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Sunday, October 06, 2013

Here come the Garbage Men @ TNF 100 Singapore

It all started with an idea by a friend who got his inspiration from a  race in Hongkong. One thing led to another and yesterday we found ourselves, a group of 6 runners at the start line of this year edition of the TNF Singapore 100. Another 2 started at the Mandai Road checkpoint. Not to race but to do something very different and I hope inspiring enough for the real participants to do their part.

With Marc Pereira from North Face Singapore
Our mission - to literally sweep - not the last runner but to sweep up all the trash  left behind by the runners. When we embarked on this, we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into. We have ran the trails in the MacRitchie area and Central Catchment area many times and we have seen many of the rubbish left behind by runners and other park users. But I didn't thought it was that bad.

We started off at about 7 a.m. about half an hour after the 25km runners were flagged off. Our objectives was to stay behind the runners and pick up whatever they left behind. Originally we thought of all of us covering the full 50 km route but as we went along, we realised that it would be faster and easier to split ourselves up and cover different sectors. So 2 of the faster runners in the group, Terence and Voon ran ahead towards the Ghim Moh area where they will start the trash picking from there while the rest of us started picking up the trash from the Durian Trail head. Another 2, AC and Osbert had earlier parked themselves at the Mandai end and will start at around 12 noon after the runners had u-turned.

To help us in our task, the organiser had at our request, kindly provided us with litter pickers. Thank goodness for them  otherwise I don't know how we were going to do our jobs. With these mean litter pickers, we need not bend down to pick up the trash, need not dirty our hands too much and most of all, they enabled us to reach the trash that were strewed among the bushes and in the drains. 
Jancy with one of her "catch"using the litter picker. Photo by Nicholas
At the start of the Durian trail head, we ran into a minor hiccup. We had no trash bag! The organiser had given us only 2 bags and these we had given to the 2 going towards Ghim Moh. We were asked to pick up more trash bags from the water point and we had wrongly assumed that like previous year there were be a water point at the Rifle Range/Durian Trail junction but there wasn't! So no choice, in the end we sacrifice one of our poncho to bag our first collection of trash!
Our first lot of trash - just from the Durian Trail
We emptied the lot into a trash bin before entering the Kampong Trail hoping it will not give way. Fortunately, the  bag held on and we soon met up with Terence and Voon who had already completed '"sweeping" the Green Corridor from Ghim Moh to Bukit Timah.
Terence and Voon with their loot:) They had already discarded one load of trash earlier!
Terence and Voon then bypass the Bukit Timah portion of the Green Corridor and went ahead to Mandai to meet up with AC and Osbert while we continued clearing all the way to Zheng Hua Park Connector.
Picking up trash along the pipeline trail
We rendezvoused at the Zheng Hua Park Connector at about 1 pm before making our way back to MacRitchie Reservoir - finally reaching the place just slightly after 5 pm. We had spent more than 9 hours on the trail and in the process collected about 8 bags of trash. Sadly, we had grossly underestimated the amount of trash we had to pick. I had thought runners who do trail running frequently would be more responsible and not litter but the number one items we picked up were gel tabs and gel packets. They were everywhere, on the trails, in the bushes, in the drains!
Photo by Nicholas
The next most common item was empty or partially filled plastic bottles and while some were obviously old discards, there were a number of brand new looking bottles strew all over including within the MacRitchie Reservoir area, very obviously dumped by the runners. There were also a couple of TNF route map, the TNF race booklet and a TNF towel. Of course, we also picked up all other trash including Styrofoam boxes, cups, plastic utensils. Other quirky items included a waist pouch, a condom packaging (found in the middle of the Beluakar Trail) - wonder what they were doing in the middle of the trail!; many many shoes soles, a nice looking water bottle and a Fuelbelt bottle! Terence and Voon also fished out 2 shoes from the mud pool at the Ghim Moh side of the Green Corridor!

All in, the 8 of us had a lot of fun. Our only wish could be that our job would be made redundant. If everybody; hikers, cyclist, runners, nature lover, photographers, who visit the trails play their part and bring out their trash, we would not need to do this and that will be what I consider a job well done!

We would like to thank the North Face Singapore for giving us the opportunity to do this social project, for the event tee and Pink Apple Singapore for coordinating this and sponsoring the litter pickers.


  1. kudos and job well done. NParks should thank you guys too !
    i think this post should be directed towards those nature lovers who raised the issue of TNF runners disturbing the wildlife on race day, and as a result, the 100K runners actually started a trail race on the road !

    1. I think that move was a good compromise and everybody should be happy with the outcome

  2. Thanks and great job to the trail sweepers!

  3. thanks for your help it is greatly appreciated

  4. I applaud all of you for spending 9 hours picking up 8 bags of trash along the race route. Your civic mindedness and generosity is inspirational and put the littering runners to shame. Thank you for keeping our nature areas clean.

    But I don't understand how these COMMERCIAL races work. Is it NOT the responsibility of the organiser of the North Face run to ensure that they keep the route clean? Why did they rely on all you good samaritans instead?

    1. It is quite normal for races to rely on volunteers. All those people serving drinks, road marshals etc are volunteers. There is no way for event organisers to get paid staff for such thing. Having said that, I believe the TNF organiser has plan to get an external contractor to clean up after the event but these will take some days to complete. Our group being runners are able to cover the whole 50km immediately during and after the run so that visitors to the trails the next day won't be left with the sights of all the trash

  5. I am a member of NSS and the coordinator for the Green Corridor Monitoring and Support Group who provide regular reports to the SLA.
    I have just walked the Green Corridor from Rail Mall to Tanglin Halt. The area between Bukit Timah Rail Station and Ghim Moh ( part of the course for North Face Run)
    is in excellent condition with no rubbish or discarded drink containers whatsoever.
    Indeed the only evidence the race took place is the increased foot prints opening the normal narrow single 300mm track path to approx 1 meter width where runners passed in opposite directions.
    This is only to be expected and no damage has been done to the flora each side of the track.
    All credit to the cleanup crew they have done a fine job.I hope that North Face gives the recognition you deserve.

    1. Thank you very much for your feedback. We tried our best but unfortunately there were certain places like along Rifle Range Road where we were not able to reach the trash left behind by workers.
      We hope our little effort can draw the members of NSS and trail runners closer and work together to enjoy the little bit of nature that we have left.