Chan U-Gene

A mass run is no walk in the park

Participants have to get trained and prepared for mass sporting events. Safety, and manners, are critical in such events.

LYCRA, it seems, is not just for superheroes. An increasing number of ordinary men and women are getting fitted for spandex tights as endurance-based sports like cycling and running gain traction and popularity.

Fuelled by a growing interest in health and wellness, organisers of endurance events estimate that more than 400,000 people signed up for local events last year - which saw more than 60 mass runs organised, or an average of at least five per month.

But while Superman's supersuit may help make him almost invincible, the weekend warrior does not enjoy such benefits.

In fact, participating in leisure sport involves more than just the simple act of putting on a race bib on event day. Entrusted along with that tag is a responsibility - not only to yourself but to those around you.

In the space of a month, two Singaporeans lost their lives during sports event. One was a 45-year-old runner who collapsed at the 2XU Compression Run last month, the other a 23-year-old cyclist who crashed on a downslope at the OCBC Cycle Singapore. He died from head injuries last week.

While the number of serious injuries remains low given the large numbers who take part in such events, there are risks involved whenever anyone suits up.

A participant, first of all, has to ensure that he or she has trained enough to complete the prescribed distance safely.

National head coach for middle and distance running Ghana Segaran, who is also Singapore Athletic Association's chairman for cross country and road running, recommends doing a regular medical check-up.

Most races require participants to provide their personal medical information and to complete an indemnity form. This contract suggests the onus to keep safe ultimately is on the participant.

As Mr Segaran said: "People who are not trained should understand their limitations and not push themselves above that. It's dangerous because they suffer cramps and some even collapse.

"It's simple. If you have a 1,000cc engine, you don't rev it up like a two-litre one."

Dr David Su, a triathlete and consultant orthopaedic surgeon from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, estimates that over the past five years, he has seen a five-fold increase in patients coming to him with running and cycling-related injuries.

The cause: people over-straining themselves. He said: "It takes time for the body to adapt. These events are good, but people are taking them on too fast, which can lead to injuries."

Then there's the issue of how to be a responsible participant. Signing up for an event is unlike buying a ticket to watch a play. In a race, you're not just an observer in the audience; you're a player whose action directly impacts the rest of the cast.

In a mass ride, for example, your bicycle becomes your instrument and any wrong note you hit could prove dangerous for yourself and others in the ride. Yet people have been spotted using their mobile phones as they ride.

In mass events such as the OCBC event, where more than 11,500 people took part, having novices ride alongside experienced ones can be tricky. So avoid the temptation to over-declare your skill level.

Said Mr Steven Lim, president of local initiative Safe Cycling Task Force: "Rules are there to keep people safe. If you break the rules, you are literally saying that you give up your right for the rules to protect you."

It's also critical to familiarise yourself with the route and terrain. The Benjamin Sheares Bridge, a staple feature of the OCBC event, includes a steep downslope ride that could see riders hitting over 55kmh - an exhilarating dash for experienced riders, but a terrifying one for amateurs.

Finally, because there are no major prerequisites to register for an event besides the payment, a serious competitor looking to clock a personal best time could line up alongside a homemaker who was attracted to the offers in the goodie bag.

This means that on event day, there's a mismatch of race expectations and skill levels among participants who run or bike cheek by jowl with each other. That in turn can become hazardous.

In the end, accidents at mass events cannot truly be prevented. Especially when thousands of participants congregate for a sports event.

A helmet cannot guarantee a participant's safety, nor can someone well-versed in traffic rules claim to be invulnerable.Tragic moments can fell us, sometimes through no fault of our own.

This, however, should not prevent us from joining in sports - and mass sporting events - but rather reinforce the need to be better educated with regard to safety aspects.

There are many benefits that come with these sporting events. Besides the obvious health advantages, cycling and running in a group are great business networking tools.

These events are also important in the evolving Singapore culture as we grow as a society and seek to be recognised as a sporting nation.

Or at the very least, these events are a celebration and perhaps an excuse to be showing off that brand new lycra outfit.

Just remember though, that contrary to comic books, that spandex suit is not a cloak of invincibility.

ugenec@sph.com.sg