One of the joys of running as we all know is the variety it offers. The chance to get out there and explore somewhere different and the opportunity to do something we all love in many varied and different locations. One such event that our club members Nigel and Linda Sharp, and Darren and Sarah Frost took part in was the Vietnam Mountain Marathon (VMM) held in September 2014. Enclosed is a first hand account of the event from Linda. Congratulations to Nigel, Linda, Darren and Sarah on their achievement and enjoy the read:
“Surprisingly, entering VMM had nothing to do with a night out drinking and saying yes to an idea that seemed good at the time! It was simply an innocent chat over breakfast, (having just finished our first multiday event), with Team Frost – Sarah & Darren. We jumped at the chance, not really giving the event much thought, only of visiting Vietnam which was one of the many destinations on our wish list.
VMM is a multi distance event 21km, 42Km and 70Km run on the same day. We went for the 42km distance whilst the more seasoned Team Frost went for 70km. Ascent wise it was 2,000 meters and 3,000 meters respectively. The event is run along tracks made by water buffalo, the edges of paddy fields and trails the locals use to get to their villages and fields. The weather had been quite wet the few days leading up to the event, as the remains of a typhoon had passed through, so we had been advised that it was wet and slippery in places.
The event headquarters were based at Topas Ecolodge, about 45mins away from Sapa in the northern mountains of Vietnam, not far from the Chinese border. The lodge is a collection of small bungalows set around the ridge of a mountain top, with spectacular views.
The event attracted about 30 different nationalities, including the obvious Asian countries and a large number of expats living in Asia, plus several Danes as Topas Travel are a Danish company.
The 70k event started at 5.30am, (in the dark), and the 42k at 9.30am. Breakfast was buffet style, continental and Vietnamese, so we stocked up with rolls and took some energy gels and bars.
As we approached the start of our race in the bus, we saw the leader of the 70k pass and a huge cheer ensued. The start was a gentle climb and then into the jungle. However we soon dropped down through the forest along a very slippery single track. The going was very tough and technical, as it was very steep and any rocks you stood on were like ice. Every so often it levelled and the views were stunning with lush green forest all around.
After about 45 minutes we started to spread out and you were able to run, (well trek really), at your own pace. The markings, (plastic tape tied around vegetation), were very good. The run into the first check point was after a wade through a small river and our first negotiation of running through paddy fields. It was at this point that we realised our expectation of our finishing time had to change, as this was much more of a trek than a run. The next section we were promised wouldn’t be too difficult, (as it was less steep and technical), however they had failed to mention how difficult it was to run along the walls of the paddy fields, (think slippery tightrope!). Nigel slipped off at one point, knees and arms deep into the paddy field. Eventually we found ourselves running along the edge of a river and had to cross it, on a single plank of wood, to find ourselves at checkpoint 2.
The next section was a 7.5km steady climb up a valley and over a col. The track here was quite wide with glorious views back down the valley and with small waterfalls coming off the sides, which were useful as showers to cool us down. From the top of the col was a steady downhill to our 3rd checkpoint, where a cold coke and a seat was much appreciated.
From checkpoint three to our final checkpoint we had nice wide tracks and it was thankfully not too hilly. We could really appreciate running through the villages, with the locals staring at us, (mad western people), and children running along-side calling out ‘Hello’ and waving. Dodging the water buffalo, pigs and chickens, watching children splashing around in empty paddy fields and passing corn cobs drying in the sun was how we gained an amazing experience of rural Vietnam.
At checkpoint four we knew we only had about 8k to go, but we also knew the race director had thrown in a final climb. We started out on the last section at a gentle amble up hill, which soon turned into a hard slog up. At one point the organisers had put in a rope to haul yourself up a particularly steep part. Our journey to the top was interrupted by a lone runner who had collapsed on the track. We gave him salt tablets and gently assisted him up to the Race Director at the top, who was checking on how people were doing. Leaving our poor colleague, in safe hands, we were told we had an hour to get to the finish before dark.
We could only manage a gentle trot now as the ascents and the heat had taken its toll. After several false turns, (some local children had moved the direction strips!), we finally finished with a group of us, where a hot shower and BBQ was waiting. After cheering home many runners, including Sarah and Darren, and other friends we had made along the way, we drifted off to an early night.”
If anyone else in the club would like to write an account of an event they have taken part in then please email either Andrew Lockett or Jon Lawrence and we will feature it on the website.