Trail running gains ground as more look to races overseas

Trail running gains ground as more look to races overseas
Ultra-marathoner Liew Wei Yong (right), who is also the founder of fitness-training firm Train Live Compete, with Ms Lizzy Hawker (in blue), the five-time winner of the North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc mountain ultra-marathon, and other runners on a Rifle Range Road trail on 8 February 2015.

SINGAPORE  - Run through rainforests, across mountain ranges, deserts and even volcanic plateaus, and soak in the spectacular sights as you challenge yourself to gradual climbs and longer distances.

The chase for such experiences is one reason that trail running is gaining ground among Singaporean runners, according to international race organisers who attended the Runners Convention here a fortnight ago.

In 2013's Gobi March, part of the 4 Deserts Race Series, about 20 Singaporeans took part in a seven-day race across the remote western end of Xinjiang in China.

Said Ms Samantha Fanshawe, chief executive officer of the series: "Singapore is almost always represented in the series every year."

And she expects a record number of Singaporeans this year. The series, which Time magazine describes as the "ultimate test of human endurance", features four 250km races across desert conditions around the world.

Interest from Singaporeans in such extreme races has been so strong that 40 had to be turned down at last month's Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race because there were not enough spots. Race director Janet Ng said the proximity of Hong Kong to Singapore is one of the factors for its growing popularity.

The two-day Runners Convention, which was being held for the first time, attracted more than 6,000 people. "The turnout was much more than expected," said organiser Liew Wei Yong, 34, an ultra-marathoner and the founder of fitness-training firm Train Live Compete.

More than 300 runners participated in various workshops and discussions with some of the world's best endurance athletes, including two-time Ironman world champion Chris McCormack and five-time winner of the North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc mountain ultra- marathon, Ms Lizzy Hawker.

Said Ms Liew: "From the questions asked... and interest shown by participants who signed up for our trail running group and overseas training camps to be held in Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand, it is evident that there is a growing interest here."

Ms Hawker, 38, who was in Singapore for the first time, was surprised by the number of Singaporeans interested in mountain ultra-marathons. Said the Briton: "I thought that Singapore is a city and I didn't actually realise that there are trails to run on."

Ms Fanshawe of 4 Deserts said: "While Singapore isn't a desert environment and may not seem like the ideal training ground for the 4 Deserts races, Singaporeans are much more blessed with a good training ground than they often think. It is certainly much better than, for example, London."

Even though "running in Singapore has taken off exponentially", she felt that the boom in ultra-marathons and trail running has yet to truly take off.

Said Nanyang Technological University undergraduate Tou Nien Xiang, 25: "There aren't that many trails to run in Singapore. I am more of a road runner. The closest trail running experience I had was in completing the 50km leg of the North Face 100 series."

Another participant at last week's convention, Mr Don Tiong, said: "Living in a city like Singapore, I didn't know about trail running until after I attended the convention. I am won over by the breathtaking mountainous sights that come with (it). It seems more fun and would be a totally different experience."

This article was first published on February 16, 2015.
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