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365 Marathons in a Year - Le Thi Hang Achieves the Incredible

Despite only taking up running in 2022, Hang has just finished a marathon every day for the full year of 2023. In the same year, she also came second at the VMM100k, beating many far more experienced runners. Here, we talk to her about her motivations, her training, her nutrition and whether she will wear the YSandals she wore for VMM again when she returns for VMM 2024… 

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How did the 365 project first come about?

During 2022, I came across an article about a man who ran 42 kilometers every day, which piqued my interest because I could only run 10 to 20 kilometers. I went over his tracklog a few times, but that was it. I forgot about this story due to my hectic work schedule. 

But then on December 31, 2022, I was running a marathon in Vung Tau when my friend Bui Duy Hai told me about a man who had just completed a 365-day marathon project. I told him I wanted to try it, and he surprised me by saying, “Why not?”.  

He may have said it as a joke and I imagine he did not expect me to take it seriously. However, after that, I did additional research and discovered that Gary McKee had done it to raise funds for cancer patients. I thought to myself: “If he can do it, then so can I”.   

My path continues out of passion, and through time I paid greater attention to my own body and practiced gratitude. There aren’t many occasions in my life when I can start something with true zeal and never look back. 

As a kid were you sporty? Could you have ever imagined yourself doing this at 36 years old when you were 16?

I was born and raised in a large family with many siblings. As the older sister, I had to help my parents and never had time to participate in sports. I was shy and timid as well.  

Then in 2020, yoga was popular , so I took it up as a hobby, but my body was as stiff as a statue, so I was not confident. However, a friend encouraged me to keep going, so I proceeded with Yoga as my first activity. I did it for a while, but then Covid appeared, and everything was completely shut down.  

I then practiced yoga at home and did some meditation as well. As a result, I was becoming increasingly introverted. It wasn’t until I did the fingerprint biometry that I understood my two cerebral hemispheres were misaligned and that I needed to do something more active to balance them out. A friend suggested I start running, but I was not committed to it.  

I decided to start running seriously in 2022, but I was out of breath after the first 100 meters. It was so difficult that I couldn’t see why I should continue. But then I thought, “Is that it? I’m simply going to give up like that?” So, I did another 1 kilometer and 3 kilometers for an hour the next day.  

Then I met a friend who asked, “What was your purpose when you first wanted to try running?”. I thought again about why: I knew I wanted to be better and happier. Watching runners in Vung Tau every morning inspired me. 

Following that, I began running with a goal in mind, first completing relatively short distances. When I was running, I felt that me and nature had become one, and the fresh air was a gift from the universe to my life. 

In just one year you went from zero, to beginning the marathon a day project. After 1 year of running, what gave you the confidence to think your mind and your body could do it?

The fact that I grew up in a mountainous area and casually followed my father and brother to harvest wood and rose myrtle is the biggest advantage I have in this 365 marathon challenge.  

Before you took on this extreme challenge at 36 years old, had you ever done anything else you would consider extreme in your life?

I have never done anything like this before. This is the first time I’ve had the courage to put everything on hold for a year to learn about myself and find out what is my passion? What are my wants and needs? 

You do not run all the marathons, but you do not make them easy either – on many you add elevation gain including hill repeats. Is the gain added because you enjoy it, as training for trail races, or for other reasons?

At the beginning, I intended to run the entire journey on the road, but I was concerned that it would harm my bones and joints. Light trail running allowed me to prepare for trail events while also increasing my strength. 

You begin many of your marathons at around 1am, but you have also previously said sleep is important to your performance. How do you get enough sleep and what do you classify as ‘enough’ for you?

During my night run period, I usually sleep early at around 7 pm to ensure I finish my goal. After that, I rest for an hour for my body to recover after a long run. My daily sleep regimen ranges from 6 to 7 hours. 

When you are out at night time in the darkness, what keeps you going when there are no views – just yourself and the night? Music, podcasts, or your own thoughts? If the latter, would you say this some form of meditation?

Running at night brings mixed feelings. I used to always run on the busy road with streetlights and late-night restaurants. After a while on the familiar path, just having a motorcycle following behind made me nervous, but happily, everything is going well so far. Because my journey is still long, I am grateful that I am still going strong. I believe in individuals, and whether they are bad or nice is determined by our own views. 

Running on a mountain I have snakes, bugs, and dogs occasionally frightening me. So, I decided to talk to them while simultaneously finding a way to relax: “The mountain is your home, but the trail belongs to everyone, so please respect our boundary. I am thankful for each and every one of you.” After that, I calmed myself down with the help of my trusty Fenix headlamp and music from my CellphoneS earphones. My primary motivation is to raise funds for Bright Future and Operation Smile. 

We know your friends have called you crazy and your mother even suggested you stop the challenge when you were half way through. How do you explain why you continue to those who cannot comprehend what you are doing?

When people judge me or my journey, I only say thank you and nothing else. My mom was not pleased but I persuaded her that I was halfway there and told her to give me one year to prove myself. She unwillingly approved at that time and now she is my biggest supporter. 

You finished second at VMM 100k and you were close to winning until the last kilometers, despite racing against the very experienced and accomplished Man Yee. Having seen your training, we expected you to do well on the VMM course as we could see you would have the physical and mental stamina for it. But were you surprised by your performance? And how did it feel to come second?

