It all started back in August. I was away for work for a week, came back on a Friday night after working 18+ hours a day for the entire week...no exercise, bad food, little sleep. Needless to say I was exhausted and felt like crap. Saturday night, Sonya tells me we're going on a trail run Sunday. Initially it sounds like a good idea, but then I ask a few simple questions. 1) Where are we going? Not quite sure, but it looks cool. 2) Who are we going with? Don't know them, met them on Facebook. 3) How far are we running? Not sure. and 4) What time are we leaving the house? 0530. My response...what the #$$%? I have to work until at least midnight. If you could at least answer some of the questions about distance and where, I could get an idea of how much sleep I'll get. Knowing I wasn't going to get any exercise the following week, I went ahead with the plan. Woke up at 5, ate a quick breakfast, never made it to the bathroom, ran to the subway. Got to the subway and realized I had to go...decided to wait for the first changeover. Bad decision, as it didn't have an inside the station bathroom. Got on the next train, and started to have real problems. Eventually decided to leave the train and let Sonya go on. I told her to get to the meeting point, and I'd try to figure out the rest. I ran through the station frantically, and realized I'd have to swipe out of the station and back in to go. So, I left Dapsimni station and did my business. Felt a million times better, got back on the next train. Best 1500 won ever spent. Eventually linked back up with Sonya before the meeting point, ready to run. Walk out of the station and meet these guys for the first time. The organizer, MK, was pretty excited to see new runners and was describing the route. He asks everyone what they wanted to do and offered up a 3-4 hour and a 1.5 hour option...Holy F*&*&! I hadn't ran more than an hour all year and wasn't ready for more. No one speaks up. Being the wuss I am, I say that I may only be up to the 1.5 hour option. About 45 minutes later we make it up a super steep climb. When we get to the top, MK again asks who wants to go back down the hill for the short version, and who wants to go vor the full 3-4 hours. No one speaks up...damn, I'm in for the whole long run. No doubt the longest run of the year for me. Make it to the end drained, but had a blast.
Fast forward a month later, we see MK out on the trail again. This time on the paved Han River path. Sonya and I are out for 18 easy miles prepping for the Chuncheon Marathon. We see MK at mile 5, and end up running with him. He takes us on a nice route around Olympic Park. We get some drinks at a convenience store. I do some quick math and discover we're going to end up with about a 24 mile run if we head straight home...damn. Somewhere along the way, he talks us into doing this 60km ultra that's 2 weeks away. For some reason it sounds like a good idea, and we commit. What the hell were we thinking?
Fast forward to race day. The race starts at 5am, but for some dumb reason we have to show at 3, which means a 1am wakeup. Not ideal conditions, but considering it was my first ultra and I wasn't prepared, I wouldn't be sleeping anyway. Our group of about 10 foreigners was by far the youngest group at the race. I was our oldest runner, and I think the closest Korean to my age was about 10 years my senior. They were impressed that young foreigners can run these distances. After checki-in, we see the 100km runners off and jump onto a bus to our start point. Once we arrive, the director gives the pre-race brief...all in Korean. A couple of the guys in our group could speak a little Korean and tried to translate the best they could, but a few important details about the last 10km were left off the translation.
