Philippians 4:13

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From April 21 to 23 of 2017, after two years of daily debating whether or not I should, I finally set out to turn my fantasy of running 100 miles into a reality at the Jackalope Jam 48-Hour in Cat Spring, Texas. I would be covering a single-mile trail loop, 0.5 mile out and 0.5 mile back, as many times as I can within the given time frame. With only two ultramarathons, 51 miles and 50K, under my belt, I relied solely on my Father to control my pace and condition to radiate His presence through me. My objective of reaching the pinnacle of ultrarunning had recently shifted from a simple human desire to building an eternal testimony to His greatness, that in Him, I (we) can do all things; “This only means a lot to me if You do it with me. Allow me to use this journey as a testament to Your greatness for the rest of my life,” I prayed. The Holy Spirit had already repeatedly provided me with motivating verses in the Bible and sermons from my church for the race of my life, and, the day before the event, I was led to Deuteronomy 29:5-6: “Yet the Lord says, ‘During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet … I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” I replied, “I know You are the Lord my God, but let others see that through my journey.” Thinking of what happened to Peter walking on water the second he doubted, I reminded myself to always keep the faith. I believed He had already delivered 100 miles into my hands; otherwise, He would not have sent me for this task.

I guess I AM always smiling. 😉

The race commenced the following morning at 9:00 AM, and, within an hour, the unshaded sun welcomed the brutal heat of nearly 90 degrees and humidity and made numerous runners slow down and re-strategize. I, one of only two participants residing outside Texas, should have been impacted the most but felt unscathed and had no issue with hydration, thanks to Him. After reading thoroughly Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run, I understood the significance of calorie intake in ultrarunning and, even when not hungry or thirsty, consistently put down food, Spring energy gels, and fluid, as well as salt tablets, to avoid any sudden unexpected shock. (Throughout training camp, He had taken away my craving for junk and unhealthy food and given me a sense of need for organic food; I felt the positive change in the way my body kept down calories in the race.)

I began to include brief walks after nine miles of easy jogging, reminding myself I was running four marathons, which would have killed the first ever marathoner four times. Nonetheless, oftentimes when I started walking, I spotted photographers taking photos, prompting me to pick up running again. On mile 43, I sat down for ten minutes to conserve energy, as I was beginning to feel a sign of fatigue. When I resumed, I was pleasantly surprisingly rejuvenated and lightly ran the next two to three miles nonstop. One does not recover out of the blue like this past 40 miles, and I prayed, “Continue to add testimonies, God!”

One tough lady!

As I anticipated, the true trial set in after the first 50 miles; I tried doubling my personal-record distance that immobilized me for days just over a year previously. I took a mandatory 30-minute break, lying down with my feet up on a chair and shoes off. The sun had set and temperature had dropped, and my body shivered viciously, making me question for the first time in the event if I could recover sufficiently to carry on. When I tried standing up to resume, a couple of volunteers came to me for a second time since mile 46 to examine my multiple blisters that formed on both feet under mile ten and progressively intensified. A fellow participant rucking had checked my feet and asked, “How badly do you want this?” and I simply replied, “I’m not quitting.” The couple popped and taped over some of my blisters and brought me more calories to consume. One of the volunteers put on me Trail Toes and a new pair of tighter socks for friction so that my blisters would not rub against my socks as easily. My feet were swelling up, and, although the experts found me two pairs of larger sneakers, I remained adamant to stick with the Nike my mother bought me for my 28th birthday until the end. When the couple suggested I take ibuprofen, I refused because I wanted no potential feeling of guilt I cheated. I walked the majority of the following 12 miles, to 100K, and took another short break. From this point forward, each stop of ten minutes or more felt like a risk, as my muscles swiftly tightened, knees buckled, and body shook uncontrollably and I had to drag myself for three to five minutes to be semimobile. Captivated by the gorgeous stars, I repeated, “Lord, You created all of this with mere words. As long as You are willing, nothing is difficult for You. Please help me.”

