Despite only taking up running in 2018, Nguyen Thuy Dung has already scored 70km victories at VJM and VMM. Here she talks about her inspiration, her racing, the parallels between playing music and long distance running and much more…
You’re fairly new to the trail scene – when did you first get into running? And what inspired you to start?
I started running at the end of March 2018 for many reasons, but the biggest one is that I noticed that my health had started to go down after a very long time – for about 15 years I had not been doing exercises or playing sports seriously.
Another reason is that at that time my mental state was not good. I thought I needed to build a good habit to improve my mental health and make new friends because I just moved to a new place, not so close to Hanoi, so I could not meet my old friends so often.
Despite only running for a short time on trails, you have rapidly made it onto the podiums. How do you think you have improved such a lot in this short space of time?
I started trail running about 3 months after starting running. It was when my friend gave me a BIB and at that time I had no idea about trail running, so I had to borrow all trail running kit, from shoes, hydration vest, poles to clothes.
At this first trail race, I luckily won ‘by chance’. It may be because this race was still quite new and not so many runners knew it and raced.
Then, in September, I was also lucky to be given a VMM 21km BIB and at the race I truly understood what a real race is, because VMM attracted talented runners from all over.
My strength is that I very much like to race and always ‘fight’ to my last drops of sweat, but my weakness is I don’t like to train! Haha!
Through many races from the beginning of 2019 to post-VMM 2019, I realized that I could not both ‘play’ and achieve good results, so from Feb 2020, I trained harder.
The only secret to success, everyone knows, is training hard but to train hard requires a very high effort, especially for a person who enjoys drinking and hanging out like me.
You’ve had a string of great results this year at VTM, VJM & VMM 70k. Among all these events, what has been your highlight/fondest running memory of 2020? And which is your favourite race?
Each race has its own beauty, but I like VJM most, perhaps because I had many memories with Pu Luong.What I remember the most is pre VJM 2020, I and some of my close running friends went to a ‘running camp’ in Pu Luong and then got lost deep in the jungles while we were almost running out of food and drinks with no mobile signal.
We wandered around in one place for an hour and then finally found a way out. That was the first time in life, we were happy to hear karaoke sounds echoed from afar!
You ran VMM 70k for the first time this year and won the race but you said you could have done it better. How so?
VJM and VMM this year were very close to each other (only 1 month gap) and I ran 70k at both, so it was very difficult for me to push my training to the peak right after VJM, because I needed one week to recover post-VJM and one week for VMM taper.
The remaining two weeks for training were not so effective. I will need a better plan for the next races to have better results.
In terms of race strategy, if you’re having a low/hard moment on course, what do you do to overcome it?
I always used my spirit to dominate my protesting body and in almost every situation, I quickly overcome my feelings of depression and fatigue. I do not have a specific strategy for each race. Perhaps in the future I will think about it.
How about your nutrition strategy? What is it now and how has it changed since your first trail race in 2018?
Nutrition is actually my problem. I am quite small, so I will need to load more because my body has no energy reserve. At VMM this year, I did not execute it very well, so that is also the reason I think I need to improve to have better performance.
You are also a professional 16-chord zither artist. Is there any link or parallel you can draw between your music and running? Perhaps the meditative quality of both?
Yes, indeed. I have sat to practice zither for 4-5 hours, been very focused and forgot to eat and drink. When running trails, I also focus all my attention on it. Especially when running downhill, you always need to think quickly about where to land your feet because the ground is always uneven and requires your concentration. Between practising music and running alone there is a surprising and interesting connection.
What has mountain running brought to your life besides increased fitness?
It has brought me a balanced status with a busy and bustling life around and great running friends!
It is just one month to VTM. What is your typical week of training now? We know you also like to do triathlon, so are you still balancing all three sports?
Now I have two trail running sessions and one flat running session plus strength training and cycling. After Ironman 70.3 Danang was postponed by Covid-19, I stopped triathlon training to focus on training and running trail races. After VTM 2021 I will be back to train for Ironman Danang seriously.
As a relatively new trail runner, what advice would you give to those aiming to take on their first ultra race?
My advice is train hard, especially for uphill running (you can train to climb stairs if you live in an apartment complex) because good uphill skills will be an advantage. Also, combine long runs with strength training if you don’t have much time for training on trails.
Who is your biggest influence and/or inspiration?
It is my first triathlon coach – Le Hong Vu. He helped me understand the feeling of enjoying training. I always feel grateful to him! In addition, they are members of my trail running and triathlon group who are always beside me and support and help each other. I very much appreciate them!
Lastly, what are your goals for 2021?
A good result at Ironman 70.3 in Danang and a good performance at VMM 100km!