The route has been cleared, the podium put away. And runners in both Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam as a whole are already filling their race calendars.
Vietnamese runner Ngo Dung won the men’s professional 42km category of the Ho Chi Minh City International Marathon, with a time of two hours and 42 minutes. Compatriot Pha Le took the women’s title, winning in three hours and eight minutes. Fellow Vietnamese Phuc Cao finished first in the men’s half-marathon, while it was Phuong Nguyen winning the women’s pool.
The fifth edition of the marathon saw the largest-ever number of participants with more than 8,000, a sharp increase compared to the first version of the race in 2013, which lured 5,000 runners. But one expat remembers when the state of running in this country was very different.
Dutchman Marcel Lennartz has been living in Vietnam for over 20 years. He has been heavily involved in the growth of the running culture in Ho Chi Minh City, organizing runs in different districts over the past few years, running full and half-marathons in the city as well as Danang, and helping with organization elements in Phu Quoc and Hanoi.
“The number of running groups throughout the country has rapidly increased over the last four years. With that, the number of events and the number of runners joining a club, or running individually has boomed,” he observed. “A few years ago, we were looking forward to one race in a year. Now there are plenty of races to choose from.”
He said that organisers often struggle to find the right balance between interesting new routes and routes that avoid traffic and the sun. As well, last-minute changes due to unannounced construction works causes route distances to be inaccurate or a run over unexpected grounds which can cause trouble, such as for barefoot runners. But he observed that volunteers often spend hours in the heat to cheer participants.
“The events improve each year,” Lennartz said. “More government support is needed to ensure safe and successful events. Also, traffic is a major issue when deciding on a race route.”
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