Home singapore After running 480km in a race against the world's elite, Singapore ultramarathoner calls it mission accomplished

After running 480km in a race against the world's elite, Singapore ultramarathoner calls it mission accomplished

After running 480km in a race against the world's elite, Singapore ultramarathoner calls it mission accomplished
Mr Joshua Toh, 46, was Singapore’s representative in this year’s ultramarathon race Backyard Ultra in Tennessee, USA on Oct 21The Lieutenant Colonel from the SAF’s Special Operations Task Force shared his experience racing against other elite runners from all over the worldHe spoke about the challenges he faced racing in Tennessee compared to Singapore, in particular the terrain and the climateMr Toh also shared what runners could do to prepare to take part in such racesHe is set to participate in an upcoming three-day race in Hong Kong in January

By Jasmine Ong Published October 30, 2023 Updated October 30, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

SINGAPORE — Having broken the Singapore record for running around 340km in over 50 hours last year, 46-year-old Joshua Toh wanted to see how far he could really go when pit against the world’s best ultramarathoners.

He got his answer: About 480km, which is like running from Vivocity to Woodlands Checkpoint for 18 laps.

That was the distance he ran at the ultramarathon race Backyard Ultra in Tennessee, USA on Oct 21, to finish 22nd out of 75 runners.

For Mr Toh, it’s mission accomplished.

“I had my dream in mind, which is to outlast everybody. That was the big dream that I had,” said the Lieutenant Colonel from the Singapore Armed Forces’ Special Operations Task Force.

“So when the race started, I went through every loop, doing the same thing over and over again. And that was the thing that kept me going.”

Mr Toh was among 75 other national champions who qualified for a spot in the Backyard Ultra Individual World Championships, after beating 15 other teams of runners in last year’s Backyard Ultra championship in Singapore.

Under the competition’s rules, competitors must consecutively run 6.7km laps at the start of every hour. Those who fail to return before the hour is over, or choose not to start the next lap, are eliminated.

The race, which was held in a form of “satellite competition”, meant that each participating nation held their own race in their respective country, with all nations starting at the same time. That was where Mr Toh broke the Singapore record, where he ran 51 6.7km loops over three days.

In Tennessee, Mr Toh completed 72 loops, also over three days.

Prior to the start of the race, the commando told his crew of three, who are his colleagues and running friends, how he would like to be supported in order to achieve his goals. Besides helping to sustain him with the nutritional food he required, they also helped give him leg massages. 

When asked how he felt about his performance between this year and last year, Mr Toh told TODAY that it was a much better improvement from the previous year.

“Last year I did 51 loops and this year I finished with 72. That’s 21 loops more, so I will say I’m definitely very happy with the result,” he said.

Now that the race has concluded, Mr Toh feels a sense of relief that it is all over and that he can finally take a break.

“I felt like this is a very long journey that I have undertook. My training started from January 2023, so it’s been about a good 10-month long preparation. And now that the race is over, it feels like a mission complete and I can stand down and relax,” he said.

“Now that the race is over, I took a couple of days to catch up with my social media and WhatsApp messages. It’s been very heartwarming to see all the words of encouragement and cheers given to me by so many people.”


Sharing his thoughts on how it felt competing with the world’s elite runners, who were all champions from various participating countries, he said: “Based on the the standing of the leaderboard for the other runners, a good three quarter had more loops than me!”

One of Mr Toh’s challenges was the climate. He recounted extreme weather during the race where some days would get surprisingly hot and he would see people drop out of the competition because of heat exhaustion.

The nights would get very cold, too, with the temperature dropping to below 10 degrees Celsius.

But for Mr Toh, the biggest challenge was the terrain.

As compared to the flat, hard surface that he encountered in Singapore, in Tennessee it was an undulating terrain in a trail condition where he had to climb up slopes as part of his route.

“It means at all times you have to be very, very focused on looking at the trail because if you just lose a little bit of focus, you will trip and fall, and so many people tripped and fell in the race,” said Mr Toh.

He was one of the many who fell as well, rolling his ankle twice on the same leg.

“Luckily it didn’t result in a serious sprain and it wasn’t swollen, so I was able to walk it off after a couple of minutes,” he said.


Having competed over the past two years, what he enjoys the most about Backyard Ultra races is that it is also where he can discover his limits.

“Because in this race, you run until you can’t, or if you are so strong, then you end up being the last man standing. If you are not as strong, you basically run until either you give up or your legs cannot move anymore,” said Mr Toh.

“Ever since I learned about the format of this race, I fell in love with it. Somehow I enjoy it and I like to put myself to the test.”

On any advice that he can give budding runners who want to try racing in Backyard Ultra for the first time, Mr Toh shared that it is important to be driven.

“You will definitely run into a stage where your mental resolve is challenged, so you must know what inspires you and motivates you,” he said.

The commando also said that substantial and comprehensive training is important as runners must run constantly and frequently to condition their muscles to constant running.

“Nutrition is very important, too, because you can be the fittest you can be, but over the span of two or three days, if you never take in enough energy, your body’s just not going to function optimally and eventually, you will burn out or just crash,” he said.


Mr Toh is set to embark on his next running chapter in Hong Kong in January 2024, where he will be competing in a back-to-back trail race over three days.

The first day will see him compete in a 30km race followed by a 50km race on the second day, and rounding off with a 100km race on the last day.

Mr Toh said that he does not see himself stopping anytime soon and will continue to race for as long as his body can sustain him and his passion is still alive. 

“I mean, it may not be a big, epic race each time, but I’ll continue to race because running is my passion,” he said.