Despite finishing four Ironman races, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Matthew Wong is still hungry for more.
Four-time Ironman finisher LTC Wong plans to check Ironman Malaysia off his list of to-do races.
He has swum, biked and run a total of 901km in four Ironman races. That is about the distance from Singapore to Hat Yai, a Thai city bordering Malaysia.
For the uninitiated, an Ironman race comprises a 2.4-mile (3.86km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25km) bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile (42.16km) run to make up a total distance of 140.6 miles (226.27km). They are raced in that order and without a break. It is a punishing full-day event.
Finish that course in the stipulated time of 17 hours and earn the right to be called an Ironman. Professional athletes usually finish the race in nine hours or less.
Recalling his first race in 2008, LTC Wong said: "I couldn't wake up the next day. And when I did, I couldn't quite walk. My wife had to help me along!" That particular race in Busselton, Western Australia, set off his fixation with endurance races.
Personal satisfaction: his clutch of medals from Ironman races.
Chasing the challenge
He clocked a 13-hour timing in that first foray. "The results were promising and I decided to continue with the sport," said the 42-year-old who was a competitive swimmer in school.
Over the next few years, he would race in Germany (2011), New Zealand (2012) and Spain (2015).
Finding time to train is a matter of fitting sessions into his daily routine. "When it's nearing a race, I usually ride to work (at SAFTI Military Institute) and make several loops at Mandai or Seletar before the workday starts."
In the evenings, the Wing Commander at the Officer Cadet School tries to squeeze in another 25km ride before heading home.
On weekends, he clocks longer rides. "I wake up early in the morning and by the time I'm done, the wife is up and family time starts," said LTC Wong with a laugh.
For endurance athletes, being in the military brings distinct advantages, said LTC Wong. "Being a soldier, fitness is already incorporated into our daily work. We do some sort of physical training every day, so I would say that soldiers have above-average fitness levels compared to others."
His day job is to turn soldiers fresh out of Basic Military Training into officers capable of leading men in Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units. This means spending close to half his time out in the field with the cadets.
"Enduring field conditions also builds the kind of physical toughness needed to outlast gruelling race conditions," he said.
LTC Wong battling the steep elevations at Ironman Spain.
Doing well in a race involves training to the demands of the particular event. For example, LTC Wong knew that the race in Lanzarote, Spain would take him through many climbs during the cycling leg.
So he sought out various inclines in Singapore to condition his body to endure the 2,500m climb expected during the bike course. "There are limitations, of course. In Singapore, the most we can climb is a 40m elevation on our bikes," noted LTC Wong. "The SAF teaches us to plan ahead and do all the research, then train for what we set out to do. In that sense, it's similar to (how I approach) training for Ironman."
Recalling his most gruelling race (Lanzarote, Spain), he said: "Winds averaged 40kmh. Most of the time, I was riding at an angle to prevent myself from being blown away."
The volcanic island of Lanzarote sits off the coast of the African Continent. Temperatures average 35 degrees Celsius, hitting the low 40s in the warmest months of July to September.
"In the open water, there are micro-organisms that can sting, and you can't even see where you're going," said LTC Wong.
"That race was just brutal and most of us were running on empty by the time we finished the bike ride."
He finished the race after 16 punishing hours.
LTC Wong chasing down the miles at Ironman Spain, held on the volcanic island of Lanzarote, in 2015.
When asked what drives him to continue taking part in Ironman races, he said: "Most of us (amateur participants) are just racing against ourselves, but there is a sense of achievement and satisfaction (when you finish) that can't be bought."
Come November, he will be chasing his fifth race at Ironman Malaysia, to be held in Langkawi.