The second Vietnam Mountain Marathon took place over the weekend of 20-21 September, with almost 400 runners from 40 nations descending on the mountains of Sapa to take on trails of 10, 21, 42 and a monstrous 70km in length.
And this was no ordinary race – the buffalo beaten paths took the runners into remote parts of the Sapa hills, across rice paddies and even right through villagers’ front yards as local kids cheered them on.
Winner of the 2013 70km race, Simon Grimstrup of Denmark, successfully defended his title, beating back very tough competition. “It’s a unique experience in an remote environment with amazing views, very varied terrain, fantastic local culture and excellent trails,” he said. “It was a really tough race that everyone should be proud to finish!”
The women’s 70km was won by Switzerland’s Nora Senn, who said: “I loved all the technical trails, the cool rivers and the steep climb in the end. A huge smile was on my face for the whole race.”
In the 42km race, Hanoi-based runners stole the show. The men’s event was won by Britain, David Lloyd, while American, Samantha Young, took top spot on the female podium.
She described the beauty of the course as the highlight of her weekend: “After kilometer 10 we headed up a buffalo trail. Off to the left the ground fell away into a valley with mountains rising up again on the other side as far as you could see. Shadows were heightening the contours of all the mountains, clouds clinging to the tops and there was no one else in sight.It was one of those moments of giddy happiness feeling engulfed by the mountains and thinking ‘this is why I run!’
The inaugural 10km race was held on the Sunday in Sapa town, drawing large crowds and seeing local runners top the podium in both the men’s and women’s events. In the men’s race, Sùng A Tỏa lead in the field while Vàng Thị Theo claimed victory among the females.
It was a young H’mong boy of just seven years old who stole the show, however. Appearing from nowhere on the start line with a huge grin and no shortage of energy, he joined in the race and never stopped running. Half a marathon (21km) through the mountains later, he bounded down the finish shoot smiling from ear-to-ear as the crowd gave the biggest cheers of the day.
Every entry fee for the event included a $20 donation to Sapa O’Chau and a total of VND123,000,000 was raised. Sapa O’Chau runs a variety of local projects, including its own school with over 70 students. Many ethnic minority kids from the villages surrounding Sapa have limited access to educational opportunities beyond the age of ten. Even before that, many drop out of school to help their families. There is a clear need to enhance the educational opportunities of ethnic minority youths in Sapa and the Vietnam Mountain Marathon is proud to be part of these efforts.
How did you feel coming in to this year’s race?
I felt a little worried. It was only three weeks after UTMB, my first 100 miler. After the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB), I had huge issues with my left foot and I thought I would not be on the start line for the VMM. However, two days before the race I ran 5km and decided to go for it and just take one check point at a time.
What was your race plan?
My plan was to see how my body reacted. Knowing that I had not fully recovered from UTMB – I would go out with the frontrunners and see how it went. I was ready to quit if my foot got worse – knowing that it could result in serious injuries and could ruin my next couple of months.
How did your race go?
We went out in an okay pace. I was with another Dane, Henrik Westerlin, who is one of Denmarks fastest ultrarunners. We chatted about his training and his amazing times on 12 and 24 hour races. It was an interesting chat on the first flat part of the course. There were a few runners on our backs, but I didn’t look back to check who they were.
The very wet and slippery conditions made the race extra hard, but I felt fortunate that it was like that. At the first little downhill I took time on the other runners. I found a technique – sliding down with both feet on the ground, somewhat like skiing.
What was the hardest part?
The mountain at the start of the last 21 km – it was not steep enough to power hike, but I felt so hot I had to walk a lot where I would normally run. That was probably a result of my UTMB.
What do you think of the addition of the final mountain?
It was very hard, but I like it when it is very steep. It made a proper mountain trail ending with stunning views! That said, I was absolutely boiling hot at that point with the uphill effort. At that point I had to switch to competition mode and push hard.
How did your nutrition work out?
Splendid! I had Tailwind in small zip locks and filled up with a liter of water at every checkpoint where I also ate one and a half energy bars.
What do you think makes this race so special?
It is a unique experience because most people run in an exotic and unknown environment with good views, very varied terrain, local culture and very nice trails. And the extra mountain made it a really tough trail race that everyone should be proud to finish!
The race also has a good social vibe to it – with a lot of different nationalities hanging around the Topas Ecolodge after the race, chatting about all their experiences on the trails.
What are your plans for your next race?
I have a year off my normal job as a teacher and I am going to stay in Southeast Asia until the end of november – hoping to discover some great trails!
I have found a race in the Philippines at the end of november – the Clark-Miyamit Falls Trail Ultra 50 miles – which I will do before I return to Denmark.
In 2015 I would really like to do Ultra Trail Mount Fuji. I’m keen to find a nice stage-race too – I always look for races which give some really good experiences. Lastly, I would love to improve my time at the UTMB.