When Brittany and I showed up to the subway station, we were happy to see the carnival like atmosphere that precedes all the races I’ve ever been to. There’s something awesome about 20,000 people getting together to be out on a beautiful day pushing through a tough race. Everyone at a race is really in it together. You come to admire the people you are running with. There was the usual medley of music dancing, pre-race battle cries, and excitement all about. There was something else about the runners when we got off the subway this morning. They looked wayyyyyy more serious than me. There were groups in matching uniforms, doing their pre-run calisthenics, people taking laps through the subway station (before running 26.2 miles!), and a whole mess of people who looked generally more prepared and serious than I. I had been sick all week and my butt had been pretty smashed up from a night of drunken snowboarding the previous weekend. On the couple of short runs I took during the week, my stomach tightened up within a few miles and I felt horrible. But by Sunday, I was mostly better, and felt like the 26.2 was a real possibility. The story of my run can be told from the perspective of running lessons that I learned. When I ran a half marathon those many years ago, I was pretty motivated by the act of catching and passing the people ahead of me. I was able to maintain a pretty good pace for most of the race just by deciding I wanted to pass everyone. So, for the beginning of my race this time, I thought I’d do the same. I took off feeling great, passing pretty much everyone from my starting group. Within 10 miles I was running almost entirely with the group that started 20 minutes ahead of me, and within 13 miles I was starting to see some people from the first group to leave the starting line. At this point, I’m thinking I’m quite the badass. I cruised the first half like nothing. And then I had to run the second half. After running the first half pretty damn fast (and 13 miles isn’t usually a huge run if I run at a normal pace) I started saying to myself, “I have to run 13 more miles. That’s not good at all.” I hit a big wall long before I’ve heard the average marathoner hits the wall. I thought there was no possible way I could run 13 more miles. After 5 more miles the subway pass in my pocket was starting to feel real nice. From 18 miles on the words of George Sheehan kept me from throwing in the towel: “Some think guts is sprinting at the end of a race. But guts is what got you there to begin with. Guts start in the back hills with six miles to go and you’re thinking of how you can get out of this race without anyone noticing. Guts begin when you still have forty minutes left and you’re already hurting more than you ever remember.” So with that in mind, I carried on slowly and step by step. I hit some good fortune at mile 18, when I felt my absolute worst. A random couple was pouring out cups of Coke on the side of the road. In desperation, I ran up and they offered me cola. This was the first time that I was grateful beyond measure. The next time came 2 miles later. I left my running pack at home because I had the vague impression there would be occasional snack stops along the way, but by mile 20 there hadn’t been any and I was hurting pretty bad. And that’s when I saw bananas. Out loud I said “Thank you” with about as much gratitude as I have ever had. I slowed to walk through the aid station so that I could double-fist bananas and drink 4 or 5 cups of Pocari Sweat (the Korean/Japanese version of Gatorade.) From there on it was painful but steady running. But with just two kilometers left I saw one of the saddest things I have ever witnessed. On the side of the road, a man wearing a clown wig, who started the day in such high spirits with everyone else, lay on the side of the road as a man desperately gave him CPR. As there were already people attending him, there wasn’t really anything I could do, so like everyone else, I ran on. But the I couldn’t shake the sight. I got really faint and felt like I did a few weeks ago when I cut my finger really deep and went into shock. I was a little bit dazed, and after slowing to a walk for a little bit, I just sat on the side of the road for awhile. Eventually, I stood to finish the race (just in time, as my legs were ready to cramp up by the time I stood again), and I trotted the last 1.5 km in. At the end I didn’t have the joyful feeling I had running with everyone all day. Maybe it was my altered state of consciousness from running 26.2 miles, maybe I was just really tired, but I was still thinking of the man in the clown wig. I walked around getting food and drink after the race almost in tears. When I found Brittany I couldn’t tell her what happened, so I just showed off my medal and smiled, but she thought I was a little too sad for having just run my first marathon. As I lost my time chip, I don’t have an