Wow

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Recovered surprisingly quickly from the 50K in Wichita, Kansas, two weeks ago, I registered for a 10K at the Beat the Heat, where I set a half-marathon personal record (PR) last year, taking place in Bellevue, Nebraska, on August 11, 2018. Having already run one 50K, four half marathons, and one 10K this year, I initially planned to give my body well-deserved rest for a while, but my upcoming three-week business trip to Korea that will likely prevent me from running regularly and this event’s providing an additional medal for returning runners motivated me to squeeze in one more race prior to flying to my native country. I for a moment debated running another 13.1, but I did not want to overwhelm my body and potentially cause an overuse injury, which has occurred in the past. I had in mind to attempt to break my PR of 00:51:44.82 from a couple of years ago, but that performance amazed me and I was uncertain if I could replicate that.

After my three consecutive races in horrific conditions, the weather finally cooperated for this second annual Beat the Heat. The course remained entirely flat, and I knew from the first mile based on how my body felt this would be a successful run. Rather than slowing down, I for the most part consistently gradually increased my speed, resulting in a negative split the second half. I did not worry about struggling in the last section carrying this unprecedented pace, understanding I would be done soon regardless; in an ultramarathon, this mentality obviously does not work as easily. I went from thinking of simply beating my PR to running a sub-fifty-minute to finishing at a sub-8-minute-mile pace, the last of which I thought to be possible with 2.5 miles to go. When the finish line came into sight, I could not contain my excitement and screamed, “Yes!” and celebrated reading the time and sprinting to the end.

Official time 00:48:42.8, 8th place out of 51 participants, I smashed my previous impressive (for me) PR by over three minutes. (This 7:50/mile pace would have replaced my 5K PR as well, but I have not entered a 5K event in over five years.) Not even remotely exhausted or breathing heavily, I wondered if I could have run faster, but how could I be disappointed? Driven by faith in my Father, I constantly prayed as I ran, and I have no doubt He gifted me with this performance. Thank you, Jesus.

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No Room for Pessimism

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Once I committed to my fourth (and first road) ultramarathon with the inaugural UrbanICT, beginning at 9:00 PM on July 27, 2018, in Wichita, Kansas, because I no longer had easy access to the gym or pool, I based my training solely on running. I for the first time ever ran all seven days a week, which tensed up my left hip and lower back and reassured me I must cross-train for major races as I always had. The event commenced over ten degrees higher, on top of irritating humidity, than the Weather Channel predicted for weeks, but at least I did not have to deal with the sunlight, the only reason I considered an ultra in the summer. With this 50K being my 34th race, I hardly become nervous or even anxious before a running event anymore. A friend who participated in the 25K here asked me multiple times before the start, “Are you nervous?” and my answer being “No” each time in a way made me nervous.

PC: Mile 90 Photography

I opened up the first two miles running side by side and chatting with a former NCAA D1 runner, but I knew, although less boring, following the pace of this elite much longer would be a foolish strategy and let her go. I ran most of the first half nonstop and forced myself to slow down around 11 miles in, as I had not run an ultra or even a marathon since the 102-miler in April 2017 and was taking on this daunting challenge in the summer at night without sleep and after having driven nearly five hours from Nebraska the same day. Unaware the course comprised consistent hills and took place on concrete, I knew my legs’ pounding the ground more heavily than on a trail could cause me to fatigue earlier than in my previous ultramarathons. The event hosted over 500 runners in five distances, but not many participants signed up for the 50K; therefore, I ran alone in the dark for much of the race, making me vulnerable to boredom, drowsiness, and lack of motivation to push as hard as I physically could. Because I began to struggle slightly in the first half, mainly due to a stomachache from shoving in too much fluid, I initially thought my finish time would be a disaster of verging on eight hours. Being in solitude did allow me to focus more easily on praying to my only Source of strength, and unsurprisingly I felt revivified just past 20 miles to be back in the game. I thought of mostly walking for a mile or two around mile 23 prior to encountering a fellow 50K participant named Ruth. I asked her, “Are you a Christian? Ruth is one of my favorite books in the Bible,” and we exchanged testimonies and both noticed time flew for these two miles.

