Tuesday, 29th of March, 2011
Two days ago, on Sunday the 27th, I joined in an official running event held in Gwangju World Cup Football Stadium. I did not feel very fit. I expected to run very slowly, compared to my personal best time.
Runners could choose whether to participate in a 5 kilometer, a 10 km, or a half-marathon event. (A half marathon is about 21 kms.)
I have run in 10 km events before, and I have been training a little bit recently, but not at all regularly. I have only been going outside for running when I feel I actually have time, and a need for exercise, and when it is actually warm enough, but, this March has been really cold! As a result, I have only gone outside to run very occasionally (or, not often at all).
In the past my best time on an official 10 km event was about 53 minutes, and I thought I was not very fit compared to that time a few years ago, so, I was expecting to run the 10 kilometers in about 60 minutes. If I felt good and did well I had expected to finish the course in about 55 minutes.
Sunday morning dawned a bit foggy, with low cloud hanging over the hills. As I ate some breakfast and threw on my clothes and got on my bicycle though, I noticed the cloud was thinning and lifting. I knew there would be some blue sky and sunshine before too long. Even so, it was still really cold, and so I wore a shirt, a thick woolen sweater, two jackets, and my warmest gloves to cycle to the stadium.
As I had expected, I met the other members of the Gwangju Running Club just before 9am, in front of the supermarket next to the stadium, and we were given our running numbers, and the computer chips to thread inside our shoe laces, so the computer could track when we stepped over the mark to start running, and when we reached the half-way point, and then again when we returned to the finish line. It was nice to meet some other people living in Gwangju who enjoy running, too. We chatted and started to get to know each other a bit more, and talked about whether we were going to wear any clothes to keep warm at the start of the run or not. Despite cycling quite fast, I was still quite cold, and so even though I expected to warm up by half-way through the race, I decided upon wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a hat and gloves to keep warm.
As the clock ticked closer to 9.30 we all walked into the stadium. As we walked around the track to the starting line I felt more excited, and started really looking forward to the racing. I was not racing against anyone in particular, except myself, and my personal best time.
The half-marathon runners lined up first, and set off quickly in their large group. A co-worker was running the 5 kilometer route, so I said goodbye and good luck to her, and joined the others in the 10 kilometer group just before the starting siren went off. I started running just before I crossed the line, and the computer buzzer beeped to tell me that my timing had started. I ran up the left-hand side of the course in the stadium to get away from the big crowd of people as quickly as possible. On the way out, I saw ‘Captain’ Whit, the club captain, and waved at him and his camera. It felt good to be running again, and joining in with the crowd of other people in the event.
The crowd thinned out quite quickly, and so I was able to find my own pace and set a rhythm easily. The route was familiar to me as it was the same as the one I joined last year on the ‘Pink Ribbon’ marathon event. (The Pink Ribbon event is an international effort at raising money for breast cancer awareness and research. These fund-raiser runs are held in many cities around the world every year, and, they are a lot of fun.) I knew the road would descend gradually for most of the first half of the course, and then simply turn around at half way and retrace the route between the main road on one side and the park and lake on the other.
I started to warm up after about two kilometers and so took off my long-sleeved shirt, and tied it around my waist. I put my gloves and hat back on though as the air was still quite cold. After about another kilometer I was quite thirsty so when I came up to the water table where helpers were offering small cups of water, I asked for a bottle.
Suddenly a man ran up alongside me and said hello. He was aged about forty, and was half a head taller than me, and was very solid around the shoulders. He was wearing a bright blue shirt, long dark blue running pants, and white running shoes. He could see my name printed on the back of my Gwangju Running Club singlet, so, he asked me if my name was ‘쥴리인’. I said yes, and he asked me where I was from. I said ‘지산동, 요’ meaning my reply to be both serious and a bit of a joke, but because of the running, I was breathing too hard to laugh very obviously. He took me seriously, and answered that he was from Daejon. I said, ‘Oh, welcome to Gwangju!’ and he said thank you, and then he told me about how he had once run in the Boston Marathon, which is a very famous running race. I said, ‘Wah!’ and asked him what it was like, and he said that he had become dehydrated, he had lost maybe three or four kilograms in weight, and had ended up in hospital for three months! I said, ‘Oh no! That is terrible! I am glad to see you looking strong and healthy again now!’ and he said thank you.
I slowed down to quickly put down my empty bottle of water and take off my hat and gloves. I did not stop, but even just slowing down a little bit meant that my new friend ran ahead. I tried to catch him up again but he was running much faster. He was keeping a rapid pace!
About twenty or thirty meters before I reached the half-way turning point, he passed me coming back the other way. As I passed the turning point I tried to run even faster to catch up, and my speed did increase, but, he must have been increasing his speed too. He kept the same distance ahead of me!
Heading ‘home’ on the return half of the course, I felt more confident because it had a slight incline (like on a hill), and my practise course is on a hill. I was also feeling more awake and alive, and the sun was warming the air, making it easier to breath freely. My body warmed up and I started to relax more. I put my hat and gloves in my pockets. I kept getting faster. I passed more people. It was really nice seeing other people out running, and enjoying the morning. It was fun waving to them and hearing their encouraging words.
As we came up to the lake-side park in Pungam Jigu I knew that the run was nearly over. I still felt good so I ran even faster, pushing myself to catch up with Mr. Blue. The course became a little steeper but I liked that, and pushed myself up the road with springy steps. When it levelled off again near the lake I looked up ahead for him and realised he was closer now, but, there was less than two kilometers left; if I wanted to catch up with him I would have to hurry! I had really only been jogging, but suddenly I had the energy to actually run down the track beside the beautiful lake all the way to the corner of the road leading back to the stadium. It wasn’t easy; I was huffing, and puffing, and breathing was hard.
As I turned that last corner I saw him. He was across the road and only about thirty meters away! I felt good to see the distance was closer again, but my breath was heavier, although I was still in a good rhythm and felt happy about keeping up the pace.
As some other runners and I ran to the top of the road the police were stopping the cars to let us cross. Amongst the traffic and other runners I lost sight of him as we entered the stadium, until we were on the track again. Then, there he was: Mr. Blue was only about twenty meters away. I had been running as fast as I could but seeing him even nearer again gave me a fresh goal and renewed enthusiasm. I suddenly wanted to catch up with him and beat him if I could! I followed him around the stadium track, gradually gaining on him, passing other people, making the distance shorter… but he kept up his pace too!
In the end, Mr. Blue crossed the finish line only about 10 meters ahead of me, but, there were so many people milling around there that I lost sight of him immediately. I really wanted to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Well run’ and ‘See you next time!’ to him, but other friends were waiting at the finish line so I chatted with them while looking around for him. After some time I realised: he had disappeared already!
Finally, after saying hello to my friends and scanning the crowd for Mr. Blue, I looked at my watch, and the timing clock. …
My watch said 48 minutes!
Wow! I had run much faster than I had expected. I was very surprised and happy.
I met up with some of my new running friends and we ate some of the nice Korean lunch outside with the other runners in the midday sunshine. On the way out of the stadium the computer sent a message to my cellphone with my official time: 48 minutes and 31 seconds. I have a new personal best time and some new friends, and maybe, one day, I will get to catch up with Mr. Blue again too.
It was a really fun Sunday to spend time running.