Singapore's race craze draws both fun and serious runners

There are so many run events this year that organisers themselves are in a race to win more sponsors, volunteers and participants

Madam Norarniza Wati (above), who takes part in competitive runs. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Madam Norarniza Wati (above), who takes part in competitive runs. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Ms Anne Tang (above), an undergraduate, on why she likes fun runs. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Bank service manager Daniel Lau (above), 28, a bachelor, owns more than 40 Hello Kitty plush toys and figurines. -- ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG
Bank service manager Daniel Lau (above), 28, a bachelor, owns more than 40 Hello Kitty plush toys and figurines. -- ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG
Finance manager Bobby Tan, 55, a married father of three, has collected more than 50 Hello Kitty soft toys. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Mr Jason Chua (above), 37, a facility engineer, signed up for the run with his wife Jennifer, an administrative executive. -- ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

So many runs, so little time.

There is now a race for everyone, whether you want to push yourself to the limit or plod along leisurely while chatting with friends.

According to home-grown online running magazine RunSociety, there are 76 running events on the calendar in Singapore this year, up from 60 last year and 55 in 2012.

They range from established events such as the 22-year-old Safra Singapore Bay Run & Army Half Marathon held last month to new runs such as the upcoming Hello Kitty Run Singapore on Nov 1, which is non-competitive.

While the running crowd is spoilt for choice, some organisers say that they now face stiffer competition for volunteers, sponsors and participants.

Mr Philip Tan, 30, one of the organisers of next Saturday's Craze Ultra 100 Miles race, laments the challenge of recruiting volunteers, who help out in logistics such as distributing goodie bags, and are typically given a meal or transport allowance of between $10 and $20 an event.

He says: "They can always choose to help out at another run and no-shows are becoming more common."

For next month's zombie- themed Run For Your Lives event, organiser Action X is upping the stakes. It will give each volunteer exclusive event merchandise worth a total of $50.

The items include sunglasses, a waterproof pouch and a special T-shirt meant for the organisers.

Action X's marketing director Grace Ng, 30, says: "The merchandise we will be giving to our volunteers is not available even to our participants. This shows how much we appreciate their efforts."

The race for sponsors is also hotting up.

Sportswear brand New Balance as well as isotonic drink 100Plus have seen more organisers for run events approaching them for sponsorship in recent years.

Mr Eugene Yeo, 34, New Balance's marketing and product manager for Asean, says: "With the plethora of runs in Singapore, we have to carefully consider which races are most appropriate for synergy with runners and with our brand."

Then there is also the battle for participants.

While nine organisers interviewed say their runs are seeing more, or the same number of, participants, some say the industry is showing signs of run fatigue.

Mr Ang Han Wee, 39, director of Explomo Consulting, which is behind five of this year's runs, such as the NTUC Income Run 350, Green Corridor Run as well as Orange Ribbon Run, says: "Increasingly, two or more runs are being held on the same day and at the same time.

"Obviously, participants in one run can't be taking part in the other run too."

For example, both the POSB PAssion Run for Kids, which is organised by Explomo, and the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run are taking place this morning.

Civil servant Ken Chen, 31, an avid runner, is no stranger to such clashes.

He says: "I wanted to go for both the Men's Health Urbanathlon and the 2XU Compression Run in March this year, but they took place on the same day."

He went for the Men's Health event in the end as he had registered for it first.

To make their runs stand out, organisers are paying greater attention to coming up with a more interesting route and concept and - of course - an awesome goodie bag.

For example, the organisers of this month's The Straits Times Run at the Hub decided to host the event at the Singapore Sports Hub so that participants can be the first to finish a race under the new National Stadium's iconic dome roof.

ST sports editor Marc Lim, 38, says: "With so many other runs out there, the competition to be different is very keen.

"The ST Run aims to take runners to new environments in Singapore... and when it comes to sport, there is no other place to be than at the National Stadium."

Participants, who pay $40.50 to $70 each for the run to be held on Sept 28, will be given a goodie bag worth more than $200.

