The DaNang Marathon – August 6, 2017

Dateline: DaNang – August 6, 2017

The morning started inauspiciously. And I should’ve taken it as a sign for what was to come. I got to the front door of the airbnb and it was padlocked shut. There was no alternate means of egress. I resorted to knocking on the manager’s door and apologized profusely it that I needed to go to the marathon. Huy writes better English than he speaks it … that or he’s got a marginally decent translation app for email. So I hope he understood; he didn’t seem mad, just groggy which is universally understandable given it was 3 in the morning.

Wandering the nearly deserted streets, passing only three drunk guys and their girlfriends, the latter filming their beaus behaving stupidly.

I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t the first one at the start line.  It was humid — the kind that weighs down on you, or your clothes, on your very soul.  Everything feels damp and wet and sticky and… well, that’s BEFORE the sun has risen and before you start running 42+ kilometers.


We had an hour to kill so I snapped some photos and now and again chatted with folks nearby to pass the time.


This is Mike.

Mike’s from the Philippines but lives in Singapore.  He’s trying to run all of the South-Eastern Asia countries and is well on his way — most recently he did Kuala Lumpur and the Gold Coast of Australia. I mentioned I was from the States and he asked me, excitedly, if I’d seen “Hamilton.” I told him I had and he pulled a Wayne and Garth “I’m not worthy” worship.  He said he was trying to find a way to see it in NYC, or Chicago or now Los Angeles. In the meantime though, he said he had it all queued up on his playlist for today. Lin-Manuel Miranda is perhaps the best goodwill ambassador for the US right now. Maybe he *should* be President now.

This happens now and again, but more often it seems to at races in Asia. They have a warm-up zoomba style dance routine five minutes before the start — only we are all jammed into the starting corrals so it’s inevitably a recipe for disaster. And yet it happened in Japan, it happened in Hong Kong, and it happened here in Vietnam.

A bit of video on this I think…

As the four member dance team (okay, the dance captain girl and her three infinitely less talented backup guys) exited the start line, the final ten seconds were counted down.

Did I mention the humidity yet? Maybe in the teaser. The fact is just standing waiting for the race to start was like being boiled alive. Now we were running the streets and an adjective like “oppressive” doesn’t cut it.

I had my phone wrapped in plastic to try and prevent a waterlogged encore that might damage the thing (albeit now I have phone insurance… yet the “deductible” to repair/replace isn’t all that generous). As the course was two loops, I figured anything I missed in the pre-dawn non-light I could try and capture on the second time round.

Given that the phone was encased in crappy cellophane from a poncho Tony gave us for the Mekong River, I’m astonished at how well the pictures came out. I look awful, particularly in the second loop, as the run, heat, humidity, and life itself takes its toll. I went from my typical Quasimodo hunched back that I hate to the maybe apocryphal Richard III nearly perpendicular hunched back but I was looking even part of me was vertical. I was huffing and puffing through the wet sponge that is the DaNang air, adding the exhaust from cars, buses, and scooters that didn’t always respect the traffic marshals. And why should they? While Vietnam has ticked the boxes on the country survey form that they do have roadway markings, nobody asked them if the markings have any meaning. I would say the lanes of traffic are more guidelines than rules… but in truth I think they barely qualify as suggestions.

But I digress.

For the last few days I’ve felt the squat/crawl aches and pains from the Cu Chi Tunnels. I figured I did two back to backs shooting for a sub-3 time (and failing) last weekend so I could deal with the repercussions of a ten minute crawl through a tunnel. That may have been overly arrogant.

Round and round we went. Ironically we met up with a segment of the shoreline road I had walked back on the day before. Lady Buddha stood atop her hillside and knowing she was the goddess of mercy, I said a little prayer and stumbled along.

I was doing ok for the first loop – I think it was a 1:49 or so.

