Plowing through the Snowstorm

PC: Bodies Race Company – Omaha

Itching to return to racing, I, for the first race of 2019, decided on the Resolution Run 10K, taking place on January 12, 2019, starting in Omaha, Nebraska, and crossing into Iowa. The weather app and websites showed no sign of snow when I registered the week before, but then, just the day before, I found out Omaha would receive one to three inches of snow. (I laugh people so confidently predict what Earth will look like in millions of years when they can hardly ever predict tomorrow’s weather correctly.) I became nervous driving from my hotel in Bellevue, Nebraska, to the event location at 6:30 AM, still dark with heavy snow that refused to yield anytime soon.

Due to the weather ordeal, many 10K runners switched to 5K, and I do not doubt some registrants could not even participate. At the starting line, I felt nothing but gratitude that the race was not canceled, for which I profusely thanked the race organizers. (On my way back to Kearney, just from Omaha to York I spotted nearly fifteen car accidents, which reemphasized the severity of the weather.) Currently, in training, I run much faster than when I set my 10K personal record of 00:48:42.8 last summer, so I had in mind to be greedy and slay that here; however, once I saw the degree of snow, especially in the first mile, exacerbated by powerful wind and hills, I thought, “Nope! Not happening!” To make matters worse, my right earphone would continue to slip out due to the freezing temperature of 29 degrees. I slid multiple times and even fell once, after which I needed 30 seconds to find my rhythm. For most turns, I practically jogged in place while shifting the direction of my feet. Concerned about landing on my butt, I could not even attempt to speed up in most parts of the course; regardless, when I saw how much more slowly I was moving than I had planned, I decided to “sprint” the final mile, shaving off six seconds per mile on average during that one mile, implying I could not give my 100% effort because of the icy trail and concrete.

PC: Bodies Race Company – Omaha

Prior to the start of the race, a 10K participant, looking at how I was dressed, commented I must be accustomed to the cold. I have indeed noticed for some time my body copes with the cold much more efficiently than with the heat, probably since I grew up in various unusually cold regions, and I prefer my running temperature to be in the low 30s and do not mind the 20s or even 10s.

Considering these brutal conditions, I cannot be too upset with my finish time of 00:52:07.2, first place in Age Group 20-29 and seventh place overall. My first race in the snow and first time falling in a race, at least I experienced something new in my 40th race. My resolution? Simply obey Jesus.

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Farewell, 2018

One more repetitious yet eventful year in Nebraska, a momentous one for sure, has sprinted to an end that prompts me to think, “Where has the time gone?” I thank the Lord for another year of good health and protection, as always.

Most significantly, after seventeen years in the United States, I have finally become a permanent resident, once again allowing me the freedom to leave the country and come back whenever I please and for the first time ever gifting me the flexibility to work wherever and for whichever employer in these fifty states I choose. Though culturally American for as long as I can remember, I felt my confidence rise with this green card that proves I earned my permanent place in America. My family and I have believed God brought me to Nebraska, name that had never exited my mouth prior to discovering my current position as an international recruitment specialist in the summer of 2015, primarily to provide me with this freedom in the smoothest and swiftest way possible for a reason I have yet to experience but am certain will soon enough; I am convinced His plan for my life requires my possession of this permanent resident status.

Following the monumental racing year that included a 102-mile finish in the Texas heat and humidity in 2017, I continued in 2018 actively fueling my passion for running by participating in eleven more races, comprising a 50K, eight half marathons, and two 10K’s, setting many personal bests along the way and surpassing 1,000 kilometers in race mileage since my first 5K race, as a sergeant in the Republic of Korea Army, on March 1, 2012. Just several weeks ago, I was accepted to run in the Chicago Marathon, my first and hopefully not last World Marathon Major, taking place on October 13, 2019, wherever I will be then.

For several years I had longed for a small spiritual group and friends who serve my Father, and a Texan youth pastor’s family’s arrival in the summer gave me an easy route to find these and become more involved in the church community.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails,” says King Solomon in Proverbs 19:21. Desperate to move to a bigger place with more global people of closer backgrounds, I have continued to set my own timing of when I will leave this tiny city of 33,000, which did not consist of returning to the same office in 2019. I ask every day, “When? How much longer?” I hope to be more grateful in my current situation, learn to live in the moment, and focus on following His will rather than my own desires and consequently glorifying His Name in 2019.

Hola, Spain!

