At 6:30am, my friend and fellow UIUC grad student Kat and I boarded the subway, headed for our first race in Korea: the 5K associated with the Metro Marathon in Seoul. This is a common sight on the Seoul subway, especially early on Sunday morning:
Us in our bright running attire? Not so much.
Oh look, we found the 5K bike pacer!
We arrived at Seoul’s World Cup Stadium and eventually met up with our Korean race contact who had registered for us. (The website was all in Korean.) He presented us with our race packets (some pins, a bib, and a plain white tech shirt), and we got ready to run. The plaza in front of the World Cup Stadium slowly filled with runners, mostly wearing their race teeshirts and doing a variety of comical-looking stretches. I am really crushed that we missed the official race-sanctioned group stretching session, but I was busy looking for my subway pass that I dropped on the ground.
Eventually, it was time to line up in front of the 5K sign and see the half and 10K runners off. (For whatever reason, Koreans use “marathon” to refer to any road race, regardless of distance. It’s a snobby runner’s nightmare!)
The motto of the 2012 Metro “Marathon” is Family, Love, Health, and the event was definitely a family affair. The 5K seemed to attract the least serious runners. While waiting for the race, Kat (one of the only non-Korean-looking participants) and I noticed several runners wearing jean shorts and full faces of make-up. Additionally, there were many, many children, and as everyone knows, they go balls to the wall at the start of a race. AND I CAME TO WIN; I was fully prepared to plow through as many adorable Korean kids as possible to get ahead. I’m kidding…kind of.
The race started at 9:10am, so by 9:05, we were in line, ready to go. The emcee made some lively jokes and congratulated us on our running…I think. This was obviously all in Korean, so I pretty much only knew what was going on when he started counting down from five: oh, sa, sam, ee, il, GOOOOOO!
Apparently, there were things we weren’t supposed to do?
The race wasn’t chip-timed, so we crossed the starting line in one giant, slow-moving mass. It took awhile to weave my way to some open space, and I told Kat to go ahead and run her race. We ran over a bridge into Seoul’s Sky Park, a converted landfill, and started down a path.
Around me, runners were dropping like flies. Overzealous youngsters were bent over, gasping for air in the middle of the course. Older men had started walking. As the masses thinned out, I settled in and took off after Kat’s bright green Illinois Marathon shirt.
At the mile point, we passed some spectators. I smiled and waved, hoping that someone would reach out a hand for a high-five. Instead, I heard a woman spectator yell, “Yeoja isso! Yeoja isso!” (“There’s a woman! There’s a woman!”). I looked around and realized that with the exception of Kat several hundred feet ahead, there actually weren’t any women around…except for me!
We crossed an overpass and began the part of the course along the Han River. Without any shade, it was hot, and I started to wonder if I’d have to slow down. I passed an aid station, offering water cups, cold sponges, and–wait for it–pieces of candy bar served with toothpicks. I grabbed a sponge and kept running, passing dudes left and right.
I caught up with one Korean man who seemed to be about my age (though who knows, he could have been 45. Koreans are tricky that way.). He was clearly disgruntled to have a woman running his pace, so when we reached the start of a steep overpass, he bellowed the beloved Korean war cry of “FIGHTING!!!” [clearly to himself] and took off. I forced myself up the overpass and just as I crested its peak, I passed him as he started to walk.
With 0.7 miles to go, I could see the Stadium in the distance and knew that we were close to the finish line. Still, I figured that we would have to make some kind of horrible hairpin turn to tack distance onto the race and told myself to hang on…
…oh, except then I saw the finish line and Kat standing on the other side of it. Apparently the course was short.
Like, 0.4-miles short. Oh, hey, horrendous course-measuring fail.
As I crossed the finish, I heard the announcer yelling, “Yeoja sam!!”, which meant that I was the third woman overall and Kat was second. Wow, Korea, you are awesome.
- Mile 1: 8:38
- Mile 2: 8:01
- 0.7 miles: 5:52 (0.7 miles)
- Total time: 22:31
- Pace 8:20
As Kat and I sipped our water, a man approached us and asked in Korean about our race. He eventually asked if we had a coach. When he found out we didn’t, he gave us his business card and told us to contact him.
The post-race swag was pretty awesome. A volunteer gave us chocolate truffles, which said “I love twosome”:
And the bag contained an Activia yogurt drink, electrolyte water, a sweet pastry, our 5K finisher medal, a chocolate bar, beer-sponsored moist wipes, and samples of Korean beauty cream.
All in all, it was a very successful race. Who knew–my truly mediocre time is fast here! This makes up for the fact that I lost my camera case, subway pass, and 25000KRW before the race.
If you’re in Korea visiting, I definitely suggest that you try to run a 5K. It’s really fun to see how other countries “do” races. And who knows, you might even place!
Body N’ Sole for life!
Don’t worry, Korea. Sometimes, I’m bad at spelling too.