Around mile 75, when the sun had risen again and 24-hour, 12-hour, and 6-hour competitors were added to the course, I hallucinated at the aid station, seeing on the table two groups of numerous dots merging to the center. The thought of unexpectedly passing out intimidated me the most, but I also reminded myself with Whom I was running, that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “The greater the adversity, the greater the testimony,” thought I. 18 miles to the 100-mile buckle, delirium hit me again, and a Christian woman running in the 12-hour, unaware of my symptoms, told me to walk with her; God had already planned her entrance for me here. I could no longer run at this point, and I had been limping since mile 51. I asked her if ultrarunners commonly hallucinate, and she referred to a scientific study that proved the human brain becomes “fried” and reacts similarly to drunkenness after 68 miles. Around mile 87, Race Director Rob Goyen told me, “You are about to do something very special,” encouraging me to keep grinding through the pain. Runners passing me continued to comment, “You are amazing,” “You are an inspiration,” “You are still going!” and many more inspiring words, and their sincere longing for me to fulfill my dream, constantly asking me which mile I was on, warmed my heart. One Christian brother I shared the course with often towards the beginning even said about me, “I am more excited to see him finish his first 100 miles than for me to finish this race.” Both seeing and hearing numerous people become emotional for me, I cannot remember the last time I was surrounded by such a humble group of individuals so genuinely interested in other people’s success, in spite of how they themselves were doing. Ultrarunning humbles and builds character.

“Go, Nebraska!” x 1,000!

On mile 91, I took a twenty-minute break, which recovered me enough for the next mile to feel less straining than the previous ten. Another Christian man, not even running in the race, volunteered to “guarantee [I] receive that buckle” by walking the rest of the 100 miles with me; again, God had planned his entrance then for my upcoming hardship. On mile 94, moving with him, I became delusional again and occasionally threw out arbitrary phrases. I even asked him, “Do I seem delirious?” to which he responded, “If you are asking that, that means you are.” On mile 95, I questioned myself, “Am I in a dream or is this really happening?” (On the bright side, while these symptoms lasted, the physical pain vastly escaped.) The pacer wanted me to complete mile 100 on my own so that I could reflect on this grueling journey, but at this point I was already out of my normal state of mind and had trouble comprehending I was on the verge of accomplishing a goal that felt like a fantasy for years. I envisioned breaking into tears receiving the buckle, but I did not even have the energy to cry at the buckle ceremony. (I was later told the race director stayed past his shift just so that he could present me with my buckle himself, which made me feel grateful beyond words.) Following, to test my absolute limit the Lord set before me, I covered two additional miles with a volunteer, making my total mileage 102 in 39:25:44 and me actually appreciate insomnia for once in my life. Throughout these two mornings, afternoons, and evenings, I felt not even a hint of injury, another visible showing of His protection considering my history with knee injuries in long-distance running.

Garmin doesn’t work too well on trails.

I divide the victory of this seemingly unconquerable adventure into three stages. First, despite 99% of my close ones’ initial heavy opposition, I consistently prayed, believed God was leading me to 100 miles, and eventually registered for the Jackalope Jam. As my pastor Adrian Boykin said, “There is no failure in trying,” and, whether successful or not, my identity as a son of Christ does not change. Second, I had put my body through more than I ever have, cross-training between an hour and a half and three hours almost daily, covering up to 40 miles a week in addition to training on the elliptical, indoor bike, and treadmill, swimming, and technical muscle working. Even running back-to-back Friday half marathons and training in the sauna to prepare for the inevitable Texas heat at one point, I frequently felt verging on injuries but toed the line healthy. Third, I finally earned that buckle. A tremendous amount of prayers and support have come my way, all of which I felt more powerfully and realistically than ever, for my fantasy to materialize and I have countless people to thank, but I feel obligated to give one person, one of my faith mentors and mother’s best friends, in particular credit. The mentor told me to begin training half a year ago, that “If it is not meant to be, God will give [me] a sign.” Without this answer to my question, I would not have begun preparing for 100 miles and would still be thinking today, “What if?” Praying with her husband everyday since, she even stayed up throughout my entire race of nearly 40 hours and fasted and prayed for me while tracking my performance on the live results page. Through my success, she and I, along with many others, have built a new powerful testimony to God’s greatness, that a person can overcome anything in Jesus and His will. On top of fulfilling my dream, I am truly thankful and honored to have met and befriended so many selfless and compassionate individuals, most of whom referred to me as “Nebraska(!),” lending me seats to relax, checking on my torn body, cheering me on, and giving my simple smile too much value. I will cherish this experience my Father coauthored with me for the rest of my life.

