It's Day 11 of the 11-day Nash Hash, the annual event when there's a hash every day. I've been to six of them: Friday night to run, Sunday afternoon to walk, Monday and Tuesday nights to run, Friday night for a social at the VFW bar, and Saturday morning to run. Last Sunday's endeavor was the best hash, heck, the best walk, ever.
The running trail was advertised as long and intimidating, so (having run for 2 1/2 hours the day before) I joined the walkers, who took the subway a few stops to cut off half the trail, then hiked up a mountain and down and up again, witnessing bulldozers clearing away large channels to prevent future mudslides like the ones that killed so many people this summer. The trail came down the mountain to the Seoul Arts Center, home of the opera house and art museum, and on this gorgeous sunny fall day, the expansive plaza was hosting a wine festival.
Seven of us (ToT, Nut n' Bone, TKO, Little Leaguer, Crystal, a Korean newcomer named Gina, and I) came down together into the festival and couldn't resist buying red wine and Ghirardelli raspberry-filled chocolate and the most incredible custard/fruit tarts ever and sitting back to enjoy the sun and the breeze and the mountain at our backs and the culinary delights, and it was so nice. And then Gina somehow got the host to bring us a free bottle of red and Little Leaguer somehow got them to start the dancing fountain show early and it was perfect, one of those moments with a happiness so simple and so complete that I know I'll remember it decades from now.
The previous day, I had set out to do an 18-mile training run and just completely ran out of steam at 12 1/2 miles, a very worrying thing with the marathon five weeks (at that point) away. The knee pain has completely gone away since I've been running in my new "barefoot" shoes, but the two weeks of missed training took a lot from my conditioning. However, I did the 18 miles yesterday and feel pretty confident again. Sore, too.
On that 18-miler, I ran down the Yangjae Cheon four miles to Gwacheon City, and on the way back heard fireworks coming from the soccer park (a full-size soccer field with a few thousand seats) on the banks of the stream. I went up to investigate and found some kind of sports festival. There were several hundred people, all adults, mostly middle-aged, seated in groups on the field, each group in its distinctive brightly colored jackets. A few hundred more people were in the stands, behind banners and balloons and traditional Korean drummers. Rock songs were blasting from huge speakers and there were cheerleaders-- real, American-style cheerleaders, not dancers like the ones at baseball games-- doing their routines.
I went around and around the track as the preliminaries... uh, preliminated, and even got some applause and thumbs-ups from people in the crowd. (That's more than I got for actually finishing my marathon last year.)
It was heady stuff, very Chariots of Fire, and I kept going until somebody told me politely it was time to clear the track. I brought back a couple of silver and gold streamers to remind me of how it was, for a little, to feel I could run forever.
Midweek, The Korea Herald, the country's top English-language paper, had an article about hashing in Seoul. A lot of my friends were mentioned, a few quoted, a couple pictured, and despite a few factual errors it was a fair and complete summation of what we do. It was the best free publicity we could hope for. Here's a link, in case you're interested:
In the midst of all this, our school had its overnight trip on Thursday and Friday. We rode four buses a couple hours down into the heart of South Korea, way out in the sticks. The venue was a bit of a letdown, as the place we'd booked called at the last minute to say they'd double-booked, but we did manage paintball (yeah, I played), a sports competition, a talent show, a competition field day, and a bonfire with DJ and wild group dances. I know you won't believe me, but I danced in the middle of a circle of students and teachers and was declared the winner of my round. (Apparently they like the miming of a circus bear with his shorts on fire.)
I dreaded bedtime, as we were at a bare-bones youth hostel with no beds. Eighteen months ago, when we took our three-day trip to Jeju Island, I woke up in great pain, as if I'd been racked. And not with guilt, with a rack. But this time we brought grabbed comforter after comforter, and with five (doubled, so in effect ten) under me and two over me, I slept the untroubled sleep of the exhausted and woke up to bluebirds and unicorns.
On Friday morning (a crisp, clear fall morning, perfect for running, I might add), I went for a run down the road, surrounded by mountains (well, hills) that a sign rather hyperbolically called the Chungbuk Alps.
We were in the heart of farm country; every flat square centimeter of Korea that isn't city grows something. I passed acre upon acre of rice...
, as well as vines bearing dates and hot peppers and greenhouses where they grow little mushrooms on lengths of wood...
Eventually I came upon a little Buddhist temple. (It's interesting to note that the Buddha may have renounced worldly goods, but the temple had a Mercedes in the garage.)
It was wonderful to get out of this huge, overcrowded city for a short while, seeing stars-- I've never seen more than one in a night in Seoul-- and breathing clean air and listening to the breeze in the woods and the rushing of water.
On my run I saw more chipmunks (four) than people, aside from some of our kids who were being punished for having a party after lights-out the night before; they were helping a local farmer by snapping the stems off hundreds of his hot peppers.
If you're keeping track at home, that's a hash Friday, a long run Saturday, hashes Monday and Tuesday, a school trip Thursday and Friday, a social Friday night, a hash Saturday, and a loooong run Sunday. As that's about as much as I generally do in, oh, a decade, I'll kick back a little this week and get my strength back.
The arduous marathon, after all, lurks just around the corner, like... some arduous lurking thing.
Four weeks to go. I think I can, I think I can.