SAFRA Avventura 2015 – A Race Like No Other
Sunday, 11 January 2015
05:14hrs. Cellphones were buzzing and wake-up calls were moving virtually around the island. Oh, who would be up so early on a morning otherwise reserved for church, family, or more fundamentally, sleep?
Well, a group of 12 adventure-hungry, adrenaline-hungry SMUXies would. Coming together to form this installation of TeamSMUX, we kicked off our first race of the year at SAFRA Avventura 2015, one of the major adventure races in Singapore. By 6am, everyone was assembled at the lobby of the Yishun Clubhouse. No prizes for guessing the organizer though.
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.
So we did the boring stuff. Well at least something that killed the boredom was that Team 1 (I’ll go through the register later) somehow did not have their names on the starting list so a few of us were running around and making sure they had the necessary documents, race passports, and stuff, so that kind of woke some of us up. The rest were not so lucky; they woke up through warm-up and stretching.
The race kicked off with us running through the residential areas of Yishun before reaching Lower Seletar Reservoir, which was at the edge of Khatib, for not kayaking as a first checkpoint. Even the most experienced of us had our minds screwed with as we proceeded with a game where one member of the team had to hold up a hulla-hoop while his/her partner brought a balloon through the hoop without using hands. As if we didn’t have enough of it in our camps right.
Anyway, most of our SMUX teams had no problems running to the reservoir and quickly completing the no-brainer game. We moved on down Yishun Ave 1 which was just along the reservoir, then down into Mandai Ave and Mandai Road. It was a good 8km of non-stop running before we reached our next checkpoint at Lorong Asrama (hmm, I admit I wasn’t as fit so my team paced ourselves and regulated our burn-rate, or is it just another excuse).
At this point, most of our 6 SMUX teams were already at their own comfortable speed due to the long-distance of running. From now on, I will cover mostly the sights and sounds of my team (i.e. Zi Feng and I).
You would think that the organisers will make us do some jungle stuff such as bashing and get ourselves dirty right? Congratulations, your mind got screwed over again! We were told to pick up our mountain bikes (which we rented for convenience) and were given a map to navigate within the forested area more familiar to guys as an army training area. Five checkpoints for the first loop and we went with Team 2. We caught Team 4 who were going in circles on our way down (no prizes for guessing who once again). Just when we thought the torturous slopes of this restricted area, which can go from 15m to 78m in altitude within the blink of an eye, were over, we were given another map with two more checkpoints to put us through another roller-coaster ride (for some teams, maps were reversed). It was sure fun exploring the (down)hills of somewhere I only used to climb in 30kg gear, but the most exciting part for me came when we had to abseil down a 45-degree incline with our bikes. We basically just threw our bikes down and ran down the rope anyway. My own bike got stuck and all muddy but hey, at least I could still ride on it later.
Having wasted spent quite a good amount of time in nature, we promptly got back to the control point, quickly hydrated, and moved off along the route to our next checkpoint. We rode past the Ulu Sembawang Park Connector, under and below SLE, before reaching the Woodlands area where we were guided by our map all the way into Republic Polytechnic’s Adventure Sports Centre (well, most teams only knew about the directions to the ASC from the team coming out of it). So we parked our bikes by the side and were told to solve yet another ‘fun’ game – a crossword puzzle – before being allowed onto the wall. Wore our harness and helmets and quickly completed the high-ropes course which I don’t know why they even included it. Zi Feng quickly abseiled down first and that was when I realized I had no gloves, so I had to abseil bare for the first time in my life. Luckily no rope burn.
Checkpoint cleared. We grabbed our bikes and moved on and for the first time in history, on one fateful path in Admiralty Park, I became a burden for the first time in history. I cramped in my calf! I was really, really fortunate that this other racer came along with Salonpas and applied it for me without second thought. That’s the form of camaraderie regardless of team or background in adventure racing – you support one another in whatever way possible :)
My cramp went away fairly quickly and I was soon cycling faster than my partner. Not the main point though. So for this part, we had to collect stickers from route marshals along the way and paste them on our map. We were too shagged out to even dismount so whenever we cycled past one we just slowed down and held out our map for them to paste. Thankfully, they got our message and played along. We then went through Admiralty Road West, the industrial estate of Woodlands, before hitting the MRT track and following it until Sembawang Park.
This is where kayaking finally came. We bade farewell to our bikes (you’ll know the misery of parting with your bike in a race when you do your first ever) and launched our kayaks. Of course Zi Feng and I took this chance to take a break and acted blur in front of each other, as if we were too shag to function or think or move to the kayak, but in actual fact, we just didn’t want to :P
The mission was to beach-launch, paddle about 750m, get a rubber band, and then U-turn back. How we wished we had one in our hydration bags then. We just sucked it up (literally) and continued anyway. It wasn’t long before we cleared the crowded waterway and even bothered to go in reverse when we beached. I wonder how we even had the energy then but looking back, it was probably because the next part of the race was what we (and I believe the other teams as well) dreaded the most.
Plain running through the Gambas Park Connector all the way back to SAFRA Yishun, with no checkpoints in between. Already half-dead, if not ¾-dead, we ran and walked in bursts of 400m. We lost track of time when we hit the main road but that was only half the distance covered for this segment. But at least, everything got better as we knew we were near the end and chatted with other teams along the way as well. Before long, we were back at the clubhouse.
That euphoria when you hear the beep of your Sportident device under the banner that says “FINISH” – it’s like coming back from outfield. You’re glad it’s over but you wish it wasn’t. And so TeamSMUX prided itself on family spirit (as always, heh) and cheered on every of our teams that came through the finishing line (well, basically cheering for everyone ’cause people who race are awesome like that). Some went to bathe, some went to get food, but everyone was just more anxious and had their eyes fixated on something that would give us good news.
The leaderboard. At first, we managed to catch a glimpse of the top 5 in the mixed category, where we spotted a very familiar acronym. Right, SMUX Team 3 was ranked 4th in their category (mixed). “It was still nonetheless a very good effort for us to be near the top three (podium),” we thought. Just as we were about to leave after our last team came in, we heard some commotion over the announcement system as well as near the control table.
Guess what? The leaderboard was revised and SMUX Team 3 was now third! For the first time in history, a SMUX-represented team has reached the podium of a national adventure race, with the best and most seasoned racers in their field as well. We were all joyous and (insert happy word) and decided unanimously through democratic command to stay and watch Sheriel and Shu Ren get their prize from the GOH, BG (NS) Tung Yui Fai, vice-president of SAFRA.
Okay, prize moment over. That effectively marked the end of an experiential and fruitful race, and what a wonderful way to start a year! The 12 racers who were part of our team were definitely awesome in turning up for training, coordinating for admin issues, and basically being part of the team and doing their best in every part of the race!
Here, I proudly present to you this glorious team roster (parentheses show category rank):
SMUX Team 6: Koh Kang Liang and Phang Zi Feng (11th)
Also at the race: Benedict Seow, Kelvin Leong, Tan Hong Taa
Written By: Koh Kang Liang