PC: Mile 90 Photography

Seven miles to go, I realized I could actually set a personal record (PR) in the 50K, bearing in mind a couple of hours previously I was worried about finishing in an embarrassing time, and repeatedly did math in my head to figure out how strongly I had to push and how many more walk breaks I could afford to materialize this goal. Furthermore, walking strangely felt more painful than running at times, likely psychological due to my Garmin moving extra slowly for the former. At the final aid station three miles behind the finish line, I knew I had this PR in the bag. The volunteer told me he would check my result to see if I fulfilled this objective, and I half-jokingly replied, “Pressure!” and took off.

PC: Mile 90 Photography

Assuming due to a combination of humidity and lack of sleep, I hallucinated five or six times, all involving seeing a person or people not actually present. This for real, I turned my headlamp to my right in the woods and spotted two bright red eyes that seemed to be of a cat sitting on a stump staring at me, and I instinctively assumed I witnessed a mountain lion, which concerned me for a couple of seconds until I reminded myself I had God.

I crossed the finish line of slightly over 50K, 31.35 miles according to my Garmin, in 6:39:06, smashing my previous time from over three years ago by nearly 16 minutes. I had never experienced feeling so negatively about my performance and then shattering my expectations in the same race, and one runner commented that defines an ultrarunner, coming back from adversity, with which I agree. When I run, especially an ultramarathon, all petty pessimistic thoughts disappear for the moment and I wonder, “Why was I so worked up over these?” I really enjoy the physical-spiritual journey I undergo with my Father and how easily I am humbled, as I acknowledge I cannot do any of these without Him; specifically when I feel I am done and then become completely rejuvenated physically, I have no other explanation than His providing me with strength. Nobody forces me to run; I just love overcoming challenges that involve all the physical, mental, and spiritual, and I have not yet found a better way to do so.

H3: Hot, Humid, and Hilly

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Committing to my fourth ultramarathon and second 50K in Kansas on July 27-28, 2018, I sought one more 13.1-mile race early in the same month as part of training. Seeing the Brownville Freedom Run as the only option on the Fourth of July, I signed up for the event for the second consecutive year, initially hesitant because I did not want to drive a minimum of seven hours out and back for a half marathon. Again, the temperature was projected to significantly peak on race day, but, having run multiple times in the 90s and 100s in training, I presumed my body would be accustomed to heat by now.

This 9-year-old girl ran 13.5+ miles in these brutal conditions!

Remembering the course from a year ago as mostly flat on a combination of road and trail, I did not prepare for hills. Nevertheless, before the start, the race director announced that the crew had to alter the first/last one-mile section of the course with hills and a bridge due to the flood on the original, and a runner next to me said, “I do not like hills.” Because I was conversing with other participants and missed this information, I asked, “How big are the hills?” somewhat implying, “How hilly could this possibly be?” The race commenced, and I thought emphatically, “What the heck is this?” as the first half a mile led straight uphill with the pinnacle hardly visible due to steepness and then the next half a mile straight back down; runners would repeat this in reverse order to the finish. Around mile seven, the clouds moved away from the sun, taking the feels-like temperature to the mid-90s; I felt I was running in the sauna and that I may have to vomit with all the fluid bouncing around in my stomach.

One lady passed me on my way back up the brutal hill towards the end, and then I passed her on the way down. Here, she really pushed herself to try to pass me again and finish before I, and, wherever the energy came from, I probably ran the fastest pace here out of the entire race as if being chased by a bear. As soon as I crossed the finish line of 13.54 miles (although some GPS watches read closer to 13.7) in 2:20:04, I barely held myself from vomiting, simultaneously thinking, “I cannot puke in front of all these people.” (I did so big time twice on my way back to my disgusting hotel.) Seeing this terrible time place 24th out of 63 runners, I realized others were just as negatively affected by these conditions as I. I actually often feel excited and grateful when I struggle so much in the heat, as the more I do so the more I am reminded I did not run 102 miles in worse conditions alone; thank You, Jesus. Since my upcoming ultramarathon starts at 9:00 PM without the interruption of the sun, I remain optimistic I will perform.

At Last (After 17 Years)

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On July 2, 2018, I received in the mail the approval notice for my I-485 – Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; I have officially become a permanent resident of the United States!

