The final week! Part 1.

I can’t quite believe I’m writing this post! What seemed like a ridiculously daunting task 5 months ago, is over!!!

I did it!!! I’ve become the first female to run from Hanoi to HCMC, Vietnam!

Thu Thiem Bridge

It’s not been the final week that I had planned but it’s definately been an adventure!

My week started at the bottom of Can Gio, known locally as monkey Island and I had a daunting 47km of running in front of me. All local guest houses on the island had been shut down by the local authorities, so I had no other choice than to run all the way into district 7.

My route along Can Gio

I had managed to find an overpriced resort at the bottom of Can Gio that would accommodate me for the night before I started the ultra run. After a disappointing dinner of flavourless pho, I was relaxing in my room with a couple of chocopies, when at 9pm, there was a loud knocking on my door. It was the police…

In Vietnam, whenever you check into a hotel you are asked to leave your passport with reception. I had been told this was because the police visited hotels at 8.30pm to check documents. I’d never really believed it happen until I was ordered to put on a mask and follow the police as they waved my passport at me!

It became apparent that they were concerned with the stamp from my Cambodian visa run. In my atrocious Vietnamese, I attempted to explain, to the four officers, that I’d only crossed the border for 20 minutes before returning to Vietnam. Fortunately, the late night receptionist spoke excellent English and became my translator. My interigation continued for about half an hour as I had my temperature taken about 5 times. Each time they would show me my temperature and then compare it with their own. The officers were friendly and kept repeating ‘UK, number one!’, I bounced back with ‘Vietnam, number one!’. Eventually, after friendly waves and laughs, I was free to go back to my chocopie and netflix evening. What began as an intimidating experience ended with the usual Vietnamese smiles.

The 47km slog was tough! It was along one straight, never ended, sun soaked road. Fortunately, the road was almost deserted which meant I didn’t need to run in my mask.

Always beautiful scenery
Mangroves

Unfortunately, it also meant there were limited drinks stops along the way. Which in the 35 degree sunshine, isn’t ideal. I eventually found a side of the road cafe, put on my mask and ordered a coke and a water. Sadly, I was waved away as the owners ran away in fear. I was down to my last bottle of water, that was hot from the sunshine, not an ideal situation to be in with 27kms left to run!

As I trudged sadly along the road, I was passed by two ladies on a motorbike, they gave me a cheery wave and carried on their journey. This lifted my mood as in recent days the usual friendly greetings had stopped. A couple of minutes later, the ladies returned and asked it if needed their help. I explained my mission and we had a lovely chat and wished each other well. A few minutes later, they returned again! This time loaded with bottles of water and ngoc mia (sugarcane water). The kindness of strangers lives on! ‘In times of trouble, look for the helpers, there will always be helpers’. Sadly, these women will never know how grateful I am for their kindness but I will never forget them.

The kindness of strangers

With around 20kms to go, I got a phone call from my thoughtful friend Grant, who has run with me previously. He said he’d been tracking me on the map and asked if I’d like company for the final 10km of the run. I jumped at the chance!

Grant to the rescue!

Grant’s phone call and kindness pushed me forward and I ran the 10km to ferry into outer Saigon with a cheesy grin on my face.

The ferry port back to Saigon

On seeing the ferry port I was hit by a wave of emotions. I think it was a mixture of pride and relief! Grant jumped off his grab bike and we paid for our 2000VND (1p) ferry ticket and jumped aboard. The ferry takes you from the rural Can Gio district into bustling Tan Phu, in southern Saigon.

The final 10km were hot and hard but with ultra runner Grant by my side we chatted away the kms. I was due to stay at my friend Emily’s house on arrival, who lives in a large apartment block, which can be seen from quite far away. The last 2kms were some of the hardest of the whole trip. I was absolutely broken but delighted! It would have been a very different last hour of the day if Grant hasn’t picked up the phone. Thank you Grant!

The day ended with a a hot shower, a couple of socially responsible pints and sausages and mash!

Emily

Part 2 of my final week will follow shortly!

http://www.namrunsnam.com/donate

The Corona Chronicles continue…

The people below have been my rocks this week. Without them it would have been the most difficult week of the entire journey. Thank you Jules, Hazel, Ellie, Ian, Mikey, Pete, Vung, baby Lena and Emma.

