My Bag

Local ultra-runner Jeri Chua ran 400km in the Gobi desert

Former physical education teacher Jeri Chua says taking part in ultramarathons teaches her more about herself

Blistered lips from sunburn, getting lost amid sand dunes and losing almost 10 per cent of her body weight were some of the challenges ultrarunner Jeri Chua had to face during a race in the Gobi desert last year.

The 400km trail is the longest race that the 41-year-old Singaporean has completed since she started ultrarunning in 2010. The self-navigated race took her more than 130 hours - almost six days.

She is also the first Singaporean woman to take part in the Ultra Trail Gobi Race.

"One night, it was close to -13 deg C and I walked with my sleeping bag wrapped around me for warmth," recalls the tanned bachelorette.

"My shoes had holes in the sides from going through rough terrain and, when we got to the sand dunes, they completely filled up with sand."


Jeri Chua is the first Singaporean
woman to take part in the Ultra Trail Gobi Race.ST PHOTOS: LIM SIN THAI

But while these lengthy races are daunting, the challenge motivates her. An ultramarathon is a foot race that is longer than the traditional marathon distance of 42.195km.

"Every race, there is a point where I think 'Why am I doing this? I'm never signing up for another race again,' " Ms Chua says.

"But you put one foot in front of the other and, before you know it, you reach the end and it is such an incredible feeling of achievement."

She takes part in six to eight ultramarathons a year, depending on the length of the races.

The former physical education teacher has always been athletic. In 1997, she became the first Singaporean to qualify for the prestigious Ironman race in Kona, Hawaii. The race comprises a 3.86km swim, a 180.25km bicycle ride and a 42.2km run.

A year later, she moved to the United Kingdom to pursue a masters degree in exercise and nutrition science. She continued working there after her studies, taking jobs in management and fashion retail.

Although she kept running, she stopped cycling and swimming due to the cold weather. In 2009, she joined a running club in the UK and its members introduced her to trail running and ultramarathons.

"When I first heard about it, I thought it was crazy. But after I tried my first ultramarathon - which was 65km - I was hooked. It was incredible."

This year, she became a brand ambassador for American sports shoe label Hoka One One, which launched in Singapore in July. She has been wearing the label's shoes for the past three years.

  • ON HER BAG

  • I like that Fjallraven bags are durable and functional, but still look good. I carry my laptop around a lot and this is the perfect size for it.

    I can carry it two ways because the bag can be converted from a tote to a backpack.

Ms Chua, who is based in Singapore, is the director of Woop, which she started in 2014. The company distributes sports nutrition and niche sports products such as American product Tailwind Nutrition, a powdered drink that runners can take for energy while running.

Though she travels overseas weekly to meet suppliers and distributors, Ms Chua still fits training into her schedule.

"Because I work for myself, I can manage my time. My phone is literally glued to me and I have been known to respond to work messages on the trail if there's a need."

Her love of the sport has not only become part of her job, but it also dominates her free time. She is reading a book about Japan's running culture, The Way Of The Runner, by Adharanand Finn.

On why she takes on ultramarathons, she says the challenge of not knowing if she can complete the trail keeps her going back for more.

"Ultramarathons take you to places that everyday life won't take you. They take you to depths and heights that you won't experience otherwise.

"They give you much more insight into who you are and what you can handle."


Things in her bag
 

BIMBA Y LOLA WALLET

My friend gave this to me and I love that it is compact and has a quirky print. It represents how I feel on the inside.

SKIN AQUA SUNBLOCK

This spray-on sunblock is light and dries with a powder finish. It is easy to carry around for when I need to touch up while running.

THE WAY OF THE RUNNER BY ADHARANAND FINN

I prefer reading physical books to electronic ones. I enjoy flipping the pages and dog-earring them to indicate where I stopped reading. I just took part in a race in Japan, so when I saw this book about the country's running culture, I had to read it.

SNACKS

I always have snacks, such as nuts and granola bars, with me . I need to eat every two hours. They give me a boost of healthy energy and include natural ingredients, such as chia seeds, which keep me full for longer.

WATER BOTTLE

It is a soft flask, so I can collapse it when it is empty. Every time I buy plastic bottled water, I feel guilty - this is a much more environmentally friendly option.

SUNGLASSES FROM ALPINAMENTE

They come in an Asian fit, which means they will not slip down the bridge of your nose or hit the top of your cheeks. I wear them when I run. They always stay on and the lenses are sweat-repellent.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'Hooked on going the distance'. Print Edition | Subscribe