This morning I ran my first ever race and first ever trail in my life! (There’s always a first for everything, eh?)
I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to perform because I had never ran a race or a distance longer than 5km before, but these worries proved to be unnecessary once I started running. On the other hand, I didn’t have much concerns for the orienteering segment of the race because I chose a great partner for my Mixed Duo category and also because I had prior orienteering experience from my NCC days.
Throughout the trail race, we got to see the rural, undisturbed, natural side of Pulau Ubin as opposed to the bustling urban jungle on mainland Singapore. As this was my first ever trail running (I was probably too brave to sign up in a competitive category when I had no prior experience in trail!), I went into it as a blank slate and came out with many useful learning points. These points can be important and I would like to share them with all runners who are thinking of starting on orienteering or trail running:
#1 Be prepared!
I saw several other runners carrying a backpack to hold their water bottles but I was holding mine in my hand. While my bottle did not give me too much problems during the race, but trust me, you would rather have free moving arms while you are trying to balance as you climb up the hills or waddle through the muddy mangrove swamp. And yes, you do need the water to rehydrate during the race because you may take more than an hour to complete it! For me, I do not like to carry backpacks when I run because they tend to bounce too much and hinder movements. What I noticed though, was that many trail runners were carrying this thing called a hydration pack, which looks like this:
This hydration pack can be very useful because it comes with a tube for you to drink from the bottle without having to take it out from the bag. It is also very lightweight and you can keep small important belongings such as cash and keys. Great for people wearing bottoms that do not come with zipped pockets!
#2 Stay protected
The Ubin Wayfinder organisers were kind to recommend us participants to wear long sleeves and long pants to protect ourselves from insect bites and scratches. But being the typical Singaporean who doesn’t like to cover up so much in the hot weather, I only wore the race tee and a mid-length tights. As expected, I had plenty of scratches on my arms and legs, and a couple of bites from red ants, with lots of mud. Most of the scratches I had were on my legs. However, they are not a big deal, and can be prevented with full length bottoms and tops.
#3 It’s okay to go to the wrong checkpoint
It is the toughest at the beginning because you are not familiar with the map. My team had difficulties finding our first few checkpoints and we even made a few big detours because of that. But after the first few mistakes, we learnt how to read the map better and the rest of the checkpoints became much easier to locate!
#4 Anything is possible
As an inexperienced trail runner, I could not tell if there was a route behind the trees right off the pavement, when there were no markers or signs. Turns out that in trail running, any route can be a route! Never would I have thought that I would be pushing away tree branches to open up a route, or to be crossing over a mangrove swamp and getting myself all muddy. It definitely felt like an adventure and I was like a kid discovering new things.
#5 Be aware of your surroundings
As you push away the tree branches to make way for yourself, do be careful if there are people behind you. Likewise, try not to walk too close if you see the person infront of you pushing away any obstacles. I had the first hand experience as my partner released a tree branch, which swung back too quickly, and slapped me in the face. And of course, look around and enjoy your surroundings instead of only focusing on the trail – you’d never know what you’ll find! In my team’s case, we found a few durians and spotted some monkeys.
I really enjoyed myself during this trail running as I get to experience the beauty of Pulau Ubin firsthand. I love how there are abandoned kampong houses in the middle of the forest, how animals roam freely around the island, and how the air is so fresh! I guess I will probably find more opportunities to explore this island, or even other islands around Singapore. For now, I am happy that I have completed my first race and it was a trail race! Let me flaunt my first race medal and race pack:
Happy running y’all! I hope my tips are helpful for new runners like me!