Spontaneous, Again

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I Heart Running Half MarathonPresenting a webinar session internationally early in the morning, thanks to the time difference, I arrived at work at 5:50 AM and left around 3:00 PM on February 17, 2017. With a spring climate in forecast and ease of a virtual race, I, again, spontaneously decided to run a half marathon prior to my three-week business trip to Korea starting next Thursday. This time, I registered for Virtual Strides’ I Heart Running Half Marathon, partly because some of the registration fee is donated to the American Heart Association. Unlike for the Pizza Run 13.1M, I received an electronic bib upon signing up for the I Heart Running Half Marathon and thus color-printed and wore the number for the run, which likely confused many drivers and pedestrians I passed.

I Heart Running Finisher's MedalBecause I explored west of Kearney the week before, I went the opposite route and ran around east, again landing in many locations I did not even know existed in the city. In two impetuous lone virtual races in one week, I covered all of Kearney in 26.76 miles. Normally, I take a mandatory week off after a long-distance race of half marathon or farther; nevertheless, after the Pizza Run 13.1M, I went straight back to training: swimming, cycling, and lifting to avoid any potential overuse injury common in running. I am eyeing a major race in late April; therefore, I do not have time to approach this training camp slowly or cautiously, especially with the upcoming business trip.

Traveling 13.47 miles in 2:09:40 on foot, I learned a tough lesson I should have realized last week. For the vast majority of competitive races commence in the morning, I had never had any issue running feeling even remotely undigested from previous meals; however, because I ran the two aforementioned half marathons only several hours after heavy Subway lunch, I felt nauseous for hours following each run. Nebraska will resume hosting large running events starting March, so, as much as I appreciated and enjoyed the flexibility and convenience of virtual races, I will return to standard competition.

Spontaneous

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With a potential 100-miler in the near future in mind and a lengthy business trip to Korea coming up, in spite of the brutal cold and wind standard to Nebraska in January, I picked up training again a month ago. Constantly wary of my right knee and possibly injuring myself before races, I cross-train rather than solely focusing on weekly mileage like most professional runners do. Since my first ultramarathon in South Carolina back in May 2015, I figured training every day of the week to be unwise for my body; experts would call me crazy running such mad distances in races on such low-mileage training, but I know my body better than anyone else does. Therefore, I have added the elliptical and treadmill and long-distance walking in addition to typical road and trail running, swimming, and lifting.

Lovely way to explore Kearney!

For weeks, I sought a half marathon in or near Nebraska and discovered the state over twice the size of South Korea holds hardly any running events in February due to the usual cold, making me envious of states where the temperature does not fluctuate as insanely and thus hosting running events all year round. Recently, I came across on the Internet the Pizza Run 13.1M that was taking place in multiple regions, including Omaha, simultaneously and wondered about the event’s backstory. The race is hosted by Runners 2 Life and a virtual race, where you sign up for a distance, run anywhere as long as you cover the distance, provide proof of your completion and finish time, and receive a finisher’s medal in the mail.

On February 10, 2017, Nebraska’s climate went berserk and the temperature reached 72 degrees from 30 degrees the day before. My boss decided to let the office out of work an hour early for us to enjoy the unusual blissful weather, and I, upon reading this email, without hesitation registered for the Pizza Run 13.1M. Within an hour of signing up, I took off. I was not tapered, properly fueled, or carbo-loaded and had just devoured a six-inch Subway tuna sandwich, a bag of Sun Chips Veggie Harvest, a chocolate-chip cookie, and two cups of Diet Coke. I called this “the most spontaneous half marathon I have ever run.” Because I chose the course, to live up to the adjective, I moved about impulsively and became enamored of the sceneries and countless rolling hills I did not even know existed in Kearney for the past year and a half. My unplanned route included all gravel, trails, and steep hills, and I was pleasantly surprised by how efficiently my body adapted to such an inefficient decision. I covered 13.29 miles in 2:06:42, far from my potential but decent considering the lack of mental or physical preparation; as I often say, I believe running to be as mental as physical. Aside from my stomach feeling upset for a couple of hours following the solo competition, I felt as strong as ever. I still do not have much opinion on virtual races, but I do not question their legitimacy and thank Runners 2 Life for providing a convenient way for me to fulfill my goal of completing a half marathon prior to my business trip in under two weeks.

