Hana Dul, Hana Dul, Set. Hana Dul, Hana Dul, Set. Mile 25.5. Four hours after my street tour started, I’m a little over a kilometer from the finish line. The ajeosshi leading the pace group to my left gives me the inspiration to keep churning. 8,000 miles from home I’ve found myself engulfed in a new subculture. Have I added another layer to my identity? Am I now a runner? March 17, 2013: I complete my first full marathon, a course I traversed with 30,000 others. It was a personal accomplishment, but also represented something else. A new reason for me to travel.
I’d never called myself a runner, but when I was based in Philadelphia I would partake in the occasional jog. I even worked at a running inspired non-profit organization. Yet it was never something that I did consistently. My foray into running was inspired by my enviornment. During my first few months in Korea, I lived a block away from Olympic Park. It wasn't uncommon for me to run laps around and through the park. Mind you, at that time it was more like one lap, but I gradually increased the distance. Later, when I moved further south, to Daegu, I picked up the habit due to a lack of options. Up until that point I preferred elliptical machines to treadmills, but the latter were more plentiful at my new gym. I didn’t fight the flow. I would run 10 to 15 minutes to warm up for the rest of my workout. The real conversion, however, occurred when I was invited to do a 10K. Sure, sign me up. Wait, how many miles is that? Merde. Now I have to get serious, i.e. consistent. My 10K came and went and I felt encouraged that I was able to finish in a modest time. I felt pretty good afterwards and in my post-race wandering I observed the participants who were completing the full course (26.1 miles). Damn. That man must be twice my age. Wow, that woman has a good ten years on me. Mm, that girl is kind of cute. And these people were making it look easy. I was inspired. I vowed that by the next year I would join that club of people whom I admired. 26.1 miles. One step at a time.
Now that I am a convert, let me explain why I enjoy the marriage of running and travel.
For one, it allows you to discover new places. Locally and more far off. I was fortunate to have access to some great bike trails while I lived in Daegu. The trails ran adjacent to the rivers and there were miles of trails that splintered off into all directions. One day I would go north, another south. On Monday I would turn right. Tuesday, left. So, it let me get more connected with my own immediate environment. I saw wildlife that natives thought extinct in the locality. The landscape became more nuanced. There were times when I would run in the morning and the fog was too dense to see more than a yard ahead. Running has given me an excuse to explore nooks and crannies of Korea that I would otherwise not toss a glance at. It’s been a lesson in geography in that respect. I now know that there are two Goseongs: one in the South of the county, and another along the border with the North. Ms DeMasi (10th grade Social Studies) would be proud.
Through my running, I've found opportunities to connect with people who may have complementary interests: I’ve been able to join local running clubs and connect with the fully human specimens of the expat community. We’ve enjoyed our travels together to other cities, while engaging in something that we really enjoy to do. I prefer that life to one where people exclusively frolick at a bar with the intent of seeing who can absorb the most alcohol. I need those good carbs.
Alas, I’m contented with my evolution as a runner. Like travel, it has been something that has led me to novel experiences and new vistas. In can totally see myself in the near future doing more international races. Japan. Germany. Mongolia. Why not?