CHASE OF THE TRAILS

All natural on MacRitchie Nature Trail

The scenic 11km MacRitchie Nature Trail.
The scenic 11km MacRitchie Nature Trail.PHOTO: NABILAH SAID

Despite being a small country, Singapore has its fair share of running trails that are suitable for beginners as well as seasoned runners. Life pounds three trails to find out what they are like

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.

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 next Saturday.

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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2015, with the headline 'All natural on MacRitchie Nature Trail'. Print Edition | Subscribe