Friday, June 24, 2011

Pohang Marathon

Last weekend I ran my first marathon. It was only 5 kilometres long, but the name seems to be used for any running race in Korea. I've been doing the Couch to 5K running plan for a few months. It's supposed to take ten weeks but I was interrupted a few times by sickness and crippling laziness. The run was in Pohang, a city on Korea's east coast. It's famous, at least in Korea, for it's beaches and - according to a Korean friend of mine - for being a whaling town in the past. He also said that Pohang means "whale harbour", a claim that Google Translate disputes, preferring "hand pot", "anti paw", or "section four."

There were heaps of people doing the 5K, only about half of whom seemed to be there on purpose. At the start line I could see several people with backpacks, talking on cell phones, even one kid with a freaking Galaxy Tab. There were also fireworks at the start of each race, and a whole bunch of balloons were released.

Essential running equipment.
Don't forget your balloons.
When the race started I realised I'd been foolish not to push my way to the front. I spent a frustrating forty seconds trying to get past a huge crowd of people before I even got to the start line. Things got a bit better after 500 metres or so when the crowd thinned out, but there were still some stupid people; several times someone ran past me and immediately stopped and walked when they were one pace ahead. Thanks. 

It was sweltering hot for most of the race and I all but gave up my goal of finishing the race in under 30 minutes. This was made worse by seeing that there were several people in wheelchairs in front of me. Anna told me later that they started before everyone else, but it was pretty demoralising at the time. By the home stretch I was just wanting to make it without stopping to walk, or collapsing from the heat. But when I rounded the last corner I saw the timer said 24 minutes something. I wasn't sure that this was real, but Anna confirmed it. 24:43. More than five minutes quicker than I've ever run that distance. 

Before heading home we checked out Pohang's world famous (in Korea) Bukbu beach, and unexpectedly saw it's genuinely world famous landmark.

Book-boo bee-chee

Liberty Enlightening a Love Motel
Update: Last week I mentioned that when I was leaving one of my small rural schools a group of armed soldiers was guarding the gate. The same Korean friend with the questionable Pohang name theories told me that it was probably a training exercise. All South Korean men must serve two years in the military (in the North it's ten.) This is followed up by some kind of refresher training about five years after that, which is what he thought this would be. I did ask why they were using a school for this training, particularly one which is open, but I didn't get much of an answer, and he looked at me like I was very strange for asking such a question.

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