– ODO- 18803-18925km
– Location- Khan Duc, Vietnam
– Weather- 27 solid rain
A week has passed since my last diary. After a week working in Hoi An in a beachside AirBnB, George and I jumped on a budget flight back up to the same latitude as we began, flying a week’s worth of cycling in under an hour.
George is a keen runner, one of those characters that pops up on Strava and puts you to shame, and we’d been speaking for months about finding a race to run as part of the trip. We were out of season for a series of trail runs around the central highlands but it turned out the weather was perfect in Ha Long Bay.
The whole region is a UNESCO world heritage site and we got a taste on the long taxi from nearby Cat Bi airport. The trademark cliffs and spires I’d seen since Laos continued here into the ocean making spires of dark rock coated in wild green with eagles circling overhead. We checked into our apartment and spend the first day hunting for good vegan food in town to find the two Loving Hut locations both hard to find and closed outside of the lunch and dinner slots. We collected our bib numbers with the timing chips that would track our progress on the course, ate double portions of rice and headed to bed. As we entered the apartment we could hear the bass of terrible hard house remix tracks playing through the floor. Out of hundreds of apartments in our block, the one below had chosen the night before the marathon for a party. I put my earplugs in and the music continued until 4am.
At 4:30 am I had overslept my alarm and George shook me awake for our 3k warm-up jog to the start line. I grabbed a peanut butter sandwich and slipped out the door. It was dark and misty and the ground was a little wet from rain overnight. The air was humid but cool. Not cool enough to stop the sweat dripping even at the relaxed pace.
At the start line, it was still dark. The crowd was being pumped by more hard house including a remix of We Are The Champions. The announcer said there were over three thousand runners at the event. Mainly from Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia but there was a smattering of faces from Europe and Asian countries.
The marathon started first. I was doing the half so I watch George leave and took some terrible photos. Half an hour later it was my turn. It was first light but a thin layer of cloud kept the sky dark. The race was live on Vietnamese TV so there were more drones in the sky than Fallujah, one almost crashed as it backed into the building behind the start, it’s propellers grinding against the glass.
The energy at the start of races is hard to convey. The feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of others crazy, like you, having got up at 4 am on a Sunday, stuff their pockets with sugar gels and race through unknown streets, but what we knew what was to come.
The course came through the main bay which looks out over the sea of unclimbable rock islands while red lights flash from hundreds of fishing boats painted in pink, blue and green. From the harbourfront, the track climbs steeply up to the foot of the main highway bridge. On one side you can see the old town surrounded by new-build apartments packaging the stunning views for their future owners on the other an oil processing field filled with National oil company Petrolomax ships unloading via long pipes.
On the far side, the track drops down to the sea again. On this side, there is a wide sandy beach and a water park. For the marathon route, the hill is saved for last. For me I turned right back at the beach and headed up the hill I’d just descended for the view of the bay in reverse.
I was happy with my time of 1:52 and waited for George to come in. He smashed it. 10th overall with a time of 3:17. Next time we’re together we’ll have to pick a flatter, cooler corse. Two days later I’m still aching in the calves so I sit in the saddle and let my quads to the work. 120km in the pouring rain.