Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I'm gonna do it

Forty years ago, in high school, I fiddled around in the first running boom. I promised myself, as young idiots will make promises to themselves, that one day I'd run a marathon.

I've run on and off, mostly off, ever since, and pretty regularly since the beginning of 1999. I did a couple of dozen 5K's in St. Augustine and one 15K in Jacksonville (only an hour behind a future Olympic marathon silver medalist), and coached cross-country, my one true love, for seven years.

Now I've got my little cross-country club at St. Paul and have run one 5K in Seoul, faster than I generally did some years ago back in Florida. Anyway...

This Sunday morning, I went out for a run on the path by the stream near my apartment. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny morning (very much unlike the cold dark windy rain that currently obtains) and I found, on the opposite bank of the little stream, a marathon in progress. My own run was strong and good. I ended up on the marathon course for 100 yards so I could read the kilometer marker and somebody applauded me-- I don't know how to say "I'm a fraud; I'm not running this race" in Korean and I felt a little guilty.

So, the sun was warm, the birds were singing, the banks above the path were lined with hundreds of cherry trees in bloom, and I decided I'm finally going to run a marathon. In the next twelve months, probably this fall. It's only 27.2 kilometers farther than I've ever run.

I'm gonna do it.

Now that I've published this, I've got to do it. That's mostly why I'm publishing this.

I'm gonna do it.

Heavy winds, 90 percent chance of pain

Above, a sore grandfather and a "stone grandfather".

[I've put lots of photos here:


You don't need a Facebook account to see the pictures. G'ahead. Cut and paste the addy, g'wan over, take a peek, and c'mon back.] 

* * *
Our school field trip to Jeju Island, 50 miles off the southwest point of the peninsula, was certainly memorable.

It would take more pixels than I can afford to go into detail about everything we did, so I'll just make a list.

On Wednesday, we flew there, had lunch, visited a teddy bear museum,
clambered about on volcanic cliffs, walked on a lavalar (lavanic? lavalliere? I need a lava that won't drive me crazy) beach under otherworldly rock formations,

had dinner, walked a mile to a beach where we attempted to frolic in 35-degree wind chill and horizontal spatters of rain, gave up, walked back, conducted violent sporty activities in a gym, drank beer (teachers only... I think) and went to bed (well... floor).

By Thursday dawn I was in more bodily pain than I'd ever been in my life, including after mild-to-medium car accidents. Sitting cramped in the plane and the bus, hiking and hiking on an arthritic knee, wrenching my shoulder, back, and foot and taking skin off my knee by taking a nasty tumble on a wet rock by the hotel parking lot, sleeping on a mat on the floor... I was afraid that I wouldn't die in the night.

I loosened up over the course of the day, long enough to climb this:
for these views:

On Thursday, we walked in a cedar forest with trees coated in overnight snow, visited a folk village where everybody but I chuckled at one of the island's famous black pigs in a tiny stonewalled pen and then ate the pig's older brother, walked along another rocky beach, climbed a 600-foot-high long-dormant volcano (above), visited the female diver (for abalone and seaweed) museum, stopped at a botanical garden that had long lava tubes (tunnels made by rushing molten rock), navigated a huge botanical maze (I thought I could do it quickly, but had to hedge my bets), had dinner, did three hours of noraebang (karaoke) for which modesty forbids me from naming the star, but he put the "Y" in YMCA... you haven't heard a rendition until it's been rent by me. Then beer and floor.

On Friday, we had breakfast at the hotel (I couldn't face one more helping of gloppy white rice and fixin's, identical to our other breakfasts and dinners, for breakfast, so I had cookies and liquid yogurt), walked about the stone statue park, and flew home.

We were all exhausted, though all the students had an uncanny ability to sleep all the way through our multitudinous bus rides. As for me, to quote the Fourth Doctor (Who?):

"Oh, my arms! Oh, my legs! Oh, my everything!"

