I’m just over two weeks into my grand Seoul summer, and I have to be honest: the adverse conditions are killing my running mojo. Now, I’m sure some reader is rolling his/her eyes and claiming moral superiority, but I’m not writing this post for validation of my efforts (or lack thereof). I want to tell you what I did instead of running this weekend: cross-training.
Specifically, mountain hiking.
Yes, mountains. Those cone-shaped elements of topography that Chambana is conspicuously lacking. Seoul, on the other hand, has 37 mountains, almost all of which are easy to access by public transportation. If I can’t do steady runs on flat ground, I might as well get my heart pumping by climbing some hills, right?
Last Sunday, I met up with my friend Jeongmi for a hike up Achasan, which is apparently the mountain for beginners in Seoul.
Koreans are absolutely crazy about hiking, and they have a very specific “mountain climbing” uniform. I’ve noticed that at any given time of day in Seoul, there are hoards of middle-aged Koreans, sporting backpacks, visors, vests, layered technical shirts, long pants, and hiking boots.
I didn’t hear about the dress code in time, so I wore my running clothes and shoes. I am not exaggerating when I say that I was only hiker on Achasan who was not wearing long pants.
By the way, this outfit totally works. Maybe I got more sun, but at least I wasn’t sweating to death in long sleeves and pants.
A website I found said that Achasan would take about 30 minutes to climb. When Jeongmi and I reached a stopping point about 15 minutes into our hike, I silently congratulated myself on having developed strong, powerful lungs from all my…sub-par spring training runs.
I mean, this looks like it could be the summit, right? Right?!?
However, upon closer inspection of a sign, we discovered that the top was actually several hundred meters away. It took us more like an hour to reach the summit, though we took several photo breaks in between.
…and a snack break…
Much like in organized road races, along the route, there are concessions and aid stations…except they are manned not by kind-hearted volunteers, but by enterprising Koreans, hoping to make some money on the mountainside.
For example, a man carried this box filled with ice cream bars to the top of the mountain to sell to hungry hikers.
Eventually, we reached the top of Achasan, where we were greeted by other successful hikers. I learned that Koreans look to natural sources to fuel and hydrate themselves; many of the other hikers were nom-noming raw cucumbers and tomatoes. Gu? Cliff bars? If I could find them here, I’m sure they would cost at least twice as much as they do in the States.
You know what else some Koreans like to do at the top of mountains? Eat snacks and drink rice wine. Yes, at 10:30am.
The climb to the top got up my heart rate and made me sweat, but I think it’s definitely an achievable feat for most runners in moderate shape. [Obviously, I am not a doctor. Please consult your own physician before engaging in any strenuous activities.]
Sometimes, when you can’t run–whether due to injury or to travel–you begin to feel stressed and paranoid. Surely, you think, my fitness level is dropping precipitously each minute that I’m not running! I have gained at least a thousand pounds because I can’t run off my consumed calories! My pace is, without a doubt, two minutes slower per mile now!
If you’ve had similar neurotic thoughts on vacation or during an injury, I encourage you to find something active that is also fun. Look for other ways that you can move and get your heart rate up!
…I don’t want be run over by a rogue Seoul driver all in the name of a half-hearted running streak. I’d rather walk.
Sure, hoofin’ it around Seoul doesn’t give me the targeted running improvement that speedwork and tempos do, but I will say that it is giving me some monstrously strong leg muscles.
Maybe when I return to the States, we can have an BnS contest to see who has the largest calf circumference! Yeah!