I was born in South Korea and began studying in North America in late 1999, at age ten. After nearly a couple of years in Vancouver, British Columbia, I moved to the US, in 2001. I spent much of my adolescence complaining about having to go to the Embassy of the United States in Seoul and change my visa status each time I moved to a new location as a typical foreigner when I grew up in America and felt culturally American. Only when I accepted my role as an international recruitment specialist for the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) just under three years ago did I see the value in having been through every possible step an international student could undergo, from F-1 to Optional Practical Training (OPT) to H-1B to, now, green card. I could educate and emotionally connect to many international students from Korea and other countries with my unique extensive global background.

While on OPT from 2014 to 2015, I was repeatedly misinformed my opportunity to be sponsored for a work visa had passed because I missed the deadline. Regardless, I continued to feel I would somehow find a way to remain in the US and was prompted to Google this subject myself, right after which I read I still had a chance to be sponsored by a university and/or research-based institution. I immediately went on HigherEdJobs and found my current job with UNK that had just been posted. Reading the description, I had confidence God would send me here, and I was soon hired, during the 60-day grace period of OPT. In June 2016, although no colleague really understood the green card process, I proactively contacted the university lawyer, which led to the eventual agreement of my office to sponsor me and pay my application fees. I do take pride, not in a boastful way, in that I earned my permanent place in America through merit rather than being freely handed the privilege. The new presidential administration did delay my application process many months with the addition of an interview and even kept me stuck in the country for a year while my travel document was pending. My medical exams, lasting one year, had only two weeks left until expiration by the time of the interview, which saved me hundreds of dollars; my medical insurance does not cover immigration-related fees.

Following my interview, the final step of this 17-year journey, on June 27, 2018, either a flying object or a dishonest person left a ding in my car, which I noticed upon return home. Satan always pokes at you with petty matters before something great happens, so I did not bother being upset over this issue. Less than a week later, I was notified of my status change to a permanent resident.

I thank Jesus, first and foremost; His timing is always perfect, whether we admit or not initially, and our job is to simply trust Him. I also would like to thank my employer, UNK, for allowing this to happen. Next, US citizenship!

I Miss Winter…

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After running three virtual half-marathon races in Kearney, Nebraska, under different circumstances in the past year and a half, I registered for a legitimate 13.1-mile race in the city with the Buffalo County Stampede, taking place on June 10, 2018. This event would occur the weekend after I return from a one-week conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, so I knew I would have to miss a vital week of training. I, however, forgot to consider the nearly inevitable heat I would be up against and refrained from turning on the air conditioner in my apartment so that my body could acclimate to the rapidly increasing temperature. Simply lying in bed made me sweat, and I even woke up early morning of the run due to the heat and relied on a cold water bottle on the back of my neck and stomach to fall back asleep.

The temperature peaked on race day, and the unanticipated rainstorm the night before raised the humidity level as well. I wore a hydration pack containing two water bottles filled with Gatorade for a 75-degree start and 84-degree finish with the direct sunlight to my face, when I prefer long-distance running in the lower 40s. I began the course at a similar pace as that of my races in cooler weather, and I realized this strategic miscalculation five miles in when I noticed my fatiguing far earlier than usual. Halfway through, I ran a steady steep uphill on a bridge, which would have been a breeze in most cases but took much out of me here; I could have power-hiked at a similar pace without burning myself out, what I did for the second comparable uphill past mile 10. In spite of the course being mostly flat and untechnical, the worsening heat and my body’s producing an ocean of sweat drained me both physically and mentally. I added brief walks towards the end while hydrating, partly to conserve energy to finish strong but also because my stomach felt overwhelmed by all the fluid I shoved in and my bouncing around simultaneously. With no participant anywhere near me, I had difficulty finding an incentive to push. One runner finally came into sight with half a mile to go, and I took off and poured all I had left, crossing the finish line in 2:05:46. The drastic impact summer heat and humidity, although not summer yet technically, could have on my performance… I miss winter.