The trip was such a cascade of stuff that it's taken me a week and a half since our return to finalize my impressions, and frankly even now I'm leaving 90 percent of it out. But here are a few final impressions.

The guide on our bus told us that Jeju is famous for three things: wind (oh, so much wind), rocks (on beaches and piled in hundreds of walls), and women. (When it comes to what Jeju's known for, contrary to the vocal stylings of Mr. Marvin Lee Aday, two out of three ain't that hot.)

The place is really, really relaxed about toilet stuff... you don't want to know what the famous black pigs eat or what they're known for biting off if you're not careful in the outhouse. And the stone statue park had seats shaped like butts for that oh-so-special gag picture... and a statue of a guy on a toilet, under which people had thoughtfully piled a bunch of little stones.

The island is overrun with seas of yellow canola (rapeseed) flowers. Everybody on the island who isn't catching stuff out of the ocean is selling citrus fruit. (Y'know, I never had a kumquat before... they're so good!) Although there does seem to be a thriving job market in driving buses and narrating for the Griswolds.

And, oh, have I've missed the ocean.

The weather improved from simply miserable to just unseasonably chilly during our stay (Korea's Hawaii? Ha!), we were all far past exhaustion (when, after all, just sitting in school with 80 kids is enervating enough), it was so good to get back, and it took me three more days before my foot, knee, and back were pain-free enough to go for a jog.

But it was pretty cool.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kissing sisters and kicking butt

...which is better that kicking sisters and...

It's been a lively weekend. On Friday, I went to a ballgame with my friend Bob Ellison, my only mature fellow teacher-- by that I mean he is, as I am, mature in years only. It was a tremendous hassle reserving tickets; Michelle, our school receptionist, had to call twice and spend over twenty minutes to get them for me, giving them my birthdate, phone, email, and Alien Registration Card number. But it finally worked.

The game itself was both perhaps the best game I've ever been to anywhere and, in the end, unsatisfying. It matched the two teams that share the stadium, the Doosan Bears (hooray) and LG Twins (eh). The Bears, sadly, have redesigned their uniforms, rendering my cap an instant heirloom. They also have adopted a surreal mascot... a scowling robot bear. I was watching from an entryway after returning from buying beer or using the men's room-- the two do tend to go together-- when the mascot walked up next and paused next to me. He's your typical sports mascot, but duct-tape-colored, with what are clearly supposed to be rivets holding its "plates" together.

Our beloved RoBears (isn't that a French name?) put an incredible 30 men on base and kept hitting into double plays. There was a week's worth of SportsCenter Top Ten plays all over the field, by both teams, with ten thousand impassioned fans on each side, all screaming and pounding their plastic sticks together and singing their team fight songs to the tune of Dancing Queen, It's a Small World and Pomp and Circumstance (swear to God) for them and Honey Honey and Mary Had a Little Lamb for our side. It was just an incredible game. And then it was over, a tie, the first I've ever seen. In Korea, if nobody wins in twelve innings, it's a tie. (Weirdly, in computing teams' winning percentage, it counts as a loss for both.) They say a tie is like kissing your sister, but I don't have a sister and I'm not from Mississippi anyway.

I don't remember yesterday. I do remember that nothing happened. Oh, I bought some soy milk. Not in a particularly interesting way, at that.

Today, however, I was terrific.

It was the morning of the Bundang Marathon/Half-marathon/5K, and four of our students and one of my fellow teachers, Susan Kim, planned to run the 5K. One of the students, Hanbyel, called in a panic ten minutes before start time because she just realized she'd taken the bus going in the wrong direction and she was twenty miles away. She was upset, of course, and I felt terrible for her but promised we'd find another race soon.

Things are mostly... but not entirely... the same as in American races. The worst thing is that they don't give out t-shirts; that must be against the regulations of the UN or the World Court or, certainly, God's Law for Runners. Instead, we got medals and insulated bottle holders the size of youth footballs. I want my t-shirt!

