lifestyle • 02 Dec, 2016
Thanh Vu Completes ‘4 Deserts Grand Slam’
We Speak To The First Vietnamese To Complete Challenge
There’s something indefinable about humans prepared to put themselves through extreme feats of physical and mental strength, just to be the first. We don’t always get them, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t impressed. If you haven’t already heard, Thanh Vu is one of these people, and last weekend she became the first Vietnamese and first South East Asian female to complete what is known as the ‘4 Deserts’ ultra-running Grand Slam. It’s an incredible achievement. It means that in 2016, she’s completed 1,000km of solo, self-supported running across four of the toughest deserts in the world.
Starting back in May, she completed the African Sahara, followed that up with China’s Gobi in June, took a break until October when she went across Chile’s Atacama (for the second time) and last weekend completed what is known as ‘The Last Desert’ in Antarctica! Training hard all year with the support of the Tan Hien Phat Group and becoming a media personality in the process - VTC9 established a talk show dedicated to the series - it’s been a truly ‘epic’ year for the just turned 26 year-old.
AnyArena caught up with her between well-earned naps as she made her way home via Argentina.
AA: How do you feel now that it’s over Thanh?
Thanh Vu: I feel happy, proud and a little taken aback by how this year has gone. It’s beyond anything I could have imagined. I can’t wait to share the amazing experiences, the beauty of nature and the human spirit that I’ve witnessed.
AA: Awesome, we can’t wait to see it all. You’ve just finished the final race in Antarctica! That’s incredible. Can you describe it ?
Thanh Vu: Antarctica was nothing like I expected. Past competitors had given me the impression that this race was very short due to weather dependency. Since safe areas to run in Antarctica are limited, we had to run in loops, from 1.4km to 11.4km. The idea being we do as many loops as we can before the weather turns bad.
In previous years, the weather had turned very quickly and the longest days were about 6 hours. However, we had unexpectedly great weather so in the first day alone, we were on the course for 13 hours. In total, we were outside for 42 hours in deep snow. After a while, the snow on the course became packed down, but it still required a lot more effort than the usual terrains, and because of the long days your body is at risk of not recovering quickly enough.
AA: Sounds tough. What does it even look like?
It was a spectacular experience. The continent of Antarctica is so pristine and the view is out of this world. Running right near sliding penguins and seals is not something you get to do every day.
AA: Definitely not. I hope you took some pictures. Throughout any of the events this year, did you ever feel like quitting?
Thanh Vu: Definitely. After the hellish 80km Long March in the Gobi. I was traumatized by this experience. It was heat I've never experienced before. The temperature was 50+ Celsius. I couldn't eat any of the food I prepared. Water was hot and my electrolytes tasted like plastic. I think the plastic bottles had melted into the water. People's shoes were literally melting on the road and at several moments I felt like my life was endangered.
After I completed this race, it took me a while to refocus on my goal of the Grand Slam. I had to rethink many things because I wanted to make sure it was worth it.
AA: We’re glad you made it Thanh. Finally, and this is probably the most obvious question, but why do all of this, and what if anything, comes next?
Haha. In the world of ultras, there’s always a longer distance, tougher terrain and a "crazier" challenge, and as a Vietnamese, there are still many firsts to be set. I think the message from this journey, and why I did it, is that your limits lie where you place them. Defying them is a scary idea because there will always be a million reasons not to break out of your comfort zone. But when you have a really extraordinary destination to reach, like this one, the journey to get there will be worth more than anything you’ve ever learnt, read or heard about because you will be the hero of your own story.
AA: Thanks Thanh Vu and congratulations. We look forward to hearing about whatever the next chapter is.
Words by JA
Images courtesy of Thanh Vu