Same Race, Opposite Conditions

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From meeting one of my favorite runners, Molly Huddle, and listening to her speak to constantly being woken up early morning by my hotel neighbors’ dog and cat ceaselessly barking and meowing, I dealt with a myriad of emotions the final hours leading up to the Lincoln National Guard Half Marathon on May 6, 2018. I had run this exact race a couple of years previously and knew what to expect, except two years ago I endured cold and rain and this year I battled heat and humidity.

Suffering in the heat!

I don’t know why I look so fat here. :/

I had not run for quite some time in such a massive event flooded with so many runners I sometimes have no choice but to slow down as well as crowds cheering on from both my left and right from start to finish, as I have been participating in mostly trail races; I knew people’s energy would have an impact on my adrenaline. I wanted to break two hours again, but I knew I would have to push extra hard on this course that read 13.22 miles rather than 13.1 on my GPS my first experience in 2016. I maintained a comfortable pace, which still put me on track to smash my personal record (PR) of 1:56:55 for the first nine miles. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, around ten miles in, I felt the sudden temperature rise to the 80s affect me and even salt pouring out of my body. With several rolling hills left to conquer, I drastically slowed down the last three miles that I knew finishing under two hours would not be a given either. I also understood every runner was suffering. “Pain is temporary,” I continued to remind myself and push without overanalyzing.

I completed the course in 1:59:08, unsure whether to be elated or disappointed; I accomplished my goal of securing another sub-2:00:00 half marathon under tough conditions but had to give up on a PR fairly close to the end of the race. (My actual time should have been closer to 1:58:20, as, again, my Garmin read a longer distance than 13.1.) I felt at one point around mile seven my right knee might give out, so overcoming the course without an injury already eliminated any room for me to complain. Furthermore, with the heat draining almost every ounce of my energy, I felt relieved to have finished strong, as many runners in front of me ended up walking towards the end. 1,784th place out of 7,682, I will take it!

Trade-Off

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One year ago today, I achieved my ultimate running goal of reaching 100 miles, the pinnacle of ultrarunning, at the Jackalope Jam in Cat Spring, Texas. This purpose had consumed my life for a year and a half, and I consistently prayed until I believed I had God’s approval prior to registering for the 48-hour event. All but a few of my close ones strongly opposed, understanding my mind-set would not let me surrender unless I faint or even die; if they thought I would stop for any reason other than the aforementioned two, they would not have worried as much. Cross-training and frequently racing in preparation for this daunting objective took up a large portion of my life outside work, but I battled with my head 24/7. I dreamed about running a 100-miler and/or finishing the distance almost nightly, sometimes twice a night.

102 donut holes from my supervisor, except a colleague ate a few before I even arrived…

When I finally fulfilled what felt to be a fantasy for so long, completing 102 miles in 39:25:44 by the grace of Jesus and securing my first (and last) 100-mile buckle, I thought my life would become much easier; “I never have to run again if I choose not to,” thought I. I did not anticipate the impact this new immense void that used to be filled with this aim for nearly a couple of years could have on my mind, as my mild OCD consistently intensified and invited all sorts of disturbing intrusive thoughts and images; I read accomplishing something so great could be a cause of this. Though I was initially certain I would never run for the rest of 2017, to help keep my mind off this burden, I ended up lacing up my running shoes and hitting the streets after a break of barely over a month without even being fully recovered and participating in seven more races in the past year.

As my mother puts it best, “When you go for something so big, there is always a trade-off.” No, I never would have imagined what I would be dealing with mentally following arguably the happiest day of my life. Would I take this back? Never.

Read my blog post on the race here!

Why, Nebraska, Why?

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With Nebraska finally warming up, or so I thought, I sought the earliest available 13.1 miles and landed on the Sillassen Half Marathon, scheduled to take place on April 14, 2018, in Arthur, Nebraska. I committed to a six-hour drive to the land of nothing-to-do just so that I could enjoy the beautiful nature across the Sandhills. Semi-understanding the course’s inevitable hilliness, I focused training on steep rolling hills.

When I registered, the weather channel predicted race day in the 40s, my ideal temperature for long-distance running. Then, Nebraska was hit with a storm warning, which became a blizzard warning, in mid-April. Really? I took out my winter running gear for a race in the upper 10s. I had booked a hotel, completed training camp, tapered, packed, and mentally prepared, before I was notified, two days prior to go time, the event’s cancelation due to the possible blizzard, in mid-April.