official time to report. The last I looked at my watch before starting to run, it was 8:26, and I finished at 12:04, so I am conservatively reporting my unofficial time as 3:40. I’m not sure if or when I will run another marathon. The marathon was incredibly fun, but as I said before, I really just want to enjoy running for the sake of running. And I have definitely done that. Last week, a friend asked why I run big distances, and I the time I just said that it’s fun when you get into it. But there’s something very free about running; in Seoul, I go a few miles through the city, find myself on a mountain in the early morning with only a few people around, and suddenly every step is the only thing to focus on. Removing my focus means falling or slowing down. When you run, you’re light, and just let your feet decide where to go. It has been a most excellent 6 months of running. It’s been over 1,000 miles of enjoying the fresh air, exploring a new city, the occasional unforgettable adventure, meeting and running with new people, exploring my own mind and abilities, and enjoying what it is to have a body and consciousness. I’ll still be running. If anyone is ever in Seoul look me up and we’ll take a good run together. -Ryan
안녕하세요 ^^. I have been running in Seoul now for just over 2 months. Nominally, my goal is to run the Seoul International Marathon in March. This, however, is more or less of a larger goal to help me focus when I lack the motivation to get out the door. My real goal is just to be a runner, and moreover, to enjoy running, the way that I do on my best runs that stay in my memory.
I am writing this both to chronicle my experience running in Seoul and as something of a guide for beginner runners, as I myself am really only just restarting to run and I know many people who would like to run but just can’t get into it. As I start to move beyond my beginning phase into being more confident in my ability do long distances, I thought it might help others struggling to start to see what has worked for me.
For those of you who have no interest in starting running or my experience in starting running, please enjoy the pretty pictures of places I commonly run in Seoul and have a good day.
I have found that with running, like all things, the hardest part is getting out of the door. Never once have I come back from a run (or other random adventure) and been disappointed to have gone. So this is my nudge out the door for those wanting to run.
Running Here and There
I guess I’ll start at the way beginning. My first few runs (beyond the punishments of high school and college sports) were brought about by my sister’s idea to run the Colfax Half Marathon in May 2011. At the time, I didn’t take it seriously at all, with the philosophy that if I really had to, I could wake up on any given day and run 13 miles. Between March and May of that year, I ran 3-5 miles about 5 times, and a few weeks before the race, I ran 10 just to make sure I could do it when the time came. Despite fancying myself as something of a runner at the time, I don’t think I can make any legitimate claims to have been one during this time. It did, however, give me an interest for later days.
I first became a habitual runner when I moved into my Washington, D.C apartment in October 2011. Luckily, I lived just a block from the incredible and mostly unused trails of Rock Creek Park. So I started with 3-mile explorations, and eventually let myself get lost in the woods. Those were the days that I first started to love to run. Like my current schedule in Seoul, my mornings were free, I had nothing to do but enjoy the change of the seasons and explore the trails. During those times, I was comfortable running 6-10 miles 3-4 times a week, and I was doing so with no goal, no training plan, nothing really but my genuine enjoyment of being out of breath running through the trees, past the farms, through rivers, and up and down the hills.
Unfortunately, I completely lacked the inspiration to continue running in Denver. Denver is flat, and its best places to run were the wide-open spaces of the parks. While these made for a few decent short runs, I just wasn’t enjoying running like I once did. On top of that, my schedule changed to leaving early in the morning and returning just before dinner, by which time I was thoroughly done with my day and didn’t much feel like going on a run.
Finally, school ended last year and I began traveling. In California, I enjoyed a couple of 4-5 mile runs around the neighborhood I was staying in before jumping right in and going for a 10-mile run by the end of the week. That was a mistake. For the first time, I had a running injury. Simply put, I had been mostly inactive for too long, and my thighs and hips were not strong enough to sustain me for that distance, and my knee tracked incorrectly, causing inflammation and considerable pain in what is commonly known as Runner’s Knee.
