6-time Marathon Majors finisher guide runners ahead of HCMC night race

By Nguyen Nghia   February 5, 2024 | 09:04 pm PT
In preparation for the upcoming night marathon in Ho Chi Minh City, Tieu Phuong advised participants to replenish electrolytes, salt, and energy two to three days before the race.

They should focus on relaxation and consume light meals, said Phuong, a renowned running coach in HCMC.

Phuong noted a surge in nighttime marathon events in recent years, prompting runners, including herself, to adapt to new schedules.

She suggested that runners begin adjusting their sleep and training routines a month prior, shifting their waking hours to as early as 4 a.m. to acclimate their bodies to the demands of late-night running.

The experienced runner, known as the "Steel Rose" in the marathon community, is the first Vietnamese runner to complete the six biggest tournaments globally in the Abbott World Marathon Major system.

The 51-year-old coach emphasized that this gradual adjustment is crucial for maintaining energy and avoiding fatigue during the race.

Phuong shows off her medals for completing 6 Majors.

Tieu Phuong shows off her medals for completing 6 Majors.

She also stressed the importance of scientific nutrition in preparing for the 2024 nighttime marathon in Ho Chi Minh City. A rich intake of minerals, vitamins, and electrolytes daily is crucial to ensure runners are in their best shape to tackle the race, thereby minimizing the risk of fatigue, she said.

Phuong recommended foods such as broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, kale, apples, bananas, and oranges. Additionally, for a 42 km runner training three to six days a week, the recommended protein intake ranges from 1.5 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Tieu Phuong participating in the VM Ho Chi Minh City Midnight 2023. Photo: VM

Tieu Phuong participates in the VM Ho Chi Minh City Midnight 2023. Photo by VM

"Many people think that they only need to load up on electrolytes, gels, and salts just before race day. This is a mistake," says the runner who secured third place in the 50 - 59 age group at the VM Ho Chi Minh City Midnight 2023, to be held on Sunday, March 3.

Her rule is to replenish salt and electrolytes two to three days before the race. During this period, runners should also consume slow-digesting carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, oats, and whole wheat bread, to supply essential vitamins and minerals. Phuong explained that this serves as an energy reserve needed for the race.

On the Saturday before the race, runners should consume plenty of water, gradually reducing intake after 5 p.m. to avoid nighttime urination, she said. Their diet should be light, with a reduced fiber intake. Recommended foods include fish, steamed, or sautéed chicken to minimize spices and grease. Runners should also take time to rest, try to sleep when possible, and limit social activities to ensure their muscles are fully relaxed.

Explaining the need for increased water intake on Saturday, Phuong said muscles work more efficiently when properly hydrated. "I have a poor water retention gene set. Out of 10 races, I faced cramping issues in 9 due to dehydration. Therefore, staying hydrated before race day is vital to ensure that by the afternoon, the urine is clear."

Tieu Phuong celebrates upon reaching the finish line. Photo: VM

Tieu Phuong celebrates upon reaching the finish line at VM Ho Chi Minh City Midnight 2023. Photo by VM

Phuong said that runners should be cautious when competing outside of their biological time. She advised runners to take one to two salt tablets along with a banana two hours prior to the race. In the first few kilometers, runners should maintain a suitable pace, avoid getting caught up in the crowd, and listen to their bodies. Phuong stressed the critical practice of never skipping a water station, a guideline she has followed for more than a decade of marathon racing. She points out that in marathons like the VnExpress Marathon, where there are numerous water stations equipped with long tables for distribution along with a sufficient supply of electrolytes and fruits, runners are well-accommodated to hydrate.

Runners should utilize water and electrolyte stations but only accept the standard cups provided by the organizers, according to Phuong. If runners are consuming gel, they should drink more water to aid gel dilution. Moreover, every 30 minutes, Phuong said, she would eat half a banana, as the magnesium, sodium, and potassium in bananas help muscles relax and move more smoothly.

Despite the midnight timing, Phuong notes that the weather in Ho Chi Minh City stays sultry because of the heat emitted from millions of air conditioners, making it hard for athletes to compete. To deal with this, her secret is to run a few meters away from others. She also practices diaphragmatic breathing, inhaling in three leg beats and exhaling in two leg beats.

Phuong will participate in the VPBank VnExpress Marathon Ho Chi Minh City Midnight 2024, which coincidentally falls on her birthday. Although she was initially focused on training for the Los Angeles Marathon, scheduled two weeks after the Ho Chi Minh City event, Phuong sought permission from her coach in the U.S. to join the midnight run as a unique way to celebrate her special day.

"I'm not competing; I'm going to dress up with a lot of glitter. I want to shine and enjoy my birthday with thousands of people," the 51-year-old athlete said.

Tieu Phuong dresses up while participating in the HCMC marathon at the beginning of 2024. Photo: Provided by the individual.

Tieu Phuong dresses up while participating in the HCMC marathon at the beginning of 2024. Photo courtesy of Tieu Phuong

In 2023, Phuong completed in the Tokyo Marathon, thus earning medals from all six of the world's major marathons. Before that, in 2019, she accomplished runs in Berlin, Chicago, Boston, New York, and London. The "Steel Rose" states that conquering the 6 Majors is the dream of every runner in the world. Being the first Vietnamese to achieve this feat makes her even more proud.

"I was overwhelmed with emotion. I have proven to my friends from all over the world that Vietnamese women of all ages can be healthy, modern, and fashionable and also be able to keep up with global sports and fashion trends."

Throughout her journey in the international marathon scene, Phuong has taken the opportunity to study the organization, atmosphere, observing the love and excitement for marathons in host cities. She specifically noted the overwhelming support from spectators in Chicago, where fans lined the entire 42 km route, treating the event as a festival, which, according to her, significantly boosted the runners' morale. "They saw the race as a festival and cheered until their voices were hoarse to support the runners. Even the volunteers were very enthusiastic because most of them were runners," Phuong said.

Phuong also reflected on the marathon landscape in Vietnam. She noted significant progress but recognized the need for further growth in the number and quality of events and participants. Compared to a decade ago, the performance of Vietnamese runners has vastly improved, signaling a positive trend in the local marathon community. Phuong suggested that for this movement to continue expanding, there should be increased promotion of running benefits and enhanced support for marathon events.

Operational excellence is also crucial for the success of marathons, according to Phuong. Factors like routing and starting times must be calculated to avoid affecting traffic or causing congestion among competitive and casual runners. Phuong is particularly interested in well-organized water stations with an adequate supply of water, sufficient cooling, a variety of fruits, and good medical care.

Besides the two marathons in March, Phuong is also preparing for an event in Sydney later in the year, and plans to team up with Chi Nguyen, another renowned runner, for marathons in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Paris, and others over the next five years.

Phuong plans to dedicate the year 2024 to training, aiming to enhance her endurance and speed in preparation for a comeback the following year.

"In 2025, I will participate in many VnExpress Marathons with the goal of competing for age group awards," Phuong said.

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