Rob West, 32, and Grant Bowdery, 41, from the U.K. and Marieke Dekkers, 39, from the Netherlands will begin a non-stop trail-running relay along the banks of the Red River in support of Newborns Vietnam on April 22.
“We’re looking to be inspired by the innate will to live that all newborns have,” Bowdery, a biology teacher and keen ultra-distance runner and cyclist, says.
“We were drawn initially to the idea of three runners, 300 kilometers and 30 hours, but we felt that would be too much, especially in the second 150km, when the route gets quite hilly as we approach Lao Cai.”
The trio will now seek to maintain a pace of just over seven minutes per kilometer for 36 hours.
“The significance of 36 hours comes from the concept of sunrise to sunset the next day, but we still think this is going to be very demanding,” Bowdery says.
“It’s far from a given that we will be able to complete the course in this time.”
Taking it in turns for one or two hours each (depending on how hot it gets), while one runs, the other two will rest, rehydrate, and eat in a mini-van staffed by two support crew and a driver.
“The Red River Run will be nothing like anything we have ever done before,” Bowdery explains.
“We will run through the night and into a second day, so sleep deprivation and nutrition will be as big a factor as the running itself. It remains an unknown challenge for us all, and will be the toughest, longest and most rewarding event we have done.”
In the darkness of a 4a.m. start, the trio will begin their push from in front of the National Children’s Hospital in Hanoi, just one of many places the U.K.-registered charity Newborns Vietnam is involved with.
Once outside the capital, their route will wind past the rural market towns of Son Tay, a town on Hanoi’s outskirts, and nearby Phu Tho and Yen Bai Provinces, before ascending to their final destination of Lao Cai, the frontier province that borders China and acts as a gateway to Vietnam’s storied northern highlands.
It’s a trip that most people usually make by overnight train, and as far as Bowdery is aware, no one has completed the route before on foot.
“We looked at a map of hospitals and clinics Newborns Vietnam works with, noticed that Lao Cai was the furthest away and that several other clinics could be included on a route that would connect them all on our run.”
The group’s goal — to complete the 300-kilometers within 36 hours — is also symbolic. The first 36 hours of a newborn’s life are amongst the most vulnerable, and unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many don’t survive them in Vietnam.
According to the World Health Organization’s latest data, the median rate of newborn mortality here is 10.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. By comparison, this number is 2.6 in the U.K. and 3.6 in the U.S.
In Holland, from where mental health specialist Marieke Dekkers moved with her family in 2015, this number is even lower, at 2.3. Well aware of the privilege associated with growing up with western standards of healthcare, since 2018 she has been running all of her ultra races as an ambassador for Newborns Vietnam.
A Facebook photo shows Marieke Dekkers training for The Red River Run.
She won last year’s 70km Dalat Ultra Trail in the Central Highlands town, as well as the Penang Eco 100 in Malaysia, and began to question her motivation for doing so. “What do I give back to this country by trying to win races?” she has written on the charity’s website.
Soon, instigated by Bowdery, whom she had met on a run along with West not long after arriving – West, is a PE teacher, swimming coach and colleague of Bowdery — they decided to establish the Red River Run.
Dekkers, who recently completed 100 straight days of training, explains, “Rather than tagging our support onto another event, we wanted to create something solely for Newborns Vietnam, something which would be super challenging, but with no finisher’s medal, no trophy and no PB (personal best) at the end of it, only the motivation and knowledge that each kilometer we run would make a difference.”
They are hoping to raise the money on JustGiving, a global online charity donation platform. At the time of publishing, they had already raised $16,100.
Cosimo Jencks, Newborns Vietnam chairman, told VnExpress International how the three runners’ fundraising effort would help the organization.
“It will be split between the training of doctor’s and neonatal nurses, which is currently ongoing, and also be spent on vital equipment, which will be gifted.
“The geographical area we now cover has a population catchment of 42 million, and we are striving to build a network system of support for improved newborn care with the Ministry of Health.
“We are very honored that Marieke, Rob and Grant have taken on this challenge to spread the message of Newborns, whilst at the same time raise valuable funds to reduce the rate of newborn death in Vietnam.”
Check out the video they’ve made to promote their run.