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Over 4,000 to run up to 100km at VMM 10th Anniversary

Vietnam Mountain Marathon was the nation’s first ultra marathon in 2013At the first edition, just one Vietnamese runner finished the race’s longest distance. At the 10th anniversary this weekend, thousands of Vietnamese runners will race with those from 51 nations on routes including 50k, 70k and 100k. This anniversary therefore is not only a landmark for the race, but for the sport of mountain running in Vietnam.  

For most ‘normal’ people the idea of running more than 5km is a challenge. Even for many seasoned runners, completing a road marathon of 42km is a lifetime achievement goal. However, at Vietnam Mountain Marathon, people run distances of 50km, 70km and even 100km over technical, mountainous terrain. Some will run for 27 hours to complete the 100km distance, while the fastest will finish in under 15.  

The birth and rise of ultra running in Vietnam

Vietnam Mountain Marathon began in 2013 as the first ultra race in the country. It offers runners the chance to run 10km, 21km, 50km, 70km or 100km in the mountains surrounding Sapa, in Lao Cai Province.   

The Saturday distances all finish at the hilltop Topas Ecolodge, while on Sunday runners both start and finish in central Sapa town.   

This 10th anniversary year is not only special for us as organizer, but for mountain runners all over Vietnam. When we began this race in 2013 it was the first of its kind in Vietnam. At the first edition, we had only one Vietnamese ultra distance finisher. This year, thousands of Vietnamese will be joined by runners from 51 nations. Therefore, this year, we are celebrating not only the race’s history, but the birth and growth of ultra racing here in Vietnam, shared VMM’s Race Director, David Lloyd.  

VMM - Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2023

The VMM 100km Challenge – Not All Who Start Will Succeed

The 100km distance starts at 9pm in Sapa town on Friday. Runners will then race into the night, first over Ham Rong mountain. The course then takes them deep into the hills, passing Su Pan, Lao Chai and Cat Cat, before they summit the highest point in the race, Cow Mountain, at almost 2,300m. From here, they still face a series of very hard climbs and descents all the way to the finish line at Topas Ecolodge.   

The slowest runner to complete will take 27 hours, while the fastest will go under 15 hours. Many too, will not reach the finish line because they will fail to meet Cut Off Times at designated checkpoints along the course. Those who do complete the VMM 100km count it as a badge of honour.   

100km Race Contenders – From Vietnam and The World

The 100km will see runners from around the world competing for the win. One of the key runners to watch is Sange Sherpa of Nepal. Sange has many victories in long distance races all over the world. Sange will face multiple champion Jeff Campbell, who has won many ultra races and runs for the national team of Canada.  

Also racing is Sanya Khanchai, a Thai runner famous for cartwheel celebrations across the finish line. Sanya has also scored countless victories, including an earlier edition of Vietnam Mountain Marathon 70km. Past podium runner, Japan’s Tomohiro Mizukoshi is coming back to Vietnam and will be aiming to better his 3rd place at VMM 100km last year.   

From Vietnam, rising star Nguyen Si Hieu, winner of MANTRA166 in 2022, will be looking to score his first VMM ultra win. Meanwhile, Nguyen Tien Hung, who was second at VMM 100 miles (160km) last year, will be hoping to regain his VMM 100km champ title from 2019.    

Last year, the 100km distance was won overall by Sapa’s Ha Hau, who also beat all the men. Hau will be presented in Sapa for VMM, but this time she will be there to hand the trophy over to this year’s winners, as she is still recovering from her recent 4th place run at the 100k CCC at UTMB in France.   

Instead, top runners from Vietnam include Nguyen Thi Duong, who recently placed 2nd at Bali Ultra Trail 100km and last year won the VMM 70km. She will face Vu Thi Lan Huong, champion of this year’s Vietnam Trail Marathon 70km and the champion of VMM 100 miles in 2022, Phuong Nguyen. From overseas the top contenders are Cecille Wael,  Kona Liau, Faherina Mohd Esa and Man Yee Cheung. 


The 50km and 70km Races

In the 50km race, Belgium’s Vanja Cnops is the top seed female runner. A huge fan of Vietnam, Vanja has raced here many times before and scored wins at both Vietnam Jungle Marathon and Vietnam Trail Marathon. She was set to race one of the world’s top ultra runners, Eszter Csillag of Hungary, but Eszter had to withdraw from the race and hopes to make another competition in Vietnam soon.   

On the men’s side, the race will be extremely competitive, with South Korea’s Jisub Kim (1st SEOUL100  50km and past VMM champ), racing John “Stingray” Onifa (1st Golden 100 Hong Kong; 1st Vibram 100). Multiple champ of Asia Trail Master series member races, Kristian Joergensen of Denmark will also be on the 50k start line.   

The 70km also sees top runners on the start line. For the men, Michal Lesniak of Poland (1st 55k Amazean Jungle by UTMB in 2023) will face Asia Trail Master champ Arnie Macaneras and past VMM 70km champ, Germany’s Moritz Mueller.  

Also in the mix is Nguyen Minh Tuan who won VJM 70km and is Vietnam’s 100km road record holder. Vietnam’s Le Van Tuan will also be one to watch as he has run a 2:27 road marathon. How that converts to the mountains will be very interesting to follow.   

Among the women, Vietnam’s Le Xuan Suong (3rd VMM 100 miles) will be racing Japan’s Akane Nemoto (1st 45km DLUT 2022), Vincere Zeng of Singapore and Tamae Harada of Japan and Ann Jilian Pulcano.

Vietnam Mountain Marathon 2023

21km race

Some of the runners coming in from overseas to race the 21km include Concetta Arcella (sub 3 marathoner), Bronwyn Small (17min 5k runner) and Filip Janczak (1:10 21k runner).   

Charity Work – Children, Newborns and The Flood

The commitment of organiser, Topas Travel, to charitable work continues at VMM 2023, with the total now raised through the Topas Vietnam Trail Series reaching over VND10billion (USD420,000).   

Alongside local projects along the race route, charities that benefit from the race include Operation Smile, Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, and Newborns Vietnam. All these charities will also teams of runners racing the event to raise further funds and awareness.   

Following the recent devastating floods in Lao Cai provine, the organiser will commit money to the flood relief fund.  

120 Years of Sapa Tourism 

This weekend, we also join with Sapa in celebrating their 120th anniversary of Sapa tourism. Runners will see celebrations throughout the weekend in the square next to the VMM race village.