WOOT’s Hong Kong sisters joined us last weekend for our 2ND Annual “Suck It Up Princess” Jungle Relay (SIUP). Kirinya Khamsone gives us the rundown report.
We travelled from Lantau Island, Hong Kong to Okinawa last weekend for this fabulous race hosted by Women Out On Trails™ and noteOkinawa Inc. We are three friends, three mothers, one time neighbours who regularly escape together to the hills around South Lantau for fitness and camaraderie. Rhea Nee, a long term Lantau Island and Hong Kong resident originally from the Philippines; Noi Derkash from Colorado of Lao heritage who has lived in China/Hong Kong for the past 7 years; and me, Kirinya, a recent arrival to Hong Kong from Australia, also coincidentally of Lao (and Australian) heritage.
Rhea and Noi have a number of years of trail running experience and short course trail races under their belt. I’ve never been a runner, and other than participating in social netball competitions (which Rhea tells me with my Australian accent sounds like ‘nipple’!) am not particularly sporty. So initially I tagged along to make friends. Hiking was an escape and therapy and we chatted and laughed our way along the local trails. But after a period of time I’d have to admit to being hooked to the physical challenge and freedom that trails offer.
Rhea had the inspiration for the trip, seeing the Jungle Relay event online through her WOOT contacts and it didn’t take long for Noi and I to be inspired to join. The relay race would comprise 7 sections, 2 individual components each and a section running together as a team. A total of about 24 km / 8 km each with elevation gain of about 610 metres, through the jungle with highly technical elements including climbing with ropes and running through a rocky stream. We were intrigued. The rope climbing would be novel to us and the 610 metre elevation gain over a relatively short distance sounded pretty tough. But, in some ways, the details didn’t matter as we were already starting to dream of sushi and Sakura.
We arrived the Thursday before the race and got ourselves organized into a great AirBnB located in Chatan, Okinawa. We took a drive to Ishikawa on the Friday. On our approach, Ishikawa Mountain appeared surprisingly gentle and friendly in contrast to the looming mountains on Lantau. A lovely pink Sakura bloom even greeted us on our arrival at the carpark. The trails were truly enchanting, mostly quite narrow with green canopy overhead. Magnificent tree ferns, jungle foliage and rocky creeks in the lower parts, opening up to subtropical forest and breezy bamboo enclaves towards the peak. We quickly began to appreciate the challenges that lay beneath: lots of log stairs, slippery clay tracks with narrow footholds, steep embankments requiring rope climbing and lots of exposed tree roots. Ishikawa was full of surprises.
We enjoyed a bit of nourishment and pampering for the rest of the day: hot bowls of ramen, haircuts and a spot of souvenir shopping, before retreating back to our accommodation for sleep ahead of the race.
The race turned out to be the perfect combination of physical challenge, fun and friendship. There was a relaxed, upbeat feeling amongst the competitors and organizers on our arrival at the staging area. We were warmly welcomed as outsiders to the Okinawa WOOT family. The first runners headed out at 7am with lots of encouragement from waiting team members and other competitors and this warm encouragement continued each time a runner returned during the next few hours.
Out on the trail, the race was cleverly staged to avoid any crowding so that on individual legs it felt like a solo challenge, although the knowledge of team members waiting your return spurred you on. As a first timer to a trail race, the course definitely had me questioning my abilities in parts but the short length of each leg meant it wasn’t overwhelming.
It was nice to have a team running component, during which Rhea, Noi and I were soon laughing our way along as usual, Rhea even serenading us with Miley Cyrus “The Climb” as we splashed along the riverbed on course C. We were very much in awe of the top mens’ and womens’ teams who came in at 2h 45min and 3h 24min respectively. We managed a much more humble time of 4h 41min but were still happy with our effort, placing third overall in the womens’ category not far behind second place.
More than anything, we will remember the encouragement and hospitality of the Okinawa WOOT crew: Anna’s infectious positivity and cheerfulness, the lovely pedicure and the hilarious karaoke session we enjoyed with a number of WOOT runners after the race. While we were sad that our Okinawa adventure had come to an end, we were happy to hear that Anna and Mary (and their husbands) would be travelling to Hong Kong for the TransLantau the following weekend on 10 March 2017. We hope to be able to return some of their warmth and will definitely be cheering for them as they conquer the hills behind us.