Friday, September 14, 2012

9th Cheorwon DMZ International Peace Marathon

How often do you get to play on tanks!
The newest tank in our showroom....
         Sunday, September 9th, I found myself loading up on the Seoul Flyers bus once again to head to the DMZ for a race. This time we were running in the Cheorwon area, which I have visited before to see the various tourist sites associated with the Demilitarized Zone. On a typical tour, you visit one of the infiltration tunnels, the Join Security Area (JSA), and an observation platform where you can look at the mountains and an industrial complex in North Korea.

       Despite the very informative tour I took last year, I have learned far more about the DMZ from running in it. In Cheorwon, the rice fields are rich and productive, the farmers that lived in that area when the boundaries were drawn certainly did not want to give up their land that had been passed down for generations. In response to this, a system was set up allowing some people to live inside the DMZ to farm. They live under different rules, with curfews and tax breaks, and under threat since incidences of abduction by the North Koreans have happened. (DMZ Abductions) It seems to be worth it though, since the fields were bursting with heavy heads of rice.

       The usual daytime fireworks announced the start of the Full Marathon. It was a gorgeous day, cool and clear with a light cloud cover, and everyone was in a great mood. The late pack runners trotted on our way as the front runners tore off at a blistering pace. The scenery was typical for Korea, rice fields, small towns and businesses, but ss we approached the imposing gate that marked the entrance to the DMZ, a gutted shell of a large square, ugly building was pointed out to me by a runner keeping pace with me. The building had been the offices for the Communist Party before the war, and now stands gaunt and silent as a reminder of the ugliness that area endured.
There always has to be
 something that is not quite right, LOL

       Cherwon is not as secluded as the area we ran in for Yanggu, it is open to farmers and tourists by permit, but all are carefully watched and accounted for. As we ran through the gate, there were several soldiers with clipboards checking off our numbers as we entered. Their counter parts would later be standing at the exit gate with similar clipboards, making sure no one was left unaccounted for! The small bridges we crossed where what really told you this is the DMZ, high cement fortifications with gun slits and catwalks lined every bridge over even the smallest creek.

Photo by Kerrie Matthee
       Inside the DMZ the rice fields were a beautiful lemon yellow with the heavy heads of ripening rice bowing as they turn from vivid green to a rich gold. It was beautiful in a totally different way from the forest road we race two weeks ago. The beauty, diversity, and vibrant life inside the DMZ never cease to amaze me! Our running route took us through the parking lots of the places I had visited on our group tour the year before, but we passed quickly without stops to spy on North Korea or shop in the souvenir stores. Although the DMZ is brutal and ugly in the dead of winter, this time of year it is a cheerful place and a very fun aspect of this race is the groups of 30-50 young soldiers that would come out to line the road on both sides and loudly cheer for the runners. We could run down the line and get Hi-5s and bright smiles from the boys in uniform. In South Korea, every young man must serve at least 2 years in the military, so the ranks are packed with 18-20 old boys that hardly need to shave yet. As I raced by, slapping outstretched hands, it occurred to me that I am likely the same age as most of their mothers.

       Race support was wonderful, as always, with plenty of water stops full of smiling, giggling, and cheering teenage girls who elbow and tease each other over their attempts to practice English with the winded runners stopping to gulp the drinks being offered. Shouts of, “Where are you from,” rung out at nearly every aid station. I usually answer with California because they all know where that is and many have been there, this is followed by whoops and gales of laughter.

        My race this time was a constant head game. It seemed like every 10 kilometers something different hurt. It started with my knee smarting in the first few miles. Immediately I was panicked knowing if it hurt already, I would never make it to the finish line. I quietly prayed, thanking God for allowing me to come so far, knowing that every mile is a gift and that it was not the end of the world if I had to quit the race. Amazingly, as I approached the 10K mark, it stopped bothering me. Shortly after that, I felt a sharp pain in my left foot. ARG! Another conversation with God, more walking breaks, a stop to stretch, and a salt capsule because it felt like a tiny muscle in my arch might be cramping. Although it stayed a bit tender for the remainder of the run, by the halfway mark, the pain had resolved and I was able to keep running. Next, my hamstring started to feel very tight and hurt, “really?” I also felt way too tired, having stayed up too late the night before and not eaten as well as I should. My heart rate was fine though, so I knew it was mostly in my head and I just needed to find my mojo and get back to business.

You can tell I'm tired, my arms aren't all the way up!
Photo by Carrie Matthee

       The last 10K my spirits rose measurably, but my body slowed. The whole race had been a mental battle, and it wasn’t over yet. Glancing at my Garmin I realized my pace was about a minute per mile slower than it felt. At the start, the pacers were all hanging out together, and as they spread out I started to pace with the 4:40 balloons. Realizing what I was doing, I reminded myself that I needed to run my own race and if my body was up to a 4:40 finish I would catch them later. As long as I stayed ahead of the 5:00 balloon, I would be fine (5 hours being the cut off). Around the half way mark I caught up to the 4:40 pacers at an aid station just past the observation platform. There were three of them and the last one was kidding with me, admonishing me to stay ahead of him, which didn’t look too tough since he didn’t look like he was going to finish 4:40 either. I was trying to work my way ahead of them a bit, which resulted in me being hit in the face several times by the balloon, so I finally gave up and just let them go while I took my time at a water stop that was serving Gatorade.

       We had been running up a gentle grade for quite a while, one of those never ending hills that looks bad from a distance, but is actually very runnable once you get on it. I was worried about going downhill, since that was my undoing at Yanggu, but it was just as gentle as well. My splits are pretty funny, even when mashed up by looking at each quarter of the race or every two miles. I had a rough patch around mile 20, but picked it up form some excellent splits in the last few miles even though, by then, I felt like I was running through tar!

      As I rounded the last corner, about 100 feet from the finish line, I passed the 4:40! Well, at least 2 of them, the guy that had been ribbing me to stay ahead of him was way back in the pack now. I think he was training to be a pacer, since he didn’t have a balloon, and it was harder than he expected.

       After the race we collected our snacks and made one last stop to play on the tanks. Korea race swag rocks! Instead of another race shirt to cram in my drawer, I got a box of energy drinks and 3 kilos of rice grown in the area. I had some for dinner last night and it was very good!

Awesome race swag!

Post race collapse

       My official finish time was 4:36:57! A new PR to be sure, but I feel like Yanggu was still a much better effort since it was hotter and steeper. I have no intention of maintaining this streak through my next two marathons. I need to save my energy next weekend on the Seawall for the following weekend which will be a very mountainous race, but then, I never expected to either of my last two races so fast either!

Maps and full Garmin Connect report

A view of North Korea from across the river


Anonymous said...

Hope ya have a rice cooker for all the swag,,,, congrats AGAIN another pr whoop!

Unshod Ashish said...

DMZ rice! Way cool.

Traveller said...

Great report, thanks.

I note the follow with the ball cap in the last picture. I figure he is trying to determine if some assistance is required.

Congrats on another PR!