The World’s Happiest

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Over the summer of 2016, I booked a round-trip flight ticket to Copenhagen, Denmark, flying out of Denver, Colorado, on Christmas Eve, arriving on Christmas, and returning the eve of New Year’s Eve. What more refreshing way to reflect on another victorious and grateful year than a familiar solo adventure to the happiest country in the world? With in mind my peaceful and faith-strengthening experience in the world’s second-happiest country in Iceland, coincidentally formerly part of Denmark, I prayed that to be the case again at the conclusion of 2016, especially as this year has been the furthest thing from easy.

Landing in Scandinavia on Christmas, I prioritized finding a church to worship Jesus and remember His birth into the world. With the support of a bright young Danish girl on my plane from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to Copenhagen, I conveniently located the Church of Our Saviour near the Copenhagen Airport just prior to the 10:30 AM Danish service. I do not speak the language, but I could feel what the female pastor was speaking of based on some of the biblical words I could make out. Due to the time of year, I did not spot too many tourists as I normally do when I travel and somewhat struggled with fulfilling one significant goal: befriending fellow visitors from all around the world. I should have anticipated this bearing in mind the sun rose around 8:00 AM and began setting close to 3:00 PM and generally families choose to be with one another for the holidays. I was pleasantly surprised by the climate; I had been warned multiple times by my close ones to make sure to pack heavy winter clothes, but both Denmark and Sweden felt tens of degrees warmer than Nebraska, where I work, and I even oftentimes sweated in my legitimate winter jacket.

Collage of my lone adventure to Denmark and Sweden!

Collage of my lone adventure to Denmark and Sweden!

Regardless of my detailed itinerary, I for the most part moved about spontaneously with hopes of seeing as many tourist attractions as time allowed and checked almost all activities I had researched. In five days, I covered virtually every popular indoor and outdoor site in Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden; I visited Malmö mainly so that I could say I have set foot in Sweden. These locations include, in chronological order, the Church of Our Saviour, Tivoli Gardens, Amalienborg Palace, the Little Mermaid, the National Gallery of Denmark, various local sights on the culinary and sightseeing tour, Rosenborg Castle, the Knotted Gun, the Sankt Petri Church, Moderna Museet Malmö, Malmöhus Castle, Turning Torso, the National Museum of Denmark, Christiansborg Palace, and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Walking to and in the majority of these destinations and considering how my body felt after each day, I am confident I traveled between 30 and 40 miles on foot; however, I refused to slow down because my time was limited. The immense smoking culture made the walk quite painful because I had trouble breathing for as long as I remained outside; seven or eight out of ten people in public held cigarettes in their hands, causing me to frequently instinctively grunt. In Malmö Central Station, although fully prepared for such ordeal, I managed to get my round-trip train ticket pickpocketed. Understandably I was initially frustrated but then began to appreciate not losing my passport, wallet, or iPhone instead; the thief stole the one possession I could afford to relinquish. As my father told me over the phone that evening, “It was an important yet inexpensive lesson.”

Each night in my minute hotel room with a bathroom where the toilet and shower without a tub or glass face a foot across each other and my knees almost touched the wall when sitting on the toilet, I thought of how privileged my life has been. I for the first time while traveling even felt lonely in that clogged environment. I shared this room observation with the friendly and intelligent tour guide of the culinary and sightseeing tour, and she replied, “That is actually very common in Denmark because a lot old buildings were renovated” and reminded me I cannot fairly compare the typical room size of Denmark to that of the US, again providing me with a reason to thank my comfortable and spoiled life.

My first of three flights back from Copenhagen to Denver on December 30 was canceled due to fog, and I spent a large portion of my final evening in Scandinavia seeking an ideal alternative. Once I did, my new first flight out of Denmark arrived in Washington, DC, thirty minutes later than scheduled, and with my bag being one of the last to come out of the baggage claim, I had no choice but to sprint over a mile to barely make the final flight to Denver. Here, I felt thankful for all the running I have done in the past half a decade, as I of early 2012 may not have been able to pull this off.

2016 has been a year of constant ups and downs, but I always try to remember how much God has blessed my life and hundreds of millions of people in this world would long for my worst possible day. This lone journey to Western Europe helped me once again realize how fortunate I am with a compassionate Jesus-following family, good health, a stable full-time job, and the ability to eat whatever and travel wherever whenever I desire. I cannot wait to witness what my Father has in store for me in 2017.

Thanksgiving Everyday

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Always smiling!

Always smiling!

