I’ve always wanted to explore Sapa, a frontier town in Lào Cai Province of northwest Vietnam, 350km from Hanoi, for its breathtaking landscapes, filled with never-ending rice terraces. Trekking is one of the major activities for visitors to this quiet, natural heaven and since I had been missing out on my runs due to travelling, my friends and I decided to head for a 2Day trekking tour, with 1 night spent at a local Hmong family homestay, so that I can keep up my stamina training while being overseas 🙂
Sapa houses Vietnam’s highest peak, Fansipan, at a high of 3142m above sea level and a vast area covered by thick forest, rich in wildlife. The town of Sapa lies at the attitude of about 1,600m. The climate is moderate, cool in summer, foggy and cold in winter with occasional snowfall. Sapa is also home to a great diversity of ethnic minority people.
The rain, the mud, the rocks and more
The trek was postponed to 9:30am due to an unexpected rainfall and by the time we started from the city area, it was still drizzling. The rain caused the mountainous paths to become all muddy and slippery but that did not deter our Hmong guide and fellow trekkers from embarking on our journey. We did not have proper trekking footwear and were asked to change into wellies, or what we Singaporeans call the “PCK Boots” 🙂
Lost In Paradise
The entire 8 -10hours worth of trekking around the local villages in Sapa for the 2 days, with an 8kg backpack, was an experience that I will never forget. Unlike our typical lives in Singapore where we are unconsciously bombarding ourselves and getting occupied with virtual information, the days I spent in Sapa made me reconnect with the real world and enjoy what nature has to offer. My runs in Singapore usually comprise of music, distance goals and pace to keep up to; over here, none of that were in mind and we were just trekking to explore and went according to where the roads would take us.
There were many times I wanted to give up and thoughts of heading back to Hanoi city for a good cup of Vietnamese coffee kept flooding my mind as endless treacherous muddy trails and inclined paths with no hand-held aids came into view, despite having cleared obstacles after obstacles. We trekked through plantations, bamboo forests, rice fields, downslope of a waterfall and all the never-ending pressure placed on my entire body – thighs were strained from balancing and moving on different roads and elevations; shoulders and back were supporting the heavy backpack throughout the entire trek. In addition, many attractions in Vietnam required a lot of climbing of stairs, which left us constantly working out while touring places!
After coming back to Singapore, my thighs were still sore and took about 2 days to fully recover. Perhaps it was the constant leg-lifting motion throughout the trek and climbing of stairs, I felt that my strides became somewhat longer, higher and faster! It was amusing and fascinating to see how my body has conditioned to the movement. And so, I went to test it out:
I went for a 10k before my trip and just yesterday, I decided to head for a post-trip run after full muscle-ache recovery to see if skipping my runs for a week and engaging in trekking or stair-climbing made any difference. To my surprise, not only did I manage to run faster, I used lesser energy to complete the same distance too!
Apparently, trekking not only helps in improving stamina since it requires lots of energy and power, it is also beneficial for improving agility and balance of the body. As such, this runners need not always restrict themselves into running drills or training and taking a break off from running does not necessarily compromise your performance! I would highly recommend trekking or stair-climbing as a side activity for runners because it trains your physique and mental endurance as well!
With that, a salute to all trail and ultramarathoners! 🙂