Wednesday, 25 November 2020

5 of the most scenic running and cycling trails to tick off your bucket list

The emphasis on physical, mental and emotional well-being has perhaps never been more pertinent than today. Due to the pandemic situation, hygiene and health safety have been placed right at the forefront, while many people are feeling the negative psychological effects of being largely isolated from their community and cooped up at home.

Regular exercise – and making it a part of your everyday routine – could help relieve some of those feelings of anxiety and loneliness, as it is known to have a profoundly positive impact on your overall mood, sleep, self-esteem and stress levels.

Langkawi Cheryl Tay triathlete
Cheryl Tay cycling in the picturesque city of Langkawi

For Ironman triathlete Cheryl Tay, this rings particularly true. Working out has become part and parcel of her daily life, and she cannot imagine ever stopping, especially given that it helps her find balance and restores her spirit.

“Training is now a special time where I can focus on myself – I can just go out and run or cycle and nobody can reach me,” says the 34 year old. “Participating in races also gives a goal to my training, otherwise I’ll feel empty and wonder what all that hard work was for. I also like how triathlons have helped me to build my confidence and see that the body is incredible,” she adds.

Tay, who wears many hats including digital content creation and marketing for sports and fitness companies, being a personal trainer and editing running magazine RUN Singapore, often takes the opportunity to turn her overseas competitions into “race-cations” so she gets to travel and tour the country.

Although she can’t travel overseas for races at the moment, she still tries to get in at least an hour’s workout a day. “I usually run at East Coast Park, swim at the lap pool in my condo and cycle either indoors on my bike trainer or at various routes with my friends on Sunday.”

As soon as travel restrictions lift, you can be sure that Tay will sign up for the next Ironman World Championship or overseas marathon. Meanwhile, she reminisces and looks back on some of the most scenic places she has been to in her four years as a travelling triathlete.

Wanaka New Zealand Cheryl Tay triathlete
Tay during one of her runs around Lake Wanaka

1. Wanaka, New Zealand

I fell in love with the beautiful resort town of Wanaka (five hours away from Christchurch by car) when I visited it in 2015. At that time I was not into the sport of triathlon yet, so I was mostly just driving to scenic spots and taking photos.

When my triathlon friends suggested going to the South Island of New Zealand last year – in a campervan this time – I said yes in a heartbeat. It was winter, but we packed our running gear along and ran in every town that we stopped at.

My most memorable run was the one I did around Lake Wanaka, which is set amid the stunning Southern Alps of New Zealand. It’s too big for me to go around entirely so I ran only a small part of it (about 15km). I kept stopping to take photos because the views were simply amazing. If you do visit Wanaka, take the time to go for a jog or at least a walk around the lake. Worth the views!

Port Elizabeth South Africa
The rugged coastline of Port Elizabeth. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

2. Port Elizabeth, South Africa

I wouldn’t have thought of visiting Port Elizabeth (also known as Nelson Mandela Bay) if not for the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship. Port Elizabeth is on the Algoa Bay in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, which has some 40km of beaches to explore.

Port Elizabeth is a sporty town, having hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup as well as the Ironman African Championship every year. Many also go there for fishing, surfing, scuba diving, snorkelling and sailing.

The beachside destination makes it great for running along the coastline accompanied by breath-taking views. The bike course, however, is a tough one! Expect rolling hills, steep climbs and winding descents that will put the wind in your hair but also take the wind out of your lungs! The reward for enduring all that? Glorious, sweeping views of the ocean, the rugged coastline and rustic countryside.

Clermont-Ferraud, France Cheryl Tay triathlete
The Volvic Volcanic Experience, which involved steep climbs, was challenging but worthwhile for Tay

3. Clermont-Ferrand, France

Trail running is always more of an adventure than anything, as you thrash through forests and find your footing on uneven rocky terrain. Thus I jumped at this opportunity to do a 25km trail race in Clermont-Ferrand, France, which is about four-and-a-half hours away by car from Paris.

Clermont-Ferrand is a city located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, and because it is bordered by the volcanic Chaîne des Puys mountains, it is known for having several extinct volcanoes, the highest being the Puy-de-Dôme. Last year I went to run the Volvic Volcanic Experience (VVX) – a 25km race around these said volcanoes. The route I took had a total of 1,000m in elevation and it got so steep at some parts that I was almost crawling up!

Still, the air is so fresh out in the volcanic region, with the city some 13km away. And the view from the top takes away the pain momentarily!

4. Langkawi, Malaysia

Closer to home, Langkawi is a tropical beach destination that is great for an island getaway. My first full Ironman race (comprising a roughly 3.8km swim, 180.2km bike ride and 42.2km run) was in Langkawi, thus the place holds a different kind of memory for me. While others planned their destination weddings here, I recall the suffering of being out there for over 12 hours of non-stop racing.

Langkawi is great for cycling with its many hills, some of which will give you a good kick. The roads are in decent condition, hence suitable for road cycling, but some parts need repaving.

You can choose to cycle a round-island route or specific routes. There are flat stretches where you get to meander your way past river banks, paddy fields and forests, but there are also tough climbs, including Gunung Raya, the highest mountain in Langkawi. This makes for a great budget weekend trip if you want to just get out for some cycling over the weekend without breaking the bank.

Hokkaido Japan Cheryl Tay triathlete
Tay cycling in Hokkaido

5. Hokkaido, Japan

When I think of Japan, I think of food, Hello Kitty, modified JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) cars, onsen (hot springs), religious architecture and snowboarding. I would have never thought of going there to cycle, but I found out recently that the island of Hokkaido actually has some pretty decent routes.

I spent four days in the north of Hokkaido and cycled at places such as Rumoi, Wakkanai, Toyotomi, Nakagawa and Tokachidake. From what I recall, there were long roads that seemed never-ending; some traversing through the picturesque countryside and some along the coastline.

There are many cycling companies that you can sign up with for tours and they can arrange everything for you – whether you’re into road cycling or mountain biking. You can even have a combined food and cycling tour where the company can provide bikes and you can bike and sightsee while eating your way through some amazing delicacies as well!

Photos courtesy of Cheryl Tay unless otherwise stated.

The information is accurate as of press time. For updated information, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.

To learn more about Singapore Airlines flights, visit singaporeair.com.

SEE ALSO: Trail running: Northern Thailand’s forgotten mountain paths

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