At the age of 37, Nguyen Duc Khanh has embodied many roles in his life: a product manager at VNG, a loving family member, and a dedicated triathlete.
Having participated in the Ironman race and other triathlon competitions nine times while holding his best personal record of 5 hours 55 minutes for 70.3 distance, Khanh shares his passion for this endurance sport, how triathlon changes his life, and his expectation in the sports scene in Vietnam.
What led you to triathlon and join Ironman?
I began participating in triathlons in 2015, starting with running. At that time, running became quite popular in Vietnam, while triathlon was quite new, with only over a dozen people showing up at the event.
I have a friend in my running group who participated in triathlons and often shared his training on social networks. With curiosity, I reached out to him to know more about the sports and quickly got hooked. Soon after, I began to plan for two other disciples: swimming and cycling.
After that, I got myself a bike and signed up for swimming lessons with an eagerness to explore new horizons and break my boundaries. Soon after, triathlon became a regular part of my life.
At that time, Ironman started to become popular in the country. The race attracted attention and evoked the desire to conquer my thresholds and challenge in the endurance race. That’s why I signed up for my first Ironman race in Vietnam in 2016. Since then, I have kept participating as a yearly routine.
What do you find the most extreme and challenging about triathlon?
I think when you consider everyday activities as hobbies, there will not be too much harshness presented in them.
The first challenge for me is to fit training, competition, and networking into my life. Everyone has 24 hours a day, so the only way to be able to fulfill the roles of an athlete, an office worker, and a family member at the same time is to have the best time management strategy.
Training always takes up a lot of time for every triathlon athlete, especially when you take it to a higher level with a long-term and systematic schedule. I think a triathlete would average about 8-10 hours of workout per week if they want to compete in the Ironman 70.3 with good results. And for longer distances, it requires even more training effort than that.
Besides, having a training group where you can update information and gain more knowledge is also very crucial. Therefore, how to juggle your personal life, hobbies, and daily activities is always a difficult trick for every athlete.
The second challenge is that you may get injured during the race or training. However, you should be aware that there is always a risk in preparing and participating in any sports tournament.
Acknowledging the problems and listing them out is not enough. Any active athlete always has to face difficulties, and they should find a way to solve them and balance every aspect of their lives out.
Many years of experience in triathlon enable me to set my priorities straight. Thanks to that, it’s easier to find the intersection in my life: I can often squeeze my training into my full-time job and time for family and friends.
Working in a sport-related environment like VNG is how I could find more friends with similar interests. VNG creates a favorable condition for its employees to work out with all kinds of facilities (swimming pool, gym, other equipment, etc.), training time, and even tournament funding. Working at VNG has helped me make up for the lack of practice and balance between personal interests and work.
What qualities does a triathlete have to possess?
For me, discipline and perseverance are the essential and indispensable virtues in endurance sports like mountain running or typical marathons.
Many people can persevere for a week or a month, but for years is a different story. An athlete needs to have a higher level of commitment and discipline to pursue their plans and goals.
Eliud Kipchoge, a legendary long-distance runner who holds the world record in the marathon, once said, "Only the disciplined ones are free in life. If you aren't disciplined, you are a slave to your moods. You are a slave to your passions.”
For those who practice sports in general and triathlons like myself, this is a guideline and a great inspiration to continue our sweaty journey.
What is your most memorable experience in Ironman?
That was when I broke my record in the 2019 Ironman (also the most recent Ironman edition) after four years of participation. My completion time was 5 hours and 55 minutes - not too difficult for healthy people, but considering my physical condition, that is a satisfying accomplishment.
An athlete needs to seriously stick with a scientific and systematic training process to achieve this success, which requires a coach to support and follow up.
Practicing instinctively will give you more progress than you did in the past. But if you want to make a real breakthrough, learn how to save time and optimize your capacity.
To excel in any profession or field always involves research methods and scientific practice, and triathlon is no exception. Being committed and having a mentoring side by side will give you better feedback, corrections, and encouragement, making you feel more responsible and self-aware.
I’ve always thought that things of value are not free. Therefore, invest in training at the necessary stages and you will reap the deserved rewards.
How has joining Ironman changed your life?
For me, the biggest change this hobby brings to my life is in work and career path.
With a background in finance in the banking industry, after first joining Ironman in 2016, I realized that a formal office job with long hours of sitting was no longer suitable for me. The urge to look for a job with dynamism and sports-relatedness brought me to VNG.
The first change I felt was about the VNG’s movement, corporate culture related to sports. Next is my gradual shift to technology and design for sports applications and products.
My minor changes are about personal relationships, everyday interests and connections with people. I can find sheer joy in seeing myself making progress, like how one day I find myself swimming faster or completing the same ride distance in a shorter time.
What are your expectations for the future of the Ironman competition in Vietnam?
In a developing economy, I expect more worthy attention to sports activities, especially running. While there are quite a few barriers like time, money, or training equipment for triathlon beginners, you just need a pair of shoes and start hitting the road with running.
The little bricks will gradually pave the way for you to go on a long and sustained journey without getting exhausted. Running is the same. It gives you the ability to understand your body, build up endurance, and develop the discipline to prepare you for bigger challenges.
In addition, I hope that there will be more events like Ironman held in Vietnam in the near future, opening up opportunities for athletes to meet, network, and participate. If you look at the world map, the impact of Ironman Vietnam is still small, but growing fast each year in terms of organization size and the number of participants.
In order to make continuous progress, we still need more voices and promote community events. Once a business finds a cultural and sporting intersection with a community, we can hope for a fruitful future and a new start for any project.