Streams of sunlight crawled across the early morning sky as the sea of blue-clad participants stretched and jogged in place. During the next couple of hours, approximately 5,500 people were about to flood the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. A tidal wave of runners would stretch from Crescent Mall in District 7, up to almost 4km away.
Amongst the crowd were children and the elderly, students and expats, and there were even a few hardcore barefoot runners. Some were there to have a good time and test the benefits of their healthy lifestyle, whilst others were there for the battle, warriors in running shoes. Many were embarking on their first ever competitive race, I was one of them.
Three groups awaited their respective gunfire, the 10k racers – those who were supposedly pro- or semi professional athletes, as they were expected to conquer the outrageous incline of Phu My Bridge – were up front and the first to burst the banks, at the rear was the massive pool of 3k runners and sandwiched in between both groups, a deluge of 5k-ers.
I came across HCMC Run when I was looking for a safe place to do road running in the city. In the weeks leading up to the event, free training sessions were organised to help raise interest in the race and to promote a healthy and active way of life. Straight after I ran their 7.6km route one Saturday afternoon, I signed up to this excruciating 4am start.That’s what endorphins will do to you!
Three weeks later, I stood restless, one of thousands, wearing the obligatory blue t-shirt covered in sponsors’ logos and a bib that wasn’t going to be splattered with gravy, oh no, instead it declared with pride my temporary identity, 6145, and the beast I was to combat; 5km.
5 minutes after the 10k group had departed it was our time to be let loose. The cascade of runners was soon flowing around the shore of The Crescent and pounding across Starlight Bridge (Cầu Ánh Sao). It was at this point that I noticed the sheer number of barefoot runners. Their speed was staggering to witness and it inspired me to forget my own aches and pains and to press on.
Given my newly rediscovered competitive nature, I was there for the fight. My pace was strong, my breathing was in rhythm, I was overtaking other runners more often than I was being overtaken. This was an environment I was built for. This was a natural state of being for me.
The route followed along some main roads, none of which appeared to be officially closed for the race. Traffic was effectively managed, to an extent, by the local police who stood at certain points with warm smiles, openly enjoying watching and occasionally helping the stewards to direct runners around corners. However, having to stop and wait for a dick of a lorry driver to cross a junction where the traffic was surging in both directions, wasn’t ideal. And yes, I took the opportunity of those few moments to flip the douche off.
Soon enough, I felt the roar of the finish line in my belly, then I heard it, and no matter how painful that stitch was, or how tight my calves were, I was sprinting until I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. And the awareness of my accomplishment overflowed as I made that final push across the finish line, proving that I can do anything.
I am proud to say that after nearly three weeks of somewhat intensive training, I was able to run the whole course, bearing in mind when I did the 7.6km training session I had to walk for a large part of it. My next goal is to build up my fitness to do a 10k but ultimately I want to run a marathon within two years.
And of course, the most important part: my official time was 32:19 and I came in a very respectable 24th out of 312 female 5k runners and 213th overall out of 1069*. I could get used to this.
*beating 567 blokes 😉