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As promised in my blog entry from Hue, I have finally uploaded, edited and captioned over 400 photos from my whirlwind two-week tour of Northern and Central Vietnam in late April/early May.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to best sum up our action-packed trip – I could try to capture the absolute madness of Hanoi and how we mastered the art of crossing the street; I could go on and on about all the AMAZING, interesting food we ate; I could describe our adventures trekking through the mountainous Sapa region, including our night of drinking WAY too much home-made rice wine with our local tribal host family; I could tell you how incredibly delicious and addictive Vietnamese iced coffee is, particularly after wandering around for hours on a 100+ degree day in Hoi An or Hue; and I could attempt to convey the beauty of Ha Long Bay (well, minus the hundreds of other tourist boats).

But I think it’s best to let my photos (and captions) tell you all about my Vietnamese experience instead. Check out my album here or click below:

Highlights of Northern & Central Vietnam

There were definitely days, particularly in the beginning, where we weren’t quite sure we were enjoying ourselves, but we quickly got into the swing of things. Transport was easy and reliable, the locals were quite friendly (we found the people in Central Vietnam to be nicer than up North, for whatever reason), the food was awesome and cheap, there were tons of interesting things to see and do, and we never felt unsafe. Everything went very smoothly, in part because I had planned all of our transport, accommodation and our two short tours in advance. I usually don’t plan everything, but I figured it would be easiest given how much we wanted to cram into our two weeks.

If you’re thinking of going to Vietnam, it’s a fascinating country, and I’d recommend many of the places we visited as well as the restaurants and hotels mentioned in my photo album. Just be aware that Vietnam is VERY touristy – at least if you stick to the traditional tourist routes, which we decided to do because of time constraints. This of course comes as no surprise! I spoke with several friends who had been there and did a fair amount of reading while planning my trip, so I expected, for instance, that locals would try to sell us things incessantly, even in very random places, and that we would often be overcharged for things. It was annoying and at times dampened the beauty of some of the places we were trying to enjoy, but at least they left us alone after we said no a few times, unlike in Marrakesh. We also discovered plenty of great, local spots throughout the trip which felt more “authentic” – you just have to seek them out, like anywhere else I suppose!

It was a very busy and exhausting holiday, but as you can see we had a wonderful time and I’m really glad we went.  So now I can finally say that I have been to Southeast Asia…

If you’ve read my post on exercising while traveling, then you know that I usually bring my running shoes wherever I go. What better way to explore a foreign place and discover things that you may not have otherwise noticed?

Inevitably, however, I take running breaks too – whether by choice and necessity, it’s a healthy thing to do, but clawing back to where I left off after a period of “detraining” can be a challenging process. Staying active in other ways of course helps maintain my general fitness (as well as my sanity), but unfortunately does not prevent the loss of specific running fitness. “Use it, or lose it,” as the saying goes!

The percentage of fitness that you lose is of course dependent on several factors, including age, how long you have been active, how fit you were prior to your time off, and the length of your break. Good news for me I guess, as a longtime, fit and relatively young runner! But even after a short break, I find regaining fitness quite tough, especially as I try to re-establish a normal routine. Perhaps you’re in the same boat, following the extended Easter/May bank holidays! At least I’ve been through this enough times to know that with a bit of patience and perseverance, it always comes back, eventually!

So how did I fare in Vietnam, and how do I plan to claim back my pre-holiday running fitness?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I only managed to run once for 6.5M halfway through my two-week trip, mainly because the conditions (pollution, traffic, heat and lack of routes) as well as our busy schedule made running difficult. Sure, I could’ve woken up at 5am like the locals did to beat some of those obstacles, but even that is a bit much for this early morning runner! Plus, I don’t find running along a highway – even if it’s a quiet one – all that appealing.

Thankfully, seeing Vietnam the way we wanted to see it was by nature a very active experience, including hours of walking around cities to see the sights as well as a couple days of trekking in the mountains and, to a lesser extent, some cycling and swimming at the beach.

I still felt like my muscles were slowly deteriorating into the squishy pork buns that we loved to eat, but at least I wasn’t sitting on my butt all day long (not that there is anything wrong with that either!).

Sadly, hours of walking doesn’t translate into hours of running, so it should come as no surprise to me that after two weeks off, I have lost what feels like a sizeable chunk of my running fitness. And yet, I still find it strange that the morning I flew to Vietnam, I ran 10M at an average pace of 8:39 – piece of cake – and felt relatively strong during my mid-trip run, but then struggled to do 4M this past Friday, only one week later! Some lingering jet lag surely didn’t help, but even on Sunday I could only manage 7M at an average pace was 9:41, and in this morning’s strength training session, I felt like a weakling!

I’m not concerned, though – I know my legs are thanking me even if they are now punishing me! It was liberating to break free of all routine while I was away, and it left me with a strong appetite to run upon my return.

The trick is, as usual, to slowly ease back into things – soon enough everything (even going to the gym – bleh) will start to feel natural again!

Hello from Hue! I’m about to head back to the craziness of Hanoi for a brief stopover, after an intense 10 days of exploring North/Central Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa region, Hoi An and Hue) and before my tour of Ha Long Bay, my final destination for this trip. It took me a couple days to get into the swing of things, but overall I’ve been having an amazing experience.

