Fit And Fab

Enthralling to run in the Sahara

Chin Wei Chong
Chin Wei ChongPHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Marketing director Chin Wei Chong tells Joyce Teo about the pain and joy of ultra races

Q What is your secret to looking fabulous?

A Trail running helps. It declutters the mind and I always feel refreshed, at peace and rejuvenated after a long run amid greenery.

Q At what age did you start exercising regularly?

A I started when I was 15 as I was hooked on basketball. Sometimes my friends and I would play for up to 10 hours a day.

Q Has there ever been a time when you were not fit and fab?

A Yes, when I was 32 years old. My first child was just born and I had started a new job. I worked long hours and kept late nights. At my heaviest, I was around 78kg.

Q What made you decide to compete in ultra races?

A In 2014, I completed the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, touted as the toughest footrace on earth.

The mystic and intrigue of conquering a multi-stage race under extreme conditions in the largest desert in the world was alluring.

My race partner and I raised $30,000 for SOSD, a Singapore- based body dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming stray and abandoned dogs.

Before the Marathon des Sables, I mostly participated in road races in Singapore, with the longest being the Sundown 100km in 2013.

After the Marathon des Sables, I have since climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, completed the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji in Japan, TransLantau Ultra Trail in Hong Kong and the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in Europe. 

Q You almost did not take part in the Marathon des Sables in 2014. What happened?

A I was not aware I had an irregular heartbeat till I saw a doctor to get the endorsement to participate in that race.

  • Bio Box

  • CHIN WEI CHONG

    Age: 38

    Height: 1.79m

    Weight: 74kg

    When marketing and communications director Chin Wei Chong set out to complete the toughest foot race on earth - the Marathon des Sables - for charity, he had expected to do such a gruelling event only once. The race is held in the Sahara Desert. Competitors run a marathon for six consecutive days, carrying a backpack of food and survival gear weighing between 6.5kg and 15kg. "We raised $30,000 for SOSD," he said.

    He went on to complete three other ultra races, among them the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc last month, taking 25 hours to finish a 101km route with an elevation gain of around 6,100m. He and his homemaker wife

    Ying Ying have two sons, aged six and four.

He noticed the irregular beats and suggested that I do further tests. After undergoing 24-hour ECG checks and treadmill tests, I was found to be healthy, but with a low level of heart arrhythmia.

The doctors here were cautious and refused to endorse my participation in such races.

I had been fit and healthy and was devastated by the news.

Thankfully, I sought a second opinion from the race organisers' doctors in France and they gave me the green light to join the race. They found that my arrhythmia - I had an extra heartbeat - was harmless.

Of course, if the doctors had said no, I would not have competed. I have young children and wouldn't risk my life.

Since then, I have gone to get my heart checked every year.

Q What have you learnt from taking part in ultra races?

A To never give up on your dreams and that hard work, positivity and perseverance can make the seemingly impossible dream an achievable goal.

Q How important is it for you to keep up with your fitness routine?

A I don't take health for granted, considering that I had a health scare in 2014. Keeping fit helps me clear the mind and also makes me feel alive, so it is absolutely important for me.

In between my day job and spending time with my family, I always try to squeeze in time to exercise.

Q What is your diet like?

A I eat everything. I used to love red meat but I try to avoid it now.

My diet is now focused more on fish and seafood. The good thing about running intensively is that it helps to keep my weight in check.

Q What are your indulgences?

A I have a sweet tooth. I especially love chocolates.

Q How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

A When I am not working or running, I spend most of my time with my wife and sons. We hang out at her parents' home, go on short holiday breaks or to places of interest in Singapore.

Of late, I've been taking my family for walks at Bukit Timah, the Green Corridor and the Marang Trail at Mount Faber. My two boys seem to enjoy nature and trekking too.

Q What are the three most important things in your life?

A Family, career and running.

Q What's your favourite part of your body?

A I have strengthened my calf muscles significantly since I started running ultra races in 2014.

The least favourite would be my toes. I have runner's toes, with nails that are perpetually black and bruised.

Q What are your must-dos before and after a race?

A I always put on my visor and sunglasses before a long run.

On the advice of my more experienced runner friends, I've started stretching again after every exercise session.

Q What is the most extreme thing you have done in the name of fitness or diet?

A I'm pretty even-keeled when it comes to maintaining fitness and a proper diet. I believe in the sustainability of a pragmatic fitness routine.

Having said that, the craziest thing I've ever done was to train for five months with a progressively heavier weighted pack for 10 straight hours on weekends to prepare for the Marathon des Sables. I started with a 3kg pack and progressed to an 8kg pack.

Q How has your active lifestyle influenced your family and friends?

A The best thing about ultra- running is that it is a tight-knit community of runners who are all friendly and supportive of each other's running endeavours. Many strangers on the trails have become good friends.

Q How extensive is your collection of sports-related paraphernalia?

A I have a cupboard full of race gear, including shoes, running packs, bottles, nutrition supplies, shades, compression wear and poles.

I've collected numerous medals from races over the years, but my most prized possession is the finisher medal for the Marathon des Sables. 

Q Would you go for plastic surgery?

A No, I am happy with what I have.

Q Do you think you're sexy?

A I'm just healthy. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Enthralling to run in the Sahara'. Print Edition | Subscribe