In 2016 Tiểu Đường (Little Sugar) was the first Vietnamese woman to stand on a VMM 42k podium. She then went on to become Vietnam Trail Series Ultra Champ in 2019. Here she talks about her running history, her first trail memories, breaking female stereotypes and more.
Please tell us about your sporting history and how you got started in running.
When I was a 12th grade student, I signed up for the National Phu Dong Sports Games. I ran the 400, but I was the last to finish. At that time, I just joined the games because I wanted to thank my gym teacher, Mr Hung, who helped me to get to the university entrance test, funding me and encouraging my mom to allow me to study further.
At university, I joined a fun run club and was the only member who stayed for the longest time – 5 years (normally people stayed for one or two years only). The club gathered and trained in September only for the Hanoi Moi newspaper race, running one Hoan Kiem Lake loop (1.7km). Here I felt the love of our coach Mr Trang for the club – even though it was just a fun run, he always got up early, coached us and bought drinks for us.
In Feb 2016, I heard of the Long Distance Running (LDR) club. I heard some of their members ran a West Lake loop and I felt they were crazy! But one day I joined with them and I was surprised to learn that I could also run 15km. Then I wanted to challenge myself further, so I kept running. I also love the running community – they are all lovely, friendly, sociable and positive.
VMM 2016 was your first full trail marathon and you came second. At that time there were very few Vietnamese women on the podiums. What first brought you to the trails?
When I ran LoopUltraTrail 2016, Ms Nha (Salomon) told me: “Keep fighting, try to get on the VMM podium for Vietnam, the race is organized in Vietnam, but only foreigners are on podiums.” Since then, I tried very hard to take the podium for Vietnamese women. I was very proud to take the podium on behalf of Vietnamese female runners – running with the love for Vietnam as a Vietnamese person.
Do you have any special memories of that first VMM?
As VMM 2016 was my first trail race, I had strong feelings for it. What I remember most is Sophie. We got a similar BIB number (Đường 4242, Sophie 4243) and eschewed many prejudices about women (being weak, they cannot finish big things, they have to be good at both housework and have a good career…). We ran the last 20k together and held hands to the finish line. Then Sophie took one step back for me to take second place.
Tieu Duong and Sophie at VMM2016 finish line
From a marathon to an ultra (70k and 100k), from second place to being the winner (VJM2018) – what do you think of this rapid rise and was there any specific motivation behind it?
After running VMM I found my love for trail running and wanted to challenge myself further. To be honest, sometimes on the course, I have wanted to quit the race. But then I think of who I would run for each at checkpoint: for my dad in heaven; for my mom who is working very hard for us; for my younger brother and sister. Normally prior to the race, I don’t care who will be my competitors. I just try to ensure I achieve my very best.
Tieu Duong on Vietnam Jungle Marathon trails
“Little Sugar” is the popular name that Vietnamese running community call you. Can you tell us more about this name?
Little Sugar is the name my classmates called me since my primary school time. It was just because I was always the smallest in my class.
What do you think about the role of mental toughness in running?
I think sports help us to train our mind and mental health. I believe that everyone has their own passion for one kind of sport that they can live for. To me, running is both a science and an art.
Tieu Duong on the VMM course
You were recently mentioned in our article on Asia Trail Girls as a stand out runner in Vietnam. What do you think of the mountain running movement among Vietnamese women in recent years?
The running movement is growing fast in Vietnam; recently more and more women have started running. This is a very positive sign. Women should live for themselves more, spend more time for training, dare to be different and be brave to conquer new challenges. Women are actually stronger than they think. So, I say to women: do not let social prejudices become psychological barriers to hinder you.
When training for an ultra race, what is a typical week of training for you?
I am currently a personal trainer at UPFIT- Ho Chi Minh City, so I have much more knowledge about the body, supplement training, as well as nutrition to increase running efficiency. So, daily training as well as training for the race has become much easier for me now. In a typical week, I will do strength training exercises along with swimming, cycling and running.
Do you have a favourite training session?
I like strength training exercises and running the most.
What is your nutrition strategy for an ultra?
I usually bring gel, electrolytes, dry fruits such as grapes and ginger candy, peanut candy and Kit Kats. It is important to know how much you should use – normally I test them in long distance runs before a race.
Can you count how many races have you joined?
60 races! 17 ultras, 19FM, 24 HM and others .
Among them, I took the podium 40 times = 14 ultra, 13 FM, 13 HM and others.
Did you ever DNF? If so, what led to it and what learning did you take from it?
I did not finish (DNF) at VMM 2018 100k. I chose to stop at KM 90 because one week after the race, I had another race and at that time my feet got blisters and hurt a lot. My experience from the VMM2018 race is that you should be careful with your new running apparel including socks, even when they are the same model with your old ones.
Back to Vietnam Trail Series, which one is your favourite race of VTS and why?
I like VTM most because of the beautiful landscapes and the chance to run through peach blossom gardens in cool weather. It made me feel like Tet and very close to my heart. Plus, VTM has the least road sections in Vietnam Trail Series.
Tieu Duong on her favourite VTS race – Vietnam Trail Marathon
What is your goal at VMM this year ? Perhaps VMM 100k champ?
My goal for VMM2020 is just to be back to running 100k, finishing and doing my best. I can not say my goal now, because in trail running, it is partly up to the weather and your body status on the day.
Lastly, what is your running dream?
Running UTMB with a Vietnam flag and T-shirt . It is out of my budget now, so I hope I can find some suitable sponsors in the future.