Despite only starting his trail running journey recently, Đỗ Trọng Nhơn already has an impressive record, with a win at VJM plus second places at VMM and VTM. Here he talks to us about his background, his love of mountain running, his training and more.
- What first inspired you to get into running and what is your running background?
I was born in Tay Son, Binh Định province with mountainous terrain. Since high school I often followed my parents to work part-time on the mountains close to our home. That is somehow why when I started trail running, it did not take me much time to train.
In the past I spent my free time playing sports such as soccer, volleyball and badminton. I sometimes had some small running achievements at university which I attribute to the soccer playing rather than run training. At the end of 2018, when I still worked in Tay Ninh province, I had an injury while playing football and was afraid of gaining weight, so I tried to run 3-4 km every afternoon and climb Ba Den mountain on weekends.
When I ran my first marathon, I was really overwhelmed by the atmosphere. The athletic spirit of runners along the course made me feel their strong will and dedication and since then running has totally fascinated me.
- When did you start trail running?
March 2019 when I ran my first trail race – a 42k in Da Lat. One and a half years ago. Before that, I ran my very first race – TCB HoChiMinh Marathon in Dec 2018 42k.
- We know that VJM 2019 was your second trail race and you won that race. What brought you to VJM?
After taking the third place in Da Lat I became extremely curious about running. In April and May 2019, I started to learn about running in general and trail running in particular. During this time I also had the opportunity to make friends with other runners in HCMC and that brought me the chance to know and become a member of RFF-RUNFORFUN.
Despite working in Tay Ninh province, on weekends I tried to ride my motorbike to Phu My Hung urban area to train with RFF. If there was no support and help from them, there would be no running me today. The ticket to bring me to VJM 2019 was also a special gift from RFF club to me after my surprising result at DLUT in March.
VJM was indeed a challenge and I still remember every moment of the race, from the heat and slopes of Pu Luong, to every step and breath under the harsh temperature and humidity.
- Did you have a strategy for race day? If so, did you execute it as planned?
To be honest, at the time of running VJM 2019 – my second trail race – I still was a blank slate in terms of experience and strategy. My only advantages at that time were my youth, my extreme excitement with the scenery and people of Pu Luong, my gratitude to the RFF family and Tailwind who supported me to be present at the VJM start line. It was also my excitement to travel to such a remote place for the first time. All these things pushed me to become stronger in very running step and were like a medicine to help me overcome those scary inclines.
At DLUT I was totally exhausted at km37 and then I did not use any energy other than banana and electrolyte drink from the organisers. At VJM, I was a bit worried about my nutrition but luckily I was supported by Tailwind, so I was more confident. My plan was to run slowly and at my ability and when I raced and I executed that plan. At km20, I was the third runner after a Vietnamese runner and Tiger Spearman who had just won VTM 42k in Jan. After that, I tried to speed up and luckily I won that race.
- Vietnam Jungle Marathon is infamous for not being easy for most people. Did you have a low/hard moment on course that day you won? How did you overcome it?
VJM is a tough race for all runners and I was not an exception. After 45km of running and climbing the two highest mountains when the sun was at its peak, I quickly signed on and picked up some watermelon at the final checkpoint. However, the more I walked the bigger my legs’ protest was – my knee joints seemed unable to be straight anymore. The winding up and down road slopes in front of myself made me feel more and more tired. My feet seemed to be unbearable because of my tight shoes. I remember, during the last 10km, I had to sit down twice to breath and to avoid the sun. I knew that if the second runner passed me, I would have no strength to hold the first place.
Luckily, when I needed some pushing, I met Trung Trần – a veteran in the Hanoi running community. He ran 42k and met me at the final checkpoint. He was the one who encouraged and pushed me to get to the finish line.
- You will run VMM Powered by Garmin 100k for the first time this year. What is a typical week of training for you now looking toward the race?
After my health problem at DLUT 100k pre-race , I got one more lesson and precious experience for pre-race preparation. In terms of method, I did not make many changes compared to my training time for my previous 100k; on week days I still focus on training by heartrate and I do one speed training session on Tuesday. On weekends, I will have a 4-6 hour long run in Dinh mountain (Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu). Each week I will have one day for my body to rest and recover and one hard core session
In terms of volume, I make sure to run 120-130km per week and listen to my body to adjust.
- Who do you see as your biggest rivals at VMM 100k this year? Do you think you can compete with Quang Tran at VMM 100k?
I don’t think I am deserving of this question in terms of my talent, experience and my training time compared to some elite runners such as Hùng Hải, Quang Trần, Quang Nguyễn and Sĩ Hiếu… I am nothing compared to them. I am still on my journey of learning and improving myself in terms of strength, training scheme, nutrition and especially racing spirit to conquer my next goals.
Quang Tran is my compatriot and is also my first idol when I learned about trail running. At VTM, I was very happy to stand at the start line with him for the first time. I was very excited and tried to enjoy the moment as much as possible. I was very happy to break his old record, but he was much more powerful and finished the 70k on mountain terrain with the pace of 6:15.
Nhon and Quang Tran on VTM2020 podium stage
Back to VMM 100k this year – I am very glad to have the opportunity to see his steps flying over the mountains again and this is also the chance for me to verify the results of my training. I will try to conquer the race at my best level and we will again have the chance to give a high five to each other on the course and shake hands at the finish line.
- You are now a Garmin ambassador in Vietnam – Do you think it helps your running and why?
I am very honoured to be Garmin Ambassador. Garmin has supported me a lot in training and racing. Before being a Garmin Ambassador, I always chose Garmin for my running journey, from 920XT, Foreunner 35 to Garmin 935. To me, Garmin is a family of GPS watches with easy-to-use interfaces, fast and accurate GPS systems, and the most diverse and accurate daily training data analysis platform. Importantly, there is always a huge community of Garmin users around me and we can support each other to learn and fix any problems easily.
- You have joined all three Vietnam Trail Series races – do you have a favourite and why?
I love VMM the most. Although each race held by Topas has its own unique identity, I enjoyed the atmosphere of being at the biggest trail race like VMM. We often call VMM the Trail Festival of Vietnam or the final graduation exam of trail running lovers.
- What general advice would you give to someone doing their first ultra distance race?
Choosing a distance that suits your ability because this is running, a kind of sports which requires a process of accumulation and progress day by day. Make yourself a clear training plan – the more detailed the plan is, the more easily you can achieve your goal. Train hard and with discipline and enjoy your training sessions with a relaxed mind. And lastly, learn from who have had experience in ultra trail races.
- Who is your running hero/inspiration?
Definitely Quang Tran and a world-wide well known ultra runner Xavier Thévenard.
- Lastly, what is the biggest thing you’ve got from running so far?
With running, I only ‘get’ and do not ‘lose’ anything. I have got good health, endurance and a fresh spirit. I have made friends with new people. I have had opportunities to travel to new lands where races are organized. I have learned and shared my knowledge and experience in running and in many other fields in life.
Read an interview with another VJM 2019 champ, Hisashi Kitamura, here
Read our interview with Quang Tran here