For some time I have wanted to do a multi day running exPEDItion around Singapore.
Because it’s an island, and so safe, you can run do some great long runs looping around this city-state. And the roads and pavements are always in good shape, the parks are really great and there are plenty of food and drink options close at hand.
Next week suddenly loomed free, and I was getting grumpy, just waiting for our annual holiday to begin, so I thought, let’s do this!
So the plan is to run anti-clockwise around Singapore sticking as close to the coast as feasibly possible. This comes to about 170km assuming everything goes according to plan, and I have given myself 5 days to do it.
Ideally I would like to do in 4 days with the first 3 days of 50k and last day of 20k but not even totally sure if I will be able to do this. Its pretty far outside my comfort zone as its solo, unsupported and barefoot. And I have run less than 50% of the route before, mainly because those areas suck for running (highways, industrial, traffic etc).
As far as I know, no-one has done this running but luckily I could use cycling Heat Maps and a pro cyclist friend to help fill in the gaps.
Day 1- 01 August 2017
I was pretty excited when I got up. Today was going to be the most fun day with lots of support along the way, going through lots of parks and I knew most of the route. A perfect way to start!
I met up with Mark at 05:10 at Labrador Park MRT, and got going. We had to keep time as he had 06:15 rendezvous with his outrigger canoe club along the way.
At the last toilet, I drank till my stomach ached, filled my water bottles and bladder, and got my head right for the next 16km. I had been warned about this section, Tanah Merah Coastal Road, a new road with a 10k dead straight section, no shade, no water, no buildings, no nothing. And I was starting it at 11:00 under a full tropical sun with air temperature of 35C!
I have no idea of what the ground temperature was, but the asphalt was brand new, pitch black and with zero wind, for the first time running barefoot, I felt sorry for my soles. My speed dropped and every km took an eternity. I was going through water so fast. And I could not stop at all. Just keep going. This turned out to be the most difficult section of my whole run.
A slight bend in the road up ahead took 20 minutes to get to, and I was just dying. After nearly 2 hours, I got out and made to my last park. Downed 2 sports drinks from a vending machine, filled up on water and did the last few km’s to Changi Point. 55km done for the day!
I was feeling pretty beat up and my soles were tender. Doubts about tomorrow were creeping in.
Just have to add that my, very social, running club kept me entertained with lots of encouragement, jokes and banter. When you are getting stuff like this all day, it keeps the spirits up!
Day 2 – 02 August 2017
I woke up feeling much better than I went to sleep and super excited that Mark was going to join me again for the first bit. And I get a bonus lift in his car back to Changi Point! Once again hitting the deserted streets at 5AM, my legs felt good and I had to reign myself back because I was in uncharted territory, having never done a back to back on marathon plus distances. Actually I have never even done any proper back to back long runs!
Luckily we were soon onto the famous Singapore Park Connector Network (PCN). A 300km network of pedestrian paths connecting all the parks, often in beautiful surroundings. We stopped for a break at Pasir Ris Park at 6AM and then got to Coney/ Serangoon Island at sunrise. It was great to wade out into the sea. I really wanted to go swimming but was scared of salt water drying and causing later rashes.
We carried on, spotting another family of otters in the sea at Punggol Jetty.
Mark left me at 21k and I was on my way, back into highways and industrial areas.
I ended the day on 53km at Sungei Buloh, my most favorite park in Singapore. The only place on the island where you have a great opportunity of seeing saltwater crocodiles in a very wild setting.
Day 3 – 03 August 2017
This was my dreaded day! I was originally going to start at at dawn to hit the first 16km of no-verge, truck-heavy road with daylight but woke up at 3AM knowing I was not going back to sleep. Caught a taxi back to Sungei Buloh, the taxi driver being fascinated about what I was up to.
Starting at 5AM with headtorch and red rear safety light, I had only gone a short distance when I ran into a pack of stray dogs. They were quite aggressive and some shouting and a slow, confident walk-through got me out, but definitely made my heart pound harder. Luckily from then on till 16km was very pleasant with very light traffic so I could run on the road through Singapore’s only rural area going at a solid 6:00/km. It was mostly dedicated cyclists coming through doing their 60-80km loops before work, all giving a slightly stunned Good Morning! at this barefoot runner. (Most of today was roads hardly run, I could find nothing on Strava HeatMaps and had
Luckily from then on till 16km was very pleasant with very light traffic so I could run on the road through Singapore’s only rural area going at a solid 6:00/km. It was mostly dedicated cyclists coming through doing their 60-80km loops before work, all giving a slightly stunned Good Morning! at this barefoot runner. (Most of today was roads hardly run, I could find nothing on Strava HeatMaps and had use the cycling routes.)
