Thirteen years ago, this petite triathlete travelled to Malaysia on a holiday and decided to stay, study and start a business.
Today, Myanmar-born Chris Kha Khrang co-owns and operates HIIT2fit, a boutique fitness studio in Kuala Lumpur. She has also competed in 11 Ironman races (successfully completing nine), as well as participated in several other international triathlons.
The 32-year-old said that as an athlete, she usually turns her holidays into “race-holidays”. “A trip without a triathlon race is just so incomplete,” she said with a laugh.
When asked what she likes most about travelling to other countries for a triathlon, she enthused: “It’s great to see and learn the sports culture in other countries and experience the difference. Also, to soak in the atmosphere … I get very motivated by the many athletes there. They are fast, look super-fit, and they inspire me to train harder and go further as an athlete.”
That inspiration seems to have worked on Kha Khrang, who looks extremely super-fit herself.
She has done full Ironman distance races in Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Switzerland, and Germany; and half Ironman distance races in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.
Kha Khrang says that her favourite Ironman distance triathlon was the Challenge Roth which she completed in 2015. It is hosted annually in a small town called Roth in Germany.
“It’s one of the most popular Ironman distance races in the world, with one of the largest crowd support – over 150,000 people line the entire course, giving it a huge carnival feeling.
“The famous bike climb is called Le Solarberg, and the race course is absolutely packed with people cheering on both sides of the road, making us feel like professional racers on one of the famous Le Tour de France climbs!” she enthused.
“The running route is along the canal with breathtaking views, and the finish chute is at a small stadium. To top it all off, in true German fashion, there are copious amounts of Erdinger beer in the finisher’s tent, free for all participants! Only in Germany!”
Besides the Ironman, Kha Khrang has taken part in a few adventure races. These include the Nomad Eco X Adventure races in Malaysia. The race consists of five disciplines: jungle trekking, mountain biking, rock-climbing, abseiling, and kayaking. She has also done the Xterra, an off-road triathlon comprising swimming, mountain biking and trail running in Kuantan, Pahang and Putrajaya.
“I managed to qualify for the Xterra World Championships in Maui, Hawaii, in 2013. It was such an amazing experience as I got to meet Xterra champions from all over the world and race together with them!” said Kha Khrang, her eyes ablaze with passion.
“I was inspired to meet women in their 60s and 70s who were tough as nails, and put many of us younger athletes to shame with their confidence, courage and fearlessness in attacking the off-road trails. I hope to be like them when I grow older,” she smiled.
But, life as a triathlete is not without its challenges.
“Ironman Switzerland 2013 was my most difficult race ever. I trained hard and wanted to get a good time. But I crashed very badly 80km into the first loop of the bike section,” she explained.
Even though she was unconscious for some time from the heavy impact and covered with deep road rashes on her face and body, the plucky woman didn’t give up.
“I managed to get to the medic tent to get my wounds cleaned and patched, and ended up looking like an Egyptian mummy with all the bandages,” she said good-humouredly.
“And I completed the rest of the bike course. But the final run segment was not easy as I couldn’t even lift my hands nor walk properly. I was so worried about not completing that I was sobbing while running.”
She eventually finished the Ironman Switzerland at 14 hours and one minute, walking and jogging all the way to the finish line.
In retrospect, Kha Khrang says that the mind plays an important role in a race. It’s as much a mental as well as a physical challenge to stay focused and keep pressing on until the finish line despite exhaustion, injury, or mechanical failure, she said.
“Every race is a learning experience for me and all the experiences I gained from endurance races have moulded me to be a better, wiser and tougher athlete today,” she said.
Kha Khrang has good advice for those intending to travel overseas to participate in a triathlon.
“It’s important to check the weather conditions before packing and prepare your race gear accordingly. I also train on similar terrain as the race routes, and usually travel three to five days before the race to shake off jetlag,” she said.
How did this tanned, toned athlete get into the world of triathlons?
Kha Khrang said that she had always been an active person and even represented her school in running. She also used to take part in BMX bike riding (off-road bicycle racing on specially-built off-road single-lap race tracks) and motocross (off-road motorcycle racing in an enclosed circuit) when she was younger.
So, does a triathlete have time for love or family life? Kha Khrang says she prefers to keep her love life private, but reveals that her life partner also runs and cycles, and they take part in triathlons together.
She says that her other family members are also very supportive of her triathlon pursuits, but adds with a laugh: “Apart from my nephews who are big into sports like me, the rest still wonder why I ride my bicycle for six hours under the hot sun every weekend!”
When asked what her advice to women today is, she replied: “Health is truly wealth. Make fitness a lifestyle so that it is can be sustained and achieved. Balance is key.
“Set small fitness goals to hit so that you continuously build the confidence to challenge and go beyond your limits. And, make healthy pursuits your happy place!”