To have a one-in-a-lifetime experience like VMM, I must send a big thank you to my 2 brothers – Nguyễn Văn and Lanh Lê for their unwavering support and assistance during this journey. This year, I have 365 FULL MARATHON to complete, which limits my capacity to participate in races, but they convinced me that this is a 10th year celebration event, so I had to come.  On top of that, Operation Smile was generous enough to sponsor my race bib with one of their free charity slots from Topas. 

My goal once I decided to do the race was to finish the race in a top-tier position. It sounded almost impossible for someone who has never run a race before. On race pack collection day, my friends at the VBRC club and QBR-LCR club were being very supportive, which gave me so much power to finish the race. 

During the starting point, I was way behind everyone and decided to pass Tiểu Đường and Lợi Lương during the climb at Hàm Rồng Mountain. I continued going with my motivation and didn’t worry who was ahead of me.  

Only when David handed me the GPS tracker at the first CP did I realize that I was at the front. I was thinking to myself that the race had now begun, and I still had a long way to go to maintain my lead.  

When the girl from Hong Kong passed me, I was hesitating and wondered should I push or play it safe, since I still have the 365 FULL MARATHON journey after this. Finally, I decided to protect myself and the second place was already a blessing. 

When I saw the finish line ahead, I burst with happiness. Once again, thank you for hosting such an amazing event and giving me an experience like never before.   

Many were surprised when you finished the VMM 100 km wearing Ysandals. The VMM course has a lot of technical sections and plenty of steep up and down. How did the sandal perform on that terrain ? Would you wear it again if you come back to race VMM in Sapa in 2024?

Everyone was concerned when I decided to wear Ysandals to race and advised me not to. The Ysandal, on the other hand, was really comfy and provided excellent foot support for me. I use Ysandal a lot in practice, so I was certain that these would provide me with excellent running experience in VMM. 

Le Thi Hang with her friends wearing VMM T-shirts
Le Thi Hang with her friends

Do you have any special memories of that first VMM 100k?

I can’t recall all the memories since there were so many. But I remember the warmest welcome from my club member at Lao Cai station. After that, there were other memories along the way, such as the concrete hill climb or the chayote garden, that made me want to stop and enjoy the atmosphere. However, once I passed through it and arrived at the Cow Mountain climb, a man ran downhill and asked if I was Le Hang. I had no idea who he was at the time, but he insisted on filming me running. He told me to go slowly so he could follow, but I laughed and said I was going to walk from now on. That was Dat from the media crew, and Xuan Do was also amazing and welcoming. I enjoyed chatting and posing with them until the Hong Kong girl was close behind me and I realized I needed to move quickly. 

During training, nutrition is crucial. We know you prefer to use natural foods and also make your own. Can you tell the readers a bit about your nutrition in training. And also on race day at VMM?

My daily nutrition is quite simple, and I gained 3,5 kilograms just by following this. Before my daily run, I usually drink one cup of mild salt water and then I put the following into a blender and drink it: 4 bananas, 1 bowl of spinach, 1 sweet potato, 1 cucumber or aloe vera, coconut meat, 2 spoon of Herbalife H24, 2 spoons of cereal from CoCoHat, 1 table spoon of chia seed, flaxseed and oatmeal, a little salt, 1 lemon, olive oil and 500ml of water.  

My lunch includes sesame rice, tofu, and fried egg. My dinner is basically the same but sometimes I use chickpeas instead of tofu. That is pretty much my daily meal and I add nuts and fruits as a snack. 

When I do races, I use salt tablets, dark ginseng drink, protein bars I made myself, fruits, and drinks from the race organizer. 

How important do you think mental toughness is in completing your challenge? And do you think you have become mentally stronger over this year?

I believe that you must approach anything with determination, effort, perseverance, and discipline. In terms of my health, I’ve become more resilient, have healthy tanned skin, refuse western medication, and practice self-healing by listening to my body. 

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Many will wonder how you can do what you do and also work. How do you manage the work-marathon balance?

To balance this aspect of my life, I must run most nights, try to sleep sooner, decline coffee dates with friends, and refrain from partying. To self-provide throughout this journey, I leave the house when everyone is still sleeping and return around 8-9 p.m. to undertake some of my favorite activities, such as baking protein bars and making kim chi and paté. 

Next year, when this is not part of your life, what will you do instead? Will you replace this goal with another? Perhaps focus more on races?

2024 is the year I want to solely focus on my business, but I also intend to practice for UTMB France as well. Prior to that, perhaps a cross-country journey would be an amazing experience, but I’m still working on it and will update you later. 

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During the 365-day journey of running a full marathon, what is the most meaningful thing you have learned?

Every Full Marathon, in my opinion, carried an unsolved mystery and I had to face them all one by one to see that this journey is no different from our regular life.  

Sometimes I’m full of energy, and other times I feel down and want to give up. But, in the end, I must push through and keep moving forward to reach the happiness that lies beneath. That’s also why I’m in love with running, and I need to find love within myself before I can find love in someone else. 

Finally, you have now inspired many people we are sure. Besides Gary McKee who did the 365 project before and inspired your project, who else inspires you and why?

Many people may believe that I am spreading influence in the community, but I am the one who is thankful for all the love and support from the running community. Your nice words and kind support motivate me every day, which is a blessing. When I embarked on this adventure, I had no intention of seeking sponsorship or financial assistance since I wanted to oversee the situation rather than relying on others. My greatest source of encouragement is the love and care I receive from family, friends, clients, and runners. That is the most valuable present someone can give me in the world. I am once again expressing my gratitude to the people around me. Thank you! 

Donate to Operation Smile

Hang competed her project to raise funds for Operation Smile. You can donate to this cause directly – learn how here.