International runners eager to join first edition of Việt Nam Ultra Marathon

One of the elite runners to take part is Michal Lesniak of Poland, winner of prestigious races in Europe and Asia. He flew from the UK to join the race.

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Michal Lesniak of Poland competes in the Việt Nam Mountain Marathon last year. He will join the first edition of the Việt Nam Ultra Marathon this weekend. — Photos courtesy of the organiser


MAI CHÂU — International runners are eagerly participating the first edition of the Việt Nam Ultra Marathon (VUM) in Mai Châu District, Hòa Bình Province, one of the most iconic landscapes in Việt Nam on Saturday.

Enthusiasts from 40 nations, totalling 2,200 runners in all, will come together to take on a variety of challenging routes, ranging from the demanding 70km trail to the more accessible 5km distance suitable for children.

One of the elite runners to take part is Michal Lesniak of Poland, winner of prestigious races in Europe and Asia. He flew from the UK to join the race.

“I look forward to seeing Mai Châu, because participating in the VUM running competition is not only about the run itself, but also about the adventure of discovering a new place. Mai Châu is famous for its stunning natural landscapes, including green valleys and terraced rice fields,” Lesniak said.

“Participating in the VUM event will allow me to immerse myself in these stunning views and experience the charm of the Vietnamese countryside firsthand. From exploring hidden trails to immersing yourself in the local culture, staying in Mai Châu will be a unique and unforgettable experience for me and other runners looking for adventure and exploration,” Lesniak added.

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Runner Ruairi Moynihan from the US.

Thrilling 70km race

The 70km race will see many runners from around the world. One of the hot favourites, flying from his home in the US, is Ruairi Moynihan. A seasoned runner, Moynihan has the course record for the Lake Sonoma 100km and the Javelina Jackass 31km, plus many other victories including the Elephant Mountain 50km, and the Speedgoat 11km, showing his ability at every distance.

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Runner John ‘Stingray’ Onifa from the Philippines.

However, Moynihan will be facing John ‘Stingray’ Onifa from the Philippines. Onifa has achieved numerous victories in long-distance races globally, showcasing his prowess, including recent triumphs at TransLantau50 by UTMB 2023 and The North Face 100 Hong Kong 2023.

Another top runner in the podium fight is Victor Guerdin from France, the winner of the 100km Caldeira Trail 2023 and a notable 4th position in Le Grand Raid de la Réunion 2023 – Trail de Bourbon.

Additionally, one of Việt Nam’s rising stars, Nguyễn Sĩ Hiếu, winner of MANTRA116 in 2022, will be on the start line, adding further anticipation to the competition.

On the women’s side, the stars who may align for a first 70km victory include the UK’s Christine Mitchell who has already scored wins at the 50km distance in the Việt Nam Jungle Marathon (VJM) and also the 42km at Việt Nam Trail Marathon (VTM).

Mitchell faces competition from a relative newcomer to Việt Nam’s trail running scene, Lê Thị Hằng. Despite just starting her running journey in 2022, Hằng accomplished an extraordinary feat in 2023 by completing a full marathon every single day of the year as part of her marathon 365 project.

Challenging 50km race

The 50km race will feature top seed Michal Lesniak from Poland, who secured first place in the 55km Amazean Jungle by UTMB in 2023, plus a win at the Jurassic Coast 100km in the UK.

Lesniak said: “I came and raced here in Sa Pa in 2023 and I love the scenic beauty. The Việt Nam Mountain Marathon (VMM) offered stunning views of mountains, rice terraces and ethnic minority villages, providing a picturesque backdrop for my run. Tackling the rugged terrain and various elevations of Sa Pa’s landscape was an exciting and physically demanding challenge that I will never forget.

“The great atmosphere between runners and the support of the organisers and the local community contributed to a sense of belonging and shared experiences, increasing the overall enjoyment of the event. Contact with local ethnic minorities along the route provided me with a unique cultural experience, adding depth and richness to my running experience.”

Another top contender for the 50km win is Iurii Shtankov from Russia who has scored victories at a wide variety of distances from the Hoka Wild Trail 137km to the Ibris Race 20km. This will be his first Topas race.

They will be up against Trịnh Nam Hải, the champion at the VTM 42km this year and VMM 42km in 2022. Adding to the competitive mix is Julien Petit from France who has scored multiple podiums in Việt Nam going back to 2017.

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Runner Vanja Cnops from Belgium.

On the women’s 50km side, Belgium’s Vanja Cnops is the top seed female runner. A huge fan of Việt Nam, Cnops has raced here many times before and scored wins at all other Topas races: VJM, VMM and VTM.

Cnops said: “I came and raced in Việt Nam many times before and I love the beautiful landscapes with the rice fields surrounded by mountains in the North of Việt Nam. I have run through very remote villages where tourists don’t go and I love to see those places. The local people are always super friendly and happy to see the runners too, I think.

“The Việt Nam Trail Series races are always very well organised. It’s easy to get to the race venue from Hà Nội, and the course is usually so well marked, it’s impossible to get lost. So I keep coming back, and I’m very happy that they have added a new race to the Việt Nam Trail Series. Looking forward to exploring a part of Việt Nam where I haven’t been yet!”

Another podium hopeful is Tracy Ramberg from the US, who emerged victorious in the VTM 21km and secured a second-place finish at VJM last year. With a strong track record, Ramberg adds to the competitive field of top women runners at VUM. The race promises to be an exciting and closely contested event with these talented athletes in the mix.

Theo Vietnamnews