A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 3; 6th Edition
137.2 miles raced in 2008
Race: Hangang Marathon
Place: Seoul, Korea
Miles from home: 5870 miles
Weather: Started good; Ended bad!
I am not a fan of sitting still. Being in a confined space is definitely something to raise my BP. So 13 hour flights are my own personal hell. But when I am doing it at the invitation of the MBC Hangang Marathon, I found a way to deal with it.
I felt like I had only been home a day from the Boston Marathon before I left again to go to Korea. The main reason I felt that way was because, well, I was. I got home Tuesday evening from Boston and left Thursday morning. With a layover in San Francisco, I had just enough time to get comfy before jumping on a United flight to Seoul. This was my second straight year running the Hangang Marathon and I was both honored to be invited and exhausted at the idea of it all. Just four days earlier (it would have been five if not for that blasted International Date Line) I was finishing up my second run from the streets of Hopkinton to Boston. And a week before that I had capped a month long road trip off with an impromptu marathon in Utah. Needless to say, I was a bit peeked.
Never one to sleep much on a plane (being 6'1'' impedes that some when you are jammed into a tiny seat) by the time I arrived in Seoul and go to my hotel I had been up for about 26 hours. I think this was actually good as it allowed me get to bed in the evening. But not until I gave a quick interview to the Korean ESPN.
While far from an "elite" runner, I have gained some fame overseas for the running of my 52 marathons in 2006. this always made me laugh given the dearth of the same in the greater DC area that I lived in for four years. I think I need to get a "I’m Huge in Korea" t-shirt and David Hasselhoff can wear his similar Germany t-shirt and we can be best of buds. But I digress.
As it was now Friday night, I graciously hoped I did not look too bad from the travel and did my best to say the very few words of Korean I had learned for the cameras. I am sure my annunciation turned "I love Korea" into "Ducks boldly eat broomsticks." But everyone smiled and nodded so I think I nailed it.
Morning on Saturday broke early as we had a tour to go on. Being the only native English speaking person on this morning tour (two Australian chaps, one whom I met last year) forewent (is that the past tense of forgo?) the tour, I settled into just watching the scenery. We soon arrived at a Royal Palace.
I walked around with an device in my ear explaining all of the buildings and the like until it was time to go. We then shuttled off to the Leeum or Korean Museum of Art. Inside, amongst many Asian artifacts (which I loved) was a contemporary exhibit as well.
I was surprised to see an Andy Warhol painting in here and was glad to know this talentless hack had not just fooled Americans. If I offended anyone with that comment, well sorry but that’s my opinion on most pop art. How this "artist" convinced so many that taking a picture that someone else had actually made and then simply reproducing it several times on silk screen was so tremendous and avant-garde is beyond me. But that is probably why he made millions and I am struggling to pay grad school loans!
Before I knew it I was back on he bus and heading to the N Seoul Tower for lunch. In a rotating room that gave us a view on all of Seoul once every hour or so, I broke bread with the two Aussies, Trent and Daniel.
A change in the remainder of our schedule allowed me some well-needed rest time. I spent it watching the movie "300" in Korean. I wish I had rewind on the TV as I wanted to perfect "This is SPARTA!" for the next day’s race. I thought that would be a good way to frighten a few competitors prior to the gun firing. Nevertheless, I was able to enjoy the movie in any regard as Swords and spears disemboweling Persians translates well even when you don’t know the language it is being spoken in.
As evening drew nigh, I wanted to make use of a few cans of food I had brought with me to Korea. Having experienced a couple of bouts of the "Shouldn’t-have-eaten-that"s in previous trips abroad prior to races, I wanted to eat something I knew was ok . But with no microwave in my room (which was both ultra-cool and baffling at the same time) I took the elevator downstairs in search of one. At the restaurant in the hotel I asked if they had one I could use. Ushered to a seat, the perfectly affable server took my food and disappeared. A few minutes later, my pasta and meatballs was served to me in a fancy bowl on a tray with a side of pickles to boot. Can you imagine an American restaurant doing that? I was shocked.
I ate my prepared meal and said thank you in my most polite Korean. I think they were delighted with my attempt which made up for the inconvenience of bringing me my own food.
Now I just had to wait until my contact for the entire event, Chris came to my room with the apparel for the next day. Breaking the cardinal rule of never wearing something you haven’t tried out first was nothing new for me. I have lucked out previously and was hoping I would again this time. And when someone flies you to their country to run a race, you wear whatever it is they ask you to wear. Even I am not that rude. Plus, well, I am lucky enough to be able to run in just about anything and with this being basically my 4th marathon in 13 days, I was not expecting to set any land speed records.
6 AM wakeup call. 7 am bus ride to the start; get there at 8 AM and have to kill an hour before he 9 AM guntime. There are few things I like more than sleeping until about 2 minutes before the start. No stretching, no warm-up no nothing. While my other invitees did little workouts to get blood flowing, I sat under jacket and pants reveling in the chilly temps. You see, last year bright sunshine and warm temps doomed me before the gun even fired.
With dense fog in a nip in the air, I was quite pleased.
The time finally came to head towards the starting line. We lined up behind flagbearers holding our respective flags and I welled with pride. Love it or not, I am VERY proud to be an American and thank Lee Greenwood for giving me a song to quote.
The previous evening I had run into the only other English-speaking (native) runners, both from Australia, Trent and Daniel. Trent had been here last year and took second. Daniel was supposed o join him but injury prevented him to do so. Here at the start I wished them both good luck and readied myself.
The flagbearers stepped aside, a man raised his arms and dropped them. A shower of fireworks went off in the distance and away we went. About 100 yards later, the shrapnel and smoke from the fireworks hit us face-on and we all chuckled.
