Here's how not to prepare for a big race in a hot country. Arrive three days before in another city after a 12 hour journey. Miss out on sleep during the flight and the first night you are in your host country; then manage just an hour or so on the next two nights including pre-race night. Oh! and sign up for a race that starts at 5.00am.
Throw in an internal flight the day before the run, and a half bottle of wine 30 hours before race start. Fuse with 30 degree plus temperatures of which you have no experience, and an untried energy plan/schedule. Every rookie error in the book!
The only smart decision your correspondent made at Sunday's (1 September) Da Nang half marathon (part of the inaugural international festival) was to withdraw from the 13.1k run and jog round the less demanding 5k course. But then it was back to the boo-boos! At the start I thought what the hang, pinned on my race number and joined the field for the half.
Encouraged by a pre-race chat with fellow Brit, Shona Thomson, who was completing a personal project to run seven marathons in seven continents, and predicting a PW for her final leg of the challenge due to a minor hip niggle and predicted temperature and humidity over the next 4/5 hours. Shona, who works in an investment bank in London, was still in positive mood as she took her place at the start.
Race organiser David Cundy was in excellent form too. Despite the early hour, his Aussie brio soon had a small but widely international field ready for race action in both full and half marathons.
The early miles were relatively comfortable as your 58 year old correspondent (50 minute 10k class runner) settled into a modest 10.15/10.30 minute mile pace. This mission was about staying alive; finishing, the highly desirable bonus.
The first 30 minutes or so of the event were enjoyable as dawn broke on the flourishing Vietnamese city. And the slow pace meant you had the opportunity to enjoy the early coastal stretches before heading inland towards the wide Han River. One of the features of the Da Nang races - the marathon is basically a double-loop of the half marathon course - is the bridge crossings. There are a few and require some hard work until half way before the welcome respite of the decline to the other side.
After about four miles, the sun was well and truly up and the temperature gauge was climbing. Now the run was all about the next drinks station; fortunately these were found at regular intervals and were well-stocked with water (cups and bottles) and electrolyte drinks. Best of all were the mist stations where giant fans provided wonderfully cool airflows. The station crew laughed as if they were watching a Charlie Chaplin film as I tiptoed slowly past and then double-backed for a second helping.
One of the real pluses of this event, in fact of the country in general, is the remarkable friendliness and warmth of the Vietnamese people. Every drinks station was crewed with a cheery team of volunteers who were real allies in the battle against heat and humidity. And throughout the route there were cheers of encouragement even for the tail-end Charleys from a big vocal Da Nang support.
After five miles the game plan was simple. Jog along at snail's pace for a few hundred metres; stop, walk, throw some water over your head; spot a drinks station ahead, resume jog; rest again at the station before revamping the snail routine. At about 9 miles I realised I'd just about manage to get round, even though the numbers weren't going to be pretty.
The final stretch was back along the coast with the South China Sea as a stunning backdrop. Avoiding the temptation to take a detour into the breaking waves, I slithered along for what seemed an eternity. And there it was, the most welcome finish line you could imagine. Once over the line (2:40 something) it was medal over the neck - I'm keeping this one - and then picking up the quite fetching t-shirts from the lovely girls at the desk.
Back at my resort hotel it was off to breakfast with the t-shirt on, although I left the medal in my room!
For the record local runners lifted the main prizes with Pham Van Long first in the marathon (2:56:31). In the half marathon, Le Van Tuan broke the tape on 1 hour 16 minutes and Pham Thi Binh (1:24:14) was fastest lady.