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Off The Track

L L I R TH E H T F O All the reason you need to head out of the concrete jungle and hoof it in the wilderness.

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Off The Track

F O E LUR


Discover the trail runner in you. There’s more to this sport than skipping over roots and rocks. BY JEANETTE WANG UP AND COMING

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that heading to the mountains is like going home. That wildness is a necessity.” American conservationist John Muir, the “father of national parks” in the US, uttered these words in 1901. More than a century on, the quote is perhaps more fitting than ever as the sport of trail running explodes around the world, including here in Singapore. It is typically done on unpaved paths covered in leaves, rocks, roots, dirt, gravel and mud. In urban cities like Singapore, there is often a good portion of cemented trails in nature as well.

TRICKS OF THE TRAIL EXPERTS SHARE TRAIL RUNNING BASICS.

Lose the watch With tricky terrain and hills to negotiate, don’t expect to stick to the same strict pace that you keep on the road. Take it easy “Relaxing while on a

trail is probably the number one technique recommendation,” says Kami Semick, 46, one of the world’s top female trail runners. “If you relax, you are less likely to take a big fall, and if you do fall, you are so relaxed you will roll with it instead of bracing against it.”

Warm up Emma Drake, trail runner and Hong Kong-based physiotherapist, recommends doing a dynamic warm-up with hops, steps, jumps and/or lunges followed by high kicks with good core activation. “So that when you get on the trail, your body is already booted up,” she says. Be safe “Run with a friend, take a phone, and bring enough water,” says Claire Price, 44, a Hong Kong-based

Briton and Vibram Hong Kong 100 race winner. A map helps in case you get lost.

Train your balance

Kami calls this proprioception or the ability to know where you are in space and how to find your centre of gravity when off balance. “While you are brushing your teeth at night, stand on one foot and do some very gentle knee bends. Then close your eyes,” she says. “If you can stand with your eyes closed on one foot while doing knee bends, you are well on your way to finding your centre point. This will serve you well while running on a bumpy trail.”

Know your limitations

If you’ve ruptured your Achilles tendon, trail running may not be for you, says Emma. And if you’ve got other niggles such as ligament injuries or unstable ankles, she advises to first train your balance and leg strength – do calf raises, lunges and squats – before starting on trail running. “Start slowly and build up foot strength, stability and coordination.”

Not so long ago, trail runners and races were relatively unheard of in Singapore. But this year, there will be at least five trail races, and many runners are venturing overseas to get their thrills, too. At the recent Vibram Hong Kong 100 (km) trail race, for example, some 100 people from Singapore made the trip to Hong Kong’s Fragrant Harbour. In response to the rising trail running population, there are now more shops selling a growing range of gear for the sport. And, while there are many reasons for this trend, the main ones are perhaps the escape from urban life that it offers and the opportunity to reconnect with nature. “I find that time flies faster when I am on a trail than on the road,” says Kami. “Trail running draws me in – I’m watching the trail unfold in front of me, managing obstacles, looking at scenery, and sometimes watching the wildlife. All this captures my attention and I feel refreshed afterwards.” The sport likely originated in Britain, with the first known hill race around 1068 in Scotland, according to Adam Chase and Nancy Hobbs, authors of the book, The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running.

WOMEN IN THE WILD

Industry experts say women are the faster growing gender in the sport, particularly those aged 30 and above. The women’s category in trail running is growing a lot quicker than men, says Eric LaHaie, a top trail runner in the region and managing director of sports media company Stack Asia Pacific. “From my personal experience of participating in events and previous work experience at race organising company RacingThePlanet, the ratio is now 70-35 or 65-35. Before women made up only 10 per cent.” Trail running offers much more than just fresh air and a different view. It’s way more fun and interesting, and also provides a more comprehensive workout than running on the SHAPE APRIL 2013 | OFF THE TRACK |

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road. Even if you run the same trail day after day, no two steps are the same because the route is subject to many external factors such as weather and human traffic. In a way, the trail has a life of its own. “It’s exhilarating and uplifting – you feel so free when you’re out on the trails. There’s nothing to conform to and you’re away from the traffic and crowded, noisy streets,” says Claire, 44, who set a course record of 11 hours 58 minutes at the Vibram Hong Kong 100 race. “It’s refreshing and a real mental boost for me.”

GOOD FOR THE SOUL

Research shows that exercising in a natural environment compared to working out indoors has added benefits for one’s mental well-being. In a study in the Feb 2011 issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology, researchers at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in Devon, England, found that participants had greater feelings of revitalisation and increased energy and positive engagement. There were decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression as well. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction, and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date. So if you’re struggling to keep up with that road running regime, perhaps a switch to trails could provide the motivation you need.