When I finally settled in Seoul a month later, just a few miles would bring the pain back. Since abolishing that injury, I have been running 6 times a week. I started at 25 miles a week, and I have increased every 4 weeks, so that as I write this, my weekly plan is 50 miles a week. Most of my runs range between 6-10 miles, but I sometimes am lazy or sore and cut it to 3, or I throw in the occasional half-marathon, 15 miler, or 17 miler to keep me moving toward 26.2 in March.
I always say that the hardest parts of any run are the first mile and the last mile. The first mile, your body is kind of grouchy about being pulled into an aerobic state, and the last mile, almost invariably no matter the distance, my mind starts getting a little lazy and dwells on the difficulty of its condition. With that in mind, I think runs of two miles or less suck. If you are in moderately decent condition (writes the man feasting on a large glazed muffin – aka a miniature cake), you can probably run 3 miles. Do it. Do it really slow if you want, but try to run for three straight miles. 3 miles lets you start to get into a little bit of a groove, and that gives you something to build on. If 3 miles is too much, then run 3/4 mile, walk 3/4 mile, run 3/4 mile, walk 3/4 mile until you’re good for 3 miles.
You don’t have to get out of breath when running. Your heart rate will elevate and your breathing will definitely speed up as well, but never go too far. You can’t recover from it on the move. Even later, unless you’re pushing for a short distance personal speed record, red-lining is a bad idea. Running is a good cardio workout, but it’s more about muscular endurance (which improves as your cardio health improves).
My last suggestion for people starting out is to research running a bit. This has helped me in a few ways:
1. When I get mentally tired, I am able to think about my running form in comparison to the “ideal running forms” you read about. This gives me something to focus on inside my own body, rather than thinking about how much I think this sucks at the moment.
2. Reading gives good general training advice, and will give you ideas to make you more comfortable so you can enjoy your runs more.
3. Some of it’s just fun to know for the sake of knowing.
Some good books on running/exercise:
Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise- Tells about neurological studies on the chemical changes our brains undergo during aerobic and acrobatic exercise and draws conclusions on how exercise can be used to slow aging, treat ADD, depression, addiction, and anxiety, and improve brain function. It’s kind of dense but still interesting.
Runners World Complete Guide to Minimalism and Barefoot Running- For anyone interested in said school of running. A good book for starting out.
Born to Run- Just a good story that makes you want to get out and run.
Enjoy Your Run
One of the difficulties of being a beginner runner is getting over the mentality that running is a horrible task, but we should do it because it will make us look pretty or feel better. Running is in fact incredibly fun. People look at running as some sort of punishment for drinking the night before or eating unhealthy. While running will probably make you look pretty and feel better, these are simply unintended and pleasant side effects (other pleasant side effects include: decreased chance of heart disease, cancer, depression, and general illness, improved attention span, and better general ability to learn) and should not be considered the ends to which you are running.
First and foremost, runs should be fun. So while the idea that you will suffer for 30 minutes now and feel good later might get you through a few runs, it probably won’t sustain you as a runner. This isn’t to say that you’re going to be bursting out the door every morning at 6:00 a.m. just starving for a run. I still sleep in late some days and have trouble getting out the door, but I never regret it by the time I get to my third mile.
And every now and then you get lucky. You get out the door like it was any other day, and all the sudden you’re in the zone. You can run fast, and you can run far. The scenery is breathtaking, and briefly, as you feel your legs turn and your heart beat, you see the world appear in a way you didn’t know it could, and everything feels perfect.
My first suggestion if you do not enjoy your runs is to change where you’re running. Running is a form of exploration and adventure, and should be treated as such. Just before posting this, I became a little burnt out. I took 4 days off of running and decided to follow my own advice. I took a run to somewhere completely new in the city. I got lost, found where I was, got lost again, got stuck, turned around, became concerned I was being chased by a homeless man, and ran down a new path. It was an excellent adventure. I had become too concerned with how far I was running and too concerned with adhering to a specific training plan. I followed the same path because I knew exactly how far each run was on that path. But really, it started to be more work than fun. That’s when it’s time to go somewhere new.
