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Vietnam runs 100km Ultra Marathon (and likes it)

Vietnam’s fourth annual Mountain Marathon (VMM) brought scores of visitors to Sa Pa at the tail end of the low season. Roughly 1,700 runners, their families and friends flooded the mountain resort town for a weekend mercifully lacking in rain or strong sunshine.

Vietnam runs 100km Ultra Marathon (and likes it)

Starting point of 42km event. Photo by VnExpress

About 90 of those who checked-in on the morning of September 23 left that night to brave the new 100km ultra marathon, which Topas, the organizer, billed as “the hardest one-day race ever in Vietnam.”

Guided by headlamps alone, the racers set off toward a finish line; fewer than half would cross before 24-hours had passed.

Shorter races began in the wee hours of Saturday as runners decked out in spandex, bra-like backpacks, and sharp shoes rose to disappear up in the mountains, slide down muddy slopes and trudge through ethnic minority villages.

Some tumbled onto their bottoms, others gave up after finding themselves lost and exhausted. Nearly all who finished emerged scratched and bruised. And that’s exactly what these runners signed up (and paid) for.

Vietnam runs 100km Ultra Marathon (and likes it)

Cao Ha, Vietnamese, first male runner-up of 100km event at the finish line. Photo by Viet Tuan/VMM

Cao Ha, who tripped four times while sliding down the slopes during the race before emerging as the runner-up in the 100km ultra marathon described his simple strategy, thusly:

“Catch up when you’re behind, keep distance when you’re ahead,” he said. “That’s what racing’s all about.”

Ha explained most of the runners participate for the chance to take in the scenery, breathe fresh air and enjoy a new experience.

Vietnam runs 100km Ultra Marathon (and likes it)

Photo by Viet Tuan/VMM

In addition to the required entrance fees, each participant donated $20 to charity.

Last year, VMM raised over $5,000. This year, the marathon took in about $24,000, half of which went to Project Smile, which funds surgeries for children in developing countries suffering from facial deformities.

Three years ago, less than 20 Vietnamese signed up for all distances.

This year, Vietnamese runners made up about 20 percent of the total turn-out.

“We were confident it would become more popular, but we did not foresee this huge rise in Vietnamese participation,“ said David Lloyd, the Director of Sport for the event’s organizer, Topas Travel.

In November, Topas will hold its first mountain bike marathon.

Vietnam runs 100km Ultra Marathon (and likes it)

The route map of 100km event, made up of two loops, 34km and 70km with the same Start and Finish points.

The first run in 2013 employed flags to mark the track, but quickly vanished. Locals had brought them home to use as scarecrows, sending gullible runners into open rice paddies. The following year, police walked the track and warned residents to leave the markers alone. This year, the way ahead was marked by spraypainted arrows.

All three winners of the 10km event belong to the H’Mong ethnic minority. The champion, a second-generation porter at Topas, succeeded in defending his position for the last two years.

The two runners-up are his cousins.

Vietnam runs 100km Ultra Marathon (and likes it)