BY MICHAEL FRAIMAN
In anticipation of Busan’s upcoming 5k/10k/half-marathon race near Bexco on March 25 (application deadline Mar. 9; no English website; roughly 30,000 won), some friends and I traveled north to Ulsan on March 1, Korean Independence Day, at the too-early hour of 7 a.m. for an early Spring taste of what running is like in South Korea.
- Five minutes before the race, as we lined up on the starting track, a stout middle-aged man with a slight receding hairline and megaphone began instructing everyone into a dance-style warm-up, which included (but was not limited to) shouting and reaching towards the sky, pumping our fists and yelling “FIGHTING!”, and several awkward massage trains.
- Because this was Korean Independence Day, the route’s sides were laced with teenaged boys and girls in white t-shirts waving flags and dancing, many boasting the taeguki temporarily tattooed on their cheeks. Some even wore fake facial hair in an effort to represent certain Korean emperors of olde. This distractingly continued on-and-off for roughly the first kilometre.
- Keeping pace with others runners is not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Possibly because I’ve been
running outside along the murky Deokcheon River south of Seomyeon for the last two weeks, or possibly because no Koreans at any gyms run on the treadmills; rather, as any perplexed English teacher can testify, they walk at a 6km/h pace for well over 40 minutes. This act is bizarrely mimicked by only a few on the race day itself.
- Cute Korean girls waving and cheering on the side of the road force me to, despite my best “look-at-the-white-guy-all-badass-not-walking” intense face, goofily smile back.
- Korean men have really tight bums. And they all totally, totally know it.
- By the finish line, the sun had well since risen over the leafless trees on the surrounding mountains, and we each received a gold medal, a water bottle, a stale-but-delicious red bean paste bun, and a small box of soy milk before braving the changerooms, which were really just tents filled with naked Korean men deodorizing themselves in the chilly winter air.
- Rather than display finishing times on a screen, we each received a text message no later than two hours after the race with our individual time. The whole thing’s in Korean so you probably won’t understand it, but numbers, thankfully, are universal.
Relevant postscript links: There’s at least one other 5k/10k/half-marathon in Busan soon, on May 20th, around the Dadaepo coast in Saha-gu, south of the Sinpyeong subway station. Also note Waeguks Got Runs [all kinds of sic], a Facebook group dedicated to keeping foreigners in the know about upcoming races across the country.