Saigon Diary: Running in HCMC

“Running as a sport is boring. You’re on your own, no one else to play with and either stuck in one place, on a treadmill, or going around in a big circle. Really, what is the point?” Yes, this was my opinion of running not that long ago. As a child I was less analytical, taking part in cross-country and long distance events at school. I ran because it was something to do. Raised as an only child you kind of get used to doing things on your own and this was just another sport that I had a go at and forgot about as soon as the next after-school sports club came along.

Until recently I could only last at the most 10 minutes on the treadmill, wow, it was so dull, and yikes, I was pretty unfit. Now I am running 5k between 35 – 38 minutes. Not as fast as the women’s world record holder of 14:11:15 but hey, it’s a start.

I love trying out new things, mostly because I haven’t found my niche yet, you know, something that I think I can truly master, something that will keep my attention longer than a week. It seems that running could be one of those things. In the last 8 weeks I have been running on the treadmill on and off, at first just to warm up for the rest of my workout, but then the treadmill started to take over most of my time at the gym, going from 10 minutes to 15 minutes, to 25 then to 45. I somehow wanted to go faster and further every week.

I reached a point when being on the treadmill, looking out over the city through a pane of hot glass, felt unnatural. I wanted to be out on the road and feel the real wind on my face, not some little fan blowing out above the computer screen.

Where I live in Ho Chi Minh City, the pavements vary outside each shop front and more often than not, you have to dodge the odd motorbike too, so I needed to find some kind of club or meet up where it was safe to run freely.

Looking online, I came across a club called HCMC Run which is also organising a race in December for a 3k, 5k or 10k. Each week they were meeting up in various locations so on Saturday, I decided to give a 3k a go at their 8th and final training session in the lead up to the race.

Courtesy of HCMC Run

Work finished at 11:40am, and I went home for a quick bite to eat, had a power nap and then I was out again, powering through District one on my motorbike and getting lost in District 7. In the end I arrived, still early, at Crescent Mall in Phu My Hung.

I walked over to the stand to sign up. ‘Yes, I’d like to do the 3k please’ ‘No, you should do the 6k today’ ‘Erm…. ok?’ I hesitantly stuck my name tag with the red circle, not the green circle I had come here for, onto my chest and found somewhere to sit and cry inside. The 6k actually turned out to be 7.6k and as I hadn’t done any road running since I was 12, nor had I ran further than 5k on a treadmill, I wondered, very loudly in my head, what the hell I was doing. I was going to die.

The crowd was growing; runners, stewards and TV crews stood all around me and I could see immediately that I was the only western woman there. I was fairly shocked by this as I’d seen photos of previous club sessions and there were western women at those and this appeared to be the most popular run club of all of the sessions. It obviously meant that I was a target for inquisitive paparazzi and onlookers. I bashfully played up to the cameras as they rolled around the lines of attendees warming up for the warm up.

A brief intro was given to the hundred or so participants from Philip Nguyen, the organiser of HCMC Run, and then we were put through the brief warm up which consisted of a short jog about 100 metres and some stretches. After 3 metres of running I was finding myself out of breath. Really, what the hell was I doing? I was trying to keep up with the elite in the group so I had to have a word with myself to explain that I shouldn’t run too fast because then I would certainly die. Rather I was to initially go at a slower pace in order to hold onto my energy for longer.

When it was time to start we split into our two groups, the jolly green circles and the serious red circles. I didn’t want to be serious. We were to go first. Phillip did a short countdown and then we were off.

About 200 metres in there was a bloody bridge to cross. Why would they include a bridge that had to be run over 4 times? Are they that sadistic? For the first lap I challenged myself to run across the bridge. It wasn’t a long bridge, but it was a bridge nonetheless with an incline and lots of people posing for photographs, which, unless I wanted to photobomb someone’s wedding pictures, had to be sharply dodged.

Not long into the run, I was finding my pace, slowing down enough to keep my breath and taking the odd rest by walking. I wish I could have ran the whole distance but at this point, it is physically impossible, my heart just isn’t strong enough.

Kicking arse! - Courtesy of HCMC Run
Kicking arse! – Courtesy of HCMC Run

My heart may be weak but my mind definitely wasn’t. Even though my feet, calves and thighs were throbbing, my mind was fixed in place, thinking of nothing other than the moment, a strange sensation for someone who can’t even finish making a cup of tea unless I’m reminded.

I surprised myself by how much I was actually able to do. Maybe I was fitter, stronger and faster than I realised. I was being passed by runners but I was also passing others myself and I felt like I ran more on the second lap than I had on the first.

Halfway across the bridge, for the fourth time, I could hear the crowd shouting and whooping those who were crossing the finish line. I wanted that. It filled me with adrenaline and I ran stronger than I had before. The crowd was nearing and I sprinted the final leg. As I high-fived Philip I saw my time; 51 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. I finished and I wasn’t all that slow.

We did it red circle, we did it!

I decided there and then to sign up for the 5k race in December. I am going to do it and I am going to do it well.

So, if you’re around HCMC on the 8th December, come by to District 7 in the morning and watch the race. And look out for a curly auburn haired woman who looks focused and ready to give her all, that will be me.


If you want to sign up for the race you have until 20th November. You can do it online, just go to their website, details below, and get it done.



One thought on “Saigon Diary: Running in HCMC

  1. Bady Le Paradis Pham says:

    Hey there! I am Bady one of the organizer of the HCMC Run and the one who took the picture of you ;) Great article and many thanks for this. Its good to hear that we reach a goal what we wanted to do – motivating people to run and believe in them self that they can do things they never thought off.

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