Lifestyle

3 great outdoor running trails to try in Singapore

Despite being a small country, Singapore has its fair share of running trails that are suitable for beginners as well as seasoned runners. Here are 3 running trails of varying difficulty that you should try going to
 

Kampung feel of Green Corridor

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The Green Corridor takes the route of the old railway line. Image: Nabilah Said

Distance: 7km

Level of difficulty: Easy

The Green Corridor trail technically spans 26km, that is, if you travel down the whole corridor from Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to Woodlands Train Checkpoint.

But I am not so ambitious, so I opt for an easier route that takes me from Commonwealth Avenue, a short walk from Buona Vista MRT Station, to Rail Mall.

I set out for my run on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, starting underneath a viaduct along Commonwealth Avenue.

It can be tricky to find this viaduct, so head to the carpark at Block 44 Holland Drive. From there, look for a metallic-looking staircase that takes you underneath the viaduct. There, you can find vibrant street art on the walls.

If you are lucky, you might spot an artist or two in the process of creating a new work . This stretch is known as the Rail Corridor Art Space, an authorised space for street art.

3 great outdoor running trails to amp up your exercise green corridor map.jpg

Moving northwards, I follow the trail, which is relatively flat and thus suitable for beginners.

The picturesque corridor, which is flanked by secondary forest in parts, is a welcome change from running on roads and past buildings.

There is a distinct kampung feel on the trail.

I squeal when I see a squirrel traversing a power line that cuts across the sky above me.

Trail Running Singapore member Yati Juwahi, 34, tells me when I ask her for some advice on trail running: "The same trail is never the same every day - there are weather changes, for example. You have to be prepared."

I realise she is right. As it had rained on the morning of my run, I find myself having fun jumping over puddles.

Running down the green trail of the Rail Corridor also carries with it unshakeable historic significance.

Though the railway tracks were removed in 2011, there are some preserved tracks which serve as reminders of the railway.

Here, I could not help but walk on the track, trying to maintain my balance while traversing it on tippy-toes.

The route also takes me past the quaint Bukit Timah Railway Station, where I spot some teenagers taking selfies.

And then there are the two iconic black trestle bridges - one at Upper Bukit Timah and the other near Rail Mall. It is hard not to be awed by these stately structures, which for me, are photo opportunities to be shared on Instagram later.

It is no wonder that the three- year-old Green Corridor Run is a popular fixture on the running calender here.

The 10.5km-long run, which takes runners from Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to Bukit Timah Railway Station, attracted more than 7,000 participants in March.

But on a normal day, the trail is not crowded. Sure, there are other hikers, runners and cyclists, but there is a shared spirit of adventure among us, as if we are all privy to a sweet secret.

This spot may not exactly be a secret, but tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city, I feel less like I am running and more like I am coming home to nature.

All natural on MacRitchie Nature Trail

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The scenic 11km MacRitchie Nature Trail. Image: Nabilah Said

Distance: 11km

Level of difficulty: Moderate

There is a moment halfway into my run at MacRitchie Nature Trail when I encounter a group of long-tailed macaques. The city dweller that I am, I take my phone out to photograph the monkeys

"So cute," I think to myself of the pint-sized creatures. This is before a few of them start to approach me as they try to figure out if I have anything edible on me.

As part of my defence mechanism, I imagine myself adopting Chris Pratt's "controlling the raptors" pose in the movie Jurassic World - arms outstretched to calm them - if any of the monkeys threaten to attack.

Thankfully, I do not have any food so they lose interest and I move on.

It is that kind of overreactive imagination that clouds my thoughts during the 11km run, more so than the physical challenge of the run itself.

3 great outdoor running trails to amp up your exercise macritchie map.jpg

I start from Reservoir Road, where I run past the floating pontoon and canoes at the start of the trail, which is narrow at parts.

Bird calls can seem a tad sinister when you are alone on a small path in the middle of a primary forest. A rustle in the leaves here, a movement in the branches there - it is not hard for fear to creep in.

But it is just that - fear.

I am new to trail running and to MacRitchie.

I had gone for a short training session with runner Paviter Singh, 33, two weeks prior to learn the basics. He is a seasoned ultra-marathoner who enjoys trail running and will be running 50km in the MSIG Singapore Action Asia 50.

