|4/22/2014 2:25:00 PM|
|Jinny Lee and Soo Young Jo, secretaries at Kanzig’s school, showing off their medals after the Three Rivers “Marathon” in Daejeon, South Korea. photo provided|
By Charlie KanzigPicture a running-race like any other race: Bright colored running gear ranging from short shorts to full-length spandex, Nikes, Asics, Mizunos, Adidas in every model and color, worn by athletes all milling around with pre-race jitters in a city park on a beautiful spring day.
I, along with nine of my colleagues from Taejon Christian International School, are among the crowd about to take part in the Three Rivers Marathon.
(For the record: nearly every running-race is called a "marathon" in South Korea. The 10 of us actually chose between 5 and 10 kilometers or a half-marathon, although an actual 26.2-mile marathon was also offered.)
Other than seven of us from the school I could not see another Caucasian face among the throng. I definitely felt like a stranger in a foreign land, but felt quite lucky to be participating in my favorite pastime far, far from my home in Oregon.
Before the start, an announcer made all sorts of introductions and instructions in Korean and then took a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the ferryboat disaster that occurred earlier in the week, claiming the lives of nearly 300 Korean high school students from a school near Seoul.
Twelve distinguished-looking men in matching green sports coats stood together on a stage and, when a countdown started, held up small cap guns that they shot in perfect synchrony to mark the start of the race.
I am the first to admit that I am older and slower than ever before, but even I was astonished to see just how many runners were ahead of me within the first mile of the 10k. It quickly became quite clear that I had very little prospect of catching any of them. I ascertained that it would be a personal record day for me by race's end, in that I would be beaten to the finish line by more runners than any race in my 40 years of running.
Instead of getting down on this reality, I decided to focus on enjoying the cherry blossoms, the clear air and the energy exuded by the hundreds of runners around me. In addition, for the first time in my life, I had my iPod along to inspire me with music if the going got rough.
Our loop course for the 10k sent us out along a wide boulevard, largely closed to traffic for the first half of the race before the route curved back along the red asphalt bike path that stretches along the Gapcheon River. Since I had not run any sort of race for months, I decided ahead of time to take it especially easy through five kilometers in order to finish feeling as good as possible. Just as I approached the turn, the song "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" by Chicago, which is very upbeat, came through my headphones and I noticed myself picking up the pace like a horse heading back to the barn.
Thankfully, I caught myself before too long and settled back. I could see the red and blue Expo Bridge in the far distance and gauged my energy accordingly. Next on my playlist came, Brad Tisdel's "Feel the Fire" and my heart warmed to the tune of my Sisters neighbor and friend.
Brad got me through six kilometers and then a throwback to the late '70s, Chuck Mangione's "Feels so Good," wafting into my ears and did some subliminal work on my mind and body. I picked up the pace to the finish line, crossing four seconds under my goal time.
After finishing I walked back over Expo Bridge and cheered on my counseling secretary Soo Young Jo who, despite doing zero training for the race, looked as fresh as a spring flower.
I returned to the finish line and got a bag of goodies that included fruit, a pastry, water, an energy drink and a medal. A stylish T-shirt, along with a very high-tech timing chip that looked like a simple loop of paper, had arrived in the mail prior to the race, but to top off the thoroughness of this South Korean race was the text message I got within 30 minutes of finishing that reported my exact time and place in the race. Impressive.
In all, everyone in the group felt satisfied with our performances and we headed home to finish our Easter day, each with a vow to invite at least one friend back for next year's race.
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