39,731 tears and 39,731 steps of joy! What activity can invoke the emotions of so many tears and steps of running joy?
This year began with the excitement of training for a spring marathon in my mother country of South Korea. Craig, my husband, was accepted into the Tokyo Marathon via lottery in 2020 (my name was not drawn), and after being deferred for three years, we finally traveled to Tokyo.
I decided to run the Seoul Marathon (March 19, 2023) two weeks after the Tokyo Marathon (March 5, 2023), running the Winter Series Long Runs as training runs for the March marathon. I ran the Super Half race, as a training run, in the same week I ran a 20-mile long training run. I felt sluggish the entire four Winter Series races and the Super Half, not realizing that I was putting in too many miles. With three weeks to go, my good friend and coach, Rod, suggested I back off on the mileage. I did and this gave my legs a much needed rest before the marathon.
On February 28, Craig and I set out on a journey to explore some of the most stunning destinations while also participating in exhilarating marathon events in the vibrant and bustling continent of Asia. Three years after Craig’s planned 2020 Tokyo Marathon run we finally arrived in Japan. We ran into Colorado Springs PPRR member, Richard Park, in the Narita International Airport customs entry queue (ah, what a small world). The Japanese government mandated a number of health requirements to enter Japan and run the Tokyo Marathon, including COVID testing within 72 hours of departure for Japan, self-measured body temperature into a special health app for ten days leading up to the marathon, and with two test kits provided at the Expo, two consecutive days of negative test results entered into the app before the marathon.Craig had to show the app results and do one final temperature check before entering the race start area, and wearing masks was required before and after the marathon and in all public settings.
Finally, the day arrived that Craig had been waiting so long for. The 40°F to 50°F overcast weather was perfect. I was able to cheer Craig on at 33 kilometers into the race. Craig finished 4:33. Craig and Richard Park ran together the last mile and crossed the finish line together! Richard completed his sixth and final Abbott World Marathon Major in Tokyo, yeah! We remained in Japan before my race, to explore Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka. The Japanese embrace a very small footprint. The portions of food you buy in grocery stores was small (five mushrooms in a box and six strawberries in a package). There was no visible trash and no trash cans in public places. You pack in and pack out (I love that). The Japanese are very quiet, polite, and respectful in public spaces. The temples, shrines, palaces, and gardens were magnificent and the cherry blossoms were just beginning to open up.
Two days before my marathon we flew from Osaka to Seoul. We started our subway and bus journey to the Osaka airport at 7am arriving at the ticket counter at 9am for our 11am flight, only to find out that we needed a visa or South Korea’s on-line K-ETA filled out. We filled out the K-ETA application with a couple data entry challenges along the way and with sporadic airport wifi; we waited another half hour for our K-ETA submission to be approved. With 30 minutes before our flight, we received our boarding passes. One kind Jeju airline employee walked us to our gate with an expedited security check (we skipped the long line); when we made it to the gate, passengers were already boarding. With a deep breath of relief, I felt so grateful for the compassion and caring of the Jeju Airline’s employee getting us to the gate in time for our flight.
On Sunday March 19,The Seoul Marathon started at historic Gwanghwamun Square and finished at the Jamsil (Olympic) Sports Complex Center near. On a beautiful, chilly spring morning, the air quality finally improved and I found myself at the starting line with over 13,000 runners (7,000 full marathon runners and one quarter of the 25,000 relay runners). Craig escorted me on the subway ride to the starting line. Surprisingly, he was able to accompany me into the race corral, allowing me to take off my warm jacket at the last moment. The runners were cheered on by locals who lined the streets, waving flags and offering words of encouragement. I felt a sense of camaraderie with the other runners as we ran the marathon together. Craig also cheered me on at mile 25 (see photo). I finished in 4:20. Running the Seoul Marathon in the country I was born and raised in was a once in a lifetime experience for me. I cried and laughed the whole time I was running. We spent the next ten days visiting my family, before returning home. My sisters and I talked, laughed, ate real Korean food and had a grand time. I ate kimchi, ate more kimchi, and ate still more kimchi. As Craig and I completed our marathons, we looked back on our journey with a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. We traveled to some of the most beautiful destinations in Asia, met new friends, and challenged ourselves both physically and mentally. We vowed to continue our journey as marathon runners, exploring new destinations and pushing ourselves to achieve our goals. What other experience can elicit 39,731 tears and 39,731 steps of joy!