It was during Raffles Institution's annual inter-house cross-country race in 2001 that Mok Ying Ren was first introduced to distance running.
He was hooked and 12 years later, became Singapore's first SEA Games men's marathon champion with his victory in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.
The 28-year-old, one of the country's top marathoners, said: "Cross-country is a good introduction to distance running because it encapsulates the thrill of running in a mass participation event.
"It is also effective in holding the interest of younger runners, as they get to run on a trail rather than around a track, which can get monotonous."
From next year, aspiring runners will have the chance to take part in more cross-country events, starting with Flash Athletic Club's Manulife-Flash X-Country Run on Jan 21 at Bedok Reservoir. It is the first of five runs organised by the club over the next 12 months.
The other runs will be held at venues including Jurong Lake and Punggol Waterway, scenic spots which organising committee chairman Samuel Singaram hopes will encourage more locals to start lacing up their running shoes.
He said: "The cross-country run is not on a stadium track; it is a set-up that blends running activity with nature. It's a new environment with different challenges for runners."
MANULIFE-FLASH X-COUNTRY RUN
WHERE: Bedok Reservoir
WHEN: Jan 21, 8am to 7pm
• Adults: Men/women for Open Masters, International
• Schools & youth (U-13 to U-19)
• Wheelchair race - 5km
• Senior citizens' walk and jog
For more information, go to flashathleticsclub.com
While the running is undoubtedly popular here - there were an estimated 130 mass-participation events held in 2016 - interest in cross-country has dipped.
The 2011 Singapore Athletics Cross-Country Championships attracted 740 competitors. This year's attendance was 462.
Flash's vice-president of organising S. Pandian, 49, believes that this is a result of greater focus on mass participation in schools.
The former national runner said some schools he has coached at have either cancelled their annual cross-country race, or reduced the frequency to alternate years.
Steven Quek, one of two head coaches at the ActiveSG Athletics Club, believes cross-country running offers many benefits, even for those in other sports.
He said: "Doing cross-country runs in the off-season can help improve athletes' fitness so they can perform better when doing pre-season drills, because of the aerobic base fitness built from cross-country running.
"Even if players are tired from the technique-specific drills that they do, they recover faster because of this better aerobic fitness, and this applies during games as well."
Mok, who is a first-year orthopaedic surgical resident at National University Hospital, added that it was useful for injury prevention.
"The terrain of a cross-country trail is uneven, so that recruits the smaller muscles in your foot which are usually dormant when running on flat surfaces.
"In the long term, this may reduce the risk of injury and it also helps runners become more agile."
Flash is targeting 4,000 participants for next month's race. For ITE College Central student Emil Ng, who will run in the Under-19 5km category, this is a step towards his dream of competing in the famed Boston Marathon.
The 17-year-old, who only started competing in organised races from June, said: "When I first started running, 5km felt quite long a distance to me, so it became a mental game where every extra kilometre was an achievement.
"It gives me new-found belief that I can achieve my goals."