Thursday, September 6, 2012

9th Yanggu DMZ Marathon, South Korea

        The 9th Yanggu DMZ marathon was amazing! The Northern border area is a stunningly beautiful part of South Korea with crystal clear babbling streams, thick forests, and clear air. I was really looking forward to this marathon, but I was also worried about the 5 hour cut off. It was hilly, and hot, and I really had not put in much mileage since China. On the up side, I have been working hard in CrossFit, building strength and balancing my muscles that have become a bit lopsided from years of running and neglect of my non-running muscles.

Maniacs in the DMZ!

       I knew we would be close to the DMZ, but I didn’t expect to run IN the DMZ. Our start and finish was at a military installation with a big imposing gate and loads of barbed wire. The first half of the marathon took us out and back on rolling hills so the first quarter of the race was mostly downhill, second quarter was mostly uphill. The second half of the race was another out and back in the opposite direction, past the gate into the DMZ proper. With 60 years to heal, this once war torn area has become a wild life sanctuary, pristine and untouched since the war. Other than a few service roads, most of it is wild and free from Man. The gravel service road we were on had a low barbed wire fence on either side with little red signs that said, “MINE” in Korean and English, to remind us not to leave the road, GULP! However, the danger lurking outside the wire was quickly forgotten in the beauty of the place.
Look Ma'! No hands!

       I had pressed hard for the first half of the race, knowing the second half would be more challenging. As I chugged up a hill during the second half, I was joined by a Korean runner who spoke excellent English and knew many of the runners in my club. He kept me entertained through those grueling “teen” miles between half way and the 20 mile mark. Mr.Kim was running his 310th marathon and pointed out many runners in shirts from his 100 Marathon club, telling me their stories. Koreans are such amazing runners! He was the one that explained to me that we were in an area that is only accessible by military the rest of the year. He also pointed out his older sister who was a few hundred yards ahead of us. She is training for a coast to coast race across Korea that will exceed 300 kilometers! Following his sister’s lead, I discovered adding a few butt-kicks makes your quads feel much better on the downhills.

       Things were going well at the half way mark, but I was hitting the low part of the marathon. I passed 13.1 at about 2:09 into the race, and looked at the turn into the finish area with more longing than I should have for someone with 13.1 miles left to go. Fortunately, as the scenery changed from beautiful to amazing, my spirits lifted. Reaching the second turn around at mile 20, I started realizing I had a shot at a PR! My pace wasn’t great as it had taken me 3:40 or so to get to mile 20, but I was expecting to be much farther behind at this point and the last 10K would be mostly downhill! I was feeling good (the wheels were wobbling, but not falling off yet,) and the heat wasn’t too bad (I would later learn that the average temperature was 90F!) I just had to keep moving at a steady pace.

       Plummeting down the first hill I heard Mr. Kim behind me say, “Too fast! You are going too fast!” I didn’t care though. I was in it to win it (against myself ) at this point and wanted to make up some time! I waved goodbye to him and his sister when they made a restroom stop and continued on. The runners around me had become familiar; that guy with the blue shirt here, and the camouflage shirt there, we had all passed each other a dozen times as we leapfrogged down the course. I set myself to picking them off once and for all.

       The last 10K had the markers in reverse order. 10K, 9K, 8k, each sandwich board giving me a little more hope for a PR. With 3 miles left to go, the wheels started to fall off . I was just so tired. I hadn’t gotten enough gels down, but the thought of another gagged me. I was tanked up on salt and fluids, but my energy was sapped and the heat was getting opressive as the sun began burning through the clouds. I kept pressing forward though, picking arbitrary things for the next walk break, end of a hill, a tree, a fence post, anything to keep moving.

       With less than one kilometer to go, I felt something in my knee that was not good. I immediately dropped to a walk and the pain stopped. A few tentative running steps seemed okay, so I picked it up again. The knee stayed sore, but not painful, worrisome, but not a show stopper. Fortunately, at that point I could have walked the rest of the way and still managed a PR. Shuffling along I turned the last corner expecting to take another walk break. I had made a deal with myself to run to the end of the guardrail, but when I turned the corner I could see a crowd of people at the turn to the finish line. No way was I walking in front of my entire club! I flew by with my arms in the air yelling, “How do you spell PR!!!!” As I rounded the corner and the finish line came into view, I heard a roar from where my clubs tent was set up, the rest of the group that had been hanging out since they finished their 5k, 10K, and half marathons, were all excited to see their last runner come in. It was so amazing to have such a huge group of people cheering for me!
Yea for strength training,
finally a finish photo where I don't look knock kneed!

       We loaded up the bus for the long, traffic clogged, trip back to Seoul. As miserable as bus rides can be, a bus filled with a happy group of runners is a wonderful thing. Our club calls itself a running club without boarders and there were 15 different countries represented onboard!

       Epilogue: 5 days after my marathon PR, my knee was much better so I ran a 5K on base. As usual, I wasn’t expecting much since I was still tired from the marathon and, although it was cooler, it was still around 75F and muggy at the start. I did not look at my pace, only checking my heart rate on occasion and running by feel. When I got within sight of the clock I was shocked to see 24 minutes still ticking away! My finish time was 24:37, a 5K PR!


Anonymous said...

congrats wendybird :) you look so cute in your piggies and pink legs :) AWESOME!

Camilla said...

I've been reading your blog for a while, and I think your an amazing and inspiring runner!
Love all your marathon blog posts!
I have also nominated you for a Liebster blog award. If you've already done it or don't want to do it, you don't have to do it.

Unshod Ashish said...

Nice job, Wendy! Love the tank pics.