The morning of Thanksgiving 2016, I participated in the Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 in Pickrell, 40 miles south of Lincoln even most Nebraskans have never heard of. Before Nebraska became unbearably cold for me to even consider running another race in the state until winter has passed, I felt a desire to squeeze in one more in spite of having completed a technical trail half marathon only a few weeks ago. The Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 took place on an entirely flat trail, boosting my confidence in no part of the race should I struggle; however, I did slightly worry I may have been recently overrunning for my legs’ liking. In light of Thanksgiving, I spent much of running in the wilderness reflecting on my privileged life and giving thanks to my Father. Due to the freezing and windy weather, my iPhone acted up and shut down towards the end of the course, forcing me to run the final 2.5 miles without music, which I am not accustomed to; nevertheless, I refused to complain but rather tried to maintain the grateful mindset. I finished in 2:02:48, not my best but irrelevant because I did not take part for the purpose of setting a new personal record.

Badlands National Park!

Badlands National Park!

Early next morning, only hours following feasting on several rounds of turkey, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, apple and chocolate pies, ice cream, and apple cider and sparkling water, I finally drove to South Dakota after repeatedly saying I would for an entire year. Each time I thought about going, I realized South Dakota to be quite a distance away for a neighboring state of where I work. In one day, I spent ten hours in the car from Kearney, driving to Badlands National Park, to Mount Rushmore, and then back towards Badlands to my hotel; I originally planned to divide visiting these two monumental tourist attractions into two days until I found out about the one-hour time difference between western South Dakota and Nebraska. I spontaneously climbed brutally steep trails at Badlands, which had me giggling internally as I had just run a half marathon and my body was probably saying to me, “What do you think you’re doing?”

Locate my shadow!

Locate my shadow!

Mount Rushmore!

Mount Rushmore!

I had never imagined the drive up to South Dakota through western Nebraska to be so full of awe-inspiring nature and unending hills. Seeing hardly any cars or buildings on various lengthy routes, I felt bored at times, but watching more of His beautiful creations only encouraged me to be thankful and pray passionately, my main motivation to visit South Dakota. In the past four days of driving close to 1,300 miles since leaving work for Thanksgiving break, I four times came verging on car accidents due to careless and reckless drivers on the road, which reinforced the God of angel armies always shields me. Perhaps I should not be surprised, but my body finally caught up and told me in a more direct way to rest by giving me a cold and severe right shoulder-ache the day I returned to Kearney. Regardless, I appreciate the nature-driven lone time I shared with my Father in Heaven and wish to maintain the thanksgiving mentality everyday.

Be Stubborn and Overcome

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Still undecided if I will attempt a 100-miler in the near future, but in case I do, I continue to sign up for appealing long-distance races for motivation to consistently train. Following the Nebraska State Fair Marathon in late August 2016, I eased down on running to recover and then went on a three-week business trip to Korea; thus, I remained inactive in running for a month. Upon return to the US, I immediately picked up running, in addition to swimming and technical muscle workouts, and pleasantly surprisingly took merely two runs to regain the speed I had vaguely lost from the time off.

In the second week of October, noticing how rapidly colder Nebraska was becoming and I may not be able to participate in another race in the state until winter passes, I hastily and almost instinctively signed up for a trail half marathon at The Ranch Run, taking place on October 29, 2016, in Elkhorn, 15 miles west of Omaha. I even convinced a friend who had never run outdoors to run a 5K in the same event, assuming the trail to be flat. Unaware the event website provided an elevation chart, I had no information on the conditions of the racecourse; “Is it flat? Is it hilly? Is it entirely run on a trail?” I wondered. The race director answered me the course, with the exception of one immense hill in each of the two loops, would be relatively flat, which proved to be utterly false from my perspective.

The Ranch Run Elevation Chart

Always smiles!

Always smiles!

Crossing the finish line!

Crossing the finish line!