DO NOT RUN ON A TREADMILL. I never write in all caps. I think it’s annoying and overbearing. Still, I just did it because I cannot emphasize this enough. If it is blistering cold and there is snow to your knees and you threw your running shoes into the wilderness during your last night’s drunken escapades, then perhaps a short run on the treadmill just to get the booze out of your system is okay. When I first moved to Seoul, I joined a gym and started running on a treadmill. It was brutal. My runs seemed to take forever, I was exhausted after 30 minutes, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything but the wall or the time slowly ticking up. On top of that, my Runner’s Knee was coming back. In short, it was boring and monotonous; hell must have nothing but treadmills in its gym.
After taking a week off to strengthen my legs, I set off on my first outdoor run in Seoul, and it was easily one of the best of my life. It was short and simple – 4 miles at most – but as I ran through narrow back streets up to the base of the iconic Namhansanseong, I was properly acquainted with my new city and new country for the first time. Running was an adventure, a chance to see and experience new things, and for the first time in a long time, I liked to run again.
The point is, that if you’re bored on your run, then go somewhere that has something new or amazing. The easiest way to do this is to go somewhere where nature is close at hand. I remember an incredible amount of detail from my trail runs, because so many awesome little things are always happening, or the light is amazing at whatever time of day I’m running, or I see somewhere to explore on my next run, or I see some crazy spiderweb, or leapfrog some logs blown over by the last night’s storm. Running close to nature is infinitely entertaining, even if you’ve been there 100 times.
For me right now, when my trail running options are limited, I still have great paths to explore, and running is a new journey everyday.
I also recommend running without headphones. Like my minimalist recommendation, this comes with no experience in the opposite direction. I have never run with headphones, but I feel like something would be missing if I did, like I couldn’t get deep into the run.
There’s a lot of talk right now about the idea of minimalism and barefoot running. I will say that I am what is considered a minimalist, though, for me that’s just sort of the way it has always been. I bought a pair of Five Fingers to do the Colfax Half in, ran with those until I moved from DC to Denver, then bought a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves as a pair of lightweight camp shoes, and I have ended up running several hundred miles in those. I never intended to make myself a minimalist runner, but that’s just the way it worked out. So while I am about to say that minimalism is great and I have suffered almost no injuries as a runner and I almost always feel great in my shoes, I really have no basis for comparison. I have always run in minimalist shoes, and for the foreseeable future, will probably continue to do most of my running in minimalist shoes.
Undoubtedly, almost everyone reading this is at least vaguely familiar with the idea of minimalist running. The main principle, as I gather, is that the human foot evolved over a couple million years and can damn well handle the stresses of running just fine, but we crazy folks have gone and weakened our feel with our fancy supportive, shock-absorbing, new-fangled running shoes. Thus, our feet, which would otherwise evenly distribute our weight and the impact force of running, cannot do their jobs properly, and it leads to more injuries.
The debate is strangely heated on what “the right running shoe” is. Really, find something that works for you, and keep using it. Like I said, I started out minimalist because I always liked being in my bare feet, and as minimalism has caused me no problems, I have stuck with it.
The logic of minimalism does seem legitimate to me, so here are a couple of the most important points I will bring up from what I have read and experienced.
1.Strengthen up first: If you have not been doing much for awhile, take the time to get your muscles in shape to run. Do core strengthening, play other sports, jump rope barefoot, do one leg balances, and exercise your IT band. These will prepare your body for running. I enjoy yoga, and since yoga generally addresses your entire body, builds strength, requires a body-awareness that running does not, and promotes flexibility, I think it’s a very good supplementary exercise.
2. Start Small: I started with a distance I was confident I could manage without injury – 25 miles a week. The next 3 weeks I did 30. The next 4 weeks I did 40. I am now at 50 for the next four weeks, and I am hoping to move up to as much as 80 a week, but I am in no rush to do so.
3. Play other sports: Running, especially if you’re not on trails, is a pretty monotonous game. Your motion stays the same. Some muscles that could support do not fire much in running, so it helps to play other sports once a week or so.