Fitness friends fighting against Corona stigma
Being treated like a queen
Nothing beats a seafood dinner with friends

Vietnam has done a great job stopping the spread of the virus, known as ‘Miley’ in cockney rhyming slang. (I wonder if you can figure out why)

The streets here in Vung Tau are super quiet and the majority of locals are wearing masks. I have found myself fighting a losing battle to find accommodation, in the local cheap guest houses that I have used throughout this journey. Sadly, the friendly welcomes I had become accustomed to have long since gone. I am now a source of fear in this country. I absolutely understand that people are cautious but being treated like the enemy and a social outcast, leaves me feeling lost and upset. Especially when I am not given an opportunity to explain that I have not left Vietnam for the last 7 months and definately do not have corona. “Khong Corona!”

Last night I found out that my legends of parents, will no longer be able to join me on my 5km finish lap of Thao Dien Loop. As Vietnam have stopped entry into the country for many European countries. Again, I understand why but I am absolutely gutted. My dad, who turns 65, on 25th Match, my finish date, has been secretly training to run the last 5km with me. I am heartbroken that this is no longer going to happen.

Team Skinner

On Monday, I will now be running my longest distance of the entire trip. I have to run 48km into outer Saigon, as the island of Can Gio, known locally as Monkey Island, has closed its doors to tourists so I will be unable to find accommodation. I will embrace the challenge and know that I can do it but it’s not the ideal end to this trip!

The long way home!

As my wise mum said, we are lucky that we are well and everyone we know is ok. I need to remember this when I’m feeling sorry for myself.

This run has been about kindness and together we have raised an unbelievable, life-changing amount of money for vunerable children and women in this country that I call home. My chosen charities are struggling more and more each week that this virus continues to be an issue. They are unable to attend fundraising events to raise the money they so badly need to help improves the lives and futures of the community.

More than ever, please dig deep and donate as much or as little as you can.

http://www.namrunsnam.com/donate

At the moment, my finish line events are still going ahead. 21st March at Saigon Sports Club In District 7 and the final 5km on the 25th March in District 2. More information on these events can be found on my Facebook and Instagram pages @namrunsnam

Thank you so much for reading
Love Naomi (aka Nam)

Daphne and Casi chat about their experiences on the road.

Two weekends ago, I was joined by my friends Maria and Sarah and their kids. On international women’s Day, I asked the 11 year old girls to write about their experiences.

Daphne’s reflections…

My weekend with NamRunsNam
Running with NamRunsNam was an incredible experience because it felt
amazing running for all those charities and even just supporting Ms Naomi.


On the 1st night we stayed in quite a fancy place where each room was a little Beach shed and they had a little bathroom attached to it. We ran 15km the next day and stopped at about 11 to have a rest break and sat in some
hammocks. Later we went to a small motel and a seafood place for dinner.


When we woke up we headed down the road for breakfast and ended up
having egg banh mi and then soon started running. That day we only ran 10km but it was still great fun!


What am I proud of?


● Supporting all the charities
● Running overall 24km
● On the first day the 12th kilometre was the fastest and I had a
personal best of running a 6 minute kilometre
● On the second day I ran a continuous kilometre and a half
● I had a lot of fun!


In the future I would like to join the school athletics and running teams.

Daphne (08.03.20)

Feeling proud

Casi’s reflections…

I loved running with Ms Naomi. I especially liked the food on our last meal. There where so many story’s to tell but this is probably the most craziest.

We where almost at the first hotel on Friday and we where talking about what we brought and Ms Sarah (my mum) and Ms Maria both forgot the passports and the law in Vietnam is you need to show your passports and the motel we stayed at needed them and then we sorted it but then 2 hours after they came worried saying we need the passports now because the police where coming because they needed the real thing not pictures. Then the taxi man Tam went and got them. And that’s the end of the story.

I had the best time with Ms Naomi from the drama about passports to baby buffalo to guinea pigs to the running.

Casi (08.03.20)

http://www.namrunsnam.com

Mui Ne to Binh Chau

Before arriving in Mui Ne, the kite surfing capital of Vietnam, I had not been in a town or city that catered for western tourists since celebrating my birthday in Nha Trang, about 300km before. So upon arrival in Mui Ne, I headed straight for a Turkish restaurant that I had been to on my previous visit a few years ago. Full of kebab and hummus, I felt revitalised for the weeks running.