I asked the race director if she could allow the registrants to run a virtual race, especially with the no-refund policy, and thankfully she agreed. Ten minutes after her official confirmation, I took off for the most spontaneous half marathon ever, slightly concerned about feeling nauseous running on a full stomach of Subway’s Cold Cut Combo meal. For the first eight or nine miles, I looked for significant hills to replicate the Sandhills, coincidentally while the race director was emailing the runners to “try to add some major hills.” Because GPS could sometimes be inaccurate, I ran 13.24 miles, rather than 13.1, in 2:12:31, horrendous time but okay considering the consistent hills, powerful headwinds, and my very last-minute decision to take on this challenge. I did not believe I would run another virtual race after early last year, but I cannot complain about the best alternative to the actual Sillassen Half Marathon.

2018, First of Many

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Not necessarily by choice but more so due to Nebraska’s lack of races from December to February, understandably so with the brutal cold and wind, I patiently recovered from the overwhelming race schedule of 2017 and waited for upcoming running events in 2018. Due to the inconsistency and unpredictability of the weather in Nebraska, I ran each day the temperature felt semi-bearable.

I decided to commence the new race year on March 10, 2018, with a brief Run for the Gold 10K in Springfield, Nebraska, with Freedom Running Company, with whom I set my half-marathon personal record (PR) last summer. I normally do not race a 10K, and my decision to participate had more to do with getting a breath of fresh air outside Kearney with the generally humble and friendly running community. Running into two familiar faces from a previous race excited me even more.

Familiar faces!

I did have in mind to try to break my 10K PR of 00:51:44 from two summers ago until I saw the brutally hilly course entirely on gravel. Adrenaline? Cool windy weather? Rolling hills? I do not know, but I kept my first mile mostly in the upper six-minute and lower seven-minute mile, which concerned me slightly because I hardly ever run at that pace. I remained fairly consistent until the final 1.2 miles of mostly steep uphill, where I, and probably every other runner, slowed down drastically.

This race did not utilize chip timing; my Garmin reads 00:54:51.97, so I could guess my race time by subtracting a couple of seconds. I do wonder where I placed, as I came in front of the majority of 10K runners and passed a few 5K runners towards the end, but I simply came here to have fun, which I did.

Positive Ending, Positive Beginning

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Times Square!

With my green-card process, 16 years in the making, reaching the final stages, my lawyer and his assistant advised against my leaving the United States until my travel document is approved; therefore, I had to postpone my original plan to travel to Europe for a second consecutive December and closed out 2017 exploring New York City, New York, and Atlanta, Georgia, with family and friends. I find traveling an efficient way to free myself from the stresses of my lonely and unhealthy environment, living in the present of freedom. This decision also encouraged me to reflect on the past 365 days of roller-coaster rides.

Holiday markets

I try not to focus on the negative so that I do not blur out all the blessings I have been gifted with in 2017. Most memorably by a mile, I finally accomplished my ultimate athletic dream of covering the 100-mile distance, the pinnacle of ultrarunning, (plus two) in April. When I think about how long and consistently I and my close ones prayed for this former fantasy, the hundreds of dreams I had on competing and finishing, all the free time I sacrificed for training (even on business trips), and of course race days and what I had to endure to complete this ambitious goal, this once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment from over half a year ago still feels fresh and surreal.

The Starry Night at MoMA!

Central Park in the evening

One dishonest individual who made my life and the lives of my close colleagues miserable for years and really should have been imprisoned was finally removed from our workplace after bizarrely slow two years of investigation. I felt relieved, more than happy, to observe justice semi-served; however, now, I feel slightly embarrassed that I as a Christian never even attempted to go out of my way to love this enemy and severely disliked him as a person rather than hating Satan in him. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:46-47)

A few days prior to my end-of-the-year domestic vacation, I received joyful news my Employment Authorization Document for the green card was approved, implying I should receive my green card soon and will finally feel and be free in America, where I grew up since 2001.

How could I, mere mortal, comprehend the plans of my Creator? However, confident my Father watches over me and only provides me with the best for me, I cannot wait to experience what the Author of my life has in store for me in 2018.