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Q&A with Tieu Phuong Nguyen

Tieu Phuong is known as ‘Big Sister’ to her friends because she is 46, and also as ‘Show-woman Phương’ because she has gathered together 10 star runners from running groups in the South. She has been a master trainer at California Fitness and Yoga Center for 11 years where she trains and teaches other trainers. She is also a personal trainer for some women. No stranger to top rankings at races, she took a podium spot at the first edition of VJM 70km.


1. What is your running background?

I loved sports from a young age, so training has always been my top priority.

I came to long distance running by chance. I remember at the end of 2013 my company was one of the locations to register for HCMC Run and thus, I followed my colleagues and ran 10km. It was quite tough for me to finish the race because I only ran 30 minutes daily at that time and even that was at very slow speed. After that day, I made a  plan for a longer run and at Danang Marathon 2014, I completed my first half-marathon within 2 hours 6 minutes.

2. What is a typical day for you?

My typical day starts at 2 am. Why so early?! I have no other choice because my working time starts quite early, at 6:30 am. If I want to have time for running and training, I have to sacrifice other hobbies.

After getting up, I often drink a cup of coffee, read the newspaper and do muscle tension exercises before putting on my shoes for my run outdoors. Then it’s on to working and training at gym center. My day ends at 7:30 pm when I get into a deep sleep until 2 am next day.

3. What is your weekly training schedule?

My weekly training plan is divided as below: 4 -5 hours for swimming, 4 running sessions (65-75km per week on average), 3 hours for cycling and 2 hours for extra strength training per day.

4. You’re an ambassador of the Magic Stride Running Academy – tell us a bit more about that

Being an ambassador for the Magic Stride Running academy has given me the wings to fulfill the mission that I have been pursuing – ‘making life better’ through training. That is also the mission of my company.

5. You are known for having a strict nutrition strategy. Can you share more about your nutrition? And how it is specific to running?

Indeed, the running diet does not need to be too strict. However, due to my work in the gym which centers on a healthy and nice body shape, I am pretty strict in my nutrition. I follow a simple diet: 50% carbs, 30% protein, 20% fat and fiber on Sunday-Monday-Tuesday; 60% carbs, 20% protein, 20% fat and fiber on Wednesday-Thursday-Friday and less carbs more protein on Saturday.

Of course I always choose healthy food for my diet such as carbs from black bread, red cargo rice and fruits, protein from chicken breast, eggs, fish and beans, vegetable fat from walnuts, almonds, cashew nuts and olive oil. For green vegetables, I prefer salad vegetables, white broccoli and asparagus.

6. We know that your habit of getting up early and running every morning has been formulated for 10 years. How do you do that?

I had the habit of getting up at 4 am for 8 years, but over last 2 years, I have got up earlier, at 2 am. The longer the running distance I aim to conquer, the harder my following workout becomes.

Most sport lovers normally go to bed and get up early but I guess only a very few people can do the same as me. It has brought me some advantages in races. For example, in many races, my body clock alarm time is exactly the same as the start time, so I have an advantage over the others.

I believe that when you prioritize something, you definitely find your time for it and for me, my priority is the sport.

7. You have a large medal collection in your home – have you ever counted them? Which was the first one you earned?

I have collected medals but haven’t counted them even once. I just know that I may have more than many Vietnamese runners. I have joined most of the road and trail races in Vietnam and some in foreign countries over last four years. My first medal is from running 10km in HCMC Run in 2013.

8. You ran 70km both at VMM and got on the podium at VJM. You’ll run 70km at VTM in Jan 2019 in Moc Chau. What are your hopes for this race and why did you decide to join?

I choose trail running mostly for sightseeing and to discover beautiful remote areas of my country. Races organised by Topas have always attracted mass participation from international runners, which is one of the main reasons that I always join any new races by Topas as it brings me the chance to make friends and learn from them.

In the first edition of VJM, I got on the podium – that probably thanks to my luck that only 5 females ran 70km in that race!

My main reason to register for VTM is that I am really eager to explore Moc Chau. I have never been there before (I usually get car sick so I am quite hesitant to visit some remote areas which requires long transfer), so right after Topas opened this race, I gathered my courage to sign up. Moc Chau is extremely beautiful in spring. And so, my aim at VTM is simply to come to the finish line before sunset to have beautiful photos!

9. You live and train in HCMC where there are not many nearby hills – how do you train for the mountains?

Indeed HCMC has no trail for training but I am lucky to work in California gym center where there are plenty of machines for my training needs. I train for stair climbing, climb on the treadmill, have supplement training for muscles and run downhill. Of course, it would be awesome if we had real trails for training – I fall down continuously when running downhill in races because of having no training experience on real trails. Luckily, my results were not too bad however.

10. You have said that you consider yourself to be an inspirer. Do you have any advice for those who would like to start running?

With the mission of being an inspirer, I would sum up my philosophy as ” It’s never too late to start training.”

If you are a beginner, choose a short distance in a race to run, simply by joining the running atmosphere, you will love it at once and become addicted to it.

Gradually you will wish to join for the second time, the third time… and you will have the determination to conquer longer and harder distances.

You will have new friends and be full of energy. Your life will definitely be happier while your health will become better.