Sinbad’s, Mui Ne

Finally, after about 800km of hills, I was now running on the flat again. The quiet roads ran parallel to the ragged coastline, where I was able to watch the impressive skills of the kite surfers whilst being cooled by the crisp sea air. Bliss! There are plentiful oppertunities for drinks and food stops all along my route now. Such a contrast to the chocopie days of the northern districts.

Ke Ga lighthouse

This week I am running through the Binh Thuan Province, which is famous for growing dragon fruit. To start with I thought the spiky plants, growing in fields along the roadside, were aloe vera. On closer inspection, I noticed the pink fruits growing on the plants and the many stalls selling them on the side of the road. My fruit intake this week has consisted of purely dragon fruit. Sitting on tiny plastic stool, munching on a juicy fruit, just picked from the tree, and chopped in front of me has been a common event this week.

A dragon fruit plantation

Due to Corona virus paranoia, the schools in Vietnam have been closed for the previous month. My friend Grant, who has previously run with me, was given a last minute holiday from work. He is a keen cyclist so decided to hop on his bike and pedal the 180km from Saigon to Ke Ga for a beer and a catch up. I ran south to Ke Ga and arrived just in time to have a shower and wash my clothes before Grant arrived. We had a fantastic evening catching up on the events of the last few months and continuing to order ‘one last beer’. The next morning, after a couple of banh mi’s, I ran alongside Grant for about a km and then waved him off for his 180km journey home. An impressive distance to travel for a beer! This time, up a great example of the kindness of friends!

Did he pick a winner?

The heat is really ramping up in this area of the country and the sensible thing would be to be on the road by 5.30am to get a cool start to my running day. However, this has yet to occur. It is as hot at 8am as it is for the rest of the day, so I have decided that sleep is more important and I will just run in the heat. Luckily, in this part of the country, there are no shortages of hammock stops and I’ve been taking full advantage.

On Thursday, I arrived at coco beach camp in La Gi. I treated myself to beach hut style accomdation as I was taking a rest day on Friday, before the arrival of friends from Saigon. I spent my day, swinging in hammocks, sitting in the quirky coffee shop, eating piles of fresh seafood and too many cakes to mention!

Coco beach camp

Friday evening saw the arrival of, Jon, Sarah, her daughter, Casi, Maria and her daughter’s Winnie and Daphne, as well as taxi driver extraordinare, Tan. Maria has run with me before, achieving her distance personal best but this was the first visit for the others. Sarah is on a fitness drive, having signed up for the ironman sprint triathlon in May and having just completed her first 10km race. The girls are all outdoorsy and would be experiencing road running for the first time. Jon is also on a fitness campaign and can often be spotted walking around the Saigon streets, with his fancy camera.

Girl power!

After a hearty breakfast of pho and banh mi, our entire group hit the road, including Tan the taxi driver, who was super excited to be part of the team. We spent the first 3kms doing running/walking intervals. All the while, Jon taking some great action shots (I will publish these once he has finished editing). After 3km we waved goodbye to a tired Tan, who jumped on the back of a motorbike, when he thought we weren’t looking!

Tan

Our merry crew continued our intervals for another couple of kms until Jon and his flipflops had had enough and he headed back to chill by the pool with Tan. The rest of us covered a total of 15kms, a personal best for everyone (apart from myself and Maria). I was so so impressed with the girls and the perseverance and grit they showed, even when they were tired, achy and hot.

Daphne, Casi and Winnie my

That evening, we waved goodbye to Maria and Winnie, who were heading back to Saigon. The remaining members of the team walked down to the beach, through local villages to splash in the sea, climb sand dunes and find dinner. This put out daily distance to 21km and Sarah achieved her goal of covering a half marathon distance!

We stayed in a road side home stay for the night. This is the norm for me but was a new experience for the others. Both Sarah and Maria mentioned they thought it was important for their girls to experience all sides of Vietnam, not just their fancy expat lives down in the city. (I won’t mention the drama that leaving your passports in Saigon causes…)

Tires but proud

Sunday started with sleepy faces and tired legs. However, Casi and Daphne were determined to cover as much distance as they could that day. Using Tan as their support vehicle, the girls ran through the heat with me for much of the day. All the while chatting about the new sights and experiences of the weekend. It was great to see them buzzing with pride at their accomplishments.

