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Learning from a DNF – Coming Back Stronger

On May 25 2019 Quang Nguyen stood on the podium at Vietnam Jungle Marathon – a race that last year saw him DNF. Here, he explains how he learned from that experience, adapted his training and came back a stronger and wiser trail runner


This is one of my most memorable photos at VJM2018 when I did not finish (DNF) at checkpoint 7 (Photo: Phạm Phương)

Last year – VJM2018 

My VJM 2018 year can be summarised in a few lines:

  • Not enough training but too over confident based on it at the time. Training pace was at HR 110-120 bpm, while race pace HR is much faster at 145-155 bpm. I invested a lot of time in training, but it was not the right training to have a good training effect. 
  • I did not take enough energy bars and salt tablets and I drank too little water, so after only 20km my thigh muscles had issues and I had to stop after 50km. 

This year – 2019

 2019 had a good kick off, finishing Vibram Hong Kong 100 in Jan and securing second place at Dalat Ultra Trail 42km in March. The positives of these two races were no stomach issues, no injury and no cramps.

For VJM 2019, my first goal was to finish 70km safely, then other goals were secondary. 

Below are the statistics of my 16 weeks of training before VJM 2018 and 2019.

Change in Training 

I changed my view on my recovery pace (easy pace – HR zone 2), actively running faster in recovery sessions (easy runs) with the pace 4:50-5:10 and heart rate of 140bpm instead of pace 6:20 and heart rate 120 bpm as last year.

Running faster in easy runs helps to increase mileage while saving training time. This also allows me to feel more relaxed when I try to maintain the easy pace (5:10-5:30 mins/km) on flat roads and easy slopes.

I am satisfied that I maintained my inspiration for running during the most important time from Week 8 to Week 14. Only in week 13 did it slow down a little bit because of the flu and light fever due to overtraining. Steep climbing sessions were partly compensated by High Intensity Interval Training sessions.

Change in Nutrition

Learning from last year, I was more careful with eating, keeping my body in good balance and avoiding unexpectedly sudden stomach ache. I ate less the night before the race day and found it easy to fall to sleep at 9pm and I woke up at 2 am with a comfortable feeling and let go of all the ‘burdens’ before going to the start line. My race kit was simple with salt tablets and nutrition powder to mix with water to drink along the course.

Photo: William Cheang – Asia Trail Master

Keep calm, execute the race plan

I think I have never been in such good condition like this before a race. Everything went smoothly, a light dinner, a sound sleep and a moderate goal which brought me comfortable mentality and light feet.

Before reaching The Beast, I was overtaken by about 10 runners including the 70km female champ. As usual, Hùng Hải took the lead right from the beginning.

For my part, I still kept calm, same as in my training with easy pace and heart rate of 150bpm; I ran slowly and walked when climbing. Filling enough water at every checkpoint, supplementing enough salt tablets after every 45-50 mins and adding 200-250 calories every running hour, I stayed on top of my nutrition.

Photo: William Cheang – Asia Trail Master

At every checkpoint, I always compared my result time with last year: CP3, 28K, 3h08 (2019) with 3h17 (2018), 9 mins faster and no cramps as last year. Then CP4 and CP5, climbing the concrete, but I still ran faster with 17mins and 20 mins respectively and without any medical help. 

Gradually as I kept running I felt more relieved and started thinking about  a top 3. Right before me was Tomohiro, then Hùng Hải, while Kitamura and beautiful Veronika were taking the lead. I pushed my speed and passed Tomohiro before CP6. Last year the Spike took me 1h10’, but this year I knocked it out in 33mins only and caught Hung Hai before reaching Kho Muong valley. 

Photo: William Cheang – Asia Trail Master

It was not so difficult for me to pass CP7 and CP8 and I finished with plenty of energy to spare – perhaps too much:)
I am happy with all the changes I made and will try harder at my next races.