It will include a race singlet, a commemorative finisher's T-shirt, an entry ticket worth $25 to the Alive Museum and two weeks of premium access to The Straits Times - both online and on mobile apps.

More than 20,000 runners have signed up for the event.

To draw participants, at least one organiser has devised novelty runs based on a cartoon character.

Events company Pink Apple was behind the 3km Garfield Run two months ago and it is also organising a 5km Hello Kitty Run in November to mark the feline character's 40th birthday.

At the flag-off, there will be a birthday cake and fans will sing a birthday song.

Pink Apple's business development manager Michelle Ng, 24, says: "Some people might find fun runs gimmicky but they are refreshing and unconventional. They also allow non-serious runners to participate without feeling the pressure of competing."

Response to both runs has been positive.

The Garfield Run drew 8,500 participants, while all 15,000 slots for the Hello Kitty Run were snapped up within 24 hours during the launch of pre-registration last month.

Ultimately, the runners are the ones who benefit from the glut of races.

For example, Mr Raymond Seow, 43, has completed eight runs - both competitive and fun ones - this year.

Mr Seow, who is a manager in a trading and investment company, says: "With more runs, I can compare and choose which ones to go for.

"I enjoy any type of run. Serious ones let me challenge myself while fun ones leave me with great memories."

Hello Kitty guy fans sign up for 5km run

They are male and they love Hello Kitty.

About 3,000 of the 15,000 slots for the upcoming Hello Kitty Run on Nov 1 were taken up by men at pre-registration.

Although most are accompanying their wives and girlfriends, some are ardent supporters of the cat - or should we say girl.

Take Mr Bobby Tan, 55, who is married with three children - two sons aged aged 21 and 19 and an 18-year-old daughter.

The finance manager was among the first to sign up for the 5km run after seeing a Facebook post last month. He says unabashedly: "I simply must have the limited-edition plushie that will be given out during the race for my collection."

He has been collecting Hello Kitty soft toys since 2000 when the craze hit Singapore.

He has more than 50 of these toys in his five-room flat in Yew Tee that are stacked on shelves in his daughter's room. "I tell everyone the plushies are for my daughter," he says. "I love Hello Kitty. She's adorable in every costume she wears."

But he is quick to add that he is just a regular guy. "I take part in at least 13 runs a year. I can run a 42km marathon in 5 hours and 10 minutes. Hello Kitty is just something that I like."

The rest of his family are not fans. Neither will they be running. Says his daughter Si Tong, a polytechnic student: "Visitors assume I love Hello Kitty but I tell them that it's my dad's collection."

"I don't ask him about the toys because it's his personal interest. But I think it's funny because not many guys like Hello Kitty, let alone at his age."

Her mother, Mrs Tan Hui Kuan, 48, an accounts assistant, adds: "Our family is very open-minded. What's wrong with men liking Hello Kitty? It's just a hobby."

Another Hello Kitty fan who signed up for the run is Mr Daniel Lau, 28, a service manager in a bank.

The bachelor, who owns more than 40 Hello Kitty plush toys and figurines, visited the Hello Kitty Sweets restaurant in Taipei - which serves Hello Kitty-themed food and desserts - in 2012.

He plans to visit the Sanrio Hello Kitty Town in Johor next month. He says: "I like Hello Kitty because it is a great collectible, like Garfield, Snoopy or Doraemon. My interest also helps me bond with my seven-year-old niece."

To those who might find his hobby strange, he says: "I always joke that I'm Dear Daniel, Hello Kitty's boyfriend. Naturally, I always want to be close to her."

Facility engineer Jason Chua, 37, signed up for the run with his wife Jennifer, 31, an administrative executive.

The couple, who have no children, have collected more than 20 Hello Kitty plush toys. They also own a Hello Kitty pouch, passport cover, ez-link cards, keychain and watch.

Says Mr Chua, who confesses to being the bigger fan: "I bought all the plush toys. I once queued three hours for one but I didn't mind because Hello Kitty is just adorable."

