Roving reporter Terry Brennan headed to Vietnam to check out what’s happening in the country and on its running scene…
Runners looking for a holiday destination with a difference that allows them to combine their hobby with an exciting location need look no further than Vietnam. Those of a certain age have an in-built fascination for this exotic part of south-east Asia because night after night it was the backdrop to our childhood/youth as tv news reports covered the latest events from the war-torn country.
Today Vietnam is a nation not just on the mend, but moving at a dramatic pace to an exciting future which includes greater economic prosperity and stronger international relations. The country is also discovering running and in recent years a number of new events have been established that serve the dual purpose of providing a focus for visitors and an introduction to competitive events for local people.
In September this year (2013) I was lucky enough to visit Vietnam and take part in the inaugural Da Nang International Marathon - although my efforts were in the half marathon - and I had a great experience. Da Nang is in the middle of the country half way between Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in the south. It’s a big city in it’s own right and one that is developing into a modern centre. There are lots of high-end resort hotels hugging the beach south of the city but cheaper options around the city centre.
Da Nang is close to the beautiful port town of Hoi An and a short (and dramatic) train journey from the old imperial capital of Hue so it works as a base to explore the highlights of Central Vietnam.
As for the event, it was brilliantly organised. A small field were well briefed by effervescent Aussie Dave Cundy before the 5am start. The early stages were relatively comfortable for both the marathon and half marathon and the first three or four miles of the event were enjoyable as dawn broke on the flourishing Vietnamese city. And a conservative early pace meant I had the opportunity to enjoy the early coastal stretches before heading inland towards the wide Han River. One of the features of the Da Nang races - the marathon is basically a double-loop of the half marathon course - is the bridge crossings. There are a few and require some hard work until midway before the welcome respite of the decline to the other side.
As the sun appeared, the temperature gauge climbed. Now the run was all about the next drinks station; fortunately these were found at regular intervals and were well-stocked with water (cups and bottles) and electrolyte drinks. Best of all were the mist stations where giant fans provided wonderfully cool airflows. The station crew laughed as if they were watching a Charlie Chaplin film as I tiptoed slowly past and then doubled-back for a second helping.
One of the real pluses of this event, in fact of the country in general, is the remarkable friendliness and warmth of the Vietnamese people. Every drinks station was crewed with a cheery team of volunteers who were real allies in the battle against heat and humidity. And throughout the route there were cheers of encouragement even for the tail-end Charleys from a big vocal Da Nang support.
Race organisers across Vietnam appear to enjoy excellent backing from the public authorities which was evidenced in the priority received from the local traffic police who held up what seemed liked hundreds of motor cyclists to let runners cross safely at busy junctions and roundabouts.
The final stretch was back along the coast with the South China Sea as a stunning backdrop. Avoiding the temptation to take a detour into the breaking waves, I kept on to reach a very welcome finish line. I hadn’t slept too well on the nights before the event so it was a sluggish performance but with proper preparation and a few easy days to acclimatise in advance of race day, this would be a challenging but very rewarding experience. More details at rundanang.com.
Sapa & The Vietnam Mountain Marathon
October 2013 saw the introduction of another special event - the Vietnam Mountain Marathon, a trail running event in the mountains within the Hoang Lien National Park, close to Sapa, a popular hill town and trekking destination, 200 miles north-west of the capital Hanoi. Race organiser Asger Koppen told SCOTTISH RUNNING GUIDE: “We’ve organised 21, 42 and 70k events; the routes are mainly on mountain trails along rivers and in an altitude from 900-1780m. Runners enjoy beautiful views of rice fields and forests in areas populated by several colourful ethnic groups (see main photograph). The event is for all runners who seek unique runs and adventure, where you run along rice fields on trails beaten by water buffaloes to remote mountain villages.
“The event is made by runners, for runners! And it takes place over three days with different packages from Hanoi. The 21k is hard but is walkable if you are not fit. The marathon is unique with +2500m elevation gain while the 70km is very hard with 3800m elevation gain.”
More details at vietnammountainmarathon.com.