With my green card in hand and freedom to leave the United States and return without an issue, I decided to travel to Europe for the first time in almost two years, this time Spain, from December 18 to 23, 2018; I chose Spain because the sun sets too early for my liking in December in all the other European countries I considered. By the grace of God, I located a bundle deal on Expedia impossible to pass up, one KLM and the rest Delta flights and a four-star hotel for five nights for only $1,085.06. Though I considered adding Portugal for a day to the trip, my hotel being in Madrid would have lost me over half a day simply going to Portugal and coming back, which felt foolish for my already limited time to adventure. Instead, I focused solely on Spain, covering Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, and Seville in these five full days.

Many travelers prefer otherwise, but I, especially when only journeying for a few days, prioritize seeing as many tourist attractions as I can and move about at a pace with which many would not be able to keep up. I checked off the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Royal Palace of Madrid, Almudena Cathedral, Plaza Mayor, Museo del Prado, San Jeronimo el Real, Buen Retiro Park and its art gallery, Palacio de Cristal, and San Anton Market in Madrid, Toledo Cathedral in Toledo, Alcazar of Segovia and Segovia Cathedral in Segovia, and Seville Cathedral, Alcazar of Seville, Torre del Oro, and Plaza de Espana in Seville. (This list does not include the meticulous city tour of Toledo and Segovia led by Amigo Tours, Madrid in the Spanish Civil War tour with an Airbnb hostess, and Torre del Oro cruise tour in Seville.)

I appreciate history and find it awe-inspiring I can easily spot objects hundreds and thousands of years old anywhere in Europe, unlike in America where anything several decades old qualifies as monumental. The ornateness and immensity of gothic cathedrals mesmerize me but at the same time make me wonder, “How can anyone worship God here without being distracted by the extravagant setting and never-ending tourists?” As expected, I struggled substantially with the normalcy of public smoking in Europe. I, practically allergic to cigarette smoke, despise the sheer ignorance and selfishness of smoking in public and could not bear observing hawkers smoking as they sold their handmade materials and artworks, a mother smoking in her infant’s face, and a young woman even smoking in the garden of the Alcazar of Seville, to whom I said, “You know you’re not supposed to smoke here,” but I doubt she understood or even heard me. Linguistically, I was humbled. I have traveled to more countries than I can count off the top of my head, and not once had I experienced prior to this trip an overwhelming majority of natives speaking to me in their mother tongue, in spite of their knowing I speak English and zero Spanish. Up to this point, I had assumed I could survive anywhere in the world as long as I spoke English, but here I thought, “Maybe I should have learned several useful phrases in Spanish.”

Traveling expands horizons and perspectives on the diversity of the world, one of the main reasons I enjoy doing so whenever I have the chance; I do not view traveling as solely vacation but also education. Physically, my traveling could never be categorized as vacation; according to my health app, unsurprisingly, I walked (and occasionally ran) more than 51 miles and climbed 124 floors in these five days. I am grateful to Jesus for granting me yet another opportunity to explore a beautiful unfamiliar historic territory and soak up His beautiful Creation.

Now a Thanksgiving Tradition?

For the third-straight Thanksgiving, I traveled to Pickrell, Nebraska, 35 miles south of the state capital, to participate in the Wild Turkey Chase 13.1, race number eleven of 2018. My last five running events from July to October, in terms of time, had been five of my top performances in my running career, ironically following two of my worst, and I have been consistently running at a much speedier pace on training runs, which had me eager for more ambitious objectives. I would also surpass 1,000 kilometers in race mileage with the completion of this turkey trot, which excited me even more.

I began the race morning grumpy having only slept twenty minutes, but I also reminded myself sleep deprivation has never played a negative role in my running. Understanding through prior experiences both this course takes place 99.9% on a trail and seems slightly longer than 13.1 miles, I told my mother over the phone the night before I anticipated to finish between 1:53:00 and 1:55:00. The chilly weather of low 30s without too much headwind felt perfect for me to over-perform, which proved to be true. I completed the first half of the course at an 8:13/mile pace, and, still full of energy, I had in mind to really begin pushing with a couple of miles to go to attempt to break my personal record of 1:47:35.7 from less than a month ago. Although I never felt my body fatigue or slow down, my Garmin showed I was indeed gradually losing pace. I figured at this point setting a new personal best would be improbable but still wanted to secure my second-ever and back-to-back sub-1:50:00 half marathon. I knew I would be close, and with just under two miles left, I increased my stride and hoped to miraculously shave several seconds off my mile pace; I managed to reduce one second. I completed the race in 1:49:30.1, content I achieved one of my goals of breaking 1:50:00 and relieved seeing how nearly I came to losing even that.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Golden Corral, again

I felt obligated to have turkey on Thanksgiving, so, like last year, I proceeded to Golden Corral that offered Thanksgiving buffet. Never did I imagine this time last year that I would be repeating this (now a) tradition a year later, which taught me not to rely on my own humanly plans but rather let God take control of my life, as He and I may have different plans (Proverbs 19:21) and His time and my time do not always coincide (2 Peter 3:8). This suffocating lonesome journey of living in Kearney, Nebraska, for well over three years now constantly plays with my head, especially over holidays when families gather. I, however, would be surprised if I repeat this Thanksgiving tradition yet again in 2019. Of course, His will, not mine! Thank You, Jesus!

