps this applies more to ultra-runners than trail runners, but it appeals to me, to get lost in my thoughts on the trail, with no one else to bother me.

There's a shared camaraderie of the trail, an unspoken code. Almost every trail runner will stop and help if they come across someone in trouble.

Racing is secondary, and I feel trail runners tend to be more easy-going, ready to help and far less concerned with their splits than enjoying the views.

RS: Do you have advice for the newcomer who join in trail running?

Jeri: Get out there and try a trail! In Singapore, we don't need, particularly special kit for the trails, and it'd be difficult to get lost, so it's a pretty simple task of lacing up and just getting out there. 

If you have trail running friends, ask them to take you on their favourite trails, I'm sure they'll be more than happy to share.

Bring some water if you think you might be out for a long time, sunblock, an EZ-link card and some cash. That way you can explore a little and find your way back easily.

Bring your phone if you're going on a new trail, basic navigation on Google maps will help. Otherwise, just enjoy being off-road!

RS: What does trail running means to you?

Jeri: The trails have always represented freedom, challenge, and a chance to get away from the stresses of daily life. I love the thought of being able to run for miles without needing anyone or anything, just taking in the sights, sounds and terrain preferably with a mountain or two thrown into the mix. 

You can follow Jeri Chua on Instagram: @jerifatburd

Ready For Your Trail Run?

The beauty of trail running had shown these avid runners how trail running had shaped them in their lives and they hope to share the positivity with the rest of us.

Need more inspiration? Move on to find out about part 2 of Singapore's Most Inspiring Trail Runners.

But before that, let's explore in the woods shall we?

In these stressful and uncertain times, getting updated with accurate and useful information has never been so critical. No matter how unsettled the future feels, RunSociety will remain with you, delivering high quality news for free so we can all make critical decisions about our lives and health. Together we can overcome.

What we can do to help the situation is to keep our body and immune system in peak condition. If you are allowed or able to run outdoors, please do so cautiously but not panicky. Join our free online race to motivate you and pay tribute to our frontline heroes.

Samantha is an editor at RunSociety. A digital expert with a focus on the research and development of thought provoking and resourceful content, Samantha love Yoga and incorporate running in her weekly workout whenever she can.

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