Teen runner refuses to slow down despite marathon blackout

May 12, 2023 - 10:18
Marathoner Ninh was upset with her result at the SEA Games. The poor result is a push for her to rise back and run faster in the future.

SEA Games

TOUGH RACE: Nguyễn Thị Ninh runs in the women's marathon at the 32nd SEA Games on May 6 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo danviet.vn

Thanh Hà

The finish line lay ahead. It was just a few metres to complete the race, but it felt like miles for the teen runner. She didn't realise it, but as she closed her eyes crossing the line, Nguyễn Thị Ninh fainted.

The marathon in 40 degrees Celsius weather at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia had taken its toll.

Her coach, volunteers and doctors had to help her to recover from physical exhaustion, heat stroke and dehydration. Hours later, Ninh was back to normal, vowing that the unexpected result would motivate her to come back stronger than ever.

New marathoner

Ninh was born in 2005 in Bắc Giang Province in a farming family with three children. No one practised sport.

She was recruited by coaches of the Military team in 2019 when she was only 14 years old.

The girl was trained to run in the 5,000m and 10,000m events. But then she was moved to the marathon, the toughest category in athletics.

"When I first saw her, I felt my hair stands on end. I believed it was my destiny to see her as a future star," coach Nguyễn Văn Hậu told Việt Nam News.

"At that time, Ninh had not made any achievements at school or in local competition. But in the eyes of a scout, I knew she was a runner I wanted. She is tall and thin with small wrists and ankles. Her running steps impressed me," he said. "She showed patience and deep determination in practice.

After two years training with Hậu in the youth team, Ninh joined coach Nguyễn Tuấn Viết's senior squad despite her young age. She began training for the marathon in October 2022.

After several amateur events, the 17-year-old registered for the National Sports Games, Việt Nam's biggest tournament, held every four years.

In her major tournament debut, Ninh overcame many strong runners including Hoàng Ngọc Hoa, 2021 SEA Games bronze medallist, to finish second and grab a silver with a time of 2hr 48min.

When she was near the finish line, Ninh left many worried as she was running and crying. She explained that she was too tired but did not want to quit so cried instead.

PASSED OUT: Nguyễn Thị Ninh is taken care of by her coach and doctor after she fainted at the finish line. Photo thanhnien.vn

The silver was enough to push Ninh to join champion Lê Thị Tuyết, also a teenager, in the national team representing Việt Nam in the marathon at the 32nd Games in Cambodia.

It was also her first international tournament and first regional sport meet, which came only eight months since her first days in the marathon.

Tough SEA Games

Ninh and three teammates moved to Cambodia's Siem Reap Province to practise about three weeks prior to the tournament.

The first challenge came immediately, as the organisers changed the competition date to 10 days earlier than scheduled. It changed the team's plan as they had less time to become familiar with the hot and humid weather in Cambodia.

Under the heat of 40–41 degrees Celsius, the inexperienced Ninh was stunned shortly after the start.

She tried her best to stay in the leading group in the first few kilometres, but soon dropped behind.

Nguyên Thị Ninh competes in the National Marathon Championship in March in Lai Châu. Photo tienphong.vn

The sun rose, and it became hotter; six of the marathoners in both the men's and women's race quit. Ninh, on the other hand, kept running, although she was staggering at times.

"In the last kilometres, I had to drag my feet. My legs were unstable and I could not open my eyes. I just wanted to lie down and not get up," Ninh said.

"But when I heard my coach's voice, I tried to open my eyes and kept running. My body was exhausted, but I ran in my mind. I never wanted to give up. I thought, must finish the race even if I die. Finally, I made it. I fainted right after the finish, but luckily I woke up soon after."

Ninh finished with a time of 3:46.44 and placed eighth out of nine runners. Her teammate Tuyết secured a silver on her debut.

"I was so happy with the SEA Games because I have never thought about it before. Here, for the first time I competed with international athletes who are strong and have their own tactical plan," said Ninh.

"I am not happy with my eighth place because it is far below my target. This disappointment will be a push for me. I will try harder in the next events."

Coach Viết said that Ninh was a hard-working athlete who had great potential in running. She needed more time to sharpen her skills and improve her fitness. It was a success to finish the race in such difficult conditions.

During and after her race in Siem Reap, Ninh still received advice and encouragement from coach Hậu.

He said he believed that being able to win an NSG silver and a berth in the SEA Games in such a short time was a special achievement for the teenager.

"It is special because the NSG is tough. If coaches and athletes do not have high determination, it is difficult to achieve good results. Coach Viết and Ninh have done a good job to help Ninh show her ability," Hậu said.

"If Ninh can maintain her spirit and passion in the marathon, she will at least be a national star and go out into international competition."

The young runner has no intentions of letting herself down.

"When I was small, I dreamed of travelling the world. I am lucky to practise a sport to make my dream come true. I will practise harder to have more chances to travel," said Ninh.

"The marathon is my passion, and I will run until I can't do it any more." VNS