BETTER FOR THE BODY

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varied terrain and constant direction changes leads to swings in intensity and pace. It’s much like doing interval training, which is well known to improve fitness, says Emma. “Overall, it’s a nice mixture of high and low impact exercise. High impact builds bone density, and low impact is good for joint health.”

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY

Perhaps the greatest difference between road and trail running is the focus: Trail runners tend to pursue an intrinsic and immeasurable experience rather than speed and distance. “In some ways, trail running is freer than road running. It’s less focused on pace and less ‘scientific’. For me, it’s all about enjoyment and having fun along the way,” says Claire, who is part of Team Salomon Hong Kong. “It’s also a social thing – many of my friends are keen runners and it’s a great way to spend time with friends – you really get to know people when you run with them.”

PHOTOS GETTY IMAGES

Trail running is also healthier for your joints because it has a lower impact on them, says Emma, 41, who specialises in women’s healthbased physiotherapy. “To do trail running well, you have to run fairly lightly and take smaller steps. This promotes mid to forefoot contact with the ground, which makes it easier on the joints,” she says. While each step in road running is very similar to the next, Kami says that on the trail, each step varies slightly due to the obstacles around. “This is one reason trail running can be gentler on your system. Overuse injuries are less likely to pop up because your body is constantly a little off balance and needs to readjust,” explains Kami. Emma, a cyclist who took up trail running 18 months ago, says it works your glutes, calves and core stability in particular, as well as promotes strength, agility and balance. It’s also a great way to boost fitness, as the


DRESS THE PART

The best trail runners, say the authors of The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running, are like chess masters. They have “an uncanny ability to always be three or four steps ahead of where their feet are at any given moment. This allows them to ‘set up’ for turns, rocks, roots, and other variations that lie ahead, which is crucial to staying upright while maintaining downhill speed.” And that will come with time. Emma advises beginners to start slow so that the body can adapt to the new demands of the trail. “Start by hiking, then trek some and run some, and slowly incorporate unpaved paths with paved trail,” she says. Most importantly, don’t forget to dig into that sense of adventure and exploration. Says Kami: “Find an area to explore, lose your watch, and connect with the beauty around you.”

The two essential pieces of gear you need for trail running are the right shoes and a hydration system. The most important thing to keep in mind is to match your gear to the terrain, climate, and conditions, says Kami. She has several pairs of shoes and a few different hydration systems with different carrying capacities. “For smoother trails that are in good running condition, I will go for a lighter pair of shoes that have minimal tread,” says Kami. “A lightweight minimal hydration pack will work for shorter runs. But when I am running several hours and require extra gear, I carry a pack that has more carrying capacity.” For shoes, Ford Lim, a top Singapore trail runner, advises to select a pair with the right sole – it should be well-grooved for grip and offer protection against rocks and other sharp objects on the trail. On the upper of the shoe, there is usually tougher material around the toe area for added protection. Ford recommends buying half a size larger than usual because your feet tend to swell as the distance increases. And Eric advises wearing two pairs of socks for added cushioning and blister protection. As for a hydration system, your decision should be based on your preference and needs: a handheld bottle, waist pack, or backpack? Eric owns seven backpacks and five waist packs – his favourite for most races is the that can hold a 750ml water bottle, plus some snacks, money, a phone, and more. “Consider how far you’re running, the weather conditions, and how much you can carry,” he says. “Some brands offer womenspecific products or sizes, such as Osprey, Salomon, and Raidlight. It’s down to personal preference and each pack fits differently for each person.”

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G N I Z A L B L I TRA Explore all that the island has to offer with these routes of varying difficulty levels. BY JEANETTE WANG

Singapore may be creeping with concrete, but there are still many pockets of nature and kilometres of running trails to explore. Here are four (and one bonus detour!) suggested by Ford Lim, a trail runner for almost 10 years and a Salomon sponsored athlete.

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SINGAPORE ISLAND COUNTRY CLUB (ISLAND LOCATION)

ISLAND CLUB ROAD

RANGER STATION

SHRINE

SINGAPORE ISLAND COUNTRY CLUB (BUKIT LOCATION)

TRAIL ENTRANCE

LORNIE ROAD SIME ROAD

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Bon

MAIN PHOTO GETTY IMAGES ILLUSTRATIONS CARMEN TAN

MACRITCHIE RESERVOIR

Difficulty rating The mecca of local trail running enthusiasts. The 11km loop (in red) around the water catchment area consists of undulating ups and downs on hard-packed trails. Generally, it’s not too tricky or technical, but pay special attention to your footwork on the 4km track that runs parallel to Lornie Road.

