Viet Nam News
All birthdays are special, some more so.
Phạm Duy Cường’s 35th birthday was celebrated far away from the family, but his fellow athletes made it extra special by presenting a cake with candles in a tent at a height of 5,000m above sea level on Mount Everest.
“It was a real surprise as no one can imagine a birthday cake at that height, when we all save room for the most essential belongings during the long trip,” Cường told Việt Nam News.
“I was very moved by my companions’ feelings for me.”
That was the warmest memory for Cường as he participated in the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon.
Reaching the finish line after the total time of 7 hours 47 minutes and 7 seconds, Cường ranked 71 among 202 runners in the 42km marathon at grueling heights.
The first prize in the full marathon category for men was taken by Suman Kulung (Nepal) with a total time of 3hr 43min and 57sec, and in the women’s category, Nirkala Rai (Nepal) was ahead of the rest with a time of 4hr 51min and 33sec.
The runners started at the Everest Base Camp at 5,364m and ran down to the finish line at Namche Bazaar Town, which stands at an altitude of 3,440m.
They spent half a month preparing for the trip. They climbed to the peak from the foot on May 16. Ten days later, they reached Gorak Shep, 4km from the Everest Base Camp. They spent two days at Gorak Shep to let their bodies familarise with the height and atmosphere. Then they moved to the Everest Base Camp and the race started on May 29 with the temperature at minus 20 degrees Celsius.
Cường restricted his belongings to some clothes, adding no food or dry nutrition to his pack.
“The most useful things for me were a solar-battery sheet and two rechargeable batteries for my mobile phone and camera,” he said.
He visited the Everest Base Camp in April, 2016 to get to know the area’s climate.
I did it: Nguyễn Duy Cường raises the national flag in triumph. Photo courtesy of Nguyễn Duy Cường
“I knew that this is a hard race that I must try my best to complete” he said.
In order to prepare for the race, he ran 13km each day, wearing a professional mountain training mask.
“Everest is always fierce. But people never give up their desire to conquer its peak,” he said.
“We spent the night in tents, so we felt the cold, hard weather. Each morning, I was given about 1.5 litres of warm water for personal washing. I often ordered the same amount of water to wash my clothes as I brought along very few clothes.”
Running a marathon on a mountain trail is quite difficult and tiring as the slippery, complicated terrain carries a high risk of injuries.
But Cường said the most difficult thing for him was the “rarefied atmosphere at the altitude of 5,400m with just 55 per cent of oxygen found in the plains. I felt as if I had no lungs when running”.
“Two days before the race, we saw an SOS team bring back dead bodies… we felt very scared.”
But following through on his careful preparations, Cường completed his race.
“When I was near the finish line, I felt as if an electric line ran through my body,” he recalled. “I took a national flag and tied it over my shoulders. When I reached the line, I felt as if I was a superman having finished the most challenging task. I felt both proud and extremely happy.”
The first thing he did on returning to Hà Nội on June 5 was donate some blood.
“I had blood drops trained at the height of 5,500m on the Everest. I wanted to donate them to others,” he said.
All set: Nguyễn Duy Cường (first from right) and fellow athletes pose for a picture before they start the race. Photo courtesy of Nguyễn Duy Cường
Cường has been known by the Long Distance Runner group in Hà Nội as Dr Dẻo (Dr Endurance, due to his ability to endure long practice sessions).
He now runs his own company producing coffee.
His push for endurance began with excessive indulgence.
He used to play football. After each match, he drank and ate a lot with his friends, which resulted in gout and disk herniation. When these problems peaked, Cường could not move his body an inch.
To improve his health, he started to practise running, from short to longer distances around the West Lake. After sometime, Cường was able to run 13km, as his health improved significantly.
He conquered his first 42.195km run at the Việt Nam Mountain Marathon held in Sa Pa at the end of September 2016.
Since then, Cường has participated in more than ten domestic and international marathon and half marathon races as well as Ironman and Champion Dash events.
He said he only started practising for the marathon at the end of August, 2016.
Cường is a member of Facebook group LDR for runners to exchange information and join practising events.
The group now has been run for three years and gathers more than 7,000 members nationwide.
“I have no advice to young people because I don’t even know if what I’m doing now is right,” he said with a big smile.
“Right or wrong depends on each person. I just share my story so that other people can draw the good things for themselves. Each person knows what is good for him or her. To succeed in something, just spend all of your time, energy and mind on it.” — VNS