For the final few kms it was just myself and Daphne. She has been bouncing all weekend as she ticked off achievement after achievement. She ran her first continuous km, then her fasted km and finally 1500ms without stopping, in the heat of the day, after running over 25kms in two days!

Smashing goals!

“Ms Naomi, I’ve seen so much more of the real Vietnam this weekend and I love it. The people are friendly and happy, even through they don’t have much. Maybe money isn’t the best thing for people, as I don’t think if people in Saigon are this happy…” (Daphne, 1st March, 2020)

Before heading back to Saigon, we decided to hit the beach for an ice cream. We found a delightful, hidden beach located on the other side of a pine forest.

Jon and I showing off out tan lines!

As I was waving the team off, disaster struck! The taxi got stuck in the sand! After much digging, pushing and team work (the kindness of strangers in action again). Tan and his taxi were free to hit the road back to Saigon.

Teamwork!

Taxi gate ended the week in dramatic style, I found a hotel and fell asleep the earliest I have in a long time. Having kids around is full on! But utterly worth it for the pride I saw shining out of them after every achievement and high 5!

As always, thanks for spending the time reading about my adventures. Saigon and the finish line is looming and I’m no sure how I feel about it!

As much as this journey is an adventure, it is also a mission to end human trafficking and improve education in this wonderful country.

Here’s the donate button: https://namrunsnam.com/donate/

Thank you, love you

Naomi (aka Nam) XXX

The Corona Chronicles.

I would like to clarify…

I DO NOT HAVE CORONA VIRUS!

This week ‘Corona Mania’ has reached a new high on my run route. People are continuing to wear surgical masks everywhere they go, just as they have been for the last 4 weeks. However, now paranoia has reached a new level. As I run along the roads people are covering their mouths or running away from me. Just this morning, I watched one women, whilst driving, take her hands off of her motorbike to cover her child’s face as they rode by. I have been refused hotel rooms in two different towns and heard shouts of “Corona” instead of the usual “Hello”.

Sadly, not an uncommon sight.

At first, I was cross and offended but now it just makes me feel sad. In the towns and villages where I have caused the most extreme reactions, I have been aware of a variety of ‘corona warning’ signs and banners. I have attempted to translate these banners and think they are advising to only spend time with family and stay away from foreigners to prevent infection. Vietnam currently has zero cases of corona, so it has done a great job at containing the outbreak, however it has also made me a threat and someone to be feared and cowered from.

These signs can be found in many towns and villages
Millions of people….?

The reason I am running is education. This extreme reaction reflects a lack of understanding and therefore a need for education. I shall keep on running!

Naomi (aka Nam)

P.S- The kindness of strangers continues and not everyone is reacting to this extreme.

Phan Rang to Mui Ne

After a fabulous weekend with Jules, Ellie and Hazel it was time to hit the road again solo.

After consulting my map, which is my best friend on the road, I realised I was going to have to put in some serious kms, unless I wanted to sleep on a mountain road the next night.

So, last Monday, I officially became an ultra runner. I covered a brutal 46.5kms through a desert and over a huge mountain pass whilst tackling some serious crosswinds that battered me and my backpack for hours. The route was also really desolate with not many cafes or places to get water. So not only was it my longest run, it was also the heaviest my pack had ever been. As I lay aching in my hotel room later that evening, I felt a great sense of achievement. I’m considering attempting a 50km day but it’s very hot at the moment and will continue to get hotter, so maybe the next ultra will wait until it’s a bit cooler…

Greg suggested I use this to drill through the mountain rather than go over it
Goats and a view

The day following my ultra run was 26kms of highway hell. I spent the day listening to music, waving at tourists on bikes and trying to push out kms until the end of the day. As I was running alongside salt flats and a power station, 3 western girls on the back of big bikes rumbled past, as always I gave them a cheery wave. However, this time one of the bikes did a U-turn and one of the girls jumped off. I knew her! It was Jess, who I had previously worked with at BIS, who now lives in Thailand. What an absolute coincidence! After a roadside chat and a hug we went in our separate directions. This chance meetings gave me the boost that I needed to get me through a tough day.