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u deto

The lost Shinto shrine of Singapore

Difficulty rating Located near Sime Road at the western part of MacRitchie Reservoir, the Syonan Jinja (Light of the South Shrine) was a Shinto shrine built between 1942 and 1943 to honour Japanese soldiers who died in the conquest of Malaya and Sumatra. When the British forces reoccupied Singapore, the shrine was destroyed. Today, only the ruins remain. In 2002, it was marked as a historic site by the National Heritage Board. How to get there At about the 6km mark of the MacRitchie loop, the distinct cemented steps to the shrine can be seen above the water during low tide. There’s another entrance on the left of the trail, slightly before the Ranger Station.

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Off The Track DAIRY FARM ROAD TRAIL ENTRANCE

DAIRY FARM NATURE PARK CARPARK B

SERAYA VALLEY

BUKIT TIMAH NATURE RESERVE

JUNGLE FALL VALLEY

UPPER BUKIT TIMAH ROAD

BUKIT TIMAH EXPRESSWAY

SINGAPORE QUARRY

SUMMIT HUT

SIGN UP

Round up your friends to take part in these exciting events.

Energizer Singapore Night Trail When May 11 How far 6km, 12km and 18km races More details www.singaporenighttrail.com.sg The North Face Singapore 100 When Oct (date to be confirmed) How far 15km, 25km, 50km and 100km More details www.thenorthface100.com.sg Frost & Sullivan Corporate Challenge: Frost the Trail When Aug 24 How far 5km and 10km More details www.frost-apac.com/frost-the-trail/ Craze Ultra 100 Miles When Sept 21-22 How far 43km, 78km, 101km and 161km More details www.crazeultra.com MR25 Ultra When Dec 29 How far Minimum of five laps of 10km each within 12 hours to get a certificate More details www.mr25.org.sg

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HINDHEDE QUARRY

DAIRY FARM LOOP

Difficulty rating This is a favourite spot to rack up the vertical metres – or “elevation work” in trail runner speak. The loop begins from the washrooms at Dairy Farm Nature Park Carpark B, goes up to the 164m high summit of Bukit Timah Hill, and back down to Dairy Farm Nature Park. Approximately 3km long, it consists of an eclectic mix of single-track trails, technical downhills, tarmac and high steps.


WOODCUTTER’S TRAIL Difficulty rating This trail is super technical and unmarked, so you need to be skilled and have a mobile phone, plus a sense of adventure as well as direction. The point-to-point trail runs between Upper Peirce Reservoir, off Old Upper Thomson Road and Chestnut Avenue at Bukit Panjang. If you’re a newbie, it’s better to proceed with an experienced trail runner (or two) who knows the way because you could get lost very easily.

UPPER SELETAR RESRVOIR

OLD UPPER THOMSON ROAD BUKIT PANJANG ROAD

TRAIL ENTRANCE

TRAIL ENTRANCE

CENTRAL WATER CATCHMENT

CHESTNUT AVENUE UPPER PEIRCE RESERVOIR

LOWER PEIRCE RESERVOIR

BUKIT TIMAH EXPRESSWAY

UPPER THOMSON ROAD

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TIRJUP HUT

KETAM QUARRY PIPIT HUT

TRAIL ENTRANCE

GEAR UP

While there are a number of shops around Singapore that stock trail running equipment, many are housed in specialist sports mall Velocity at Novena Square. Ford recommends these. Salomon #01-66/67 Salomon is worn by top trail runners worldwide. Singapore’s only Salomon store here is stocked with everything you need to look like a pro from head to toe. World of Outdoors #03-58 One of the few stores on the island that retails the Montrail trail running series (check out the Rogue Racer, Mountain Masochist, and Rogue Fly). Also sells products by Mountain Hardwear, a US brand with well-designed trail running equipment made famous by its ambassador Dakota Jones. Running Lab #01-47 Running Lab is a sports store chain run by Outdoor Venture, the distributor for popular American brand The North Face that makes trail running clothing, shoes and accessories. For shoes, check out the Single-track, Doubletrack and Single-track Hayasa.

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LAYANGLAYANG HUT

PERANJAK HUT DIRT SKILLS PARK

KETAM MOUNTAIN BIKE PARK (Pulau Ubin)

Difficulty rating These trails are meant for mountain bike riders, but it’s such a waste not to run them. There are awesome single tracks with undulating ups and downs. Zero tarmac, all fun and enjoyment. But always be alert to cyclists zipping around – it’s their playground anyway.

TRAIL ENTRANCE

Shape Singapore April 2013 Trail special  
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