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Our CEO, Matthew Chapman on the Ultimate Challenge: Madagascar, Ultra-Marathon


On 31 August Matthew Chapman will take on the wilds of Madagascar, in a 250km ultra-marathon to be completed over seven days. He must be totally self-sufficient, carrying all of his food, medical provisions and supplies, with the only assistance provided being a rationed nine litres of water per day. As the race takes place in one of the most remote parts of the world, it will be a question of finishing the race at all costs, as there is no way to be evacuated out.

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

1. What first attracted you to ultra-marathons?

I first got attracted to running desert ultra-marathons when I met someone at the start line of a marathon, in Kuala Lumpur in 2004, who had just completed a 250km ultra-marathon. I thought to myself “that sounds like a challenge.” Four months later I was standing in the Atacama Desert in Chile about to take part in my first desert ultra-marathon. That was in 2004 and by 2006 I had become one of the first 15 people in the world to complete ultra-marathons in the deserts of Chile, China, Sahara and Antarctica. In 2009 I tackled another in Namibia. This year, five years later, I’ll saddle up for my sixth one, in Madagascar.

2. Which race has been your most challenging and why?

All of the races have been very challenging in different ways. I remember in my first event, in Chile, I developed the worst blisters. I could barely move at one point. I also got lost one night in a freezing canyon. I survived and managed to finish fifth out of 100 competitors. That inspired me to do my second 250km run, in the Gobi, where I recorded a fourth place finish. The toughest part of Gobi was the heat. We ran through the Turpan basin, the second lowest point in the world, and it was 52 degrees Celsius. In my third run, in the Sahara, the toughest part was the soft beach-like sand throughout all of the 250km. My quads burnt but somehow I finished it. In Antarctica, the fourth, I didn’t so much mind the cold, but the 24-hour daylight in the summer coupled with race-fatigue, was very mentally challenging. My fifth and most recent run, in Namibia, was tough as I had just started ChapmanCG at that stage, and it was difficult to get time to train properly. I think this, the sixth race in Madagascar, will really test me. I’m not as fit as I once was and I am incredibly busy, so I will need to organise myself to do the training, prepare my gear and release myself from my work schedule.

3. What has been the most rewarding experience that has come out of the ultra-marathons you have done?

I have learned a lot about myself. I am astonished at how elastic the body is. When we feel pain, it’s easy to stop. I learned that pain can go away, if you persist with it for long enough. I apply the same stamina it takes to running deserts to other parts of my life, always remembering that challenges and kinks in the road are meant to toughen us up. Some of my best friends are people I have come into contact through these races. I really get motivated when I see people pushing themselves to their limits. I have raced alongside people who have everything, from a career or financial perspective, but we still face the same blisters or the same fatigue. It’s a very levelling experience, and perhaps that’s why I do it.

4. How did you get into running and how long have you been running?

I first got into running at university. I have completed about 15 marathons over the last 15 years. I don’t call myself a runner, as that would imply I do it all the time and take it seriously. I don’t! But I enjoy keeping fit and generally run once a week and keep active by walking or hiking with my two dogs for 30 minutes a day, most days. I go to the gym 3-4 times a week and use a personal trainer. I also try to keep physically active when I’m travelling for business. I am fairly particular about my diet and prescribe to the 80-20 rule (perfect diet 80 per cent of the time and the other 20 per cent, I don’t worry too much). Most of all, with a busy life, I aspire to keep myself in the best physical shape possible.

5. For many people, a marathon is the ultimate running challenge – what made you want to go further and do ultra-marathons?

I am privileged to be fit and healthy. It’s important to make the best of your fitness, so I commit to goals that will stretch me physically. Mentally, I also enjoy the challenge of balancing these pursuits with my busy work schedule. Life isn’t all about work, and it’s important to carve out time for other things. I’m not saying everyone should try one of these challenges, but it works for me. The psychology of doing a marathon every day for six days and being self-sufficient really interests me, as does the field of athletes that these challenges attract. There are many successful entrepreneurs and people having mid-life crises, but there are also complete novices. I don’t know where I fit; however I enjoy being amongst it.

6. Training for these events is very time consuming – how do you manage to run your businesses and have time for training?

Training is always tricky. Everyone tends to have a perfect plan on how they want to train, but it never works out that way. My training tends to have many swings and roundabouts. Not least, I fly more than a million kilometres a year with more than half of each month away on business and personal travel. My motto with training is, “do what you can with what you have.” I tend to think practically and get 2-3 runs in during weekdays, and then commit fairly strictly to a longer weekend run. During the week my runs rarely last more than 60 minutes. On the weekend I gradually progress from one hour to up to eight or ten hours. I try to do the training with friends so I can chat away, otherwise it becomes monotonous. If I am running on my own, I enjoy listening to podcasts on self-improvement subjects.

