Running away from the problems of the pandemic

By Darren Barnard   February 2, 2022 | 09:00 pm PT
5 p.m. The sun is about to set. The streets are filled with the familiar honk of motorbikes slaloming through the traffic.

You catch a momentary glimpse of West Lake and you are thankful to see its serene waters, a welcome contrast to the never-ending concrete of the city.

You suddenly slam the brakes as a jogger hops in front of you. He glances at his watch to check the distance covered and exhales deeply, noticing fatigue beginning to set in as he attempts a full lap of the lake.

Fast forward 12 hours and you see a similar scene at Sword Lake with people of all ages choosing to start their day with a gentle jog in hectic Hanoi.

They move around the lake in a continuous, seemingly effortless motion like the swinging of a pendulum. Head to Union Park, Ba Dinh Square or just about any sidewalk in the city, and you will find Hanoians trying to make it a running track.

Jogging on the city's streets has increased exponentially in the last year or two as citizens, who used to exercise in larger groups whether by playing football, dancing or working out in a gym, were forced to seek out an alternative physical activity. They found solace in running.

One individual who has captured the energy and encouraged more people to participate in running is Doc To Deo. He has organized many free, open running events with his initiative Run4Self since 2017 and has attracted enormous interest, particularly in the last couple of years.


Doc To Deo running as a pacer in the Moc Chau Marathon 2018. Photo courtesy of Doc To Deo

His Facebook page has accumulated over 111,000 members and popular races he organizes such as the Tay Ho Marathon have been drawing great interest.

This unique race does not have a registered start time, and runners are not required to gather at a starting line in the usual fashion. This makes it not only convenient for runners, but also complies with Covid safety guidelines and restrictions.

Deo says: "Participants do not need to register, simply show up at the starting time, track the run on a mobile app and receive a medal if they contribute a small amount of money."

A similar event called West Lake Run & Walk encouraged new runners to run a lap around West Lake.

He continues: "I decided to start Run4Self because I want Vietnam to be healthy and happy. Running is a simple and basic human sport. It will develop with society as people are more and more concerned about their health."

He says running round West Lake helped tens of thousands of people discover jogging.

"I do not receive any monetary benefits or incentives from these events. Running is an easily accessible sport for everyone."

Valentin Orange, who won the 2021 Vietnam Trail Marathon (70km), is an avid runner who has noticed the considerable increase in interest in running across Vietnam in the last few years, particularly during Covid.


Valentin Orange standing at the finish line of the Vietnam Trail Marathon 2021 with his medal. Photo courtesy of Valentin Orange

"It was unusual to see people running around West Lake five or six years ago, but now there is a huge crowd, and not only on weekends.

"The recent creation of numerous road and trail running races in all major cities in the country is great evidence of the growing popularity of running here."

The outdoor enthusiast has also taken advantage of the growing popularity of running by organizing free runs twice a month on Banana Island beneath Long Bien Bridge.

He says: "My wife and I wanted to create a small active community around running and living a healthy lifestyle. We are lucky to have this little piece of nature just around the corner and I noticed that a lot of people didn’t know about Banana Island or were afraid to go there."

But in a densely populated city there are issues as running continues to become more popular: The heavy traffic and poor air quality can be extremely problematic for runners.


Valentin Orange running on Banana Island beneath Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Valentin Orange

Orange says away from the tranquility of Banana Island, suitable running spots can be difficult to find. He highlighted less busier places such as Long Bien or Ciputra, but these locations are spread out across the city and impractical for runners having to drive long distances to reach them.

"Air quality is also a [growing] concern. I am very worried about the near future and the possible consequences on my health. I hope that the city will soon take strong measures to reduce pollution and also make the areas where people run safer."

Orange also suggested the city could incorporate pedestrian or car-free zones at certain times of the week to facilitate running.

Hopefully in future Hanoi and other cities across Vietnam will do all they can to support runners and make it easier to indulge their passion, he said.

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