This weekend, Jeremy and I ventured down to Busan, South Korea for the Taejongdae “Intense” Half Marathon. When we first learned about the race, “intense” was not in the title, nor was it anywhere on any signs at the race, but at the end when we received our medals and inscribed in the metal was the word “intense”, we agreed that that was a pretty accurate word to describe our experience at Taejongdae Park that morning.
Saturday morning we departed Pyeongtaek Train Station for a 4.5 hr train ride to the southern tip of South Korea, Busan. (We failed to book our tickets on the 3 hour bullet train, but none the less made it an adventure). When we arrived at Busan Train Station we hopped on the subway and followed our very detailed instructions to our Motel (Elysee Motel) in a downtown district of Nampo just 15 minutes by taxi to Taejongdae Park. We had the whole day to explore and after a few hours of shopping and mosying about, we ventured out to find a bar before our friend Samantha (Sam) was to show up and join us. Most experienced runners that I know will not turn down a beer the night before a run they are none too concerned about (usually something shorter than a marathon) and will certainly not turn down a beer after a run. We like to convince ourselves it’s carbs and when you are a hasher (like my husband and I), running and drinking go hand in hand most of the time. So when in Korea, do as the Koreans do and mix that beer or maekju (맥주) with Soju (a distilled beverage native to Korea and similar to Vodka) and you have yourself a little party in your glass called Somaek (소맥). Somaek goes down smooth and since Soju is not a regulated drink in Korea, you never really know what you are going to get. As I looked at our travel guide to Korea and found information on Taejongdae Park it read “it is a very hilly and heavily forested area with rugged cliffs dropping straight down to the sea 150 m below”. Neat. So we poured another Somaek and met up with Sam for dinner and more Somaek. Now what?
At 9pm, as we were about to go home, Jeremy received a text message letting us know that the race was going to start an hour later then expected, “Good News! The race now starts at 7am not 6am, which means we have at least 1 more hour to stay out!”. Most people who know us, know that we would prefer to live in the moment. We decide at that point that we are traveling, we are experiencing and we are enjoying the right now….the run will not be a race, it will be an experience. And that it was.
Sunday morning after flagging down a taxi in Nampo, we arrive at Taejongdae Park….about 3,000+ ft above sea level and watched as runners “warmed-up” their legs on the hill that stood in front of us at the start. Sam, “you think that is really the start?” Yep. As I chugged down the last of my water, ate some shot bloks and stood at the starting line, I realize I will just need to hope that the Somaek will be sweated out by mile 3 or 4 which wouldn’t be an issue with it being hot as balls outside. We started up the hill and I watched ahead as Jeremy pushed through the first part of the hill, but it didn’t stop there, oh no, we turn a corner, another hill, then another corner and the hill continues. WHAT THE HELL? Does this end? 1 mile later, we finished shuffling up the 500ft climb and started the 1+ mile climb down. At about 3K I look up and find that runners are returning, running back (or rather shuffling up the hill I was running down). Wait what? What are they doing? All I could think was shit, a loop. Talk about intense, not a flat spot on the course and we would do that loop 3 times (6 times for the marathoners!). Heartbreak Hill has nothing on the Taejongdae Intense Marathon. I give major props to those marathoners, because while I was enjoying my post run beer, they were turning around again and climbing those hills for the 4th, 5th and 6th time.
Thank you Korea for challenging me, yet again. First with my first full marathon on a flat fast course in Seoul, then in the waters of the Han River and now in Busan for the Taejongdae Half Marathon.
Lesson of the weekend: Don’t drink “too much” soju and maekju (맥주 beer) before a half marathon race that you know very little about. But what defines “too much”? Maybe the lesson should be: know your course before you run it. Ah well….C’est la Vie.
Whenever I run in a new city or travel and race, I love bringing my camera on course and just try to take it all in….