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Da Nang International Marathon Race Recap

I have bagged my fifth marathon at Da Nang, Vietnam last Sunday, which was the 11th August 2019. It was my slowest marathon to date but I felt a strong sense of accomplishment. The aches and pain meant that my body has put up a good fight against the scorching heat.

Yes, it sounds crazy that an Southeast Asian city would organise a marathon race in the middle of August, which is basically the second hottest month in the year. What is even crazier? Over 1000 people (or idiots?) signed up and showed up for the event in 2019, and I was one of them.

Despite the complaints, I have no hesitation recommending Da Nang International Marathon, or perhaps the Half Marathon as a more sensible and enjoyable race so you can avoid the blazing sun. The event is well organised, the course is flat and IAAF-AIMS certified. Runners get to admire the sunrise and run over the longest and beautiful suspension bridge in Vietnam. I wouldn't recommend it if you are going after a personal best or to qualify for Boston Marathon, unless you are super heat-adapted. I picked this race as motivation to continue training through the summer, as I also have the NYC marathon to look forward to in November (very excited!). There are other summer marathons in the region, like Gold Coast in July and Hokkaido in August, but Da Nang is the closest to Hong Kong and the cheapest of the three races.

My husband and I were travelling around Myanmar the week before. We arrived in Da Nang on Wednesday as our last stop where we could relax for a few days before the next working week. The weather, with temperature at 33C but feels like 41C, was perfect for lying by the pool but not so much for running. I was definitely getting worried about the heat and the sun exposure on race day.

On Friday my husband and I went for a run at around 8am (31C/ 87F) as a pre-race shake out. We sweated through our running tops after an easy half-hour run. It felt like running in a steam bath but with the sun over you. It was going to be a tough race on Sunday. The challenge was how to pace the entire 42 km. Should I run faster to cover as much distance as possible before sunrise and it got hot, or focus on conserving energy to avoid blowout in the second half?

I knew I could complete the race, it was a matter of how long it would take. By now I have had months of heat training in Hong Kong but any temperature above 30C (86F) under the sun would always feel uncomfortable.

On Saturday I went to pick up my bib. The expo and the race start were at Bien Dong Park on My Khe Beach, which was very accessible. The race was scheduled for 430am on Sunday, with bib collection available from 3pm to 8pm on Friday and then all day on Saturday. The expo was modest in size, there were a handful of stalls selling sponsors' energy gels, drinks and games. The bib collection took one minute and was stress-free. After a quick picture with my bib, I headed back to the hotel for an early night.

Next morning I got up at 3am, had a coffee and a couple of bite-sized snack bars, which was all I could stomach in the early hours. I went through my marathon checklist and slapped copious amount of sunscreen over my face, neck, arms and legs.

By 4am I got to the start line. The temperature was around 27C (80F) and quite humid. I heard there were about 3000 runners but I guessed that number included all participants across the full, the half, 10km and 5km races. It was big enough to be an international race but also small enough that I was through the start line within 6 seconds!

The marathon course was made up of 2 x half marathon loops. The full marathon started at 430am, and the half started 10 minutes later. The course was mostly flat with very gentle incline over a few bridges, including Thuan Phuoc Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Vietnam. There were water stations every 2km, some with electrolytes, bananas and watermelons. There were a few showers in the second loop, some of the showers were only dribbles but not nothing in this heat!. There were small groups of volunteers cheering the runners. I really appreciated having them around, these kids must have been standing there for hours cheering for us. The Vietnamese were so kind and welcoming.

Contrary to my poor experience at the Hong Kong Marathon, I enjoyed the company of the half marathoners in the first lap because there was so much room to run. It was much safer to have them around for "strength in numbers" because we had to cross several roundabouts alongside delivery trucks, buses, cars and mopeds during the race. It was a very Vietnamese road experience. It was a tad scary being wrapped around by scooters, a touch too gritty for my eyes and too diesel-rich for my exercising lungs.

Since the course was so flat, there wasn't much to think about except for whether I was maintaining my posture, a relaxed pace, a sensible heart rate, and having something left to repeat the lap in about 2 hours time. I took me about 1h2m to complete 10k, then 2h17m to complete the first half marathon. By the time I had finished one loop, I knew this would be a >4h30m marathon. It was okay, I felt my body holding up well.

During the second loop, I was focused on keeping my body temperature down. I kept pouring water over my head, neck and back at every drinking station, and taking frequent walking breaks. The sun was fully up by 8am and the temperature reached 33C/ 92F by the end of the race. The scorching sun and the dwindling number of runners made for a completely different experience in the second lap. The last 5k was especially tough and my eyes were stinging from sunscreen and sand swept up by the trucks. I ran the second half in 2h26m as I had to walk for much of the last 2 miles. Somehow I managed to run the last 200m to the finish thanks to the cheering crowd. I couldn't hear well but I guess the speaker was calling out my name and bib number. How nice!

It was a tough and drawn out race but I felt completely triumphant. One year ago I would have thought 4h43m over a flat course totally unremarkable. But this race has given me many new perspectives. I have learned a great deal about being REALLY patient, listening to my body, and having the trust and confidence that I could finish the race. I didn't care about the time as my mind was so busy keeping strong to the finish. I was just so happy I did it. Also, having a healthy mindset made a huge difference to my race experience.

It was my slowest marathon and I honestly still feel like it was the best race performance I have delivered to date. More to come!

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