Lee and I went to Yeongdong by train on Saturday afternoon. We ate our final pre-run meal on the journey. Lee ate kimbap, a banana, and a Powerade, while I ate a sausage sandwich, pretzels, and a tomato and feta salad. I don’t think Costco smokies are on any nutritionist's list of approved pre-run foods, but for some reason I like them before a run. I think it’s the excess sodium.
We arrived in Yeongdong, left the train station, and saw a huge banner advertising the run. We headed up a hill lined with persimmon trees and ended up at the stadium. On the short walk, we marveled at the quiet. The small town feel was immediately apparent after the bustle of Seoul.
Our friend BJ acted as the race director. He owns a shoe company, so he always comes to races to set up his booth and sell shoes, but this time he did double duty. He introduced us to a few people and we registered and picked up race packets. Shwag included a nice running jacket, which fits Lee perfectly (mine is a bit big – Korea has great races in every way except the gender-biased loot which only ever comes in man sizes). Anyway, we checked our stuff, changed and plopped down in the shade for a while.
We started running at 4:15. The course led out of town and into the countryside. The first 25 kms were very gently rolling. I felt great. I hit the 32 km aid station at about 3:20. One guy working the aid station told me Lee was about 30 minutes ahead. The sun had just set, and I headed off into the hills. From 32 – 59 kms there were two moderate and one massive hill. Unfortunately, my very cheap flashlight started to sputter and wane until it was basically useless. There were two runners ahead of me and I tried to stay on their heels to borrow their light. BJ pulled up next to me as he was traveling between aid stations to see if I was OK. I told him about the light, which he examined and dismissed as “made in China.” then he sped away and returned five minutes later with a borrowed headlamp that had four settings. The entire course was pitch dark between sunset and sunrise – there were no city lights, no streetlights of any kind, just a massive sky full of stars.
As a sidenote, my light burning out was a good example of karma. Two weeks before the race, Lee went out and bought a headlamp, which I dismissed as overpriced and unnecessary. I also teased him about it. A lot. And karma got me in the end.
Anyway, the hills were tough, but I felt surprisingly good. At the 54.4 aid station, I fortified myself with seaweed soup, a Korean staple for ultramarathon runners and new moms, who are fed it everyday for a month after their babies are born. It’s pure delicious goodness (rice, broth, seaweed, and clams). The soup carried me up the largest hill of the run, 800m over 3 km.
After that, a blessed downhill slide for 15 km. Around the 63 km mark, I made a friend. He was Mr. Yoo, a finisher of 23 previous ultras and very chatty guy. We stayed together for about 10 kms, and passed the time chatting about his business and family and our favourite restaurants in Itaewon. At the 73 km aid station, a volunteer told me Lee was only a few minutes ahead, so I left Mr. Yoo behind and tried to catch Lee.
I was closing the gap and almost caught him, but around 85 km I really began to run out of steam. It wasn’t a competitive thing – I just wanted the company and to see how he was doing. I was wearing all my layers (long-sleeved shirt, jacket, toque) but it felt really cold and once I started walking for longer periods I couldn’t warm up. I spent the last part of the run daydreaming about hot showers, warm hugs, and our duvet.
Kind soul that he is, Lee stopped about 500 metres from the end. I caught up to him in 2 or 3 minutes and we crossed the finish line together. 101 kilometres in 14:36:57.
If I were to sum up the experience I’d say this: for 75 kilometres I felt on top of the world fantastic, everything went perfectly and I was completely enjoying the experience. For the next 10, I was starting to feel tired. For the last 16, I thought please, please, please let me finish. And I did. And the hot shower afterward felt fantastic!
The volunteers, race organizers and other runners were top-notch. The whole event was well-planned and the course was stunning. I’m amazed that such natural beauty is so close to Seoul. Mountain, rivers, stars, and absolute quiet on the road – perfection!
BTW, there were 210 runners in the event and only ten women. Of those ten women, I finished second! I was presented with a trophy, a five kilo box of grapes, and a 5 kilo box of persimmons.