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Vietnamese marathon coach still up and running at 78

A 78-year-old Vietnamese marathon coach remains in top shape thanks to his life-long dedication to a healthy lifestyle and his love of running.

Bui Luong, a running instructor and national record holder, has become a well-known sports figure in Vietnam.

Local athletes have dubbed him the “strong old man” or the “one who runs until he passes away” purely to show their respect and admiration for Luong’s talent and accomplishments.

The senior was honored for his life-long contribution to Vietnamese sport on January 17 in Hanoi.

A small-framed champion

Born in 1939 in Ho Chi Minh City, Luong developed his passion for running as a student.

After moving to the northern city of Hai Phong with his aunt at the age of 16, the young boy kept up his strict practice schedule before signing up for his first athletics meet in Hanoi in 1957, at which he won a bronze medal.

Upon graduating from high school, Luong asked for a job at the Hai Phong Cement Factory so he could train himself just like Pavel Korchagin does in the famous novel ‘How the Steel Was Tempered.’

In 1958, the young man represented Hai Phong in a fell running competition, organized by Tien Phong (Pioneer) newspaper, and managed to win silver.

“My prize was a pair of plastic sandals and a sports outfit, which looked very cool,” Luong recalled.

In 1961, Luong achieved his first gold medal in the marathon, measuring a mere 1.62 meters tall and weighing just 48 kilograms at the time.

Following several years in the workforce, Luong joined the army and was positioned in the air defense artillery unit, which was stationed in Hai Phong.

During this time he would often wake up at 3:45 in the morning to run 10 kilometers, before returning to his unit at 5:00 am and resume his usual training.

After three years in the military, Luong returned to Hai Phong and in 1965 was selected for the national marathon team because of his outstanding performances.

Luong competed relentlessly for the national team for the next two decades and was able to resume his university education at the age of 38.

Vietnamese marathon coach still up and running at 78

Bui Luong reaches the finish line of the national marathon in 1968. Photo: Tuoi Tre

He then worked as a marathon coach in Hanoi until 1999, when he was unfortunately laid off.

Luong did not let this get him down however as he was soon invited by the director of the Hanoi Department of Sports, Hoang Vinh Giang, to coach the city’s marathon team and train them in China in preparation for the 2003 SEA (Southeast Asian) Games.

After the event, he remained the coach of the national marathon team until 2010, when he began bringing new faces to the sport of marathon in the southern province of Binh Phuoc.

Under his tutelage, many young talents excelled, namely Dang Thi Teo, a national marathon gold medalist, Doan Nu Truc Van, the 10km gold medalist at the 2003 SEA Games, and Nguyen Chi Dong, the 2003 SEA Games marathon gold medalist among many others..

A running ‘addict’

According to his partner Vu Thi Lan, Luong is blessed with extraordinary health and still stands strong with a healthy body and clear mind at the age of 78.

The senior has achieved a perfect level of physical fitness thanks to his wholesome lifestyle, Lan said, adding that he runs for one to two hours per day and often plays volleyball and basketball with his students.

“He doesn’t drink or smoke, always goes to sleep at 9:00 pm and wakes up at 3:45 am to begin his day with a long run,” she added.

“During our dates to the cinema when we were young, Luong often left the theater at 9:00 pm to go to sleep while I continued watching the films by myself,” Lan joked.

The marathon instructor revealed that he had only been to the hospital twice for a sore throat and a toothache.

If sport is hard, marathon is 10 times harder, Luong remarked, adding that he is addicted to running more than anything.

“Despite insufficient nutrition back in the old days, I was still able to run from 60 to 80 kilometers a day. At some point I thought I would give in due to exhaustion, but determination kept me going,” Luong said.

“Marathon requires not only physical strength, but also a strong will and courage,” he added.

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