Knowing the course would only consist of kilometer markings, I had done a little research the night before to know what pace I wanted to run. My main goal for this race was to break 3 hours. I knew it was a tough course but this year I at least KNEW it was a tough course. As such, I realized what time I had to run per K to break 3 hours. When I passed the first K, I was WAY ahead of that time. So much for not getting pulled along by the speedsters. I quickly settled down and got into a groove.
The kilometers zoomed by pretty quickly. As those of us who were invited started a few minutes before the rest of the field, every once in a while a team of four runners or so would fly by me. My headstart only helped so much for guys planning on running a 2:35 or so.
The course contained a few more ups and downs in the first 10k or so then I remembered. But I felt good and was sticking to my times. Well, sorta. Every once in a while a K marker would not be there and I would have to run 3k before getting a marker to go on. Usually, as I am a pretty good predictor of my pace this would not be a problem. But with all the traveling and racing I had done recently, it was hard to know my body as well as I would have liked.
It was not until 14k that the course went from urban running to a moral rural setting.
This also began the biggest downhill section of the course. I used it to my advantage and held a few runners at bay until we crossed the 15k timing mat. I was about a minute slower than I was the previous year but held no worries at all. I was feeling tired but knew I would not crash like I did in the heat of 2007.
Passing through the halfway mark, we turned left to do our first and only crossing of the Han River. An expansive body of water, the Han was visible form a good ten miles of the course on our way out and again on the way back. Here is where I saw the leaders returning from the out portion and not only was Trent in 2ng again but David was in 3rd. I was stoked and gave them both high-fives.
After turning around and heading back myself, I found that I was feeling pretty good. I knew around 27k I would begin the longest climb of the race and was prepping myself for it. However, the tired feeling I had felt just a few miles before had evaporated. I was feeling damn good.
As I traversed the hills, the weather decided to get nasty. While there had been sprinkles all morning, we had not been hit with anything too bad. Plus, we expected the win in our faces on the way out to be helpful on the way home. Unfortunately, the win did an about face and blew right into us and the rain picked up. And up. Soon pouring rain and fierce headwinds accompanied what would have been perfect running temps in the 50s. But now it was just downright chilly. Yet somehow, I kept hitting each kilometer well under what I thought I would. I just wanted to get to 32k and use the last real downhill to push me on.
While the bad weather continued my energy level soared. I knew not to count my chickens before they hatched but I was flying. I was passing runners left and right and ticking away each K. Holy mackerel, I have never felt this good running this fast this late. I allowed myself to dream of an excellent finish that I knew was WAY out of grasp.
With a 5k to go, I knew barring a cramp I was finishing under 3. The only other question was how far. I knew coming into the race if I ran faster than a 2:57:40 I could bring my average for the year to 2:59:59. (Damn you, 3:10 pacing job at the Carlsbad Marathon!!) It became my focus to not only make that time but make sure I did not cramp in the process.
Unfortunately, the elements and the course were conspiring against me. While the profile below is mostly accurate, I do not recall stepping off a cliff at mile 25.
Moreover, I could not find anyone to break the wind and rain for me, as I was passing people in a fast manner. Catch up; pass; leave behind. That was my method.
Nevermind. Just run. I turn the corner with a quarter-mile to go and a spectator aimlessly walks out in front of me. *CRASH*. Down goes 90 lb girl. "Mother effer, that hurt!" goes Dane’s brain. Somehow, on this slippery downhill I maintain my composure, look to see the girl is not dead and keep going. One last turn and I am onto the homestretch. It hits me these two turns are almost equidistant to the last two turns of Boston. How ironic.
I see a guy ahead of me and decided to try and pass him. As we get closer to the finish, I feel I am pushing too hard and things start to churn in my belly. Forget that. No repeat of last year. I ease off a bit and slide in under the banner in 2:56:39. My third fastest time ever. I am elated. Now all I had to do was walk forever back to our tents at the "Championship Shelter" from the finish.
It ends up that Trent finished second in 2;22 and Daniel in a "training run" took third just squeaking under 2:30. I think I was more happy for them then they were. Laid-back Aussie blokes!
After a long bus ride back to our hotels and a much needed shower, the Aussies and I went to grab a bite to eat. I convinced the them to go to Outback Steakhouse which I thought was the funniest thing in the world. On our way there we saw a huge gathering for the torch-carrying ceremony for the Beijing Olympics. Flags waving everywhere we saw banners which said: "Tibet WAS, IS, and ALLways will be part of China." Not too much of a politico myself, all i could think was how unbelievably arrogant, controlling and full of venom this statement was. It was almost a dare of sorts for someone to TRY and free Tibet. Even more so, for anyone who knows there Asian history I found this VERY ballsy on the Chinese citizens part. You see, Koreans are not big fans of "occupation" by other Asian countries. In fact, in the 1936 Olympics, known for Jesse Owens more or less putting a big black foot up Adolf Hitler's Supreme Race ass, there is a lesser-known subplot to illustrate this.
Sohn Kee-chung became the first medal-winning Korean Olympian when he won the gold medal in the Marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. But he did so as a member of the Japanese delegation, under the name of Son Kitei, because Korea was occupied by Japan as its de facto colony. So when the Japanese anthem was played at the medal ceremony, Sohn, who had always refused to be called by his Japanese name, bowed his head to show completed disrespect for the anthem.
But I digress.
I finally get a few weeks to rest as I make my way back home tomorrow afternoon. in ~3 weeks I run the Ogden Marathon in Utah and will make my first solid attempt at a well-below 2:50. Stay tuned!