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... stories, adventures and all things related to life in Singapore and Southeast Asia by AWA members

Bernie Tretta’s Jungle Adventure: Conquering Vietnam’s Ultramarathon Challenge

Kilometres of Friendship and Fun (AWA Running Group), by Keri Matwick

Very few complete an ultramarathon, a race longer than a standard marathon (26.2 miles). Even fewer are those who can successfully finish multiple ultramarathons. AWA Running Group leader Bernie Tretta completed her twelfth on Oct 21, 2023. Running the very challenging Vietnam Jungle Marathon (VJM), Bernie successfully completed the 70 km (43 miles) trek in the jungles of northern Vietnam.

Vietnam Jungle Marathon 70km Course Profile
Vietnam Jungle Marathon 70km Course Profile

In the 70 km division, 40 women started, 36 finished, and of the 170 who started, 150 finished, with the overall winner being an elite female runner from Australia.

Besides the distance, the terrain and logistics were challenging. The course featured numerous steep climbs and descents, accumulating an elevation gain over 3,000 meters. There also were no designated locations for participants to leave their bags (bag drops). So, Bernie had to carry all her essential gear throughout the entire run: hiking poles, a whistle, a waterproof jacket, headgear, a first aid kit, a phone, a backup phone battery, a headlamp, 1 liter of water, food, and extra socks.

The run was in the remote, beautiful Luong Nature Reserve. While this allowed runners to experience running through quiet villages, rice paddy fields, waterfalls, and limestone boulders, it also required enduring long bus rides to reach the starting point.

Starting at 4 am, Bernie finished 16.5 hours later at 8:30 pm, exhausted yet exhilarated.

I asked Bernie to share more about her inspiring feat.

Runner holds a medal
Bernie at the finish, 16.5 hours later

What was it like training for VJM? How did you do it?

Singapore isn't really ideal to train for a long trail race but it's all we have. You try to recreate as much as possible of race day-- running with a heavy pack, getting used to poles and a headlamp, eating plenty, running on trails and packing in as many hills as you can. We don't have any mountains here but running up and down Bukit Timah hill enough times has to count for something, right?

What was the hardest part of VJM?

The hardest part of the course is the 3rd climb. It comes at about 50k (31 mile) into the race. It is a steep technical climb over a lot of boulders. It isn't fun. I dropped quite a few curse words on that section.

Runner standing in front of jungle river
Bernie at the halfway point

How did you feel afterward?

Smelly, muddy and hungry, but good. I trained well and went slower than I had expected so I had good energy at the end. I wasn't really sore, but I did get a few nasty blisters and thwacked my knee.

How many ultramarathons have you done? Do you have another one planned?

I have done 12 ultras ranging from 50k to 105k. Nothing planned but we will see what I get talked into.

Two people in running gear
Bernie with her husband Zach, back in Singapore


Keri Matwick is one of the leaders of the AWA Running Group. She loves to run around MBS and finish with a long black at Toby’s Estate.

Interested in having fun while running? Yes, it is possible! Join us Tuesdays at the Botanic Gardens. Then, explore new routes and see Singapore in a new light on Thursday and Saturday mornings.

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AWA members are women who come from many countries and life experiences but they all have one thing in common — they have chosen to live in Singapore. Some members are new to Singapore,  while some have been here a long time or have returned to Singapore after time away. Our magazine - written and curated by AWA members - focuses on a diverse range of topics including wellness and family, travel tips, cultural events and information, and other helpful tips around navigating and experiencing life in Singapore to it's fullest. 

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