The SAFRA AVventura consists of a 27.7km run, a 17.8km bike trail and 4.7km worth of kayaking with a 200m beach swim, a gruelling race totaling more than 50km. (Photo by VoxSports)
While most folks would still be snoozing in the early hours of Sunday morning, a select group of ultra-marathoners were all geared up and ready to hit the road in the annual SAFRA AVventura on 12 January.
Consisting of a 27.7km run, a 17.8km bike trail, and 4.7km worth of kayaking with a 200m beach swim totalling more than 50km, the ultra-marathon was a sure test of endurance and fighting spirit.
At the starting point at SAFRA at Mount Faber, the ultra-marathoners were doing final checks of their gear and warming up in the chilly 6am breeze, knowing a long day lay ahead of them. Not only was an adventurer’s pride and bragging rights at stake, but also attractive prizes like a $1000 cash prize, Columbia watches, mountain bikes, gym memberships, and more.
A key part of adventure racing is the element of surprise, and the SAFRA AVventura is no different.
Prior to the race day, racers were only able to glean very minimal knowledge of what will transpire on the day itself. Although it is common knowledge they will encounter cross-country running, trail biking, and other disciplines like rope and rock elements and kayaking, they did not know the sequence of the disciplines nor any of the surprise challenges.
In addition, the racers were also required to use their map navigation skills to traverse the race route, which made the ultra-marathon both a physical and mental challenge.
The SAFRA AVventure burst onto the racing and adventure scene here in 2006 to the delight of the community. Since then, it has grown from 270 participants to a total of 412 today, attracting a range of people from hardcore adventurists in the ultra-marathon category to students in the youth category.
Of the total participants this year, 88 made up the 44 ultra-marathon teams.
“I’ve been doing [the ultra category] since its first year, except last year when I was away at some race overseas,” said Yeo Kim Hong, who emerged in first place for the men’s ultra category with his partner Hairul Nazwa at 4:48:51.
“I’ve done this for long time, and it has stayed the same but is more competitive now… there are more people so it’s harder to compete.”
On his preparations, the Team TriAdventure racing enthusiast shared: “We try to go as light as possible because we don't know what's in store for us in the 50, 60km ahead. So we choose our gear to be minimal while staying to race requirements.”
“We don't what the flow is like for the race… We just react calmly to what they have for us,” he added.
He speaks for many racers when he gives his reason for putting in so much sweat and blood in the race: “It’s just to have fun with the racing community, mix around with friends... there are not many adventurist in Singapore so this is one of the main events for us to meet each other.”
Joanne Chong, 39, who is another racing enthusiast, shared how got into participating in the mixed ultra category at her friend’s invitation and having not looked back since.
“My buddy jio (invited) me, and it was very fun,” she said.
“At the end you’re very shagged but at least you completed everything, and if you win, even better.”
She and her friend Neo Lay Peng of team Daredevil finished first in the women’s category with a timing of 6 hours 7 minutes and 30 seconds.
“The first time we decided to take part in this event we went for the ultra already,” Lay Peng revealed.
As expected, Joanne said her reason for joining the event was to “challenge” herself.
“We trained as and when we can, especially the areas that we’re not so good at like mountain biking,” she said.
Revealing her preparations for the gruelling route, she explained: “Every year the gear is almost the same, at most one or two things [will be] different... you need harness, helmet, hydration pack and all that. Once you have them you can race every year.”
Her advice to others planning to try adventure racing is simple and pragmatic.
“Service your bicycle. Also, wear and tear happen so wear good shoes... Some terrain slippery so make sure the shoes will last throughout the race.”