But the sun was beating down, the humidity was bursting past 100%, and I just felt… exhausted. It was a real struggle. I lost count of the water bottles I was downing and/or dowsing over me. As I started the second loop it was 25 and then who knows thereafter? Every stop, every opportunity I tried to grab a bottle. I couldn’t fathom being dehydrated as I drank more than Dudley Moore and Russell Brand combined when they were in full on Arthur modes.

There were earlier walk breaks but in the second loop there were walk miles… and miles… and miles. I would try and goad myself into running just a bit farther… even to the next street sign, anything. But I just couldn’t do it.


I had developed a couple of blisters and it hurt more to walk versus to run on them… but not even pain could prod me to hustle.

About halfway through the second loop I was so thoroughly soaked with water, sweat, and tears that even the cellophaned phone couldn’t register a swipe to open the camera app. So there’s perhaps thankfully not a lot of photos of me crying, talking to myself, wishing the end would come. Lady Buddha must not have liked my tribute pose the day before as the day was merciless.

As I continued walking, running the math, I was looking at a potentially 4:45 – 5 hour finish. It wasn’t the clock that was a motivator to try and run even 100 meters now and again; it was the thought that I wouldn’t have to keep moving thereafter.

I dug my phone out of the cellophane and somehow got it unlocked. So here are a few of me toward the end. I would try and force a smile, faking it in the hopes that it might help inspire me to get to the end; maybe it worked. I kinda zoned out here, trudging along, a zombie walker of the George A. Romero variety in that I was sloooooowly shuffling along. I think there’s a Simpsons episode where Bart and Homer steal a parade float and somebody say, “Damn! He’s very slowly getting away!”

As I reached Beach Number 3, I knew I just had to get past Beaches Numbers 2 and 1 and the finish line would be in sight.

And yet I walked.


It was only in the closing few meters that I tried to rally and run it in. It was all for show.

But I finished. I could stop moving. I grabbed two more water bottles at the finish and poured them over my head.

There wasn’t to the best of my knowledge recovery food. It looked like the beach food carts were open for business but honestly my stomach was queasy and the thought of eating anything more substantial than a banana sounded impossible.

Like the confused foreigner in a foreign land that I was, I stumbled about and decided to walk back to my airbnb if only to give my muscles a chance to “cool down” transition before I curled up on my super hard mattress and tried to get some recovery sleep.

The heat was hot.  I know that’s ridiculous to type but I think of it as a tribute to Air America, another movie set in the Vietnam War era, one that used “A Horse With No Name” as part of its diegetic music (despite flubbing the time line as the movie was set YEARS BEFORE that song came out).

I had to stop several times to try and catch my breath. It was a tough road back and I had thought of getting some food from a street vendor yet my stomach was not having it.

In the end, I got back and had “My Pasadena” moment, collapsing in a sweaty heap on the tiled floor.

And that’s when the blood clot/muscle spasms kicked in.

I’ve had these post-marathon Charlie Horses a few times before. But these were like waves of pain as the muscles in my legs and feet seized up, ostensibly as if Gotham City’s Mr Freeze had shot me with his freeze ray gun. But there was one noticeable difference – these weren’t cooling effect freeze ups. They were just perpetual pain as I tried to work out the knots and kinks.

I’ve gone into far too much detail here in the struggles, including those of the post race problems. Suffice to say, some food and more water made an (eventual) difference. So too did the Salonpas patches I covered my calves with.

I rallied for dinner, choosing to hit the recommended My Quang place my airbnb host told me about. The streets of Da Nang are lined with cafes, restaurants, and hole in the wall gems… this apparently is one of the Crown Jewels and dirt cheap. As I was trying to save dong for the next morning’s cab ride this was a true bonus.

The dish is a Vietnamese specialty, a shared genetic cuisine DNA it seemed to me of udon noodles in Japan. The giant rice cracker could be broken up and enjoyed solo or mixed in with the broth. All in, a tasty treat and I regret not focusing more on this during my stay.

I hung out in the place for a bit as the heavens opened up and the rain was that tropical cyclone type thing moviemakers overplay. But ya know what? It was really coming down. I had planned on walking the half mile or so up to the famed Danang Dragon Bridge but given the torrential downpour and my still shaky legs, I figured I’d just got back and call it an early night.