I have always heard of the nice running paths at Nanyang Technical University so hit it at 16km. It was a 6km loop around some rolling hills. The grounds were OKish but the nice surprise was a blue soft jogging track laid out for 3km. Initially I was pretty tickled by it, but was happy to see the last of it and get back to solid, honest sidewalk. (I found I was working harder on the track- maybe the sponginess was absorbing my energy?)
And that was the last of the day’s nice running. I was going into uncharted running territory- Tuas, the industrial area of Singapore surrounding the world’s 2nd largest port after Shanghai, plus big oil refineries and other heavy industry.
At 24k I filled up myself and my bottles with water carrying another 2 bottles in my hand. I did not know when I could fill up next because most workers ate in company canteens not available to me.
As I went deeper into Tuas, the pavements became rougher, sharp gravel everywhere, lots of chemical smells, extremely grimy and continuous trucks. Everything I would run away from!
Twice I had to make route adjustments as I ran out of space to run alongside the road. Eventually, I reached 38km but still was not at the end of Tuas Point but I had run out of run-able verge and desire to keep this up.
I backtracked out until reaching a major road that I thought should have a sidewalk, but ended up doing 5km running through grass with with broken rubbble and culverts every 7 meters. My plan was to hit 50km or 7 hours and stop for the day. As I got closer to my target, I saw I was drawing near one of Singapore’s trash incinerators. I was not stopping here!
But in the distance I saw the first bright colours in a long time. Yes, a service station! Perfect place to stop. I pulled in 49.8km and headed to the car wash. I asked the elderly gentlemen if I could use some water and pointed to my feet.
I was so glad to this day was over! I was hurting badly and for the first time felt some proper damage to my feet. The dorsiflexion tendons on top of my left foot were twanging with every step and my foot was swelling up.
But the run was nearly over and I gotten through the worst day!
Day 4 – 04 August 2017
I had to wake up early this day as had to meet friends at 6AM and 10km’s of running to get there, and I was just not sure how my legs and feet were going to feel today.
The first km I took it slow and as everything warmed up, I picked up speed. Then I started pushing 6:00/km speeds with my fastest km at 5:30 and I still could not get my heart rate over 120bpm. Something has definitely changed in my body the last few days!
I arrived at West Coast Park to find Mark waiting for me. He has been an absolute star on this challenge, taking lots of photos when I would have just pushed on, and having great conversations in the early hours of the morning.
We had 2km of nice park running till we met Ruud and Kiyomi at Haw Par Villa MRT. I had made adjustments to my final day’s run as these guys wanted to join, and I thought it would be not cool to just take them on highways. So, we headed slightly inland and climbed up to Kent Ridge, and going down through Hort Park. The pace was slower now but we were joking and laughing a lot. Coming down into Labrador Park and my starting point3 days ago felt very anti-climatic. I just did not feel I have had a run today. We stopped at the finish line for some photos at 20km.
When we stopped at 25k I finally felt it. Yes, I have done this!! 182km over 4 days barefoot!
Then it was getting some breakfast surrounded by people on their way to work. Always a surreal thing when you know you have done something they could not be able to comprehend.
I am very grateful to all the support from my running group doing this, especially those who met up with me on route, and for Mark who ran 45km with me and took lots of photos. And special thanks to my awesome girlfriend who had to listen to a blow-by-blow account every night of a 50k run, and endure the smells!
I have learnt so much about how my body reacts to doing this amount of running. I felt my running style has changed this week for the better and am feeling so much more confident working towards my goal of a 100 mile ultra one day.
I was surprised how much slower the day went and how much time was spent finding water and making sure of routes etc etc. I thought I would be spending 6 hours total per long day but it was more 7 to 7.5 hours a day.
Running in Singapore is definitely not easy. We might not have elevation but the heat and humidity are killers. The first 3 days, I drank 15L of water each day just to maintain body weight!
I’m definitely going to do this again but will cut Tuas out and try for a 2 days total to fit it in over a weekend.