Saturday, April 25, 2009

Episode 52: In Which DFM Runs Down The Middle Of The Road And Has A Korean Hair Cut

The day of my big half marathon has arrived.  In the past I've been more than able to run the 21 kilometers that make up a half marathon, but I have always had trouble running quickly up the hills without suffering excessive and debilitating fatigue.  Regular readers will know that I have been trying to solve this problem by hiking up the tallest mountains in and around Seoul since I arrived here in early March.  Today we will see if my "all hiking no running" method of training will pay off.

Running is big business in Seoul, and from what I have heard there are three major companies that put on all the races in Seoul.  They're quite good at it and this race (and from what I've heard all the others) are quite organized, so no complaints from me.

Of course there was the obligatory group warm-up involving Korean calisthenics set to music, but there was also a performance by whatever this dance troupe is called.  I mistakenly thought it was the group warm-up and tried dancing with them, but then I realized something must be wrong as the moves were far too difficult, and I was the only one doing them.

This is the best thing I've ever seen at a running race, apart from the porta-potty.  It's a bag check, where each runner is given a large plastic bag with a draw string in which to put all his/her belongings.  The bag is tagged with a number, and then an identical tag is placed on the runner's race bib so that he/she can collect his/her belongings again at the end of the race with no hassles.  Like all things in Korea the system operated with incredible efficiency.

During the race there were water stations about every two or three kilometers.  Towards the middle of the race they started handing out banana thirds and wagon wheels cut in half.  I also noticed some Gatorade starting to come in after about seven kilometers (they know what they're doing here all right).

I expressed amazement at how many volunteers the race brought out, but it was suggested to me that perhaps they weren't volunteers (refer to my earlier statement about large companies putting on the races).

I spent the first part of the race running with my new friend Dave, from near Glasgow, Scotland.  He couldn't believe how many people there were in the race (over 3000 if you add up the participants in the 4.19 km race, 10 km race and half marathon), and so I told him how the drivers of Seoul refer to racers as "runners pollution."  He got a kick out of that.

At most races I've been to, the race organizers might close one lane along the edge of the road for the racers, but at this race the police shut down the middle two lanes of a major road and we had to race with traffic on both sides of us.  Sometimes the scooter couriers would get impatient and use our lane, which made things interesting to say the least, but I have a lot of practice dodging scooter couriers just from walking on the sidewalks here so it wasn't a big problem.

So, how did I do?  Quite well actually, all things considered.  I don't know where to find the official results, but by my unofficial count I was in the top-50 out of over 400 half marathon racers.  More importantly I ran my fastest ever half marathon (even faster than my non-mountain half marathons).  Even Dave beat his PB, so it was a good day for both of us.

I would say that my training was a massive success.  At the turn-around point after the first mountain I was in 80th place, but on the way back up the mountain I passed over runners.  I ended up passing more runners going up the two hills this race than down, which is a first for me.

I should mention here that I received a lot of attention in this race because I was a foreigner.  I was the first foreigner through each of the water stations and all of the volunteers would jump up and down and yell "fighting!" or "welcome to Korea!"  Children would say hi to me, and try to practice their English, and many of the other racers would wave to me or tell me I was doing great.  Others just yelled "fighting!" too.

The only downer was that about 17 km in my tendinitis flared up in my knee again.  I was able to run through it, but I know from experience that it won't feel too good tomorrow.

In an attempt to save myself from some DOMS I went to the sauna with Lee after the race.  I was there for three hours and even had myself a hair cut from the barber who works there (if only I had known about him before!)  I was looking pretty scruffy after two months without a hair cut.

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