NTU Adventure Trail Challenge 2015 – Explore Where It Counts
Saturday, 31 May 2015
Please disclaimer that all photo credits are organizer (source: https://www.facebook.com/ntu.atc)
Sixteen fun-loving SMUXies. One race. Infinite fun (as claimed by the organizer). All these are reasons that made me wake up early in the morning on yet another Sunday (okay, sometimes I go for weekend rides). The sun that otherwise shone into my bedroom was now hanging overhead as I reached Clementi Central at 8.30am and met up with a number of our fellow racers from TeamSMUX for our next adventure race – the NTU Adventure Trail Challenge 2015.
An adventure race is somewhat similar to your normal 2XU or Sundown Marathon, where you register, pay money, get T-shirts and what-nots. But in adventure races, you (1) register strictly in a team, (2) do much more than running 42km mindlessly – you get to kayak, cycle, climb, navigate, just to name a few, in what we call a multiple-discipline race, and (3) don’t know anything about the race (nothing at all: routes, elements, checkpoints) except its reporting time.
Just as events are always well-prepared by yours truly, the four teams racing under the SMUX flag had their race nutrition (energy gels, granola bars, and breakfast) distributed to them before we all proceeded for the relatively smooth race registration. No drama of sorts occurred unlike during SAFRA Avventura 2015, so we all had to do warm-up exercises to get our blood flowing. And thankfully enough, not characteristic of SMUXies’ usual behaviour at events, no one was late!
There were a total of six SMUX teams, two of which have already started their race before I even reached (since the teams were flagged off in waves). The remaining four teams – those that you named on DSBJ – were getting all pumped up and taking photos when Team 3 was called upon to move over to the start line. Soon it was my team – Team 4, and from now on I have no idea about what happened to Teams 1 and 2 who were still waiting for their turn. Hence, only Team 4 will be covered from this point.
Characteristic to most installations of ATC, the start point was a 3-minute walk away from the event village. There were no surprises in store for us this year, as we crossed AYE via an overhead bridge and ran straight into the West Coast residential area. Running was all good, but lazy bums like me did not respond well psychologically when we reached the junction of West Coast Road, West Coast Highway and Jalan Buroh, where we were made to climb and descend two pedestrian bridges just to get to the other side of the road. With all the angst you would expect me to have, I was literally cursing and swearing while unknowingly draining my mental energy bank. One thing in adventure races that all of us will somehow learn the hard way is to just accept what is presented ahead of us.
It wasn’t before long when we were directed into a jungle where (army terms incoming) bashing and crossing of a water obstacle awaited us. At first, we were indifferent to the bashing which was in slightly muddy ground. But we were all stunned like vegetable when ahead of us was a river canal with a rope across and on the other side, the team in front. However, no questions were asked as the guys showed their skill in river crossing, well thought by the SAF. We were soon greeted by our first station on the other side of the water – a simple station where team members had to find letters on the floor and unscramble them to form a word that’s really easy to guess – outdoor.
We completed the game relatively quickly and easily and moved on to run half the perimeter of Pandan Reservoir, with some of us already feeling fatigue hit us strategizing to conserve energy. Nonetheless, we still pulled ourselves to reach the kayaking station at a corner of the reservoir and quickly washed our shoes and got into our boats, along with a crossword puzzle (which was, to be brutally honest, super easy to guess, but we had to do the kayaking anyway). The teams of four broke up into two kayaks each and paddled two different routes along the water to get two sets of clues and solve two different puzzles. It wasn’t intellectually challenging to the least bit, and this is just one of the organizer’s tricks to not use our fresh brains yet (they will fry your brain when you are 85% into the entire distance of the race).
Kayaking past in a jiffy with some teammates (erhem) being burdens on the boats but nonetheless, in an adventure race, we ‘carry’ the teams for different parts. Because it is virtually impossible to assemble an all-star team, and due to our specialization in SMUX, our teams are usually composed of people who are good in a few areas. For instance, you may be able to navigate and bike but have no kayaking star, but your teammate will do all the ruddering for you while you just paddle. That’s teamwork!