I'm also not used to the emcee shouting at the starting line, in Korean, "Wave your hands in the air!" (they did) and "Rub the shoulders of the person in front of you!" (they did) or a couple thousand marathoners doing stretches together or, especially, the weirdo walking amid the waiting runners, spraying our legs and faces with cool mist. I wish I knew the Korean for "Y'idjit, it's fifty degrees and I'm standing still in shorts... I'm not hot now!"

As for the race itself, the 5K must have had close to a thousand runners. (For all I knew, we might have had 50.) We had no idea where the course went; I kind of expected it would be in the huge park where it started. As it turned out, it went for a mile or so down an eight-lane street and then back along a path by a stream. Fortunately, it was impossible to get lost. Even for me.

I haven't run a race in six years and figured to be in worse condition than I was when I was 50. I always used to run 5K's in about 28 minutes and I was hoping against hope to do this one in 30. I'd planned to check my pace at each kilometer marker and try to do six minutes per, if I could keep it up. Well, they didn't have a 1-K or 2-K marker, and at the 3-K I realized that I'd been going a good deal faster than I'd thought. So I tried to keep up the pace, and as it turned out I actually picked it up a bit and finished in 27:10. That's faster than almost all of the two-dozen-plus 5K's I did back in Florida, 'way back in my forties, when my hair was more coal than ash and my back didn't sound like a Rice Krispies factory when I rolled over in bed.

You guys, I so rock.

I doubled back to cheer on the ladies at the finish and we all went to get the medals, wheat bread loaves, and corn tea that they had for all finishers. I had to leave without the complimentary massage :: sigh ::  and draft beer. (Now that's something that American 5K's could learn from the Koreans. I still want my damn t-shirt, though.)
After the race, from left to right: Buyoung, Susan Kim, Kara, Laura, me. I am aware that I look 
(1) scruffy, (2) pale, and (3) pear-shaped. However, in my defense, (1) I got a haircut afterward; (2) (a) It's been a long winter in long pants and long sleeves and (b) Hey, they're all Asian!; (3) (a) It's the maternity top I wore (b) The camera adds ten pounds and I had two cameras on me (c) Hey, they're all tiny! and (d) Shut up. 

Koreans all make peace signs in photos and teenage girls like to hide their faces from the camera.  Oh, and we're not lined up by finishing place... we did it, as Yogi Berra said, alphabetically by height.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring springs eternal

Happy Easter, everyone!

It's Sunday night and we've had a three-day weekend. (As opposed to a ten-day weakened; that would be the cold I've just gotten over.) Didn't do squat the first two days off; several of us from work keep intending to go to a ballgame, but it's just a tad chilly to enjoy sitting there after dark, and the last drag of my cold has kept me sleeping and reading more than adventuring. I was going to visit the royal tombs of the Chosun Dynasty, but I was afraid someone would tell me to lie down.

I feel pretty distant from Easter, as I'm off sweets, I don't eat bunnies, and I don't wanna dye.

Nonetheless, today was a splendid reminder, in several ways, of how it is a time of renewal:

The trees are budding, finally.

I saw a lovely bird, new to me, all black head and orange belly, while I was running. I think it was a Narcissus flycatcher...
 ...but whatever it was, it shore was purty.

Speaking of running, the cold knocked my conditioning back quite a bit, but I'm out there again, and today was the first day of the decade that was warm enough to warrant running in a t-shirt and shorts. The Sun felt so good on my legs, which are even pasty-whiter than in the States, compared to the locals.

It's a week to my first 5K race in six years.

It's a week and a half to our school trip to Jeju Island.

Back in the States, it's Opening Day, and the Mets are still undefeated. Of course, they don't play till tomorrow, but I'll take it.

And Doctor Who is back, with a new Doctor (the eleventh), new actors, and a new production team. And it's glorious. I'd post a photo, but beware of geeks bearing GIF's.

Today's theme: "Talkin' 'bout Regeneration" by The (Doctor) Who...