Saturday, March 26, 2011


Marathon in Korea? Check. Sore legs? Check. Yellow dust filled lungs? Check.

March 20th was the Seoul International Marathon. Months of lackluster winter training and marathon day finally arrived, rainy and cold. Saturday was beautiful--warm and sunny. Sunday morning however, was chilly, rainy and had dangerously high levels of yellow dust blown over from China. For those of you who don't know about yellow dust google it. Because of polluted China every spring yellow dust blows over Korea and it's harmful to breathe. Also, the dust is apparently worse in the rain (found this out after I ran four hours in the rain). Rain, cold, and yellow dust aside I was running this dang marathon! I paid for it and I dragged my butt outside in arctic temperatures all winter to run.

In spite of its name, the Seoul "International" marathon was not very international. My friend Shea and I were surrounded by a sea of black heads at the start with the occasional blonde or brown head poking conspicuously out. Out of 24,000 runners, the Seoul marathon "boosted" 1,000 foreign runners. Amongst the Koreans Shea and I started the race and took the advice of starting off slow 100% to heart. Excuse all the runner jargon coming up. As a cross country runner I only started becoming more successful once I convinced myself to "risk" starting off fast, but the marathon start was heaven for my obsession with pacing myself. My first 5k was 30 minutes, I think a new record slow for me. But it paid off, I negative split my marathon (i.e. I ran faster the second half).

The marathon wove through Seoul, closing off some of the busiest streets in this buzzing city. Runners were encouraged by Seoul citizens cheers of "Fighting" (Konglish cheer). The enthusiastic Korean supporters kept my spirits high for the whole race. During the 25-35k of the race my legs went completely numb. No joke. I kept reaching down to feel if there were really still there. It was a strange but glorious sensation. With no feeling in my legs, I flew. No pain therefore I just picked up the pace. Then the numbness started wear off and I realized I was tired. No matter I could keep going. Then I reached the 37k and experienced the true meaning of "hitting the wall". Grateful for my ability to effortlessly switch between thinking in kilometers and miles, I started thinking about the remaining distance in miles instead of kilometers since the number was smaller. 5k is only 3.1 miles. I can do that. Side note: one marathon and I am now an expert at jogging through aid stations and chugging water or gatorade, and eating while running. It's actually quite easy.

For any runner, hardcore or recreational, doing a marathon is a necessary evil I think. The experience is taxing mentally, physically, and spiritually. Those last 5 kilometers felt like the other 37 combined. I prayed, I almost cried, and I just kept chugging along even though every step brought shooting pain up my Achilles and my knees ached. For some reason unknown to me a marathon is 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers and that 195 meters makes a  HUGE difference. I reached the 41k mark and cried tears of joy! Just one more kilometer to go! I can do this! The crowd of supporters increased and I knew I was closer to seeing a friend who had promised to come out and cheer for us at the finish. WAIT! WHAT? A sign loomed closer reading "1 km to go!" If I had had the energy I would have yelled in protest! You may think 195 meters is minuscule. That's less than half a lap around a track. But it's a BIG deal when you've just run 41 kilometers.

A few long minutes later I reached the Olympic Stadium and finished to the cheers of "Go waygookin!" (Go foreigner!). My friend Shea finished a bit later and we hobbled our way to our belongings (a looooooong process). Now I know what it's like to be old. Walking up and down stairs was a mission but it was a happy mission. The good old endorphins kicked in and Shea and I actually mentioned when we should do another marathon. Crazy!

Three goals complete: 1. Finish the marathon  2. Run under 4 hours (3:54:51) 3. Have an overall positive marathon experience. Naturally, as soon as we crossed the finish line the clouds disappeared and the sun shone. Go figure. Never mind, even with my yellow dust filled lungs, and stiff granny legs, I was on an endorphine high.

My friend Choua cheered us in the rain and brought us home baked sweet treats! She is awesome!

I'm trying to latch onto all the good things that happen each week and remember them so here are the events of last week that made me smile:

-Teaching grades 1 and 2. These little fireballs are so easy please. Singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" is quite possibly the most exciting thing they've done in their lives ( or at least they act like that). Teaching the little ones allows me to be completely ridiculous and not be ridiculed for it (so basically I get to be myself 100% for an hour twice a week).

-Seeing my old 6th grade students around my part of town. They are so cute in their smart middle school uniforms and are always pleasantly shocked to see me. Their deep bows of respect and surprised "Teacher!" leaves me grinning!

-Not being able to speak Korean and not looking Korean. This means I can get up Saturday morning in the most random attire and not have a clue what people are saying about me. Today an ajumma commented on the fact that I was wearing sandals and shook her head disapprovingly. Yeah I know it's still cold out and it actually snowed two days ago, but I felt like wearing my Birkenstocks. I just smiled and let her continue thinking how crazy foreigners are. Gotta keep those stereotypes going right? ;) Only risk is that most of my students live near me and I often see them when I'm out and about. I also have to preserve my Rachel Teacher reputation.

-90s theme parties. Yes, I'm not a true 90s child but I still enjoy 90s themed parties. Dress up, good music and good friends.

-Visiting Gyeongju, a city in the south of Korea and breathing in semi fresh air, and seeing GRASS and very few buildings more than a few stories high! Glorious!!

LAST thing! Many people are asking when I'm coming "home" which I just take to mean what am I doing post Korea. Good question. Don't really know at the moment in spite of my OCD applying rampages and obsession with having my life planned out. Here are the possibilities:

1. Peace Corps. I am currently in the looong Peace Corps process. Waiting to get interviewed. If I do Peace Corps I HOPE I will start in October but it will all depend on how quick they give me an assignment. I don't know where I would be assigned but I'm hoping for a French speaking African country or somewhere in Latin America. Peace Corps is 27 months and after I will probably go straight and get my PhD.

2. Grad school in Germany. This option is looking less likely because I didn't get a scholarship that would have funded my master's study. BUT school in Germany is dirt cheap so I'm still applying to one program and keeping my options open.

3. Grad school at University of Cape Town in South Africa. This is the option my family is rooting for of course, but it's just one option. Classes would start February 2012 so I have to figure out what I would do in the meantime.

4. Find an interesting job somewhere. Currently looking out west: Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington.

What I do plan on directly after Korea is heading straight to South Africa to visit a good friend and see the fam. Anyway, I wish I had a set plan but life never seems to be that simple for me. But I'm sure something will work out! :)

1 comment:

  1. Peace Corps would be awesome! You do such cool things Rachel! Keep it up. :)