Although I haven’t done much running aside from my one attempt in Hoi An (the heat, pollution, and crazy traffic make it a bit difficult, especially in the cities), I’ve managed to keep quite active, mostly from hiking and walking. Good thing too, because the focus of this trip has without a doubt been FOOD!

I cannot begin to tell you how much I’ve fallen in love with Vietnamese cuisine – so many colors and flavors, so fresh and more healthy than I imagined too, which is always a plus. I feared that I would have trouble enjoying a large part of it given my shellfish allergy, but thankfully I’ve been fine so far (touch wood)! My stomach has also cooperated with my daily street food meals and snacks, so either my stomach has grown stronger from all my travels or I’ve been lucky. 🙂

Here I am today, cooling off with an iced cà phê in one of the stalls in Hue’s main market. The coffee here is STRONG, mixed with condensed milk and ice. At first it was a bit of a shock to the system but now I am obsessed with it – particularly refreshing after having walked in scorching heat and 100% humidity for four hours.

I have a very early flight tomorrow so that’s all for now – many more photos and details of my adventures to come!

I’m flying to Vietnam tonight – wow, typing that finally makes me feel like it’s actually happening – and after many days of frantic and stressful last minute planning, I think I’m all set and ready to go. I just finished packing – which has to be one of my least favorite activities – and now have an hour or so to catch my breath before I head to the airport.

The excitement of the trip only really started to build yesterday as I left the office, knowing I wouldn’t have to be back for two weeks, thanks to how the Easter/May/Royal Wedding bank holidays lined up this year! Even though Vietnam isn’t exactly going to be a relaxing vacation, it will be so nice to have a long break from work and to finally travel to Asia! I’ve only been once, to Korea, and that was over ten years ago.

I haven’t had a chance to do as much research as I normally would do prior to a big, complicated trip such as this one, but it’s probably better that way – more fun to figure things out once you get there! I’m just relieved that we finally booked hotels (as of two days ago), transportation, and two short tours at the beginning and end of the trip that were a bit of a splurge but will hopefully save us a lot of hassle. It’s comforting knowing that this trip has a solid structure to it, but plenty of flexibility within that framework.

As usual, I’m trying to cram a lot into a short period of time, so our itinerary is a bit crazy, but I think I did a good job balancing things out between active/adventure and beach/other chilled out activities, and between big cities, smaller towns and remote villages. We fly to Hanoi (northern Vietnam) first and spend a couple days there, followed by three days in Sapa (northwest) and the surrounding mountain villages for some trekking, then down to Hoi An and Hue (central), back up to Hanoi for one night and then ending with two nights on a boat in Ha Long Bay before heading back to Hanoi to fly home.

So I’m feeling quite impressed with myself for ticking off most of the items on my to do list, save for a few that I’ll take care of once I’m back. I even managed to squeeze in a “short” long run of 10 miles this morning, at 8:39min/mile average pace, which is great because I will probably be doing very little running while I am away. I’m particularly surprised by the pace, given that I had two challenging runs on Saturday/Monday and hardly slept last night (typical night before travel insomnia – not to be confused with my normal insomnia), but I often find running to be therapeutic and strangely energizing. I’m sure the *GORGEOUS* weather had something to do with it, but I felt calm, alert and focused after my run.

I’m pleased that I’m finally back at a point in my fitness that I can wake up, put on my shoes and run for an hour and a half without really thinking twice about it or feeling sore afterwards. Although I guess I can’t speak too soon about the soreness…sitting on a plane forever surely won’t help!

The long journey ahead will be good for me, however, as I’m feeling myself starting to crash. But first, I might try to whip up a rhubarb ginger crumble – I made an incredible lunch with everything left in the fridge and the rhubarb I bought in the market is the last thing left…it’s too pretty to waste!

I might say hello from the road at some stage, but if not, then I will of course fill you all in on my adventures upon my return!

Isn’t it just incredible what a few days of sunshine can do to your mood?! Granted, it’s still cold out, and I still live in London (so I’m expecting the rain to start any second now), but I feel the season finally changing and it’s very exciting!

With my half-marathon training nearly over (only a week and a half to go) and no other big races planned (yet), I’m now in vacation planning mode – because as much as I dislike the cold and darkness of winter, nothing is more SAD to me than an empty travel calendar!

What’s in the pipeline, you ask?

*Marrakesh in late March as my celebratory post-race long weekend;

*Northern Vietnam for two weeks in late April/early May (this one’s a real treat, given that I’ve never been to Asia aside from a trip to Korea 12 years ago);

*A 3-day weekend somewhere in Europe TBD at the end of May;

*A weekend in the Lake District with a group of friends for a trail race that we’re doing together in early June;

*A long weekend in southern Italy at the end of June;

*A 3-day weekend in Krakow in early July;

*A weekend somewhere in Switzerland (need some mountain time) in mid/late July;

*And last but certainly not least, a longer trip to California (and maybe elsewhere) in August/September to meet my newborn niece/nephew, spend time with my family and celebrate my birthday!

Wow – who needs sunshine?! Going through that list really lifted my spirits (while simultaneously seriously depressing my bank account)! Then again, what’s the purpose of working hard and earning money if you’re not going to spend it on something that makes you happy?

Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

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