Commando to represent S'pore in global ultramarathon

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02 Oct 2023 | PEOPLE

Commando to represent S'pore in global ultramarathon

Imagine running over 200km every week – it's all part of what this father-of-two is doing to train up for the "last man standing" race.

//Reporter & Producer Thrina Tham / Photographer Chua Soon Lye / Cameraman Deepan Nicholas

 

LTC Toh will be running in the Backyard Ultra Individual World Championships next month, against other winners of the 2022 competition.

It takes a certain determination and madness to run a "last man standing" ultramarathon. You keep going for hours with no end in sight, till you outlast the competition.

Then again, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Joshua Toh comes from the Special Operations Task Force (SOTF), where soldiers are pushed beyond their physical and mental limits.

Breaking national record

The 46-year-old commando broke the Singapore record in last year's Backyard Ultra World Team Championship – running around 340km in over 50 hours.

In this race, marathoners consecutively run 6.7km laps every hour; those who fail to start a lap at the next hour are eliminated. LTC Toh completed 51 loops, one lap ahead of the runner-up.

LTC Toh, then 45, emerging as the last man standing at last year's Backyard Ultra satellite race in Singapore. [Photo courtesy of LTC Toh]

"I was in disbelief. Deep down, I was hoping I would win but I knew that several of the runners were better than me based on past performances…so I was so happy and overwhelmed," he said.

The win qualified him for the Backyard Ultra Individual World Championships that will be held in the United States (US) this October.

LTC Toh preparing for a night run. He runs about 20 to 30km a day as part of his training.
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How to train for an ultramarathon

Unlike last year – when he started preparing three months before his race – LTC Toh began training for his October race at the start of 2023.

This allowed him to progressively build up training from 80km to150km of running a week, to now clocking about 200km a week.

He typically runs late at night after putting his kids to bed, but is gradually doing both day and night runs as race day draws near.

LTC Toh has also been doing more runs in MacRitchie, to prepare for the trail running conditions in US; and paying more attention to recovery and nutrition.

Side effects from his prolonged runs have included sore muscles, knee discomfort and his toe nails falling off.

Follow LTC Toh on one of his late-night training sessions here:

There were days when balancing training, work and family took a toll and he felt like he needed a break.

"Many times I was tempted to skip training because I was so exhausted from work. I would doze off on my sofa after dinner while watching Netflix with my kids," said the father of 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

"But, each time, I managed to convince myself to get out of the house to run, and I was glad I did, because I realised my body could still take it."

LTC Toh trained with and helmed roles in the Special Operations Task Force. [Photo courtesy of LTC Toh]

Never give up till the mission is done

LTC Toh credits his tenacity to his years of Commando training.

"Commandos operate in both urban and rural terrain… Very often you need to bash through thick and tough terrain that is physically demanding. Or you need to adopt various drills and repeated actions that add on to fatigue."

"This builds mental resilience…to never give up until your mission is accomplished."

For LTC Toh, Commando training has built up the mental resilience to always keep pushing, whether it be during military missions or ultramarathon races. [Photo: Army Facebook]

He enlisted in 1997 and signed on as a Commando officer the next year.

In his over 25-year-long career, LTC Toh has helmed roles in the SOTF, which comprises elite soldiers who manage counter-terrorism operations.

"On 11 Sep 2001, we saw the news of two planes crashing into World Trade Centre. It was at that point we were reminded that our training was to handle real threats such as this," he recalled.

LTC Toh (second from right) graduated among the top of his cohort from the US Civil Affairs Course in 2019.

He attended the prestigious US Navy Seal course in 2004 and the US Civil Affairs Course from 2018 to 2019, in which he emerged as the distinguished honour graduate for allied students.

Now, the Deputy Branch Head at Headquarters SOTF is responsible for supporting security operations at national-level events such as the National Day Parade.

One more round

On what has kept him going in this race despite the tough training, LTC Toh said that he was drawn to the challenge of pushing himself for "one more round".

"I like the idea of pushing myself, to see how far I can go mentally and physically. I will continue running as long as my legs can carry me and my body can sustain me."

He also thanked his family, colleagues and friends – including his fellow Commando buddies who are supporting him on his race journey.

"Their support has really kept me going on, especially on dark days."

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