If you’re up for a thrilling adventure, then taking part in an ultramarathon might just be the perfect way to challenge yourself. While these extreme travel adventures are definitely not for the faint-hearted, one thing’s for sure – the feeling of crossing the finish line is priceless. It doesn’t hurt that you’ll get to visit some of the most unique destinations at the same time!

We speak to Mr Toh Poh Joo, an experienced marathon runner who shares with us his personal experiences and how to get into tip-top shape for one of the greatest travel adventures of your life. Mr Toh, Vice-President of Changi Airport Group’s Airport Operations Management Division, has taken part in several ultramarathons. In a bid to raise $50,000 for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, he took part in the 6633 Arctic Ultra in early 2016, where he walked a total of 566km in eight days, as temperatures reach an extreme low of minus 40 degrees Celsius. The 6633 Arctic Ultra was his second attempt to complete the Arctic race and not only did he complete it, he came in second out of 12 others who participated in the race. 

Two ultramarathon participants in the middle of their Arctic race

Mr Toh with his race companion pushes themselves to complete the 6633 Arctic Ultra race

Q: How early should one start training for an ultramarathon?

A: There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to kick-starting your preparations, but a general rule of thumb is to start training at least six months (or even earlier if possible!) before the ultramarathon begins. This will help in conditioning your body and getting to know your “hotspots” when it comes to developing blisters or injuries. It’s also good to slow down your workouts two weeks before the ultramarathon to harden your blisters and prevent any last minute injuries.

Q: How did you prepare for the ultramarathon in terms of physical training?

A:  The key to marathon training is to simulate the race conditions as much as possible. As ultramarathons typically cover an extremely long distance, I would begin my walks at 5am so as to cover a distance of 70km from Upper Bukit Timah to Changi Village during the weekends. Similarly, in order to prepare for a desert marathon, I would train during noontime when it’s the hottest time of the day. Also, once you’ve gotten the hang of your exercise regime, try mixing it up by gradually building up your workouts such as increasing the distance covered and striving to improve your timings.

Q: What are three essential items that you always bring along?

A: Equipping yourself with the right gear is critical when participating in an ultramarathon. One item that I always bring along is a good pair of sunglasses to protect my eyes from the harsh UV rays or any foreign particles in the atmosphere. Also, keeping yourself hydrated is very important during the race. As such, I always bring a camel bag to ensure that I consume at least three-litres of water per day. The last item that I carry with me is a blister kit containing tape, needles and a disinfectant solution to address newly formed blisters.

An example of a pair of sunglasses, blister kit and camel bag

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Q: How do you keep yourself motivated during the marathon?

A: Taking part in an ultramarathon can be both an adrenaline-pumping yet mentally and physically exhausting task. One way in which I keep myself going is to set short-term goals. For example, I’ll spot a tree from afar and aim to cover the entire distance until I finally reach the tree; before taking a short break and repeating this process again. This helps to keep me focused and motivated during the race.

In addition, I would keep my mind occupied by thinking about a certain topic ranging from recipes to what goals I would like to achieve in the next year. This helps in taking away the monotony of running and acts as a good distraction.

Q: What other advice do you have for someone who is attempting an ultramarathon for the very first time?

A: It’s always good to listen to your body when you’re starting to feel tired during the race and take breaks when necessary. Remember, slow and steady wins the race!

Also, instead of diving straight into the marathon upon landing at the destination, do make plans to arrive ahead of time so that you can acclimatize yourself to the extreme weather conditions. This is a good way to combat any symptoms of jet lag before the actual race begins as well.

Mr Toh at the finishing line of his Arctic race

Mr Toh at the finishing line of the 6633 Ultra race where he came in second

Now that you’ve gotten some essential tips to run a good race, you’re all set for one of the most epic experiences of your life. Good luck!