Canal Aventure events, authentic and off the beaten track, owe a lot to the local staff who helps us in each country. In Vietnam, our partner for several years is called Viêt Doan Van. Before meeting again during the next edition of the Ultra ASIA Race, let’s take a glance at our common adventure.
Organizing ultramarathons depends on various settings and notably route choice. We must pay attention to the country, find accessible but unspoiled areas. We need to take the time to explore relevant places and most of all, to be accompanied by people who know the area and local culture.
Northwest of Vietnam, in the green region of Mai Châu, participants run 160km in four stages between plains, rice fields and mountains, crossing many villages. With a special feature: homestay accommodation for runners and staff. From our first race in the country in 2016 to the latest in March 2020, Viêt and his team have lived many unusual situations…
[ Getting a new perspective on well-known landscapes ]
We met Viêt in 2015 while preparing this brand new race. The agency he was working for as a tour guide put us in touch and very soon, he had to come along for a perfect checking of the racetrack. Viêt – local lad – sincerely tells that it was a real discovery.
“Tourist guides are used to 20km trips on roads… not to 40km walks on trails and being present 24/24! And we often receive help from porters, mountain guides, cooks…” It is true that ultramarathons have nothing to do with sightseeing tours.
“In fact, we did not really know what this race was. We had to find unpaved paths, to go fast. It was cold and rainy. It was hard and we had to adapt, memorise every single detail, taking notice of each potential pass.”
Viêt tells they did not immediately understand the importance of “details”. For example, the markers installed too soon that a few kids had moved before the beginning of the race… Add the morning fog! We had to react fast to put the runners back on the right path … this first day was difficult for all of us!
“Luckily, we solved that at night. We thought about better tasks planning and management of injuries and retirements. You have to anticipate everything… even the unpredictable.”
[ A real team(s) work ]
Through the years, the pressure relieved. Viêt and a dozen people (most of them are cousins) start their day very early. Some prepare meals of the day for the staff, others manage logistics and join the trail in order to check and fill out markings. The local group has to be fully dedicate and responsive on the track all day long until the last runner crosses the finish line.
When all runners are arrived, we all gather to the house of a welcoming inhabitant. Then it is time for the briefing and Viêt is there. He plays a key role by translating and giving all information to the Vietnamese staff. Translation issues and a different cultural approach sometimes lead to difficulties but this is also our challenge: working as a team and being listening to advance together. At the end of the day, the whole team is eager to enjoy the dinner. Moment of sharing, exchanges and conviviality where links weave. After 9pm, silence is required for a much-needed rest. “I want and I have to stay close to them in order to preserve cohesion and toughness of the group.”
[ 2020: adapt and resist ]
“In March, preparing the race, we were thinking about a three month epidemic. In our field, the activity is quite low during spring and most of the tourists coming from everywhere arrive in July. We thought we could hold on.” But the pandemic pulled all over for Viêt and his colleagues. It was not the first time that a virus was changing daily life in Asia but he adds “Today, life is quite normal here, except for tourist industry.”
To overcome, all are adapting and diversifying: moto taxi, online sale, etc. To overcome, all are adapting and diversifying: moto taxi, online sale, etc.
Viêt also launched a You Tube program called Cap Vietnam with one of his colleagues. From discovery of the various Vietnamese food and traditions to the places to see, they became “remote” guides. But he will soon have to put it aside for a while to face a painful familial situation taking all his time. “We have three children and my father-in-law, stricken with cancer, is wasting away. Fortunately, my wife still works and sustains the family.” Solidarity is also present and – circumstances permitting – he could soon join a hotel front desk in Hanoi or Sapa.
A long lasting period of uncertainty but Viêt confirms that anyway, he will be there for the next Ultra ASIA Race. “We feel confident, Jérôme is a friend now. For five years, it became a custom, a chance, a pleasure to be together again. It is like a meal or a traditional feast, when you don’t have it, you miss it…”
To join our teams on one of our events, please find all the information HERE.
Let’s go with Viêt to discover his country on Cap Vietnam.