The weather stayed ideal for running, with no significant rain or cold, for several weeks prior to the event. At the starting line, the director announced, “The course will probably be a little over 13.1 miles,” after which he shot the pistol to commence the race. I, along with fellow runners, immediately disappeared into the wilderness. I was caught off guard by the technicality of the course, as I hardly saw any set trail meant to be walked on. I had not imagined the vast majority of my running to be done on steep hills, untrimmed grass, uneven trails and gravel, and occasional mud. Kearney, where I currently reside and work, holds mostly flat concrete; I, the mother of generalization, therefore supposed all of Nebraska to be flat, but I no longer think this after weirdly joyfully suffering physically at The Ranch Run. Due to the hilliness and difficulty of the path, I pounded my legs to the floor more powerfully and overwhelmingly than I had in any of my previous eighteen races in the past four and a half years. Temporarily losing my way around mile four did not help ease the pain that had kicked in early on, although, thankfully, drivers passing by and a runner behind me instantly led me to the correct path. Consequently, I only thought about covering the entire race without walking, even on the brutal uphill, and did not obsess myself over achieving a personal record or pushing my body to the brink of injury. I felt I was running on a mountain but continued to remind myself, “This is supposed to hurt,” and find reasons to suck up the torment.

Congratulations to my friend Jordan on his first 5K finish!

Congratulations to my friend Jordan on his first 5K finish!

Do I call this a medal?

Do I call this a medal?

I sprinted to the finish line, with sufficient energy remaining to cheerfully pose to the photographer simultaneously, in 2:08:58. Taking a sip of Powerade that tasted like a drop of Heaven, I saw salt covering parts of my face and arms, reminding me of my 51-mile experience in Needville, Texas, in December 2015. I can confidently accept The Ranch Run as my hilliest and most technical race to date, and I thank God for protecting me once again and my semi-proud result of 17th place out of 45 entrants.

One Year Down

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First business card!

First business card!

A little over a year ago today, I joined full-time the staff of the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) as an international recruitment specialist. Neither had I worked on a real-paying job nor recruited on any platform, major or minor. I felt nervous momentarily initially but then reminded myself even David did not count himself worthy to be anointed by God through Samuel, boosting my confidence; He decided to use me, and nothing can get in the way of His plans for me. I was merely delighted to finally have the opportunity to pour my workaholic and goal-driven energy into building my career from interning unpaid for two nonprofit organizations simultaneously for almost a year.

NAFSA 2016.

NAFSA 2016.

God placed me in the Midwest, which had not once crossed my mind prior to my discovering this position availability on HigherEdJobs.com, for a reason. Believing this, I solely cared about pleasing Him, executing my tasks to the best of my ability regardless of results, and letting my neighbors see His work through me; I prayed I progress only by and in His will. Even though new to the recruiting world, from the first day, I knew step-by-step what I had to do in order to commence and move forward, pleasantly surprising many of my colleagues. Recruiting takes time to simply lay a foundation and additional time to begin receiving clients: students, in my case. I rapidly formed, reinstated, and renewed partnerships with numerous academic institutions and agencies in Korea, and I continued to expand my regions of specialty and covered also Nepal, India, Bangladesh, China, Taiwan, and the United States. In most universities I have visited, I became virtual friends with the representatives, many of whom send UNK students primarily to help me personally score points. In less than a year, I brought to campus 66 students, a combination of degree-seeking, visiting, exchange, and short-term, a transparent miracle especially for someone with no prior background in recruiting, and I have faith that number will only multiply each semester. Every time an individual comments on the constant positive outcomes I produce, I use the stage to glorify His name; I am just a hammer of my Carpenter.

The Kearney Hub.

The Kearney Hub.

Upon arrival at UNK, I had no choice but to educate myself on Korean history. A vital and prideful past Korea shares with Kearney, Nebraska, had been virtually buried for almost a century until I unveiled the story. The Omaha World-Herald, along with local newspapers, published my interview and research paper on the topic, and from that exposure, I occasionally received requests to speak in various venues, requiring me to learn at a minimum the summary of the profound 5,000-year history of Korea, beginning Gojoseon, through the dynasties, to today.

Presenting at the annual Family History Fair.

Presenting at the annual Family History Fair.

Above all, He has been using me to rescue His lost sheep. In the first short-term program I directed, the Holy Spirit in me constantly made me say to one student what he needed to hear spiritually, resulting in his accepting Jesus towards the end of three weeks. Many neighbors were encouraged to rely more heavily on God by my faith. I half-jokingly told my close ones, “I’m not an international recruiter. I’m a Heaven recruiter.” I understood my purpose in Nebraska to be more than simply recruiting international students.

