FAMILIAR FACE: Cao Ngọc Hà is well-known in Việt Nam’s running community. Photo courtesy of Cao Ngọc Hà
Cao Ngọc Hà is a prominent figure in Việt Nam’s semi-professional running community. A graduate of the Foreign Trade University, the 38-year-old boasts a friendly and open smile.
He’s finished among the top places in most of the events he’s entered, winning the Sông Hồng Half Marathon, the Việt Nam Jungle Marathon, and LDR Half, while finishing runner-up in the Việt Nam Mountain Marathon, 100-km race. He was also in the top 10 in the Asia Trail Master Rankings 2017. Swimming and cycling can be added to running as sports where’s he considered “elite” in his home country. He spoke with Thanh Nga.
Inner sanctum: Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
My interest in sport started at a young age, heading outdoors to play football and hide-and-seek, because e-Sports and YouTube weren’t around back then. I began to take track-and-field seriously in secondary school and high school, attending meets and winning some races.
As with most people, life then took over. I went to university, graduated, entered the workforce, and got married and started a family. I still liked sports but wasn’t playing or competing in anything. When I was 30, I began to think more about my health, and took up swimming, running, and mountain climbing. I began to run more after coming across the LDR group, with whom I share a love of running.
We trained together quite often, and I entered a few races and felt I was getting better with every event. I competed in my first triathlon in 2018, and did quite well.
There are a lot of triathlons in Việt Nam these days, and last year we had a triathlon team at the SEA Games for the first time. I competed in the duathlon (running - cycling - running). Though I didn’t win a medal, representing my country was a great feeling.
My goal at the moment is to secure a spot in the team for SEA Games 31 in Việt Nam next year, competing again in the duathlon. I’m also training to have the chance of competing at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, in October next year.
Inner sanctum: What is it about running that you like? What does it give you?
I have a passion for running, cycling, and swimming because I feel relaxed and comfortable after training. Competing in races or triathlons also gives me a goal, of improving myself.
DIFFERENT STROKES: Hà in the swim leg of a triathlon. Photo courtesy of Cao Ngọc Hà
Inner sanctum: You’re a regular competitor at most of the semi-professional events in Việt Nam. How do you balance training and competition with working?
Rising early allows me to train and still work full-time. Dividing my training into 30 to 60-minute lots also gives me a degree of flexibility. Most important of all, though, is the support I receive from my wife and children.
Inner sanctum: What is the longest distance you’ve ever run?
I ran 174km over a period of 24 hours in April 2014, but it wasn’t an official event. The furthest I’ve run in a race is 100km, with a time of 14-15 hours.
Inner sanctum: How do you train for such long distances?
My training routine is the same for every tournament.
Depending on whether it’s just running or a duathlon or triathlon, I train over the course of three to five months, including foundation training, durability training, strength training, and technical workouts, to adapt to the specific requirements of each event.
Inner sanctum: What events have you competed in and which did you win?
I competed in the Ironman 70.3 Việt Nam last year and finished top among the Vietnamese entrants, 14th in the 35-39 age group, and 77th out of all 1,506 participants.
In the TRI-Factor Việt Nam 2019, I was runner-up in the enduro category.
In 2018, I also competed in the Ironman 70.3 Việt Nam, also finished top among the Vietnamese entrants, and was fifth in the 35-39 age group.
In 2017, I took on Việt Nam’s biggest mountain race, the Việt Nam Mountain Marathon, and finished third in the men’s 100-km race. At the Tam Đảo Mountain Trail, I finished second, then won the Việt Nam Jungle Marathon.
In 2016, I was second in the 100-km race at the Việt Nam Mountain Marathon.
WHEELS ON FIRE: Hà aims to compete at SEA Games 31, held next year in Việt Nam. Photo courtesy of Cao Ngọc Hà
Inner sanctum: In addition to regular training, what factors do you think are needed to perform at a high level in competition?
Beyond the best you can do with training, you need to be born with some ability, have a coach to point you in the right direction, have the money to buy the training equipment you need, and have the full support of your family.
Inner sanctum: Which event impressed you the most?
In 2016, I competed in the 100-km race at the Việt Nam Mountain Marathon for the first time, and finished second. It was a difficult distance, and I was very happy with my time of 15 hours and 36 minutes.
When I reached the finish line, I felt fine but my body was telling me to stop. The course is over diverse terrain and altitudes, and technique is important. There are a lot of complicated trails to navigate. My strategy was to stay near the lead and make a break when the time was right. I walked quickly up the steep slopes, ran at a moderate pace on the flat sections, and then ran faster whenever there was a downhill section.
I was out in front, but was disappointed to see Petr Novotny from the Czech Republic pass me and then head out of sight. I looked back to see who was behind me, but I couldn’t see anyone. I was impressed by Novotny, who ended up winning the race. He was young, strong, and had plenty of experience.
Inner sanctum: How has the pandemic affected your training and racing?
COVID-19 disturbed my family’s life a great deal, so my training was also affected. I didn’t do much from January to mid-April.
There have been very few events held this year. The last one I raced in was the SunsetBay Triathlon, on October 10, with a time of 2:15.14 over a distance of 51.5 km.
Before that, I also competed in two unofficial triathlons: HTC 70.3 and Aluman 70.3.
Inner sanctum: You represented Việt Nam last year at SEA Games 30 in the Philippines, and did well. What are your goals for SEA Games 31, which are being held in Việt Nam next year?
I really want to contribute to the development of triathlons and duathlons in the country, so we can win medals at the SEA Games when it’s in Việt Nam. I’m training to secure a place in the team and compete in the duathlon.
Inner sanctum: What are your thoughts on the popularity of running in Việt Nam?
It’s grown really quickly as a sport in recent years. Five years ago, an amateur athlete had only three or four events to choose from every year, but now there are major events nearly every month. The number of runners in each race has increased from 1,000-2,000 to 10,000-15,000 at some.
Not only that, five years ago I was the only amateur athlete in Việt Nam to break three hours in a marathon, but now many others have joined me.
Athletes are also starting to reach higher levels of performance. I’m now working with a few amateur athletes who are hoping to earn a spot in the marathon at SEA Games 31.
Inner sanctum: Does your love of running affect your work and family life?
Yes. Sometimes I train too much, at the expense of my work and family. But I’m fortunate to have the support of my wife and children. I sometimes need to adjust my schedule to strike a balance between sports and other aspects of life. – VNS