Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Small victories

I've been deep in the doldrums for some time now. I don't know if I'm sick of Korea, sick of teaching, or just sick of myself (...after all, I'm with myself almost constantly), but it's been a while since I've gone anyplace without trudging.

But sometimes little wins come along.

Hashing, particularly my home pack, Yongsan Kimchi H3, has been my social life, my exercise, and my outlet; I've been to nearly 300 runs, 230-plus of them at YK, in under 4 1/2 years. Even that has lost some of its luster, as my best friends in the hash have departed, one by one, and I've gone on with newbies. I was recently selected as GM (Grand Master [leader]) of YK for the year, which is nice, but it's mostly meant responsibility more than prestige.

This past weekend, I hared a trail at Maebong, right by the school and not far from home. Choopa Cabroan, one of the nicest and most popular human beings ever at the hash, had on-outed a few months ago, but he was back from California for the week and it was great to see him. My trail, over Maebongsan (Hountain) and Yangjaesan (Hountain) and along the Yangjaecheon (Stream) kept the pack together...

 ...and elicited plenty of praise, which is rare. It was the first gorgeous day of spring and we had a great, happy turnout. It was a golden day.

This evening, three days later, I headed out for dinner, which is always a boring routine, sitting alone night after night and eating one of four or five things I can find in the neighborhood that isn't full of dead animal; even kimchi, which is ubiquitous, is preserved in clam or fish juice, and mool naengmyeon (ice noodles), which I used to enjoy in blissful ignorance, turns out to be in meat broth.

Tonight, I realized I needed to get some of Tug's specialty dry cat food, so I begrudgingly went eight blocks to the pet shop outside the huge Lotte department store. Afterward, I strayed down to the Lotte basement and found a Korean-style restaurant. I read hangeul, but I don't know all that many words; however, I found one I do know: dubu (tofu). I knew just enough Korean to ask the waitress, "Dubu isseoyo?" (It's tofu?) and "Gogi eopseoyo?" (No meat?) and say, "Eegeo juseyo" (Bring me this, please) and ended up with what I can only describe as tofu tempura in sweet-and-sour sauce:

It wasn't the best dish I've ever had, but it was tasty, and I was so happy to expand my dining options by 20 percent or so that I didn't even get offended that she'd brought me a fork when she trusted everyone else in the place with chopsticks.

Things aren't magically great now, but a win's a win, and I'll take every one I can get. And maybe the tide's turning.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A poor idea, in the long run

I'm never doing that again.

Last spring, I found out that this year's Chuncheon Marathon would be on my birthday, Sunday, October 26, and decided on the spot that I had to run it. My first marathon, four years ago, was in Chuncheon, and another run there would nicely bookend the three Joongang Marathons (here in Seoul) I'd run since.

The Joongang course is very boring, but Chuncheon's is beautiful, albeit hilly. It winds around and across a lovely river shaped like a Rorshach blot, overlooked by lovely little mountains covered with fall foliage. I did my first marathon there in 2010, walking one of every four minutes, in five hours, 40 minutes. My three Joongangs, running the whole way of a flat course, were clustered right around five hours even, and I figured I could handle Chuncheon's hills in 5:15 or so.

The long runs in training went badly; the muscles above and below my left knee stiffened up after eight miles or so each time, and without my erstwhile training partners Lauren, Val, and Laura-Claire (who had all left the country), I didn't have the will to push through it for another six or eight or ten miles to complete the runs. I did, however, complete a test 20-miler three weeks before the marathon, so I talked myself into believing I'd be fine on the day. ("Take no prisoners!"- George Armstrong Custer)

I'd rejoined the Seoul Flyers running club mostly to be able to ride their bus out to Chuncheon, a couple of hours east of Seoul. My only worry was finding a cab at 4:30 a.m. to take me across the city to the bus, but one came along within a minute of my hitting the street. Riding 65 miles an hour on the darkened city streets was just about enough to wake me up.

When the Flyers set up camp at Chuncheon, the leader announced that everyone should be back on the bus at 3; if I finished in my self-predicted time, I'd make it by 2:40, despite starting the the last group, almost a half hour after the tiny, fast East Africans. (Seriously, guys, they have the size, build, and speed of whippets.)

It was a beautiful day for a run, and the first miles went off fine. But the hills got to me, the knee stiffened up right on schedule, and I had to walk most of the last half of the course. This caused a lot of anxiety, as I kept thinking "If I run the rest of the way, starting now, I'll be back before everyone is on the bus and wanting to get home" while just not having the energy. All the way, minute by minute, I saw fifty exhausted runners on the bus, wondering "Where the hell is that guy?"

It just went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on (squared). I had planned to carry my cellphone so I could take photos, but it made my shorts sag (what with the iPod and half-dozen energy gels in my pockets), so I'd left it behind and missed the "Where are you?" and "Call me!" texts from the Flyers' president at the finish line.

As I finally, finally, got near the end, people by the side of the road were applauding, which only made me feel worse; I imagine they were rooting for the plucky old man running his first marathon, but it was my fifth, and it was slooooooow and pathetic.

Then I was finally done, in six hours and seven minutes (cue sad-sack trombone) and I limped as fast as I could to get my (completely undeserved) medal and pick up my bag o' crap, and then halfway through the damn town, burdened as I was, to the most humiliating moment of all, boarding the bus and being applauded--sincerely, I think, but it felt sarcastic--by the impatient busful of runners.

I did my best to ooze into my seat and disappear.

The Flyers' tradition is to take the bus over to a traditional Korean restaurant after the marathon; Chuncheon is famous for its dakgalbi--spicy chicken ribs. When we got there, I went in, but the difficulty of finding a seat, the sheer impossibility of my standing up again after a horrible marathon and a half hour sitting cross-legged on the floor, and the fact that I'm a vegetarian and chicken ribs are not technically a vegetable made me decide to wait alone in the bus instead.

At least the street was empty, so I could change out of my soggy running gear on the bus. This was the first birthday I've ever had where being naked, alone,  on a tour bus was the highlight of the day.

The trip to Chuncheon had taken two hours; the trip back took five, thanks largely to some bozo who delayed the bus until the traffic was utterly clogged. Add another two hours to hobble up the stairs to my second-floor apartment... it was a long day.

I am registering today for a 10K run in April, then I'll probably do a half-marathon, but a full marathon is much, much longer than twice a half-marathon. My ego is finally past needing to say "I'm a marathoner" or feeling old because I don't do the full course anymore. I could; I don't want to.

I promised myself in 1970 I'd do a marathon one day; I've done five. But...

I'm never doing that again.