7. What is your training programme like? Do you have a plan? Is it difficult to stick to it with all of your professional travel?

I give myself around five months to train for these events. For the first half of these five months I concentrate on building up my fitness and do as much off-road running as possible. Desert running isn’t on paved roads, so your feet need to get used to uneven surfaces. For the second half of the five months, I start to train with a 6kg backpack full of rice. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the only way to build strength in the legs and simulate what it will be like carrying all your gear for seven days. Training is as much about getting mentally prepared, as it is about getting physically prepared. I also pay close attention to using the equipment I will use in the events. This includes using the correct shoes, backpack, socks and even simulating the same diet that I may have in the desert. My personal trainer, Aaron Rolley at IFC Singapore, is currently working with me to tweak my gym program to build quick physical strength and maintain low body fat, whilst not comprising my performance.

8. What have you learned from your previous ultra-marathons that you will change or put into practice for this one?

It’s important to pace yourself. I use the same analogy with life. It’s easy to run to the last bar of your battery, to 100% maximum, only to blow up. I try to run to 80-90% and stay in equilibrium, almost feeling like I can run forever. What stops me eventually is aching joints or blisters. That said, I’m thankful to have no long-term injuries. I’ll be trying to mentally and physically get myself in balance during the race. I try to concentrate on catching competitors in front of me and staying ahead of the ones behind. I am quite competitive! I love beautiful landscapes and the ever-changing scenery, especially when doing these races by foot, keeps me fully engaged. I don’t ever need to listen to music or podcasts, and I don’t get bored.

9. What would be
your top tip for someone wanting to take on an ultra-marathon?

Just do it. Don’t build it up into a heroic dream. Everyone can do one of these. You just need to be organised and prepared to put in some disciplined training. I had a friend who had never even run a kilometre before, who decided to do Namibia with me. They had seven months to train up for the race. I oversaw this person’s training, and they stuck to the schedule. Seven months later, this friend finished 50th out of 200 in Namibia. That proved to me that anyone do an ultra-marathon. There will never be a good time to tackle one of these. I haven’t really got the time right now, but somehow I will manage.

10. I understand that you are running this race to raise funds for the Tommy Lim Initiative – can you tell us a bit about that?

Tommy Lim was one of my most gifted employees at The Chapman Consulting Group (, the global HR search firm I run. Tommy was born with muscular dystrophy and lived his life in a wheelchair. Regrettably he passed away this year. His passing touched everyone who knew him because despite being disabled, Tommy lived a very fulfilling life. He overcame the physical challenges that came to him every step of the way, and made the most of each day. In legacy of Tommy, I founded this initiative to provide funds and inspiration for disabled people to work and take up hobbies to allow them to have normal lives.

To follow Matthew’s blog:

About Racing the Planet

Racing the Planet is a Hong Kong based company that organises the ‘Last Desert Series,’ involving 250 kilometre multi-stage ultra-marathons in the driest, windiest, hottest and coldest deserts in the world. These include the Atacama Desert, Chile; Gobi Desert, China; Sahara Desert, Egypt; and Last Desert, Antarctica. Each year they host a ‘new’ desert and this year the 250km run will be held in Madagascar.

Each race in the series is organised in a similar fashion. There are six stages over seven days. The first four days involve a marathon each day of around 40km, with the fifth day involving an 80km stage, where competitors are given 36 hours to complete the 80K. The final day is a 10km run to the finish line to complete the total 250km. Competitors are totally self-sufficient in that they must carry all of their food, medical provisions and supplies. They are given a place in a tent and are rationed to nine litres of water a day. As the races are held in some of the most remote parts of the world, it becomes a question of finishing the race at all costs, as there is no way to be evacuated out.


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Matthew Chapman
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Matthew Chapman


Matthew (Matt) Chapman is the Founder of ChapmanCG.

He has also created the Thrive HR Exchange, a global community platform for people leaders and HR professionals to find and exchange inspiration, ideas and insights. Discover some of his interviews with HR leaders here.

Matt has a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting and Business Law from the University of New South Wales, Australia. He is a Singapore Citizen and divides his time between Asia Pacific, the Americas and EMEA.

Matt is a wellness, self-improvement and fitness addict. He has completed six desert, 250km ultra-marathons in Chile, China, Egypt, Antarctica, Namibia and Madagascar.

EA Registration Number: R1111550 Licence Number: 08S3543