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Final Interview Before Leaving for the Desert

This Sunday, 31 August, Matthew Chapman will begin a 250km ultra-marathon across the wilds of Madagascar, to be completed over seven days. In this self-sufficient race, Matt must carry all of his food, medical provisions and supplies, with the only assistance provided being a rationed nine litres of water per day. There is no easy evacuation route, so it is a question of finishing the race, no matter what.

Laura Cook, our Communications Manager at ChapmanCG interviews our CEO, Matthew Chapman.

How do you feel going into this race?

I’m very under-trained. I didn’t mean for it to be this way, but I just ran out of time. The four months between signing up and now have just gone so fast. Unfortunately I’ve had higher priority work and travel commitments that have zapped my energy. That said, I’ve been in the gym regularly four times a week and have managed one – maximum two – runs a week and some sprints. Let’s see.

What makes this race different from your previous five ultras?

When I did Atacama, Gobi, Sahara and Antarctica, I ran them to win! Well that wasn’t necessarily the case before I went into the desert, but it was certainly the case once I was out there! A competitive streak swung into action. These four I did between 2004-2006, and I was really in my prime. When I did my fifth one in 2009, I wasn’t as fit because my company had started and I was working long hours. Roll on 2014 and it’s time for Madagascar. I’m busier than ever, and my long distance fitness has dropped considerably. That said, I feel fitter and healthier than ever in my diet and my gym work. For Madagascar, one of my primary motivators is also to run to profile The Tommy Lim Initiative. This is a charity ChapmanCG has set up to considerably raise the profile of providing financial support for physically disabled Singaporeans in hobbies that improve their mental health. The charity is in memory of Tommy Lim, a former employee who passed away this year.

Has your training differed for this run from previous runs? If so, how?

I’ve done so little this time – comically little. I’ll need to rely on serious mental stamina. I think I have it, but time will tell. Usually I’d have clocked 70-100kms a week, with a lot of time using my 6kg backpack. I only pulled my backpack out one week ago, and it hurt when I walked 10km on Saturday. Doesn’t bode well!

What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about running? Particularly long distance running?

I love testing my limits. I’ve always been a glutton for punishment. I think pushing yourself to your limits makes the rest of your life seem easier. I deal with the daily stresses and ups/downs better after I have done things like the ultra-runs. I enjoy switching my mind off in the solitude through the long straights, vast plains or crossing deep canyons. Long distance running is all about leaving some petrol in your tank. You can’t go too hard too quick, or you’ll never make it to the finish. You need patience and the focus to be in equilibrium.

I know you have met with the other participants racing from Singapore. Is there a sense of camaraderie between all of you?

Without question. You all know you are a bit crazy and this immediately bonds you. Many people are high achievers and multi-taskers. I get such a kick out of meeting all the characters taking part. Some of my best friends can be tracked to these races, and they are people I admire deeply. This time from Singapore there are 12 competitors, I believe. I have met eight of them. Three of them have helped me immensely in the last week, as I have scrambled to get my equipment ready.

Do you have any superstitious rituals that you perform either before or during the run?

No, none. I just try to quiet my mind and enjoy the moment. The more organised you can be, the less stress in these things. This means pre-empting what might go wrong, but also not over-predicting things that you can’t control. The mind control, to retain positive thoughts and push away negative ones, is what I generally like practising in these races.

What motivates you to carry on during a race – particularly one as long as this one – when you begin to feel tired?

Fear of failure is what motivates me. I want to finish. That said, being a realist, there is every chance – being so under-trained – that I may not be able to do that this time, but I intend to give it my best shot. There is also another practical reason why I try not to give up in these things: there is no easy way out. I once saw someone being transported out of Gobi on a camel, and it looked so uncomfortable. There are no roads in these places, and it’s tricky to be evacuated.

You’ve got many hours of running approaching – what kinds of things do you think about when you are running?

I’m talking theoretically, as I haven’t actually trained much this time. But if I was being sensible and acting like I did for previous ultra’s, I’d say I tend to flick between thinking through problems/challenges I may be encountering, and also I flick between just concentrating on enjoying the environment. Running along listening to podcasts or blaring music just doesn’t seem to cut it for me. I miss out on part of the experience of just “being.”

What would be your top tip for someone about to run their first ultramarathon?

Don’t stress out about it. I meet too many panicky people who build it up to be a giant achievement. There’s no denying that it sounds hard core, but anyone can do one of these. You just have to WANT to do it. I’d say it’s great if you have done some running before, but it’s not essential. One of my close friends had never run a marathon when he did his first, and he finished strongly. I think most of all, get good advice. Listen to people who have done it before, and then fast-track using their tips. That’s what I did for my first one: thanks Philipp Mosimann!

Do you already have your next challenge in mind, after the Madagascar ultra-marathon?

I’m not getting caught up in planning more and more. I think this event is a tipping point for me. I want to test my limits and at the same time, enjoy the race – but I don’t want to plan the next thing and then the next. It’s been a demanding year, on many fronts, and I’m looking forward to smelling the roses more in 2015. I want to spend more time on activities like yoga and stretching. Fitness will always be part of my life though. Who knows – with this approach maybe the best things are yet to come!

How have you felt when you have crossed the finish in your previous ultra-marathons?

I’ve experienced possibly the greatest highs in my life when I’ve crossed the finish line. I distinctly remember each finish of the five ultra’s I have done. My first, Atacama, saw me having the worst blisters I have ever had (no doubt to be surpassed by those in Madagascar). I was just so happy to be off my feet. In my second race, the Gobi, I came close to winner and finished very strongly. I remember the hamburgers tasted delicious. In the Sahara, the finish line was in front of the pyramids, and that was breathtaking. My fourth race was in Antarctica, and I chased penguins to the finish line. I remember the post-race after party on the race boat was very special. In my most recent race, five years ago in Namibia, I shared the finish line with some of my closest life friends who came along to run with me. The camaraderie in Namibia, amongst the group really stood out.

As I write this I picture finishing Madagascar thinking, “You are very cheeky to have got to the end without training. Don’t do this to yourself again.”

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