Fly without Limits

After contemplating running another ultra in Kansas on October 27, 2018, I decided to instead enter the Good Life Halfsy in Lincoln, Nebraska, happening the following day, mainly because I hesitated committing to a minimum of twelve-hour drive out and back for the former. This event that welcomes over 6,500 participants bears the nickname “Nebraska’s funnest half marathon,” and I longed to test myself and see how fast I could run on this net-downhill course I heard so much about for years from local races. Seeing and chatting with champion ultrarunner Kaci Lickteig and her pacer again, in addition to taking part in various entertaining activities, at the Expo the day before the race unsurprisingly pumped me up and excited me for the next morning.

My impression of a “downhill course” made me visualize most of the course leading downhill, which proved inaccurate when I ran upward as frequently as I ran downward. With this initial thought, I started ambitiously fast, beginning at a low 7:00/mile pace and maintaining an 8:04/mile pace for the first few miles. I had a rough idea of the pace I needed to keep in order to destroy my personal record (PR) from slightly over a month ago, which about eight miles in I figured to be inevitable unless something drastic, like an injury, occurred. I noticed my passing many runners going up and down but occasionally being passed going flat, and I was reminded of why I missed the Georgia hills so dearly when I first moved to Kearney, Nebraska, that seemed 99% flat, in September 2015.

Nearing the finish line following a prolonged uphill on a bridge, I gathered all the energy I had left for a final sprint to the end, flying past numerous runners. I aimed to complete the run close to 1:50:00 while quietly fantasizing even more quickly on this fast course but knew I had set quite a greedy goal, making the official time of 1:47:35.7, beating my previous PR by well over five minutes, drop my jaw even lower.

I remember texting my best friend following achieving my first-ever official sub-2:00:00 13.1 miles of 1:56:55 in the summer of 2017 that I do not know if I could again replicate that performance, yet my last three half marathons, all on much tougher courses, casually smashed that seemingly amazing accomplishment at the time. I can feel my body rapidly becoming stronger and speedier, but how much more room do I have to improve? I guess I will find out soon enough. Thank You, Jesus!

What Matters

Beginning race day being detoured four or five times driving in the dark due to major road construction and uncertain if I could make it to the event location on time, I felt overly anxious and nervous on my way to a half marathon at the Fall Double Half Mary +5 in Valparaiso, roughly 27 miles northwest of Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 13, 2018. This event does not utilize chip timing, which implied if I arrived late, however late I arrived would be added to my finish time. Canceling the race even briefly crossed my mind, and I probably would have if I could not start with the rest of the participants. When I came to the event place with short time to spare, I felt so grateful I no longer obsessed with the pressure of performing to the best of my abilities.

According to my Garmin

I lined up at the very front for the start and kept the lead for the first mile, which felt awkward because I had never led this far in any of my previous 36 races; when the few runners who finished before I passed me, I strangely felt relieved and comfortable, almost as if thinking my level should not be winning any race. The course started off relatively flat for the first two to three miles and then carried straight uphill to the halfway turnaround. I could observe how much my endurance has improved, as I did not feel any fatigue and maintained a consistent pace to the top; yes, I do acknowledge the 36-degree temperature helped. On my way up, I became excited thinking about all the downhill I would be running on the way back.

Unsurprisingly, I secured a significant negative split the second half, crossing the finish line in 1:55:23, my second-fastest half marathon ever and which coincidentally hilariously matches my bib number of 155. Considering this event took place 100% on a trail (and mud) and 0% on the road, maybe this performance could be as impressive as my 1:53:05 personal record from the road-trail race several weeks ago. I realize performing strong and running fast should not always be my priority in races and need to remind myself of what matters, but I also cannot help but feel joyful seeing how far I have come since I picked up running just over six-and-a-half years ago. Until recently, I had only hoped for a sub-two-hour 13.1 miles; now, not achieving this on a nontechnical course disappoints me. As always, thank You, Jesus!