You do not need to run too fast. Stop and walk if you need to. Be present and aware of your surroundings and terrain. It seems simple enough, but it is that last piece of advice that I realise is the most challenging to adhere to.

I have completed several marathons and pound pavements near my house weekly.

Long runs are relaxing to me. I turn on my music or listen to a podcast and tune out the world.

With trail running, you cannot tune out. There are roots and stones to watch for, so that you do not lose your footing. There are slopes to manoeuvre. There are other people who use the trail and then there are the animals.

I also have to keep my eyes peeled for signs lest I end up running all the way to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve about 8km away.

But there is also something therapeutic about remaining in the present.

Without the distraction of a Top 40s hit, I instead listen to the sounds of nature. MacRitchie is home to more than 300 species of birds and more than 50 species of mammals, including macaques.

The scenery, too, is hard to beat. The sight of the reservoir, tranquil in the late afternoon, makes the hard work all worth it.

MacRitchie is a favourite for runners, hikers and students training for cross-country runs. As evidence, some parts of the trail have been worn smooth.

Nonetheless, I do find myself alone for certain stretches. It takes a while to get used to this.

For example, in the middle of a particularly shadowy part of the forest, I start to feel a little anxious, but shake off any negative thoughts.

Eventually, I emerge into a brighter, open area and am thrilled to spot a group of schoolboys walking around.

I run along, my trail shoes taking me all the way to my end point where I reward myself with a well-deserved drink.

Tracing waterways on Pipeline Trail

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Dairy Farm Nature Park marks the start of the Pipeline Trail. Image: Ong Wee Jin

Distance: 10km

Level of difficulty: Challenging

Most Singaporeans know that Malaysia supplies Singapore with water, but how many have seen the water pipes?

The Pipeline Trail traces the passage of these pipelines from Woodlands to as far as Jalan Anak Bukit in Upper Bukit Timah. The route is fascinating as you get to see some of the exposed pipelines, all of which are fully functioning.

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Exposed pipelines near Zhenghua Park along the Pipeline Trail. Image: Nabilah Said

I start from Dairy Farm Road, intending to make my way north towards Woodlands, armed with my mobile phone which has a pre- loaded map of the trail.

But the trail is largely unmarked, which means that for most of the way, I am not sure where exactly I am. I know only via my Global Positioning System-enabled phone that as long as I continue northwards, I will be all right.

There is not a lot of information about the trail available online and no markers that I could make out.

3 great outdoor running trails to amp up your exercise pipeline map.jpg

At one point, while passing under what my map tells me is Bukit Timah Expressway, I meet an elderly man - singlet-clad and with a bird cage in tow - and ask him if I am going the right way.

He says he does not know, but tells me he had seen people walk the same way before.

I cling onto the fact like my life depends on it and trudge on.

The trail takes me through the mountain bike tracks along Bukit Timah Expressway and Mandai Forest, which are largely untouched, undulating swathes of land. I mostly walk through these as the uphill parts are quite taxing to run.

But I maintain a brisk-walking pace, mostly because I get a bit intimidated by the "Protected Area" signs I see around me - with the icon of a soldier pointing his gun at a trespassing civilian.

But these stand only along the side of the trail, so I know I am safe and am not breaking any laws.

Those moments aside, it is quite refreshing to feel alone in Singapore, and when I do come across a group of hikers three-quarters into my run, I am somewhat disappointed.

Of course, the point of the trail is to see the pipelines and I remember seeing five sets in total.

You can walk on some of the pipelines - those without metal spikes on or fences around them - quite safely.

A frisson of excitement goes through me as I walk on my first pipeline near the Seletar Expressway. I take a dozen photos as this is the highlight of the trail for me.

Not only could I pretend to be a character in a game, traversing a deep ravine on a log, but this also validates my entire self-doubting journey.

As I catch sight of Housing Board flats in Woodlands Street 41, which spells the end of my journey, I feel a tinge of sadness knowing that my two-hour-plus adventure is ending.

Ultimately, I am glad that I have kept this trail for last, as it is more challenging than the MacRitchie Nature Trail and Green Corridor combined.

Hopping on the MRT with mud caking my ankles and shoes at 9am on a Sunday, I feel a sense of achievement. You just cannot put a price on the feeling.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 17, 2015. For similar stories, go to www.sph.straitstimes.com/lifestyle.

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