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Behind the scenes at Vietnam Ultra Marathon

Right after VJM, many of the Topas Sapa team headed directly to Mai Chau to work on the trails of our new race, Vietnam Ultra Marathon. Read on to learn more about their work and also a special ritual of the Muong people which the team were invited to observe.

Vietnam Ultra Marathon landscape 1

The first inspection of Mai Chau was carried out by two members of the Topas Team – David (our Race Director) and Kien (our Project Manager). This came following their other inspection trips in a number of different provinces scouting for a potential location for a new race.

On their very first trip in Mai Chau it was established that the area had all the ingredients for a great race. The basic shape of our VUM 70k, 50k and 25k courses were also set.

This was then followed up by subsequent research trips with more members of the Topas team, plus meetings at the province and district levels. Once we had established the race was confirmed to take place, it was time to bring some of the wider team to Mai Chau.

Vietnam Ultra Marathon - Trail of Mai Chau - Topas - 8

From VJM to VUM

The day after Vietnam Jungle Marathon many of our Sapa-based Topas team enjoyed a lunch with our Hanoi team and the people of Ban Hang Finish Village, celebrating the success of a beautiful race.

Once lunch was over, some of our core team members from the marking and checkpoint team headed directly to Mai Chau to work on VUM.

The team divided into units to work on sections of the 70k, 50k, 25k and 10k courses.

“We had recently worked hard on Vietnam Mountain Marathon and we had just spent a week working long days on VJM, but we had plenty of energy remaining to conduct this VUM inspection,” said Kien.

He added: “The team had taken energy from the great atmosphere at VJM and they were also excited to work on the new VUM project. We all love the mountains and the chance for the Sapa team to get out into the hills all together is special.”

Photograph: Crew members on inspection of the VUM course

Chancing upon a ritual

On our first inspection trip to Mai Chau, we had met Mr. Binh, a local man who joined us on a section of the trail on the way from his home in the Muong Pa valley up to Hang Kia.

When the team returned to his village this time there was an important ritual taking place at his house: the Nuoc Ca ritual.

Nuoc Ca is a key ritual of the Muong ethnic group, to which Mr. Binh belongs. It is held to pray for the family’s health and to thank the gods for providing them with a healthy life and a plentiful harvest. It is normally performed once every 2-3 years by each Muong household, so the fact that the Topas team arrived on this day was fortunate for us and also pleased Binh and his family.

Nuoc Ca ritual

For the ritual, they had prepared 1 pig, 2 ducks, 24 chickens, and several cakes from freshly gathered sticky rice. To give the offerings, they had created intricate, multi-layered altars. Neighbours and family members will arrive to assist the homeowner with the preparations for the offering ritual.

The shaman will be invited by the homeowner to execute the ritual for the entire family. The worshipping ritual will last from early morning until late afternoon. When the ritual concludes late in the afternoon, the entire family and everyone involved in the ceremony will eat together and wish the homeowner well.

Photograph: The shaman conducts the ritual during our VUM inspection.

Ready for VUM

This Sapa Topas team inspection was part of the on-going preparation for the first edition of Vietnam Ultra Marathon which will take place on 23/3/2024.

More work will be done by our team on up-coming trips, but now all the groundwork has been laid for a successful first edition of a beautiful ultra race on the Trails of Mai Chau.