Photos of hornless rhinos and caged tigers dot the course. “Race for Vietnam’s Wildlife” proclaim the backs of the green and white race shirts. Volunteers stand proudly by the banners, directing runners with enthusiastic waves. “Doing well,” they cheer. “You can do it… Save Vietnam’s wildlife!”
Dec. 7 dawned cool and clear for the annual Song Hong Half Marathon. Co-hosted by the Red River Runners (RRR) and Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), this year’s race attracted over 350 participants from 34 countries, 32 percent of whom were Vietnamese.
Set by RRR volunteers, the 5km, 10km and 21km courses wound through the peaceful streets of Ciputra and along the not-so-peaceful but pretty roads that ring West Lake. Meeting every Saturday for a 10km social run, the group is well versed in plotting the best paths to avoid traffic and pollution — the two biggest complaints of any Hanoi runner.
“The best part of RRR is the people,” says one long-time participant of the club. “It is so much fun to meet people of various nationalities and backgrounds, who are all brought together through the common bond of running. Everyone is at a different level of running as well. So there is always someone to run with and someone to catch.”
This was also true of this year’s race, which attracted a range of running levels.
As in 2013, all profits from the Song Hong race went to ENV, a Hanoi-based NGO working to increase understanding about wildlife protection and conservation. “This year will not just be about participants having fun and running the 21km, 10km or 5km race,” said Pablo Garcia, the Song Hong Half Marathon event manager, before the race. “The 2014 marathon will also contribute to the important cause of protecting wildlife by helping to raise awareness about the threats to Vietnam’s wildlife, and encouraging the public not to consume foods or medicines made from wildlife.”
As Vietnam’s wealth grows, so too does the desire for exclusive, luxury products, such as coveted wildlife goods, and this increasing demand is having a significant impact on global and domestic wildlife trade. ENV, however, is confident that improving knowledge, especially in the younger generation, is the foundation for decreasing wildlife trade.
“The money [from the race] is essential in helping us to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products, strengthen law enforcement and legislation, and mobilise public participation in combating wildlife crime,” says the ENV communications team.
Making it to the End
On the morning of the run, however, it was crossing the finish line that was at the forefront of most people’s minds. Whether competing to win or just for the experience, all runners seemed to be having fun — cheering each other on and enjoying the clear, sunny morning.
It was Hugo Page from Canada, however, who cruised into first for this year’s Song Hong Half Marathon. He completed the 21km in a scant 1hr 21m, five minutes ahead of his closest rival, Samuel Anderson. — Katie Jacobs
Hiroki Umeda, Japan, 21:43
Gina Pulciani, USA, 24:54
Luke Kenny, Ireland, 38:12
Heidi Kay, USA, 50:51
Hugo Page, Canada, 1:21:29
Kristina Van Dijk, New Zealand, 1:41:23