The rain slowed to a steady drizzle. I figured I could make it back to my room with only minimal soaking so I hustled down the street. I knew I’d regret not going to the dragon bridge so when I came to a convenience store with a stash of disposable ponchos I thought it fate; I bought one for 5000 dong, though the proprietor tried to upsell me on the 10,000 dong one. I stuck to my guns as really I just needed something to wrap my backpack. I could dry out easily enough but the camera and stuff in my bag could use a bit more weatherproofing.

As I unfurled the poncho and tried to wrap it around the bag, the rain stopped. Of course it did. My timing remains as impeccable as always.

And thus I wasted USD 25 cents on a piece of plastic. On the plus side I did get to keep the packaging which features the only two people I’ve ever seen who maintain their coolness in their ponchos:

I had passed by the DaNang Dragon Bridge several times – by cab on the way into town and on the two loop marathon course. We passed one end on the route and I never got a decent photo. But this other head is really where it’s at.


Supposedly at night it breathes fire on weekends and at festivals but I couldn’t tell if they did it rain or, well, “not shine” but not rain. I read online they do it at either 7 or 8 pm but couldn’t confirm what sparked the time differential.

As the drizzling rain had started back up (making that 5000 dong poncho a worthwhile investment after all!), I didn’t want to wait around twenty minutes for seven o’clock and then potentially have to wait another hour… and then potentially have the dragon’s pilot light be out.

So I left, figuring I’d check out some YouTube videos of the spectacle and that would be virtually the same.


When I originally wrote this, tapping out paragraphs and memories while in DaNang, or maybe as I waited in Saigon for my flight to Hong Kong, I left a large section blank. I know that seems crazy given the ridiculously long and meandering prose. How could anything be left out? What possible “plot holes” could be filled, or perhaps more accurately, who even cares?

I failed to capture in my initial draft the at first physical then psychological and mental breakdowns of the DaNang Marathon. There were hints at it in the prose as written but in re-reading it as I flew back to the US, I felt it didn’t remotely do justice to the experience. I had thought maybe the photos would document it but not even their 43,000-plus word equivalency get the job done.

It seems impossible to tell you what it was like unless you were there. Which is a borderline insulting thing for me to say about a lousy marathon in Vietnam of all places.

As I sit here in my unexpected, comfy, well-cushioned business class seat, my muscles still ache; my quads are hot and flaming partly due to the marathon and I’m convinced moreso from Cu Chi. Every fiber of my being is sore: muscles, lungs, brains, the whole body and soul thing, the vessel battered and bruised.

It can be freeing but it can also be damning to get lost in one’s thoughts. On the best of days, running or its equivalent headspace mechanism opens the mind to seemingly endless possibilities and hopes and dreams. On the worst of days, there is a dying of the light or, worse, a fear that there never has been light in the world.

Ultimately, DaNang was a marathon of attrition. The miles took their toll on me, the humidity too, as parts of my soul and my shoe soles were taken. It was a slog to keep going and I wanted to quit. I haven’t quite felt that level of, “this is never going to end… I’m not going to make it… who really cares one way or the other anyway?”

And then for hours afterward, hell, even now… I’m still hurting.

I was a broken man on the streets of DaNang for mile upon mile, wherein I was agonizingly, slowly and progressively sinking into a quagmire of doubt and loathing. Darkness enveloped me, despite the blistering sunlight and drenching humidity that seemed to make the air itself shimmer. And yet I carried on. I didn’t always run; sometimes I walked. A lot of times I walked. But I did move forward.

I don’t have an ending for this day’s post.

Perhaps that’s as it should be.

I didn’t win the marathon as my airbnb host hoped I would; I never expected to.

Today though was a day of survival. And I survived. I suppose there’s victory in that.

Right now it feels like a Pyrrhic Victory… but soon one hopes that time will wear down the edges of memory.

And so soon I will run again.

Just maybe not tomorrow.