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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.

N09How the start point for this race looked like.

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.

N11River crossing! No joke! (not us in the photo though)

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!

N05The super wonderful view you get when kayaking on Pandan Reservoir! (ft. the house of one of our racers, imagine running past your own house :/)

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.

N07No photos of us doing the orientation-like game but we sure looked something like this when on the plank.

N02Organizers hard at work. Kudos to them!

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.

N04 Part of the biking segment. Trust me, this is the easiest part of the route! (We’re not in the photo once again though)

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)

N13Teamwork is…going through ups and downs together.

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).

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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.

S13 Here are the two most cheapo and thick-skin racers that TeamSMUX ever had!

I proudly present to you the team roster which has done us proud (parentheses show category rank):

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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)

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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!

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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

NTU Adventure Trail Challenge 2015

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NTU Adventure Trail Challenge 2015
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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.

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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):

IMG-20150111-WA0005 SMUX Team 3: Sheriel Chia and Ng Shu Ren (3rd)

IMG-20150111-WA0000 SMUX Team 1: Loh Jia Jie and Kow Rui Qi (6th) & SMUX Team 5: Aaron Er and Tan Kai De (7th)

IMG_2015-06-01 22:53:00 SMUX Team 2: Benjamin Soh and Samuel Yong (13th) & SMUX Team 4: Deryn Tjoandi and Chan Chee How (13th)

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

SAFRA Avventura 2015

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