In spite of all the positive, this journey has been the furthest thing from easy, and I am still fighting daily to overcome my current adversity. I face no struggle fulfilling and even shattering my occupation expectations; however, like in most of my hardships, my trouble stems from people. In the past few months, I dealt with enough to consider walking out of my job several times; if anyone is aware of how much remaining in America and ultimately becoming a permanent resident and then a citizen means to me, he or she would understand how much I must have gone through mentally for abandoning my work visa, relinquishing the green card process, and leaving the States to even enter my head. Loneliness outside work certainly has not helped. Nevertheless, I had faith He will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear, but when I am tempted, He will also provide a way out so that I can endure it, giving me courage, strength, and patience to stick around another day.

Global Leaders Scholarship Program & World Leaders Camp.

Global Leaders Scholarship Program & World Leaders Camp.

I have not the slightest clue how much longer I will be with UNK. If my environment turns healthier, I will likely stay longer than if not, but I have already experienced countless times God always guides and directs my path. If He tells me to stay, even if I try with all in my power to leave, I will stay. If He tells me to move on, no matter how much I might like to linger, I will be carried over to my next destination. Until then, I will continue to work on appreciating what I have rather than complaining about what I lack. How could I not be grateful for a job that lets me travel to Korea twice a year and stay with my family while working, an answer to years of my mother’s prayers? I acknowledge His plans far exceed my plans, and nothing will proceed by my will but only His.

Confidence with Humility

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For the past several months, I sought activities to even temporarily distract me from the stress of my current environment. With my family and most of my friends thousands of miles away, I could only rely on my Father and running to keep me from going insane. Without any hesitation, I signed up for my third 26.2 miles at the Nebraska State Fair Marathon on August 27, 2016, in Grand Island, an hour east of where I work and reside. “I will be in immense pain physically, but I will be so elated mentally,” I told my close ones to justify this crazy decision.

Driving to the event location just past four in the morning, I could barely see several feet forward on the intersection due to the overwhelming fog. Seconds after asking God to protect me on the road, I saw a dark-colored car, without any lights on, parked on the side of the intersection, from which I barely veered. I was both grateful and infuriated, shouting, “Thank you, Lord!” and “What a stupid driver!”

Towards the beginning.

Towards the beginning.

The race commenced at 6:30 AM in just over 60 degrees, my ideal temperature for long-distance running. The course, as advertised, remained primarily flat on concrete, and I felt confident I was running my most successful marathon yet. For over a year, I have been dreaming of running a hundred miles, one of the reasons I signed up for this marathon to prepare; towards the beginning of the marathon, based on how strong I felt, I believed I could potentially materialize this objective in the near future. Right then, I felt the Holy Spirit tell me, “Remember how you are feeling now,” which I took to mean I will hit the wall at some point in the race and be humbled. In spite of trying to maintain a slow pace, I hit 13.1 miles just over 2:02:00, barely slower than my personal record (PR) in the half marathon. I hoped to finish under 4:20:00 but also worried I may have mistakenly given too much in the first half, although I still felt as fresh as new.

On mile seventeen, all hell broke loose. Whether from the sudden temperature increase from the sunrise or over-pushing too early, I abruptly hit the wall. Still on track to easily break my PR set in the 2015 Publix Georgia Marathon, an exponentially more technical course, I began to incorporate walking; I figured combining walking and running would conserve my energy and grant me a faster finish time than running the rest of the course in virtual walking speed, which I did in the Georgia Marathon. Furthermore, due to immense dehydration, I overconsumed water and Gatorade and could see my stomach bloated; running simultaneously could have damaged my liver and worsened the hardship. Nearly two miles left in the race, no matter how hurt, I knew I had to pour everything I had left to break my PR. My mother’s telling me the night before the race to compare the marathon to life, that “sometimes life is easy, sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes you want to give up, but in the end, joy awaits,” powerfully hit me. After 26.3 miles, slightly over the traditional marathon distance, I crossed the finish line in 4:45:37, my marathon PR by seven seconds.

Nebraska State Fair Marathon Finisher's MedalWith the finisher’s medal around my neck, I sat on the ground, momentarily disappointed. I attempted to rationalize why I bonked so early on and even thought, “How on Earth was I able to run 51 miles?” Nevertheless, my sense of gratitude swiftly took over and I began thanking my successfully completing another marathon without any injuries, setting a third PR in my third race this year, not dealing with stomach cramps like I often do, and having the health to frequently pursue daunting adventures like this, all of which I consistently prayed for prior to the competition. One lady in the marathon relay shook my hand and offered me her congratulations, saying, “I tried so hard to pass you, but then I thought, ‘What am I thinking? I’m only running 6 miles and he’s been running for 26 [point 3] miles.’ I can never do what you did. You’re the professional.” Especially following her modest compliment, I could not be arrogant to hold any regrets.

