Ultra Runner Jeri Chua: Swapping high heels for running shoes

It is the 2015 Oxfam TrailWalker. The beautifully scenic and dynamic Hong Kong coastal mountains stretch out, never-ending, for miles galore.

But in the middle of the trails there were four menacing, light-grey sharks with white bellies and round black eyes, towering more than three feet above an average person, yet slowly but skilfully manoeuvring up and down the mountains, easily overtaking shocked, stunned runners.

Jeri and gang in their shark suits.

These weren’t real sharks though. They were runners in costume. Avid Singaporean trail runner Jeri Chua, 42, was one.

Jeri, the Director of WOOP Singapore and the owner of the Red Dot Running Company said playfully, a laugh escaping her lips, “It started as a joke. We were running as a team, so we thought we should have team colours or something cohesive. It went from everyone having blue tees to, let’s run in shark suits.”

Jeri was not always into trail running

Jeri’s eyes sparkle and she chuckles with enthusiasm. She adds, “It was good fun, although it did get a little warm. It’s three-feet above head-height with one small zip behind, so was a far cry from what I thought would be a shark fin strapped to my head! Going to the bathroom took planning; its hard to turn round in a port-a-loo with a three-feet shark head on!”

The “sharks” easily breezed past other runners.

The petite, pixie-faced lady with short, black hair may be in her element now, but Jeri had not always been involved with trail running.

Covered Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks

In the mid 2000s, Jeri, then nervous and young, answered her sister’s desperate pleas and agreed to be a fashion photographer for her sister, to cover Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks.

When she was handed a DSLR camera, panic rose within Jeri and she started sweating with fear, for she had never touched a DSLR. But a petrified Jeri forced herself to quash her fears.

Added Jeri, “It was a frenzied YouTube test of working out what all the buttons meant and praying hard what I saw in the viewfinder was what I’d captured. I didn’t have a Full Auto function to fall back on. It was nail-biting.” But the magazine was happy with her work.

Jeri used to be a fashion photographer and editor.

Yes, Jeri used to be a fashion photographer and editor, before venturing into trail running full-time – a complete contrast.

Champagne lunches, luxury outfits and male models

In fashion, Jeri’s life consisted of champagne lunches, selecting outfits to shoot from luxury brands, or casting male models for fashion spreads. But there were tight deadlines to meet and pressure from clients.

Initially, Jeri enjoyed it thoroughly and her eyes twinkled as she reflected back on the good times.

But after eight years, the pressure took its toll.

In 2013, Jeri, an overworked and exhausted fashion editor for Robb Report fashion magazine sits at her office desk, staring at the mountains of work and emails piling up.

In fashion, Jeri’s life consisted of champagne lunches, selecting outfits to shoot from luxury brands, or casting male models for fashion spreads.

Black eye bags lined her face and she’s more hagged than ever, from the long hours at her job: She’s working 21-hour days, with barely any sleep – navigating from one show to another during Fashion Week in high heels and fancy designer clothes, or travelling and spending weeks at countries like Vietnam for events, with no personal time.

Said Jeri, “It hurt my running and my novelty for fashion wore thin. I drew the line when I had to cancel major races for work.”

Quit her fashion job and moved to Hong Kong

Jeri’s passion for fashion drew thin when she had to cancel races for work.

So Jeri quit and moved to Hong Kong, to focus on a passion she’d discovered in 2009: trail running. Then based in the UK, Jeri joined a local running club to get fit. Said Jeri, “They introduced me to trail ultras. I did my first ultra that year.”

That was The Classic Quarter, Cornwall, a 45mile long race along the Cornish coast path from Lizard to Land’s End. Packed with steep climbs and descents, the terrain is challenging but the scenery beautiful and rewarding.

Jeri, then inexperienced, was eager to go, like a kid in a candy store. Her eyes sparkled as she reflected how she was awed by the “amazing” weather, perfect scenery, and blown away by the lively atmosphere, together with the sheer excitement of running her first ultra.

Jeri is now in her element when she runs in ultra races.

Her first 30miles was fun, taking in the beautiful sights and sounds, and breezing past runners.

But then her quads blew up. Jeri grimaced as she recalled the pain and suffering during the final 12miles. She could barely run and every step felt like she was walking on knife blades. The amount of pain hurt like hell and she contemplated giving up, but Jeri’s mind was stronger.

Hooked to ultra running

She finished the ultra but couldn’t walk for three days afterwards. But she was hooked. And in Hong Kong, her passion for trail ultras lead to starting her own business, beginning with selling Tailwind, a nutritional supplement she believes in. Today, back in Singapore, Jeri has her own sports company, selling Tailwind and other sports gear.

Jeri has never been happier than she is nowadays, whenever she’s out in the trails.

She added, “I have a cupboard full of high heels I don’t wear anymore and lots of designer bags and shoes that may never see the light of day. I live in sports wear. I have a real passion for what I do today. It excites me, no matter how much work or little sleep I get. I am passionate about growing my business and I have lots of ideas I want to put into play.”

Thanks Jeri Chua for the images used in this post.

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