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Ho Chi Minh City’s growing community of ‘hardcore’ runners

Wednesday, February 26, 2020, 11:00 GMT+7
Ho Chi Minh City’s growing community of ‘hardcore’ runners
Duc Tuan, a popular singer in Vietnam, is seen joining a marathon in this supplied photo.

Running has attracted a large number of young citizens in Vietnam over the years, with a variety of running events hosted in Ho Chi Minh City and other areas and runners finding the sport a way to stay fit and build a sense of community.

Founded in 2013, the Sunday Running Club (SRC) is an active community of runners in Ho Chi Minh City.

It now has thousands of followers who regularly run at popular parks and tourist destinations around town.

Every now and then, SRC hosts a diversity of events for domestic and foreign runners not just in the city, but elsewhere in Vietnam.

A burgeoning community

Pham Thanh Tuan, 37 years old, is the founder of SRC.

During his overseas studies in Singapore back in 2011, he witnessed an entirely different attitude to keeping fit and staying healthy in the young Singaporeans.

Despite late night working shifts, office workers in the city-state still make it to the gym and sports centers or go running even at 9:00 pm.

Meanwhile, their Vietnamese counterparts are more prone to staying up late and drinking in bars along busy streets after work.

Such a ‘revelation’ prompted Tuan to kickstart a healthy movement amongst his fellow Ho Chi Minh City residents.

He started by running alone every morning.

“I would run from the Hang Xanh intersection in Binh Thanh District to the downtown Reunification Palace. At the time runners like me were a rare sight,” he said of his first days at the cause.

As he could not locate any existing groups of similar interests, Tuan started a topic thread in an online sports forum where he discussed running and shared his tips.

Online interactions gradually turned into offline meetings between like-minded running enthusiasts, resulting in the official launch of SRC.

Apart from their daily personal running routes, members also gather together three times a week for group running at Le Van Tam Park in District 3 and the Reunification Palace and Tao Dan Park in District 1.

“We get to exchange techniques and experience in running. We boast about how we lose weight, build stamina or conquer some kind of challenge like a long route,” the founder shared.

“We inspire each other to run more.”

The first public event that SCR members appeared in was a marathon hosted by RMIT University in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City.

They showed up in uniform and were the largest group to take part in the run, which made them stood out from other participants.

Ever since, SCR has been a frequent participant in running events large and small around town, regularly winning top prizes.

The club has also organized runs for running lovers everywhere, like the 2015-2016 Ho Da Trail in Thu Duc District, the 2016 Marathon in Can Gio District, the 2019 La An Ultra Trail in Da Lat City, with routes varying in length at 15km, 35km, 55km, and 75km.

The marathon in Da Lat called to 1,600 runners of more than 20 nationalities.

“As a runner myself, I fully understand what people look for when they sign up for such an event,” Tuan said.

“True runners do not go for the prizes. What they want is a real challenge and simply a chance to enhance their health.”

In recent years, SRC has hosted several charity runs. They have raised funds for lepers in Quy Nhon City in south-central Vietnam, and for the Thanh Tam orphanage in Can Gio District, Ho Chi Minh City in 2019.

“Such a sense of community has glued members together. Besides enhancing their own well-being, members get to actually do something meaningful to the community,” Tuan stressed.

Phan Thanh Tuan, founder of the Sunday Running Club with thousands of members, wears an SRC uniform while joining a run in this supplied photo.

Phan Thanh Tuan, founder of the Sunday Running Club with thousands of members, wears an SRC uniform while joining a run in this supplied photo.

The singer that runs

Duc Tuan is a popular pop star in Vietnam. He got swooped away by the thrill of running after his first try at the sport four months ago.

It was the Operation Smile Marathon, held in the town of Sa Pa in northern Vietnam with a rugged route of 21km, that introduced the 40-year-old singer to the sport.

“I was the 110th to cross the finish line after three hours and 20 minutes. There were 6,000 runners altogether, professional and amateur,” he recalled.

“After conquering this 21km challenge, I was mesmerized. I’ve been running every day ever since.”

The singer said he entered the event without any previous experience or skills, so the slippery road got him scratches and injuries.

The pain, however, paled in comparison with the joy of victory.

To Tuan, running has become a way of life. He runs on the treadmill on a daily basis and outside in the streets 1-2 times a week for a length of 10-15km along Thi Nghe Canal or in the parks around Ho Chi Minh City.

“Treadmills actually build our patience a lot, because it is very boring looking at the same scene and running in the same way,” he commented.

“Street running prepares me for professional marathons and other running events.”

From his account, there is a mobile app that allows runners in a group to share their stories and encourage one another.

Making time to run

“You may be busy, but that does not mean you can’t run,” said runner Vu Thanh Bang.

“Start off by 5-10 minutes of running in place after getting out of bed. Do the same once you get to your office. You can also get a treadmill at home or place one at your workplace.”

According to this runner, only a few months of such relaxed running will allow many to move on to a phase of “crazy” real running in the open air.

Before long, they will seek a healthy lifestyle while taking to the streets lined with trees and running along companions.

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