After being postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic in May, this Saturday more than 1,100 runners will race up to 70km in the Vietnam Jungle Marathon (VJM) in Pu Luong Nature Reserve in the central province of Thanh Hoa.
|The Vietnam Jungle Marathon will be held at the stunning Pu Luong Nature Reserve in the central province of Thanh Hoa on Saturday. Photo courtesy of organisers|
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 Tran, Quang Nguyen and Nguyen Thi Duong 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 Vietnam Jungle Marathon is up by 30 per cent compared to 2019, making this the biggest Vietnam 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 Vietnam’s runners to discover Pu Luong.
“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 Hoa 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 Pu Luong,” he added.
This year, the race will take place amid Pu Luong's second golden harvest season. Normally held in May, the VJM has developed a reputation as the toughest race in Vietnam 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 Pu Luong and helping to re-invigorate the tourism economy is an important aspect of the event.”
The battle of Vietnam-based runners
This year, the battle among the hot favourites will be very different. The runners are all now based in Vietnam, 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, Nguyen of Vietnam will face Vietnam-based Markus Gnirck, winner of Vietnam Trail Marathon (VTM), which takes place in Son La Province every January. Besides them, many other fast runners will be on the start line, including Lanh Le, who was second at the Da Lat Ultra Trail last year in the 100km.
In the women’s ultra field, the first, second and fourth runners of Vietnam Trail Marathon 70km, Duong, Nguyen Thuy Dung and Hien Tran will compete at the VJM 70km this year.
In the 55km battle, winner of Sa Pa’s Vietnam Mountain Marathon (VMM) 42km, Paul Rioux of France, will be competing with a regular Vietnam Trail Series runner, Trung Nguyen, 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, Tran, winner of multiple Vietnam Trail Series races, and elite runner Pham Tien San, VTM 21km champion.
Last year, San won the event with a very fast time of 1:51.55, beating some of Vietnam’s fastest trail runners in the process, so his duel with Tran will be one to watch.
The race is organised by Topas Travel, part of the Topas Explorer Group, owner of the Vietnam 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 Vietnam 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 Hue Help.
This year, the VJM comes just a month ahead of the highlight of the mountain running year, Sa Pa’s Vietnam 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
Nearly 1,000 athletes from 47 countries and territories will take part in the Vietnam Jungle Marathon 2019 on May 25 in Thanh Hoa’s Pu Luong Nature Reserve.