Trails are strongly asssociated with natural environments. Sure. Makes sense. In the same way that associating runs that include lots of ups and downs, pos/neg altitude meters, with mountains make sense. Problem though with these natural affinities is that they tend to blind us to the ups and downs and the trails elsewhere. I’ve ranted about the urban possibilities to make altitude meters already (here and here) so let’s focus this post on the urban trail possibilities.
The most obvious way and thus superfluous way to do that is point out that Singapore has trails. You all know them (McRitchie, Bukit Timah, Dairy farm, Chestnut, Mandai, Ubin, etc.,), old news.
Less obvious are the trail options that are not advertised, made difficult to access (sometimes officially ‘off-limits’ although not guarded/policed and treated as ‘public’ by locals). Possibilities like the Tampines quarry and the connecting bike trails going North along the Paya Lebar airstrip. The track following the Serangoon river South from the Lorung Halus wetlands. Tracks in Bukit Brown cemetary. You get my point.
Apparently even less obvious are the plentiful possibilities to leave tarmac in Singapore on nearly any run. Why apparently? Because I hardly ever see runners leaving tarmac for the grass or sand next to it. But isn’t the running ‘surface’ one of the most basic aspects of what running feels like, and what it requires of your body? Sure, not the only aspect but kinda fundamental nevertheless.
An obvious example is the East coast park. My guess would be that maybe 90% of this 15k of coastline can be run on grass and sand. Who does? Why not?
Another example is Coney island. At low water its Ubin facing coastline has a couple of k of wild and empty beach. Again, who? Why not? What about the beaches of Sentosa? From one end to the other and back around 6k, of which at least 75% can be on sand. I can assure you, a great route. But I only ever saw runners on the hard-surface walking/biking paths.
What about many of the larger parks, be it West Coast, Chinese/Japanese/Jurong lake? Again, any run here can be at least 75% off-road. And even more basic, what about all those shorter and longer stretches of grassy borders lining park connectors, and the many canalized rivulets criss-crossing Singapore?
We seem literally blind to these possibilities. Conditioned to follow the paths set out for us to run on. And yes, I know, the grass can be soggy after rains, and sometimes very tricky, uneven, hard work, requiring full attention. Mmmm, why is that not a problem when navigating a technical trail in ‘proper’ trail environments but a bummer when cruising urban environments?
My basic point is that when thinking ‘trail’ in an urban environment it makes sense to take our habitual blinders off, to wipe our doors of perception clean, and focus on the most basic of basics of trails, the kind of surface they offer your running feet. Suddenly, a lot more trail becomes visible.
Maybe it is because I run on minimalist shoes, and my feet are not as disconnected from the earth as those bouncing off their padded soles, that I actively search for different surfaces and enjoy what that adds to my experience. I know I’m running a risk (no pun intended) of trying to oversell my argument here, but one can argue that mountains trails are often unforgiving rocky surfaces, as hard on your system as concrete. The most common city surfaces are maybe less uneven and varied (and yes, that makes a real difference, injuries are often due to repetitive strain and uneveness ensures you avoid that), but there is no reason to ignore the diversity they hold. When you allow your feet to feel you’ll notice that different kinds of pavement make for different movement, that the experience of running ‘trails’ has a lot to do with what your senses focus on, and lots of what cities have to offer sensually remains unfelt because you’ve closed yourself off from it.
If anything helps opening up, music is surely right up there, and for me, this Ry Cooder piece speaks to trails being anywhere you see them: