Sports

Thousands of runners descend on blossom-filled Mộc Châu

The opportunity to run on remote trails through blossom-filled orchards and between timeless minority villages set in beautiful landscapes attracts runners from all over Việt Nam and 39 other nations which will be represented on race day.

 

327589 runa | FDI Việt Nam
Runners compete in the Việt Nam Trail Marathon last year. This year’s event will attract more than 4,000 runners from 40 nations. — Photos courtesy of the organiser

Marathon

MỘC CHÂU — More than 4,000 runners from 40 nations this weekend will race up to 70km at the Việt Nam Trail Marathon (VTM) 2024 across the mountainous terrain of Mộc Châu as the plum blossoms bloom ahead of Lunar New Year.

The opportunity to run on remote trails through blossom-filled orchards and between timeless minority villages set in beautiful landscapes attracts runners from all over Việt Nam and 39 other nations which will be represented on race day. This race is famed for its warmly welcoming locals who line the village roads supporting runners. Many of the locals are Mông people, and because it is Mông people’s New Year during the race weekend, runners can expect to see them dressed in their finest traditional clothing.

The finish line is also a major attraction, as it is one of the most beautifully located finishes in the world, set among the heart shaped tea hills of Mộc Châu.

Men’s 70km race

The male race sees an in-form Valentin Orange of France on the start line. In his 2023 race season he put in a string of top performances, including four trail run victories – two in Việt Nam and two in France. Back in 2021 he also won the 70km category of Việt Nam Trail Marathon – his first ultra victory. This was also the same race at which Hà Thị Hậu won her first ever ultra.

Orange cites that victory as a key reason he is returning this year: “This is a race I am very fond of, since this is where I won my first ultra!” he says.

Valentin’s top competitor will be Nguyễn Tiến Hùng, who scored a significant trail victory in 2023 – the prestigious 100km at Việt Nam Mountain Marathon (VMM). Hùng has also stood on the top step at Việt Nam Trail Marathon – he won the 70k in 2022.

Given the fast racing that can be expected right from the gun between this pair, there is a prospect of the 70km course record being under threat. That blistering fast course record of 7:06:56 is currently held by Quang Trần, who set his time on the slightly different, but comparable course back in 2020. 

Other male podium contenders include Nguyễn Sĩ Hiếu, who won the VTM 21km last year; Nguyễn Tiến Võ, second place VJM 70km 2023; and Nguyễn Đức Tuấn Anh, winner of the VJM 50km and second place at VTM 70km in 2023.

 

327588 run | FDI Việt Nam
A runner enjoys her moment at the Việt Nam Trail Marathon last year. 

Women’s 70km contenders

Vanja Cnops of Belgium will return to the VTM to take on the 70km following her two previous 42km wins at this race. Cnops is a huge fan of racing in Việt Nam, having previously scored multiple victories at Sa Pa’s Việt Nam Mountain Marathon and Pù Luông’s Việt Nam Jungle Marathon.

Cnops will be racing a relative newcomer to Việt Nam’s trail scene, Lê Thị Hằng. Despite only taking up running in 2022, in 2023 Hằng completed a full marathon (42km) every single day of the year, completing her marathon 365 project. She also came a strong second at the VMM 100km, very close behind the far more experienced winner, Man Yee of Hong Kong. 

On racing in Mộc Châu, Hằng says: “I am curious about the beauty of the blossoms and as a trail runner, I like to immerse myself in nature.”

Hằng will give a talk at the VTM Expo about her 365 project: “I want to spread the word about my love of running. I knew nothing about running at first, but when I set my sights on the 365 project, I got very serious about my path and goal,” she says.

Other podium contenders include Sutinee Rasp of Thailand who is coming back to Việt Nam again following her third place at VMM 70km last year. Akane Nemoto of Japan, winner of the VMM 70km and third at VTM 70km in 2022, will also be one to watch.

 

327587 le | FDI Việt Nam
SEA Games gold medallist Phạm Thị Hồng Lệ will compete in the women’s 42km at the upcoming Việt Nam Trail Marathon.

Fierce 42km race

The women’s 42km sees a lot of talent from Việt Nam. Phạm Thị Hồng Lệ is a professional with a glowing list of results including one gold, four silver medals and two bronze medals at the SEA Games. She has also previously won the VTM 21km category. It will be very interesting to see how she performs on the 42km distance in Mộc Châu.

Alongside her will be Lương Thị Lợi who took second at the VTM 70km and third at the VMM 100km, both in 2023. Another podium contender is Nguyễn Thị Trà Giang, who will be looking to improve on her third place in the 42km at the VTM last year.

The men’s 42km field will see strong runner Harry Wager of New Zealand. He is racing off the back of two wins in 2023 – the 3 Peaks 26km in New Zealand and the Ultribe Paderu 50km. Wager will be up against Vincent Cassanova from France, who has a road marathon time of 2:34 – speed that could convert to a fast time on the VTM course.

Charity work and funding

Founded in 2019, the VTM, organised by Topas, has become one of the biggest races on the Southeast Asian trail circuit.

Every Việt Nam Trail Series race contributes money to charitable work. The money raised from the VTM 2024 brings the total series amount to around US$445,000.

On race weekend, much needed medical equipment to treat critically ill newborn babies will be formally presented to the local Mộc Châu Hospital by representatives of the race organiser, Topas together with Newborns Việt Nam.

Furthermore, over 50 disadvantaged kids and their support staff from Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation are being fully supported to take part by organiser Topas. The kids will be brought from Hà Nội to enjoy a night in Mộc Châu before joining the race, adding further meaning to the event.

Theo Vietnamnews