VTM 70k champion Hau Ha is relatively new to mountain running, but in a very short period she has developed a passion for the trails that matches her natural talent for running them. Here we talk with her about her road running background, her training, her inspiration and more.
When did you first get into running and what were your best pre-trail running results?
I started running in 2006 when I was at high school. I won the marathon race organized by Lao Cai newspaper for three consecutive years from 2006 to 2008 and became a ‘seed’ runner for Van Ban District, where I was born. After finishing high school, I took the entrance exam to become a gymnastics teacher, but was disqualified because of my height even though I did very well in all subjects.
I then stopped running until July 2020 when my tourism job was affected by the covid-19 pandemic and I couldn’t control my weight. So, I started running again after 12 years without real workouts.
My best non-trail achievement was winning the Lao Cai organised event in 2021 with the 5k victory in 17 minutes.
What made you get into trail running relatively recently?
It was by chance that I met the Sapa Runner team when I was jogging in Mắt Ngọc lake. They saw me running very well, so they invited me to join the group and train together. My first challenge with the group was 21km. I had never run on a trail before, so when I was running on the majestic mountains of Sa Pa, through villages and terraced fields, that stimulated passion in me, plus I got to the finish ahead of all the team members. Since then I’ve been hooked on trail running and cannot stop anymore!
You won the VMM 2020 Sunday 21k beating the first man by 26 minutes. That was your first big trail race and you were an unknown runner in the trail world at that time. What factors do you think led to that win? Maybe familiarity with Sapa trails helped?
When I first started, I ran at high speed with confidence and I always think about my love for Sapa, and want to get the glory for my Sapa.
You then went on to win the 70k at VTM 2021. Before that, the furthest you had run was 42k. Were you worried about stepping up to the ultra distance?
When signing up for the 70km, I didn’t feel nervous because I knew myself and my body. I thought it was just a challenge for myself and I would try to do the best I can.
Do you think you will perform better next time with the experience you have now gained? What lessons did you learn that will help?
To get a good result, of course, it takes training. I think experience is always useful. Winning or losing in every race has to do a lot with my own efforts and perseverance.
You said you felt you earned the victory because of your pre-race hard daily training. Please can you share more about your training for the race and your general training regime?
I usually train 100km a week. It also depends on the weather of Sa Pa – sometimes I run 50km with the Sapa Runner team on weekends. After a long run, I usually have an easy run of 10km for my body to recover.
You took the lead from the start at VTM race and got to the finish 29 mins ahead of the second place Axelle de Feraudy of France. We know you used a lot more water than you usually do on that race. Can you share any tips for hydration for runners who are new to running long and in the heat?
I was a newbie to ultra runs and I also knew that the weather in Moc Chau would be very hot. So I prepared a lot of water and especially electrolytes – I drank more electrolytes than water while running. I drank every 20 minutes, even when I didn’t feel thirsty. Every time I came to checkpoints I put water on my cap, buff, wrist, and neck. To reduce heat and especially avoid cramps, I also took an electrolyte salt tablet every hour.
Besides fitness, what has mountain running brought to your life so far?
Running gives me a youthful and energetic life, a beautiful body and a relaxed mind.
As a relatively new trail runner, what advice would you give to those aiming to take on their first race/ultra race?
You need to train and be passionate about trail running. The most important thing for runners is always listening to your body. Not only for short distances, but also ultra distances, I believe you will make progress step by step and be more confident to race.
Finally, who inspires you in life?
I always feel grateful to my boyfriend My Eduardo – he inspires me and always makes me enjoy the training and racing. Also, thank you so much to all of my brothers and sisters in the Sapa Runner team.