At around 5am, 60 or so runners start off in the dark. Almost immediately, our group of foreigners is at the front. Since none of us had ever run an ultra, we were all nervous that we must be going out too fast. Katie, Justin and Jared had trained extensively for the race, so after a coule km, they dropped the rest of us. There was one Korean man with them. Andrew, Sonya and I were the next group on the road. At some point, Sonya stops for a bathroom break, Andrew goes on ahead, and at about 6km into the race I'm all alone. AT that point, I really had to drop a deuce, but unfortunately there was nowhere to stop on this road...a huge bank to my left, and a steep dropoff to the right. Knowing it was a 15km climb, I had a ways to go before the terrain leveled off. It was bad, seriously slowing me down. Eventually I find a good spot...do my business as I watch a couple of Korean men pass me. Jumped back on the trail feeling fast, caught the 2 guys and proceeded up the hill feeling great. Sometime along the descent, Andrew caught me...he apparently had made a couple of breaks as well and saw me passing while he as off in the woods. We run together for awhile and eventually caught Sonya who was surprised to see us. We ran together to the first aid station. Had some fish soup and kimchee...what else would you expect? This was at about the 25k mark. We ran together for a couple of km, and I start to feel sluggish going up this climb. Andrew and Sonya drop me. For the next 10k, I'm running alone. Passed one Korean man along the way, and eventually catch Andrew who had bonked hard. Had a few words, tried to pull him along for company, but he wasn't up to it. I run pretty strong until the marathon distance (42k) which I hit at around 5hours. My original goal was to run a conservative marathon, which I did, then pick up the pace. Unfortunately, my body was entering uncharted territory and the rest of the race would be a struggle.
Made it to the next aid station, at approximaely the 45k mark. Ate the peaches, drank some coke. Asked when the last yeoja (woman) passed. They told me an hour ago...damn, Sonya was moving. That demoralized me a bit. I trudged on, still running for the most part, but walking the steep stuff. Descents were painful, as my ankles were taking a beating. For the entire race, I was tracking performance by the course markings that were every 5k. When an hour passed since my last course marking (45k), I was getting pissed. I was convinced that I was lost, or had slown down way too much. Pain was getting worse. I start cursing, yelling, screaming. I was convinced that I was lost. As I came off the fire roads and hit the pavement, I thought for sure I'd have to just jump in a cab...wait, no cabs since we're out in the middle of nowhere...would have to bum a ride with some farmer that spoke no English. As I approach what appeared to be a highway, I faintly saw a piece of plywood with a number painted on it...it was the 55km sign with an arrow. This was the most exciting part of the day, only 5k to go and it was all on a flat road. I was ready to fly...or so I thought. Got to the road, and tried to pick up the pace, but my ankles wouldn't let me. Legs were ready to go, but the pounding was painful. I needed to knock out a 30 minute 5k to come in under 8 hours. I thought that was manageable, but the best I could do was run 2 minutes, walk 1. Did that for what I thought was 4k. The race director drives by and asks me if I need anything. I was still optimistic at this point, and I said no, but asked how much longer. He says 3-4 km. I say thank you, he drives on and I scream a big "F&&&" that I'm sure all the local farmers heard. The course was longer than 60k, and there was no way I'd make 8 hours.
After what seemed like an eternity of walk/run torture, I make it close to the town. I see a bridge, that I'm pretty sure I have to cross but there are no markings. I call Sonya, she tells me to cross the bridge. Cross the bridge, then reach an intersection...again, no signs. Sonya sees me, then guides me through this mushroom festival to the anticlimactic finish line. Roll in at 8:12...Byron hands me my requested beer, coke and salt and vinegar chips. He was the hero of the day. Come to find out Sonya finished in around 7:30 and was 3rd overall. I was 9th. Our group of foreigners took 6 out of the top 10 places.
Overall, this event was a lot of fun. We had a kickass after party. My recovery was amazingly quick. After a cold soaking of the ankles and a little Ibuprofen, the ankles felt fine. Legs were barely sore and I was running again 3 days later. This experience definitely ruined my Chuncheon Marathon experience later in the month. I was disinterested in such a long run on the road, and quickly became bored. The mountains were so much more fun. With the scenery and varying terrain of the ultra, I was never bored in the race. I had packed an iPod to keep me company, but never turned it on. After a few months of living in Seoul, the quiet of nature was much more pleasant. I had been hiking and trail running quite a bit in Korea, but I've never been to a place quite like Yang Yang, where I went for miles without seeing a single person.
Was hoping to follow this up with more trail races and possibly an 80k in the spring. Unfortunately I'm typing this up with a broken foot 3 months later. Hoping this recovery goes well...not going to attempt an ultra in 2013, but hoping for a 50 miler in 2014.