He adds: "Some women play soccer. Why can't some men like Hello Kitty? You live only once, so you shouldn't care what people think."

Thankfully, his wife understands his passion (or obsession) for Hello Kitty.

Says Mrs Chua: "I'm glad I found someone who shares my interest. It's hard to find a guy who likes Hello Kitty and even harder to find one who likes it more than me."

Bonding over fun runs

Why run? For fun.

That is undergraduate Anne Tang's approach to mass runs.

The 21-year-old says: "Joining the runs lets me spend quality time with my family and friends. We can chat, take photos and people-watch. I always have a ball."

She has taken part in four novelty runs so far this year - the Skechers Electric Run, 5K Foam Run, Garfield Run and Color Run.

She will don her running shoes again in November for the Illumi Run, where participants will be splashed with glow-in-the-dark water during the night event.

Her favourite so far is The Color Run two weeks ago, which she joined with two friends.

Presented by CIMB Bank, the 5km run involved participants getting doused in coloured powder to promote health and happiness.

Ms Tang recalls, beaming: "There were endless photo opportunities.

In each zone, the powder was of a different colour.

"We took hundreds of photos, yet I can tell immediately where each was taken just by looking at my T-shirt."

For her, the fun runs allow her to de-stress and let her hair down.

She says: "Life in Singapore is stressful. But when I run, I can just focus on what obstacle is ahead."

Joining such events also lets her meet many new friends. "People will ask me to help them take photos. We exchange contacts and keep in touch over Facebook," she adds.

Another novelty run she enjoyed was the Garfield Run in July, which she completed with her four-year-old cousin.

The run included routes for couples and kids.

"I ran in the 3km category and didn't even break into a sweat. But it gave me a chance to bond with my cousin and relive some childhood memories of reading Garfield comic strips."

Although Ms Tang has also taken part in competitive runs, such as the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore last December, she prefers the unique experiences offered by fun dashes.

"If I want to know how fast I can run, I can always time myself running in the park. Since I'm paying more than $50 for each run, I want to make sure I enjoy it."

Keeping fit, losing weight

Madam Norarniza Wati is a serious runner. So serious that she has already taken part in 23 runs so far this year - or about three a month.

These include the 2XU Compression Run in March and the Sundown Marathon in May.

She has also signed up for another six races in the next three months.

Explaining her passion, the 34-year-old legal secretary says: "Running helps me lose weight, be fit and challenge myself.

"Taking part in these runs also lets me meet like-minded runners and we can motivate one another."

She took part in her first run - a 10km route at the Shape Run in October last year, two months after giving birth to her first child.

To train for it, she started jogging regularly at East Coast Park. Before that, she hardly exercised.

"I wanted to lose the weight I gained when I was pregnant," she says. "So far, it has worked."

In the 11 months since that first race, the 1.63m-tall mother of one has lost 10kg and now weighs 79kg.

She says she still has some way to go to attain her ideal weight of 65kg.

Running always gives her a high, she adds: "After completing a run, I would feel like I had survived it despite the obstacles."

One memorable run was the 10.5km Green Corridor Run in May, where she ran on grass, stones and uneven surfaces.

"After the trail, I felt such a strong sense of accomplishment, like I had overcome the elements."

She says her husband, a supervisor in an oil and gas company, describes her passion for running as an obsession.

"But as long as running makes me happy, I will continue to do it."

So far, the furthest she has run is 21km in 3 hours and 15 minutes at the 2XU Compression Run.

Next Saturday, she will attempt her first full marathon at the Craze Ultra 100 Miles run.

To prepare for the 43km run, she has been jogging four times a week for the last three months, averaging 24km each week.

"Completing a full marathon has always been on my bucket list.

I just hope I can finish it without dying," she jokes.

People who stop halfway to take selfies are her only pet peeve about these runs. "They block everyone behind them and force the rest of us to slow down," she says.

So it comes as no surprise that she has never taken part in a fun race. "I don't think they can even be considered real runs. I mostly see the participants walking."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.