You are here: Vietnam Trail Series » Q&A Nguyen Si Hieu

Q&A Nguyen Si Hieu

Well known in Vietnam as one of the nation’s best trail runners and a runner with one of the biggest smiles, Hieu has gone from strength to strength since he entered the sport in 2017. Here, we talk to him about his inspiration, training, goals and more.  

When did you first get into running? And what inspired you to start?

I started running seriously in 2017 to prepare for Vietnam Jungle Marathon that year. At that time, I heard about this trail running event in Pu Luong, a beautiful destination that I had never been to. For that reason, I asked my friends to join me. 

Nguyen Si Hieu VJm 2017
Hieu at his first-ever race VJM.
Nguyen Si Hieu 100mile VMMSamWilsonVisuals_DSC2006 (1)
Hieu at Vietnam's first-ever 100mile in 2022.

What made you join VJM 2017 and what did you think of it?

I love nature, mountain landscapes and wish to explore new places. Therefore, I signed up to run 25km at VJM 2017. It was truly an amazing experience. In addition to immersing myself in nature and experiencing the local culture, I also enjoyed the cheerful and energetic atmosphere among the runners at the event.  

During the race, I experienced a lot of different emotions, from excitement at the start line to amazement upon seeing the picturesque Kho Muong valley bathed in sunlight. I even had moments of desperation in the scorching heat at Pu Luong that year, dragging my exhausted legs through the latter half of the race, and bursting with joy the moment I crossed the finish line. 

I returned to Pu Luong and run 42km at VJM 2018.

You placed 6th place in the first-ever race. What key factors do you think led to you from 6th place in 2017 to being a podium runner and champion of trail events?

I think it is a combination of many factors. The most important ones are aptitude, love for this sport and continuous training. 

Nguyen Si Hieu - VJM 2018 - Finishline
At VJM 2018, he got 2nd place.

This year you are challenging yourself to run the 70km distance, which you have not attempted before at VJM. What is your goal?

I hope to finish within 8 hours in favorable weather. 

Of everything you have done, what do you class as your biggest running achievement?

Running helps me build a healthy lifestyle and share the passion with my friends. It helps me make good connections with people who have a positive lifestyle, love nature and challenges. 

3rd place at first-ever 100miles distance in Vietnam - VMM 2022

What is your fondest running memory?

It is absolutely VJM 2017, my very first trail race with great nature scenery, beautiful villages, and a great time with my friends. 

You almost always have a smile on your face when you are running. Are you always this happy, or is it running that puts the smile on your face?

In a running event, the organizer, its crew, and the local support team all work very hard to bring a safe and fun experience to the runners. Therefore, I always feel grateful for their work. On the trail, you will always receive great support and encouragement from the local community and other runners. A smile is my way of expressing gratitude to everyone.  

Many times, I ran ultra distance in the darkness and was mostly alone. I felt really happy every time I ran across another runner. During the run, you will experience mixed emotions, both negative and positive. Negative thoughts will not help us go faster; therefore, a big smile will push them away. I think trail running is one of the rare sports that allows you to focus on the competition and share your emotions with other people at the same time. 

Nguyen Si Hieu on the 70k course at VTM 2022

We know you train alone a lot on the same small hill area near where you live. Do you think this repetition brings you mental as well as physical strength?

Indeed, constant training greatly improves my health. If I do not run for only a few days, I will feel very tired. I enjoy doing long runs alone, where my mind is completely relaxed and only focused on running. I never listen to music while running, as I believe running helps a lot with relieving stress. If you are in doubt, try a longer run than usual on a route where running is the only way to get back home. I am sure that once you get tired, the only thing in your head will be how to get home as fast as possible. 

Can you describe some of your key training sessions on this trail? And perhaps your favorite training session if you have one?

That should be the long runs of 2-4 hours, with an elevation gain equivalent to my targeted race and speed. For example, when I aimed to run the VMM 100km (the actual distance is 105km) with an elevation gain of +/-5000 meters, and finish time of 15 hours (average pace of 8:43/km), I trained though long runs of 2-4 hours, with elevation gain +/-500m/10km, and average pace around 8:30/km. 

Another key training session is hill-repeats (repeating runs on an uphill section): uphill running for 3-4 minutes, followed by the relaxed running back to the start. Repeat 4 to 6 times. These hill-repeats will improve your physical and mental endurance for trail running. 

Nguyen Si Hieu 1
The champion of VTM 2023

Do you think training alone is a benefit when it comes to racing ultras, when often runners end up spending a lot of time on their own?

No, I do not think so. It would be better if you have someone to train with and try harder together. However, on the race date, you will often run alone. Therefore, training alone helps you get used to that feeling. One of the reasons I love running is that you do not have to depend on anybody to train. You can train anytime, anywhere, as long as you have free time.  

Who inspires you in life?

There are many people who do: my acquaintances, friends, and other runners. I really like Kilian Jornet. He is one of the most excellent trail runners in the world. Even with 20 years of being a professional trail runner, he always shows his enthusiasm in practicing and non-stop expanding his limits.  

He is also the co-founder of an organization that supports the rights of trail runners. He actively promotes minimizing the negative impacts of running on the environment by reducing carbon footprint. Besides the positive effects on public health, the running boom around the world has caused negative impacts on the environment. Kilian is also a family man, together with his wife, taking care of his two young children. 

Running helps me connect with many great people, who always share positive thoughts and actions. These friends have had and will continue to have a positive influence on my life. 

Finally, what is your wish for the year 2023?

I hope Vietnam Athletics Federation will recognize trail-running as an official sport. In 2022, the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships was held for the first time in Chiangmai, Thailand. The event is recognized by the World Athletics Federation, and it is considered the “World Cup” of trail running.  

This event gathered the most outstanding athletes from around the world, including Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Cambodia, and more. Vietnam was not included in the competition because we do not have a trail-running federation, and it really saddened me and other Vietnamese runners a lot. 

Want to read another interview with a past VJM champ? Check out this one with Q & A with Multiple Ultra Trail Champion, Canada’s Jeff Campbell.