Natalie Dau Talks her 1000km World Record Run from Thailand to Singapore

Run

, by Fabienne Lang

Photography courtesy of Natalie Dau

Athlete Natalie Dau ran 1,000km (621 miles) from Thailand to Singapore over the course of 12 days, gaining a world record. She shares what drove her to embark on ‘Project 1000’, how it went, and what’s next on her running agenda.

It’s a sweltering May morning on a skinny spit of tarmac along a traffic-laden freeway in eastern Malaysia. The hazy sun bakes the road, sending hot waves of heat intermingled with car and truck fumes into the sticky, barely breathable air. Sandwiched between the adjacent overflowing jungle and this thundering road, a slender woman can be seen jogging beside a bicycle and a white van. Drops of her sweat leave a Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail behind her on the asphalt.

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That woman is Natalie Dau, the 52-year-old Australian who was awarded a Guinness World Record for her 621-mile / 1,000-kilometer run from Thailand to Singapore in 12 days. And to think it all started in October 2023 with a casual “I think I might run from Thailand to Singapore” comment to her husband.

Fast forward eight months since her fateful remark to May 25, 2024, and Natalie found herself at kilometer 1 of 1,000 in Hat Yai in Thailand. She was ready to embark on her world record ultra-run alongside five teammates, including a van driver, a videographer, two photographers, and a support cyclist. Her goal was to reach Singapore, the city she has called home for the past 21 years, by June 5 to coincide with Global Running Day.

Photography courtesy of Natalie Dau

Dubbed ‘Project 1000,’ Natalie’s 1,000km ultra required her to run at least 52 miles / 84km a day - the equivalent of two marathons - to finish within 12 days.

Beyond the daunting mileage, she faced blistering heat (102°F/39°C), suffocating Southeast Asian humidity, and barely four hours of sleep per night. However, the hazy heat and energy-zapping humidity did not melt Natalie’s resolve – though her running shoes fared less well in the high temperatures. “There was no shade, no rain, and my shoes were sticking to the road. I just thought ‘Oh my God, I can’t lift my feet off the road’,” she recalls. Luckily, she had four pairs of running shoes to filter through.

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To cope with the conditions, the team adjusted its strategy on Day 3, opting for a short three-hour sleep between 8:30pm and 11:30pm, and hitting the pavement at 12:30am, hoping to take advantage of the cooler nighttime hours.

Photography courtesy of Natalie Dau

Like any multi-day ultra-endurance event, however, challenges come in many forms, and the climate is only one of them. The toughest test Natalie faced on her journey was a hip injury right on Day 1, when running with a friend. “We ran that first marathon way too fast, caught up in the excitement. By the second marathon, my hip gave way. I ended up running fewer kilometers and thought, ‘I’m only on Day 1. How embarrassing. What if I have to give up?’ I literally couldn’t walk.” With the help of some anti-inflammatory medication, a hot compress, and a massage, she luckily managed to continue.

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Just two days later, on Day 3, Natalie developed a severe urinary tract infection that lasted seven days. Even though she was peeing blood and had to duck into the bushes every few kilometers – adding even more mileage to her 1000km – she soldiered on, taking antibiotics as she ran. These early challenges were a blessing in disguise, as they only reinforced her determination: “After Day 1, getting through the hip issue, I never doubted I would finish,” she chimes.

There was no shade, no rain, and my shoes were sticking to the road. I just thought ‘Oh my God, I can’t lift my feet off the road’,

Natalie’s run wasn’t only filled with toilet breaks, sweat drops, aching hips, and melting shoes, it was also full of ear-to-ear smiles and heart-warming exchanges. Across local communities in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, people rushed to bring her water on the roadside or give a friendly wave of support. She visited Hat Yai University and several local schools, providing scholarships, sharing her experiences, and encouraging children to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams.

Photography courtesy of Natalie Dau

“The run was amazing but it was also a great platform for other things,” Natalie explains. While running two marathons a day, she still managed to fit in visiting schools. The school visits along the route and in Singapore were an especially important part of her run. “It was quite memorable thinking that, as someone older, you can have an impact on younger people,” she shares.

As the finish line crept into focus, Natalie felt like Forrest Gump. “We started at the top of the island, and the group of runners joining us kept growing. By the end, there were about 800 people running with us. It was insane,” she says smiling.

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Crossing the finish line after running 621 miles / 1000km, Natalie faced a mix of relief, elation, and disbelief. She had experienced the emotional rollercoaster typical of multi-day ultra-events throughout her journey but, in the end, celebrated with joy despite the blur of exhaustion and a multitude of faces in the crowd.

Although she was awarded the Guinness World Record for the ‘Fastest Crossing of Peninsular Malaysia on Foot’ and the Singapore Record for the ‘Fastest 1000 km Thailand-Singapore Ultramarathon,’ Natalie’s ‘Project 1000’ was always about giving back.

Natalie is raising funds to support underprivileged women and girls, highlighting the gender gap in physical activity and the importance of movement for mental health and overall wellbeing. “My passion is helping girls and women, empowering them to have access to sport, and equal opportunity, and embracing body image across cultures.” Funds raised through the project are contributed to GRLS, a global charity under Women Win, which works to elevate women and girls around the world through sport and exercise.

Photography courtesy of Natalie Dau

At 52, Natalie hopes her example will inspire others to feel confident, dream bigger, and resist self-limiting beliefs and societal expectations. “No matter what your goal is, it doesn’t have to be running or sport;” she shares, “everyone should feel that they can do something and believe in themselves.”

And she’s not stopping there. “We’re planning to do it again. It’ll most likely be in April next year and in the Philippines,” she says grinning.