We moved on to run along the remaining perimeter of Pandan reservoir and cut into the Pandan estate along the Pandan Garden Park Connector, and it wasn’t long (about 1km?) before we were greeted by yet another game station. Kudos to the organizers and their helpers for putting in so much effort and manpower! But the catch was, as we were somewhere near the peak of the bell curve, we had to wait at almost every station starting from this one. A good 10 minutes of sitting around, stretching, and hydrating, we finally got our chance to complete a “walk-the-plank” game and filling-water-without-touching-the-bottle kind of orientation game. Thankfully, Zi Feng stood up and guided us all along, and it was good fun before our bodies got moving again.
From here on, Teams 3 and 4 were almost running parallel to each other. I guess the pace suited both teams and it’s always better to have a bigger group of people to motivate you and bring up the race atmosphere among each other. We were given a map and we jointly navigated to the next station, mostly along the park connector, and the only confusion being near the end, where we had to figure out which side of the road/river we were on. Once again, Zi Feng was quick to point out the right direction, probably thanks to his navigation skills brushed up by joining orienteering races with me. ;)
At the next station near Bukit Batok Industrial Park and behind SHATEC, we played a telematch and count-the-sticks kind of game. It was slightly more physically demanding but nonetheless, still good fun. At this point, it was around noon, and the sun was blazing above us. The teams and teammates encouraged each other to hydrate and take energy gels/nutrition bars if we were getting hungry. Some people (I shall not say who) even need to be forced to take race nutrition! But yes, gels and isotonic drinks are really, really important and we always have them by our side (on our backs, in our hydration bags, actually).
We quickly completed the game, took a 5 minutes break (competitive runners don’t) and ushered ourselves off to follow the arrows and finally reached Bukit Timah Nature Reserve after a 30-minute run/walk/jog/trek. You could’ve guessed that we were adequately tired by now and thankfully the intuition was mountain biking at Bukit Timah. Fortunately enough, the organizers didn’t screw with our minds this time and what happened was exactly what we expected. But there was a long waiting time again as we reached the station (but luckily, there was no group in front so we didn’t have to sprint to check-in).
We finally got our bikes after sitting around with Teams 3 and 4 and rode up the railway track. The first climb was a joke – as both Jackson and I almost fell off our bikes as we tried to climb a really steep incline without any descend. But we still quickly got onto the railway track and cycled all the way to the Dairy Farm trail, into and out of the area, and then past the Dairy Farm entrance of the reserve. It was mostly flats and downslopes, and the up-hills can be outweighed with speed gained descending. Then the biggest nightmare of the ride came. It was plain uphill for the next 300m or for as far as we can see once we hit Belukar Track. I guess this is one of the hotspots for mountain biking in Singapore. A huge part of this portion of the track was pushing the bicycles and teamwork was at play again – the more energetic ones took care of those not so confident in biking, and the good bikers went ahead to recce the route in front. With such a team spirit, wasn’t before long that we hit a road and all was smooth from then on.
We wrapped up our cycling segment and took a photo on the railway track (insert photo: S05), before going down green corridor towards Clementi for what the team’s Chief Strategist expected – rock climbing and/or high elements at Ngee Ann Polytechnic (in case you didn’t know, our team is organized as such – Chief Runner, Chief Strategist, Chief Biker, and Chief Motivator aka Crappist). The Chief Runner then decided that Team 4 slowly walked behind Team 3 and we took a break and bought a 100plus at the petrol station near Beauty World. It was a short journey to NP and we did not tire ourselves out, much to the slight shock that we had to wait for our turn again.
The high elements station was simply three encoded puzzles using the keyboard symbols on the numeric keys of the QWERTY keyboard. But since we could not remember the keyboard off-hand and we are not allowed to bring along mobile phones for the race, one person of the four-man team climbed the wall and another two abseiled, while the last one just searched for clues on ground. Zi Feng was once again splendid (why am I showering him with so much praise) in deciphering the codes at Godspeed and we quickly cleared the station and ran across the expressway to go back to Clementi Road. (Insert photo: S06)
Just when we thought it would be Clementi Road > Park Connector > Clementi Central as an easy way back to end-point, we had our feelings cheated for one last time. Actually, the second last time. We ran straight past KAP and back into the Green Corridor again, where the last station was waiting for us and alas, this time without any waiting! But as I have mentioned previously, this was the one that mentally drained us. Imaging four people given five minutes to crowd around and solve a sliding puzzle after covering 108km on foot between them. It was no joke despite it was only a simple 8-piece which was eventually solved in four minutes and a half, 30 seconds from non-completion penalty. We continued in the green corridor and bashed for an additional 300 meters parallel to the one of the Clementi/Holland canals before finally being helped up by a marshal, all of us sweat-drenched from the unforgiving 3pm sun.