A chance meeting

In the evening, during my usual search for food, I was frog marched (with a smile) by a local lady into her house. On which she promptly feed me grapefruit and tea. After I had exhausted my very, very limited Vietnamese, she called her son’s to come and see the foreign lady she had found in the village. It turned out the two sons, both in their twenties, had excellent English and were attending university in HCMC to become pharmacists. They were back in their home town as their university was closed due to the Corona virus. After more tea and grapefruit, the three of us headed out for street food. I was told that Hoa Phu, was the home of banh xeo (pancakes with seafood and beansprouts) and that they were taking me to the lady who made the best in the whole of Vietnam. On arriving at the street food stand, we were welcomed like long lost friends and I was handed a bowl of sardines as a welcome snack! The boys were not wrong, the banh xeo really were delicious. This was another example, of the kindness of strangers and how welcome I have been made by the citizens of this wonderful country.

The following day promised to be another brutal desert day. I would be running through the famous white sand dunes north of Mui Ne. I once again stocked up on food and water and headed off into the desert. It was a beautiful run, although very hilly as the road followed the path of the dunes. Having lived in Abu Dhabi previous to moving to Vietnam, I thought I had seen the best of the desert. I wasnt prepared for the scale or the beauty of the white sand dunes. They were stunning!

Perfect skies, perfect sand
A few of these vans were scattered along the desert road and I enjoyed a couple of shady drinks stops

After a weird homestay, in what I can only describe as a stable, I was heading into Mui Ne. A stretch of beach that is famous for kite surfing. As I ran down from the dunes, I was once again battered by strong winds but they helped to keep me cool from the scorching sun so I really didn’t mind. My legs were crying out for a rest day and I knew I only had a short, 14km day to get through until I could stop for 36hours. I had chosen to stay at a kitesurfing hostel and was pretty sure the price of a dorm room was a misprint on their website. For 22k a night (72p), I could apparently stay in a beachside dorm room, where the sounds of the sea lulled me to sleep.

Not bad for 72p

I checked in for 2 nights at Longson Beach Camp and ate as much western food as I could whilst listening to a really interesting podcast about an incident of human trafficking in Sapa, Vietnam.

Sisters for Sale: Every Stranger’s Eyes: https://feeds.buzzsprout.com/835984.rss

Link above

On the Friday evening, I ended up in a beer pong tournament. As anyone who knows me from Abu Dhabi will know, this is one of my secret talents. My very American teammate and I, won the tournament and received a bucket of rum and coke for our efforts. So much for my chilled out rest day! On check out, I was charged 46000vnd for 2 nights accommodation! The price really was correct!

Today, I was to run into central Mui Ne, via the Fairy Stream that Jules had recommended when she visited last weekend. The road into Mui Ne once again followed the sand dunes up and down. My legs didn’t feel totally rested after just one day off and have clearly had enough of hills! After 12kms I paused to visit the stream.

The Fairy Stream is a shallow stream that runs through white and orange sand dunes and rock formations. You splash barefoot through the 1km stream and end up at a waterfall at the end. As I arrived around lunchtime, the stream was very quiet and I was able to soak in the magical atmosphere.

Mini waterfall
Awesome rock formations
The contrasting colours of the Fairy Stream

Feeling rejuvenated after my spot of tourism, I enjoyed a cafe sua da next to the stream and headed off for the final 6km into Mui Ne. On arrival at another cute hostel, I headed straight for a massage. It was delightful and my legs now feel somewhat normal! There is a Turkish restaurant next door and I fully intend to make a spectacle of myself there this evening by eating enough for a small family.

This week was a really important week for fundraising. We hit £15000!!! An absolutely incredible figure and it will change the lives of many vunerable children and women here in Vietnam. I am humbled by people’s generosity and the kind words that I wake up to and receive on a daily basis. Thank you.

As always, thank you so much for reading. If you enjoyed this, please share it with friends and family. My main aim is to raise awareness of the existence of human trafficking and the fact that without a birth certificate, children are unable to attend school here.

Here’s the donation link, if you would like to contribute. https://namrunsnam.com/donate/

I am currently in the process of making plans for my return to HCMC… Watch this space!

Love Naomi (aka Nam)

XXX

Vinh Hy to Phan Rang Weekender, as told by Ellie, Jules and Hazel.

I was lucky to have more guests visit me this weekend. I’ve never been so popular!

Hazel (left), Jules, me and Ellie.

I asked them to write about their time in the road with me. They have just sent this, before flying back to Saigon.

Sitting in Cam Ranh airport, it’s time to reflect on an exhausting yet fabulous weekend with the wonderwoman undertaking ‘NamRunsNam’.

Our days were short compared to Naomi’s regular mileage (16km + 16km) but they gave is an insight into what life on the road can be like.


The biggest challenge for all of us was the heat. We are all used to running in Vietnamese humidity, but nothing prepares you for running in midday sun with the extra weight of a rucksack.


On the first day, we had a few hills to contend with, but that gave us a welcomed walk or two to break the steady jog we were managing (nothing close to Nam’s regular pace)! There was drama when Hazel took a stumble-tumble. Luckily, just a few scrapes – nothing Naomi’s first aid kit couldn’t deal with – and it justified her having carried if for nearly 2000k (first use here).

That evening, we stayed at a lovely hotel with a pool, which kindly gave ua a room for free in acknowledgement of Naomi’s epic journey.


Day two was tough after the aches that had materialised after our first day. Today saw a much flatter road along the coast passing many salt flats yet still the same sweltering heat. How on Earth does she do this every day?


At one point we passed a coach of western tourists who, confused at the 4 sweaty westerners running in the midday sun, stopped to chat. Upon hearing about what Naomi is doing, they were genuinely gob-smacked. It really brought home how immense her challenge is to someone who is just hearing about it for the first time. Their reaction reminded us of the enormity of her challenge which we have become used to through daily updates.


Running with Naomi over this weekend, has given is all an insight into the varied ways of life in a very small part of the Vietnamese countryside: from vineyards, salt flats, garlic fields, shrimp farms to wind farms. We will keep memories of friendly locals calling ‘hello’ or saying from their motorbikes with a cheerful honk of the horn.


Our weekend was only a small snippet of Naomi’s journey. We are all aching and slightly broken and have nothing but massive admiration for what she is doing.

Well done Naomi! Keep on running and we will see you on the road again soon. You are amazing to be taking on this challenge for such worthy causes.

If you can, please donate via her GoFundMe page.

https://namrunsnam.com/donate/

Jules, Ellie and Hazel

Nick’s experience of namrunsnam

I asked Nick to do a write up of his time on the road with me. I was expecting a slaying, instead I got my ego massaged!

Here’s what he had to say.

After the endless pestering from Nai and the numerous promises I’d made to run with her, it was finally time to get my (El’s) bag and head to Nha Trang for the weekend.

I’ve been speaking to Nai throughout her trip and always wanted to join her for a stint, to see what life on the road was like for her. I was truly honoured to be joining her and witnessing firsthand how incredible a person she is and the journey she’s on.

Friday night, as she said, was carb-loading at our usual spot and then it was time to head out. How is it that after 4 months on the road, she had a lighter bag than I did??? and I was only there for 2 nights…mental. Running out along the beach was lovely, running through local markets, dodging the drive-by shoppers and heading towards the coastal road. As you may know, Cam Ranh airport is actually about 35kms south of Nha Trang. So the night before, I’d already driven the route we were about to take, it was gonna be a slog!

We did it though and Nai could easily have done more! She just motored on. Even at the end, after we officially became “Ultrarunners”, I swear she could have done 50kms, 60 even? It was the first time I’d run that kind of distance and the first time I’d been out on the road for 7 hours! But I’ll do it again. She’s an inspiration to everyone who comes in contact with her. Whether it’s the locals who look on in disbelief as she tells them she started in Hanoi, 4 months back, or other travellers who usually start with a laugh until they realise she’s not joking. We’re already planning more long runs together and if/when she signs up for Bali, I’ll know I have an incredible running partner to go with.

Thanks for allowing me to share just a couple of days with you on this journey. Stay strong, keep going and we’re all looking forward to welcoming you back home in a few weeks.