Monday, June 7, 2010

Just another manic Sunday

Yesterday was a long, exhausting, and fulfilling day.

The lead-in was less than stellar, as a whole bunch of idiots were playing basketball (not horse or just shooting buckets, but an actual game with lots of yelling) outside my window till past 1 a.m. I finally got to sleep about quarter past and got up at 5:45 to get ready for the long trip back to Hangang Park by the river, where last week's 5K race was, for this week's 10K.

The trip there involved my going the wrong way on one subway line (for one stop; I ain't a compleat idjit) and then, when it looked as if I might miss the race, jumping the barrier in a deserted subway station because the turnstile thingy wouldn't recognize my T-Money card though it had lots of credit on it. I kept expecting the K-cops to come bursting out of some booth whence they'd been surreptitiously monitoring the station and grab me, but they didn't. Haven't yet, anyway. I'm not answering my door, though, if somebody rings it.

I was getting frustrated and nervous at the site of the race, a huge grassy square with tents set up on three sides. I went here to pick up my race number, but they sent me over there, where the people sent me back over there, where they sent me back to the original here, where they still couldn't find my name. None of these folks spoke English, of course; last week I had my student Hanbyel with me to negotiate such things, but dot dot dot.

Perhaps it's because I kept asking, "Yeodol K?" Silly of them not to understand what I meant; they didn't recognize "K" as short for kilometer (though it is phonetically Korean for "dog") and... um... it may not have helped, as I realized later, that yeodol is actually "eight". (Yeol is ten.) So apparently I was asking them something about eight dogs.

Then I tried to pick up my goodie bag for the race, which included a World Cup-themed Korea running shirt, compression shorts (though I'm not sure I want my giblets compressed) and running tights. So the here people sent me back to the first there, where... ah, heck with it, I finally got the goodies. Then I went over to the Seoul Flyers (running club) tent and met Jae, the Korean-American president of the club, who was wonderfully friendly, with whom I talked till somebody came up and told me that the 10K people were making their way to the starting line, so I had to weave my way through thousands of warming-up runners and ended up with a bunch of fit guys who had no idea what I meant when I asked them if they were lined up for the 10K. No, they were marathoners... anyway, you get the idea.

In Korea, they usually seem to run a 5K, a 10K, a half-marathon and a full marathon together, each race starting a few minutes after the one before. The warmup time is something to see, with some guy screeching exhortations over the PA, some very hot girls in very hot pants (What?! I'm old, not dead) shaking... well, everything... to the latest K-pop hit, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which actually has nothing to do with Dick Van Dyke and crew), and everyone giving his neighbor, in unison, shoulder rubs and shiatsu massage.

I finally did get to the right starting line, where Jae (stop thinking about the hot girls in hot pants and refer back two paragraphs) remembered my name and insisted on taking my picture:

Yeah, Steve you look confident now...

I hoped to run 10-minute miles, or just a touch better, and finish in an hour or a tick over. For the first half of the race, the road was so crowded it was practically impossible to negotiate around people, but I seemed to be doing okay: where they marked the end of the first kilometer, I was at exactly six minutes. Perfection. Then, at the 2K mark, I was at 10:15. (Wha'? Why, 2K?) That was my first hint that their measurements were fallible. It's also about then that I began to notice that it was getting, as my Grandpa Davis used to say, hot as the hinges.

The race was entirely unshaded and it was over 80 degrees (Fahrenheit... I think) and the air was typical downtown Seoul, thick, rich, and a great complement to a sandwich. But I kept on, feeling pretty good, keeping the pace up, on target (if I could only keep buggering on) for a 55-minute finish. The last few kilometers were rough, hot, and hotter, and my body was telling me to slack off, when I remembered what I'd told Hanbyel the week before when she was trying to finish her first 5K: "Sometimes you have to tell your body to shut up."

Finally, I crossed the line in 53:15, faster per mile than the 5K I ran six weeks ago (which is pretty darn unlikely). I realized that, according to the markers, I'd run the last kilometer ridiculously fast, so the course was obviously a little short, but even at 55 minutes (my best guess of a legit time), I was stunned: just six minutes slower than I last ran a 10K, 30 years and 25 pounds ago. Whew!

I took a little subway detour on the way home to go to my favorite bookstore (and possibly evade the manhunt still going on for me at that other subway stop) and finally made it home to relax and mainline ibuprofen for a little while...

...till it was time to head for the ballpark. I can reach Jamsil Stadium, where the Twins and Bears play their home games, in a half hour by bike, all along the path by the water. I met our principal, Ron, and his son Geoff outside the stadium, where Ron did me the favor of snapping this charming pic of me in my newly-won running shirt:
That's a giant baseball glove covered in grass, by the way. And a giant American covered in a newly-won t-shirt with a typically mangled Konglish phrase... am I fighting Korea? Is Korea fighting something? Is it a geopolitical statement?

And, to make a long, long story microscopically shorter, we had a nice time at the game, though neither team had their cheerleaders, which I believe is against federal law. Then I rode my bike home in the gloaming. Koreans, by the way, stay out of the midday heat, but by Jumpin' Jay Howdy, they come out after dark: kids on bikes and skates, ajummas walking purse dogs off the leash, couples strolling hand-in-hand, bikers, runners, half of everybody wearing black against a black background, all progressing on the left of the path, on the right, in the middle... but as you might guess, I made it home alive eventually, sore, exhausted, and happy... till I remembered I only had eight hours till the Monday morning alarm, barely enough time to marinate in ibuprofen so I could get out of bed in the morning.


George Kozak said...


I've been meaning to ask you: "Who is the old guy whose picture you keep posting?"

Just wondering,
Your buddy,
(PS. I can't seem to find any pictures of me as well...some old fat guy is always standing next to my wife and kids in photos!)

Stephen J said...

Well, it's an old camera.