The Việt Nam Jungle Marathon will be held at the stunning Pù Luông Nature Reserve in the central province of Thanh Hóa on Saturday. Photo courtesy of organisers
HÀ NỘI — After being postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic in May, this Saturday more than 1,100 runners will race up to 70km in the Việt Nam Jungle Marathon (VJM) in Pù Luông Nature Reserve in the central province of Thanh Hóa.
Runners from 31 nations will race in distances of 70km, 55km, 42km, 25km and 10km.
British Ambassador Gareth Ward and some of the nation’s top ultra runners such as Quang Trần, Quang Nguyễn and Nguyễn Thị Đường are slated to compete.
Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the postponement of the race in May, the number of runners at the fourth edition of Việt Nam Jungle Marathon is up by 30 per cent compared to 2019, making this the biggest Việt Nam Jungle Marathon event ever.
The race usually attracts a high number of athletes from overseas, so this growth, despite the closure of borders, highlights the growing enthusiasm among Việt Nam’s runners to discover Pù Luông.
“We are delighted to be able to organise this race in a year when many events have been cancelled due to COVID-19,” says David Lloyd, founder of VJM and director of sport at Topas Travel.
“We have worked closely with the authorities of Thanh Hóa to ensure it can go ahead and we now look forward to welcoming runners who have waited a long time to get out into the beautiful hills of Pù Luông,” he added.
This year, the race will take place amid Pù Luông's second golden harvest season. Normally held in May, the VJM has developed a reputation as the toughest race in Việt Nam thanks to the hot conditions the runners usually face.
“This year’s October race is a unique opportunity for runners to run in cooler temperatures, so we expect to see some very fast times on Saturday - course records could potentially fall,” says Lloyd.
“The race is also providing a welcome tourism boost to an area that has seen tourism numbers fall dramatically this year. Some of the homestay owners we have spoken to have had almost no guests for months, so bringing people back to Pù Luông and helping to re-invigorate the tourism economy is an important aspect of the event.”
The battle of Việt Nam-based runners
This year, the battle among the hot favourites will be very different. The runners are all now based in Việt Nam, so they will be familiar with the trails, the climate and also their opponents.
In the men’s 70km distance race, second-placed runner of VJM2019 in the 70km, Nguyễn of Việt Nam will face Việt Nam-based Markus Gnirck, winner of Việt Nam Trail Marathon (VTM), which takes place in Sơn La Province every January. Besides them, many other fast runners will be on the start line, including Lanh Lê, who was second at the Đà Lạt Ultra Trail last year in the 100km.
In the women’s ultra field, the first, second and fourth runners of Việt Nam Trail Marathon 70km, Đường, Nguyễn Thùy Dung and Hiền Trần will compete at the VJM 70km this year.
In the 55km battle, winner of Sa Pa’s Viêt Nam Mountain Marathon (VMM) 42km, Paul Rioux of France, will be competing with a regular Việt Nam Trail Series runner, Trung Nguyễn, who placed third at the VTM 70km last year.
Meanwhile, in the women’s 55km field, VMM 100km champion Champ Nathalie Cochet of France will go head to head with her compatriot Constance Louasse, third place at the VMM 70km and also VJM 55km champion. They will be competing with a strong runner from Indonesia, Sara Valentina, who has won the VJM 42km.
In the 42km, the battle will likely be between one of the nation’s top ultra runners, Trần, winner of multiple Việt Nam Trail Series races, and elite runner Phạm Tiến Sản, VTM 21km champion.
Last year, Sản won the event with a very fast time of 1:51.55, beating some of Việt Nam’s fastest trail runners in the process, so his duel with Trần will be one to watch.
The race is organised by Topas Travel, part of the Topas Explorer Group, owner of the Việt Nam Trail Series which also includes the VTM and VMM.
Topas races have a charitable focus and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated to good causes since 2013. Up to now, the Việt Nam Trail Series has given US$285,400 to charity thanks to the donations that come from the race fee.
In the past three years, the race has funded life-changing surgery for children through Operation Smile and drowning prevention programmes through Huế Help.
This year, the VJM comes just a month ahead of the highlight of the mountain running year, Sa Pa’s Việt Nam Mountain Marathon, which will take place on the November 20. Last year, the VMM saw more than 4,000 runners competing.
Registration for the VMM 2020 is still open and runners can choose distances from 10km up to 100km. — VNS