Racing for Peace around Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake

It’s not every Sunday that I get up at 5 am to do a one mile race around the city’s lake. But it was the first proper race that I’ve heard of taking place in Hanoi. And all of the Red Rivers Runners that I train with were going, so I figured I’d tag along.

I’m glad I got up in the end. Because I won! I got a big gold medallion medal, 400,000 Vietnamese Dong (22 US Dollars) and a big bouquet of flowers. All for running one mile.

The podium for International Ladies Race (or Individual Female Alien as translated by Google). Photo courtesy of Hanoi Moi.
The podium for International Ladies Race (or Individual Female Alien as translated by Google). Photo courtesy of Hanoi Moi.

I had no idea the 36th Hanoi Peace Run was going to be such a big event.

Roads all around Hanoi’s famous Hoan Kiem Lake were blocked off in preparation for the race. There were boxy police cars from the days of Starsky and Hutch with flashing red lights and wailing sirens patrolling the block. The local ambassadors had turned up en masse, even Mary from Cork, the Irish ambassador. They were all kitted out in sporting uniform that they had all been given especially for the day: white T-Shirts and baseball caps, 1970s polyester Adidas tracksuit bottoms and white gym plimsolls.

Ambassadors in regulation sportswear signing the peace flag. Photo courtesy of Hanoi Moi.
Ambassadors in regulation sportswear signing the peace flag. Photo courtesy of Hanoi Moi.

At 6.30 am, we were all told to line up behind out respective team banners with the Olympic Ring insignia. The Red River Runners had all entered as part of the United Nations International School as one of the PE teachers there had invited us along. Our placard was one of many held by pretty Vietnamese girls who were donned with red traditional dress “Áo Dài”.

Teams lining up behind their Olympic style banner. Photo courtesy of Hanoi Moi.
Teams lining up behind their Olympic style banner. Photo courtesy of Hanoi Moi.

For the next hour, we stood around and listened to speeches from various dignitaries who wanted to welcome all the runners and to extol the virtues of sport, peace, and unity. However, the translations into English from Vietnamese were dodgy to say the least, so we couldn’t really make out a word. We instead guessed how long the speeches would last whilst wondering where the nearest toilet could possibly be.

Even when the speeches finished, the festivities didn’t end there. We were then invited to watch a host of children dancing Latino style salsa in glittery spangled dresses and high heels in the middle of the street. It was a surreal cultural moment.

Young Vietnamese girls salsa-ing before the race start. Photo courtesy of Hanoi Moi.
Young Vietnamese girls salsa-ing before the race start. Photo courtesy of Hanoi Moi.

Finally, the races got under way around 8 am. First of all the ambassadors had a race over a pitiful 200 metres that most of them ended up walking. Next there were girls and boys races, one lap of the lake, one circuit totalling just over a mile in length. And once they were finished, it was the turn of the international visitors.

Us international ladies had also only one lap of the lake to do whilst the guys had a total of two laps. I’ve never done a one mile race, so I had no idea how fast I was meant to run. I’m a terrible one though for starting out too fast, so I decided just to jog along, sit on a girl’s shoulder and then hopefully have enough at the end to out-sprint them. However, none of this game plan came together. The gun went off and I jogged quickly out. But before I knew it, I was rounding the final corner and I still hadn’t seen another woman in sight. The race was so short compared to the long distance races that I normally do that I really didn’t know what to do. So I decided just to sprint home, to surprisingly much rapturous applause.

They pulled up a red tape for me to run through. And as soon as I hit it, I was whisked away to a nearby TV camera crew. Hoa (meaning flower) interviewed me, asking me questions about a race that was too short for me to remember anything about. But apparently, this is what I said:

“Chị Moire O’Sulivan – người Ireland- Giải Nhất nội dung mở rộng 5250m nữ (khối người nước ngoài) cho biết, chị rất vui và hạnh phúc khi đoạt giải Nhất. Tuy mới sang Việt Nam được 2 tháng, nhưng khi biết có giải chạy Báo Hànộimới mở rộng vì hòa bình, chị đã rất hào hứng tham gia”.Obviously my Vietnamese lessons are finally starting to pay off.

Once the interview was done, the brass band started up, and we were lead to the podium for more applause and flowers and vouchers and multiple photos. The amount of ceremony attached to this simple race was quite overwhelming, as well as admittedly highly entertaining.

The bigger races of the day were for the professional Vietnamese men and women who had qualified by virtue of competing in heats around the country. They were obviously fitter and faster than us, the Vietnamese women completing three laps of the lake compared to our paltry one, and the Vietnamese men doing five circuits as opposed to the international men’s pathetic two. What made it even more impressive was that many of the runners weren’t wearing shoes and were able to take the heat of sprinting on tarmac.

Professional Vietnamese Men five lap start. Photo courtesy of Hanoi Moi.
Professional Vietnamese Men five lap start. Photo courtesy of Hanoi Moi.

What made the day even better was that all the Red River Runners retreated to Puku cafe afterwards for coffees and juices and full breakfasts, a satisfying brunch after the minimal exertion of our morning exercise.

Full newspaper report of the 36th Hanoi Moi Race for Peace can be found here.

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6 thoughts on “Racing for Peace around Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake

  1. Hi Moire

    I am going to be in Vietnam for a month in December, we are travelling North to South so I have about 4-5 days in Hanoi. We are staying near Hoan Kiem Lake and West Lake.

    I am training for an Ironman Triathlon in May 2012 so I need to do some running etc while I am away. are the lakes safe enough for early morning runs?

    I read you article on Sapa and am interested in trying the trail running up there as well.

    1. Hi Barry, Hanoi is pretty safe… I used to get up around 5.30am to go for runs especially to avoid the heat and humidity, and its usually light by then. Most locals are up before the crack of dawn exercising on the lake, so you’ll have plenty of company! And if you are around on a Saturday, check out the Red River Runners who are normally around for a run.

  2. Morrie,
    Friends are going to be in Hanoi for the 1000th anniversary and would like to do the “Hanoi Moi Race For Peace” do you happen to know the date for the race in October 2010 or where I can find out? Thanks, Art

    1. I’m not sure of the date Art but you’ll be able to find out from the Red River Runners group. You can contact Adele via their google group: http://groups.google.ie/group/redriverrunners?hl=en-GB for more info.

      Hanoi Moi Race for Peace is definitely a fun run to do. And the 1000th anniversary should be incredible – when I was there a few months ago, the build-up was already happening. Have fun!

  3. congratulations on your victory, not every day of the week an Irish mountain running girl comes first place in a Vietnamese miler race 🙂

    1. Thanks. Think though that will be the first and last one mile race I’ll be winning. The only reason I came first over the line was they made all the fast Vietnamese women run separately and made them do a few more laps. Us international athletes wouldn’t have been able to handle the extra distance and faster pace!

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