Korean Running Culture

October 5, 2011

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So… Korea. Great country for mountain climbing and hiking. Not the most enthusiastic when it comes to running. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed a few races during my year here. It’s just Korea isn’t really built for running; jogging in urban areas is annoying outside of the approved paths. Although there are numbers of events in the bigger cities (and even my town!) the field is scarce. If you’re a decent female runner, by all means, come to Korea: you’ll probably place in the top ten at any given race.

So what is Korean running culture? I haven’t quite figured that out yet. Cheers of “FIGHTING!” and “아싸!” are all too common in the classroom and during sporting events, but what the locals yell doesn’t really define them. I could tell you running here is fueled by the popular rice wine makgeolli, a sweet alcoholic high-carb beverage enjoyed before and after physical activity, but that too seems shallow. Maybe the unnecessarily large glass trophies presented to winners, along with gift certificates to Home Plus or Lotte Mart? No, that’s not it either.

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Running in Korea has given me the opportunity to make new friends – though no Korean ones, as they really aren’t big runners – through groups like Waeguks Got Runs and the Seoul Flyers. This last holiday weekend, as I ran the Busan Gwangali Bridge 10K, I couldn’t help but realize this was the perfect way to end my Korean experience (even better if I had been in shape for the half). It was nearly four years ago that I ran a bridge race in Japan in ideal conditions, discovering not only that I still had the ability to run well, but I wanted to. I wanted to push myself beyond comfort, feel the beginnings of a stitch, even agonize over stiff quadriceps after crossing the finish line. And in this case, I’m happy to say, I succeeded.

38:48 for the 10K. 3:53 min/km pace. 6:15 min/mile for you anti-metric heathens. Although I feel I could have gone faster, I’m happy leaving this country knowing it’s revitalized me in more ways than one. True, I am still bitter about a lot of the social aspects here, but health and fitness? No challenge. Korea, thank you for giving me back my legs in better condition than when I gave them to you last August. San Francisco pavement – you’re next.

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