Our morale got sky-high, and then crashed down like a wrecking ball as we were running along Clementi Road (past SIM and Maju Camp) and we saw the group in front turn right into the jungle. We relented and that was followed by another 20 minutes or so of bashing, in which our superzai Infantry Platoon Sergeant took over and led us out of the mess unscathed. Definitely a good experience for those who have never fought in jungles to understand the second home of our Singaporean Sons (but still damn fun, nonetheless, seeing and laughing at people running down slopes or grabbing on the wrong things).
And it was the final stretch. As we emerged from the vegetation, it was a mere 500 meters left. The spirits were suddenly up and everyone suddenly had a mysterious form of energy to run at normal trek run pace. We ran past Clementi Town and said hello to civilization after what felt an eternity, and at long last, after more than six hours out in the ‘field’, we tapped in our Sportident device and still that same feeling – you’re glad it’s over but you wish it wasn’t.
Being very pragmatic SMU students, we knew we didn’t win and quickly wasted no time to go to the showers at the nearby sports complex as there would be a long queue after that. But after the showers was something more exciting that your dearest team captain was brewing. It was Jing Ying’s birthday the following day and since we’re all one team and one adventure racing fraternity, the whole tentage roared out in the birthday song (to my own surprise, even), when we brought in the cake originally meant for a little private surprise within the team.
Since we didn’t win, I shall not comment on the prize presentation. Just kidding. Saw a few familiar faces up the podium (as with the past few years) and it made me realize one thing. To be good at something, you need real, hard practice and lots of experience, because excellence is a habit, not an act. Every race I go in with the childish mentality that if we got lucky, we may win, but that’s not the case. Every winner went through a great deal of preparation, experience, hard work, and determination. Most pertinently, the determination to not walk or slow down during the race when you know you cannot afford to. It is all about keeping a goal in mind and pushing yourself to work towards it, no matter what the odds are.
To think that after 31km of self-torture, I stayed till the end because Team 2 wanted a chance at the lucky draw.
I proudly present to you the team roster which has done us proud (parentheses show category rank):
Category: Mixed Open (also notorious for being the most competitive – the top ten teams were a mere one hour apart) SMUX Team 1: Mooris Tjioe and Cornelia Tisa (23rd) SMUX Team 2: Tan Wei Jie and Koh Shao Jun (18th) SMUX Soh & Soh: Benjamin Soh and Eileen Soh (15th)
Category: Men’s Open (really good work and improvement over the years!) Team Titan: Benedict Seow and Kelvin Leong (4th) – they were just 11 minutes away from the 3rd!
Category: Inter-Varsity (the very fun-loving 4-man teams) SMUX Team 3: Deryn Tjoandi, Felix Lee, Yeo Lu Xuan, Chan Zhong Wei (7th) SMUX Team 5: Koh Kang Liang, Phang Zi Feng, Xu Jing Ying, Jackson Ong (6th)
Special Note I wrote this article on the Day of National Remembrance, 8 June 2015. Whenever I was writing about motivating one another, I was reminded of the children from Tanjong Katong Primary School who met with disaster at Mt Kinabalu. I am deeply inspired as I read the reports about the kids who, even at their age, understood the importance of teamwork and encouraging one another, and truly believed in adventure and the outdoors as a classroom. It is indeed saddening yet I am personally humbled by their experience. They return to us as heroes, and serve as a constant reminder that the outdoors is never safe, yet it is where your limits are pushed and you find the most growth in you. The outdoors bear something that no one else can ever give you, yet it is the same something that no one can ever take away from you.
Written By: Koh Kang Liang