Arts & Culture

The Desert Beckons – Racing across the Sahara for Singapore’s Strays

 

Deemed to be the “toughest footrace on Earth,” the Marathon des Sables (MdS) is held in Morocco every year with more than 700 applicants yearly. Over a course of six days, participants cover about 250km across dunes and mountains while battling sandstorms, not withstanding over 50 degree Celsius temperatures. All that along with heavy bag packs of necessities.

Even in the face of everything this race throws at them, Chin Wei Chong, 36 and Ian Lye, 34 are unfazed by all this and are gearing up for the MDS come 4 April 2014. More than just completing a journey for personal satisfaction, Chin and Lye want to give back to a community close to their heart – the Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD) shelter, an animal welfare group that focuses on rescuing and rehoming the strays of Singapore. The duo hopes to raise $100,000 which will go towards the cause’s activities. “When we started researching on MdS, we came across many stories of people who have run similar events while raising money for charity. It then occurred to us it would be more meaningful to do the same for a worthy cause.The Desert Beckons Racing Across The Sahara For Singapores Strays 5

The double act have been training for ultra-marathons since early 2013 and are always excited to finish a distance that spans more than 42km. “I have run countless races and marathons since 2000,” said Chin who is a marketing communications director at First Advantage. The avid adventurer has backpacked across the Middle East and scaled the many mountains in the region. “Upon completing my 12th marathon last year, I contemplated ultra marathons and adventure races due to my passion for running and admiration for Ray Zahab, an inspirational runner,” he adds.

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Research manager at Thomson Reuters, Lye on the other hand attributed his yearning for the upcoming MdS race to feeling jaded over participating in the same running events over the years, “I’ve always sought to challenge my mental and physical limits, so what better way to do so than the take on the legendary Marathon des Sables?”

MEN’S FOLIO: WHAT IS THE MESSAGE YOU WANT TO SEND THROUGH PARTICPATING IN THE MARATHON DES SABLES (MDS)?

CHIN WEI CHONG: I have two young boys; aged three and one who I hope through this experience, can be inspired to achieve good things in life. With determination, passion and hard work, the sky is the limit for my sons. Especially when the future looks so bright for them; I hope they will also have the compassion to give back to the less fortunate, be kind to animals and be responsible citizens.

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IAN LYE: Besides raising funds for SOSD, I hope that my participation in the MdS can be used as a platform to help raise greater awareness of the plight of strays in Singapore and the work the shelter does in this area. With their plights often overlooked, street dogs often lead very harsh and miserable lives, often suffering due to the actions of humans. Hopefully, this message we are sending will change the attitudes of Singaporeans towards these strays, eventually leading to an integration and wider acceptance of mixed breeds in our society.

 

WHY SAVE OUR STREET DOGS (SOSD)?

CHIN WEI CHONG: I feel they are a worthy charity where in some ways, similar to our upcoming desert race. SOSD’s team are taking the path less travelled by saving the many strays – a cause which not many are brave enough to step up to.

IAN LYE: I currently own three dogs, while I had many other pets when I was growing up. Animal welfare causes have always resonated within me and the work SOSD does is a deeply personal one; I adopted one of my first canines from the shelter in December 2011 and named him Christmas (he was rescued on Christmas Day in the Punggol area). The work this animal welfare organisation does is admirable, but the struggle for resources necessary to do it is a constant uphill one. By raising funds, I can contribute towards their dream of building a new shelter for their dogs when the current lease expires soon.

The Desert Beckons Racing Across The Sahara For Singapores Strays

WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART LEADING UP TO THE RACE?

CHIN WEI CHONG: It is not the hours spent running under the sun or the numerous hull repeats for me, but a heart murmur which I was diagnosed with during a routine medical check- up last year. Initially, the doctors here refused to sign off my participation in ultra-races though after undergoing numerous tests and consultations with French doctors and the organisers of the MdS, I was given the all-clear

IAN LYE: Physically, it had to be adjusting to running with a backpack that weigh between seven to 10 kg. All that while running on uneven terrain conditions during the hottest part of the day. On the other hand, I had to juggle work commitments and my studies where I am a part-time Master’s student at the Nanyang Technological University along with training (for the MdS). I do feel overstretched at times, but good time management and discipline have been critical to ensure I stay on track.

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OF THE MANY DESERTS, WHY THE SAHARA?

CHIN WEI CHONG: Occupying one-third of Africa, it is a seemingly never-ending path of sand. However, the intrigue of conquering a multi-stage race under extreme conditions is alluring. More some I have viewed many videos of runners racing in the Sahara, further igniting my interest. Choosing MDS was simple – it’s the toughest. We don’t know whether we are ever going to complete in another multi-stage 250km race, but if we are going to do it, why not the most difficult?

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IAN LYE: I first visited the Sahara in 2005, where I spent two nights camping out on the dunes. Ever since then, the desert has held a certain mystique to me and I have been raring to go back again. Also, I caught the documentary, “Running the Sahara” which inspired me to contemplate the possibility of running in that desert one day. My return to this region is thus a culmination of these dreams of mine.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FORSEE DURING THE RACE?

CHIN WEI CHONG: Huge heat blisters and dehydration aside, the mental aspect would be huge. Under such temperatures for hours on end, along with a heavy backpack while navigating the dunes, I would think at certain points, there will be temptations to break down and give up. In fact, a fellow runner whom we spoke to told us that in her darkest moments, she drew strength thinking about the charity she was helping, allowing her to move on, step by step. As such, I am abiding by this, thinking of the stray dogs we would save just by completing this race.

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IAN LYE: Just listing down all the challenges we have mentioned above is daunting enough. But what worries me most is the prospect of developing heat stroke, dehydration and blisters that might force me to drop out of the race. Seeing pictures of raw, bloody feet is enough to make one’s stomach turn. Mentally, it will be tough as waking up every day to run long distances as your body progressively breaks down, letting fatigue and pain take its toll can make anyone quit. But I know that I am chasing something bigger than my own dreams and that I am running for a cause that is personal to me. I hope it will be a source of strength that I’ll draw from to help me cross that finish line.

To support their cause, in this meaningful event, do visit www.geofundit.com/sosd to donate generously.

    

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