Running against time: an elderly athlete’s journey

Even at the age of 70, an age when many former professional marathon runners have hung up their running shoes, Nguyễn Đỗ Hùng remains a familiar face in running events across Việt Nam.


299927 hunga | FDI Việt Nam
Nguyễn Đỗ Hùng is a familiar face in running events across Việt Nam. — Photo courtesy of Hùng

By Thanh Nga

From 6am to 9am every day, come rain or shine, there is a man who runs barefoot in Thống Nhất Park in downtown Hà Nội. His youthful spirit somehow seems eternal in every step he takes.

“I have to thank running a lot for bringing me health and joy,” Nguyễn Đỗ Hùng told Việt Nam News.

Even at the age of 70, an age when many former professional marathon runners have hung up their running shoes, Hùng remains a familiar face in running events across Việt Nam.

In most tournaments, Hùng invariably grabs the title of the oldest athlete. For him, participating in marathons provides an opportunity to travel and interact with young people who share the same passion as his.

In Việt Nam, the number of elderly runners who enjoy long-distance running like Hùng is incredibly rare. It’s almost impossible for him to find another opponent in his age group.

To achieve what few people at his age can do, Hùng required both opportunities and the willpower of a young man. In 2006, while still working as a driver for the Hà Nội Bus Enterprise, Hùng suddenly experienced extreme fatigue and a severe decline in his health.

It was later discovered that he had diabetes, which forced him to retire early in 2008. Determined not to rely on medication, Hùng turned to running to reverse his condition.

299928 hungb | FDI Việt Nam
Nguyễn Đỗ Hùng competes in the Việt Nam Jungle Marathon. — Photo courtesy of Hùng

Since he started running, his eating and sleeping habits improved significantly, leading to a substantial improvement in his health. In 2016, he seemed to have discovered a new horizon, a new limit for himself when he accepted a young friend’s invitation to compete in the Hạ Long Bay Heritage Marathon in November 2016, participating in the 21km category. In his first race, Hùng finished in nearly two hours, an achievement comparable to a fit young runner.

“Gradually, I fell in love with long-distance running,” Hùng said. “After thorough research on this sport, I believed that I was healthy enough to pursue the full marathon distance.”

Hùng didn’t stop at just one half-marathon. In 2017, he participated in an event in Hà Nội, completing the half-marathon in 2 hours and 3 minutes. Encouraged by this achievement, he set his sights on conquering the 42km milestone.

Hùng ran his first full marathon in the Long Biên Marathon event in 2017, finishing in 4 hours and 33 minutes and securing 70th position out of more than 250 participants.


299934 hungd | FDI Việt Nam
Nguyễn Đỗ Hùng’s certificate of completion of 70km in the Việt Nam Mountain Marathon. — Photo courtesy of Hùng

This result provided Hùng with great encouragement. The former bus driver now considers long-distance races with young people a recreational activity of his old age. He began taking the marathon more seriously, but with the primary goal of maintaining his happiness and health, rather than chasing achievements.

“Given my age, I sometimes have to be mindful of my physical limits,” Hùng said. “By joining various running groups, I have learned a lot and discovered more useful exercises. Some of the exercises are, however, quite strenuous, making it difficult for young people to keep up. Therefore, someone like me, who is older, should choose exercises that are more suitable.”

Hùng’s sociable and cheerful personality, along with his passion for running, have helped him connect with numerous young people across the country who share his love for the sport. Being part of the running community has not only increased his achievements but had a positive impact on his health.

In the Long Biên Marathon in 2018, Hùng completed a 42km race in less than four hours. This would enable him to qualify for the elite Boston Marathon. Since races in Việt Nam only classify the highest age group as 40 and above, his chances of winning a medal are small. Nevertheless, a medal is not his ultimate goal.

“In each event, the number of people who win first, second, and third prizes is less than 1 per cent. That’s not my goal. My goal is to challenge myself and cross the finish line. I have also received the oldest runner award multiple times, which is a well-deserved recognition. Having the support of my family, the encouragement from friends, and receiving congratulations are incomparable rewards,” Hùng said.

299932 hungf | FDI Việt Nam
Nguyễn Đỗ Hùng (right) receives the award of the VnEXpress Marathon Imperial Huế 2022. — Photo courtesy of Hùng

Hùng has actively participated in various domestic races. Particularly noteworthy is his consistent participation in the Tiền Phong Marathon, which is held annually in different provinces. Hùng has competed in this marathon for seven consecutive years. This year, he completed the 42km race in the Tiền Phong Marathon held in Lai Châu.

Hùng vividly remembers his participation in the Việt Nam Mountain Marathon in the gruelling 70km category. During this race, he ran for nearly 20 hours without sleep, navigating steep slopes, wading through rice fields, and enduring difficult terrain. However, he maintained his unwavering spirit and completed the race without suffering any injuries.

Hùng’s relentless dedication has earned him great respect within the running community in Việt Nam.

“I truly admire Hùng. Despite his age, he runs more than young people and serves as an inspiration to many,” said Nguyễn Quang Vinh, a runner from Hà Nội.

Hùng takes great pride in his accomplishments. “Engaging in sports has made me feel youthful and healthy every day, regardless of the barriers posed by age,” he said.

299931 hunge | FDI Việt Nam
The toned steps of Nguyễn Đỗ Hùng. — Photo courtesy of Hùng

Hùng shared that there are no secrets other than hard work and consistent training to do well in long-distance running. He follows the family’s regular meal plan and trains diligently, rain or shine. During races, he relies on electrolyte salt pills and energy bars for additional sustenance. 

Every time Hùng crosses the finish line, he is filled with a sense of pride. He firmly believes that sports know no boundaries and that anyone can achieve their desired results with perseverance.  

Theo Vietnamnews