HÀ NỘI — Dubbed ‘old man’ in the marathon community, Lê Văn Tuấn, 38, has shown an iron will and strong mind to dominate various difficult tournaments.
He has now completed his lifetime task of winning a berth in the national team at the Southeast Asian Games in Hà Nội this summer.
The tournament, which is his first and maybe his final attempt, will need to see his best performance for himself, as his country has never secured a men’s marathon title.
At the 2022 VPBank Hanoi Marathon, which was a SEA Games’ selection competition, Tuấn left defending Trịnh Quốc Lượng and rising star Đào Minh Chí behind with a time of 2:27.41 over the distance of 42 kilometres. He stole the only slot left to accompany national champion Hoàng Nguyên Thanh at the 31st Games in May.
“I have never thought I am an old man running. Winning at this selection event means I am a Vietnamese representative at the SEA Games. It is my great honour,” Tuấn told media after finishing.
The oldest runner was praised by his rivals and coaches.
“He deserved to win. The more he ran, the better he performed. It was a tough tournament, but he overcame challenges to be successful,” said coach Nguyễn Tuấn Viết.
Tuấn was born and grew up in the northern province of Ninh Bình but currently works as a fitness teacher in southern Đồng Nai.
He has run since he was a little boy before taking part in his first tournaments when he was a second-year student.
He was an athlete of Đồng Nai from 2010 to 2017 before taking a two-year rest. In 2019, Tuấn returned to competition and officially decided on a career as a professional marathoner.
Tuấn moved from the 5km and 10km distance to full marathon with training plans made himself.
Tuấn runs, listens to his body and searches for information on the internet to set up his own programme.
“As a fitness trainer, I can build up plans and exercises that are suitable for me. Many people ask about my secrets. I think that to run well, people should spend the first five years improving physical strength. They should first run 5-7km and increase the distance gradually before taking on a full marathon under a specific plan. Otherwise, you will destroy your body,” he said.
Tuấn was successful in his own way. His results remarkably kept improving event after event, year after year.
“In my opinion, I think it is not important to finish second or first, it is also not necessary to beat anyone, but you have to run faster than yourself in the past,” he said.
He was called up to the national team after a second-place finish at the Tiền Phong Marathon, the national championship, in 2020 at the age of 36. And his impressive win on March 6 gave him an excellent opportunity to wear the Việt Nam uniform to compete at the SEA Games.
“Unlike other sports in which youth is very important to get high results, athletes need to have endurance, stamina, and a strong mind in track-and-field,”Tuấn told Việt Nam News.
“As you can see, world-leading runners are from 35 to 40. Kenenisa Bekele is 38. At this age, they are in perfect physique and have endurance and ability to overcome high pressure. Advanced technology also helps them to develop sustainably too.
“You can see Japanese 60-year-old Mariko Yugeta, who ran a marathon with an incredible time of 2:25.01. Yes, if you have a suitable programme, age is just a number. It does not affect people’s training habit and results.”
The time of 2:27.41 is Tuấn’s personal best, but he was not happy as he did not reach his target.
“I was set to run from 2:25.00 to 2:26.00 in this race. I won the race but technically was not satisfied with the result,” said Tuấn.
His time was close to the silver medal result of the previous Games, encouraging him to strive for a berth in the top three finishers or to take the first-ever marathon gold medal for Việt Nam.
“Every athlete always tries their best to grab the highest result for the country. Me too. But the marathon is rapidly developing in Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore, so I think I have to work harder and harder to prepare well for the tournament,” Tuấn said.
“I want to have an opportunity to take the top podium and watch the national flag flying high. It is my dream. I hope that the advantage of competing on home soil will get me the victory.”
Tuấn is confident he can find his top form over the several next years and will take that time to get closer and even break the national record set by Nguyễn Chí Đông, one of the most Vietnamese talented marathoners.
Đông’s 2:21.51 time brought him a silver, Việt Nam’s best men’s marathon result, in the 22nd SEA Games, which was organised in Việt Nam in 2003.
“As I said, athletes practise and compete not only to get high results but to break records. I want more than that. I want to take part in international competitions, stepping on the tracks of famous marathons in Tokyo and Boston,” he said. — VNS