Two-time winner of the event.

Two-time winner of the event.

Following the award ceremony, I spoke with Kenyan Geofrey Terer, two-time Nebraska State Fair Marathon champion and record-holder. He finished the race in 2:25:44, almost twice as fast as my time and beyond my comprehension. More than his athletic ability, however, I truly enjoyed his humility and bright personality. I also twice ran into Kaci Lickteig, winner of the female division, 2016 Western States 100 champion, and one of my favorite ultrarunners. She humbly asked me how I did, and I replied, “It was a humbling experience,” to which she reminded me to be proud of simply finishing. I cannot think of a more pleasant way to cap off this experience than talking to these two respectful champions.

PR after PR

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Rather than training only when a race is coming up, I have turned running into a lifestyle so that I can stay fit and ready. Without any event in mind, I habitually ran four to five miles two to three times a week and worked on strengthening my legs, especially injury-prone knees. I noticed my time rapidly, consistently, and drastically improving; several months ago, I was satisfied with running at a 9:30-per-mile pace, but now, even in extreme heat up to 105 degrees, I normally start out in the early 7:00-per-mile range and finish around 8:30-per-mile.

Scheduled to visit my best friend at Penn State University from July 27 to August 1, 2016, I suggested we run a half marathon near his house to recreate the memory of our first 13.1 miles together in Korea just over three years ago. Nonetheless, due to his busy academic schedule, he told me he had jogged only twice in the past year, so I instead registered for the shorter Boot Scootin’ 10K for me and the Country Kicker 5K for him at the second annual Run Country Style in Mercer, Pennsylvania, on July 30. Set on participating in the Nebraska State Fair Marathon in Grand Island on August 27, I reasoned running a short race in advance would prepare me both mentally and physically for the former. Furthermore, with my constant speed progress in mind, I longed to test how fast I could run 6.2 miles specifically rather than relying on splits from longer races; as I am accustomed to conserving energy early on and covering far-longer distances, I wanted to pour every ounce of endurance I contained from start to finish in the 10K. I told the friend the day before the contest I would be content with sub-53:00 but, lacking details on the course, did not know what to expect.

Flying like a bird.

Flying like a bird.

First place in my age group!

First place in my age group!

The overwhelming rainstorm on our drive to the event location concerned me initially, but I trusted God would hold off this natural burden solely during the run and told the friend not to worry; as anticipated, the city rained significantly before and after but not during the race. Based on the results from the Run Country Style last year, I believed I had a shot at winning my age group of 25-29 but did not plan to turn the run into a bitter competition and add unnecessary pressure. I ran my own race at the pace I knew my body could manage and refused to be influenced by runners ahead of me to overpace and risk an injury. After all, my purpose of running has always been to challenge and compete with myself. At the beginning, fifteen runners or so stormed past me, to which I reacted in amusement, “Let’s see for how much longer they can keep up that pace”; many of them slowed down and even walked a few miles in, allowing me to pass. I was pleasantly surprised I could maintain my pace at a 7:00-per-mile range for the first several miles on a relatively hilly course. At times, I became distracted by adorable cows and donkeys and wanted to take pictures but could not throw away what seemed to be an inevitable personal record (PR) in the 10K. I gradually but barely slowed down as the race proceeded and crossed the finish line in 51:44.82, PR and first place in my age group like I had quietly hoped and prayed. I had never cared for my time as long as I finished in long-distance events, but taking home this title encouraged me to consider focusing on enhancing time as well as distance.

Run Country Style MedalsI attribute my swift increase in speed to mostly dedication, diligence, and experience, but I also want to give credit to and thank Division I all-American runner Alice Wright out of the University of New Mexico. On June 11, 2016, while eating at Runza, I watched her teammate Courtney Frerichs, now an Olympian, capture an NCAA title in 3,000-meter steeplechase in record-breaking fashion. I then felt compelled to look up some runners on the same roster, and Alice in particular stood out. I saw photos of her intense second-place finish in the 10K at the NCAA’s in June and examined that specific race multiple times. Her expression of giving absolutely all she had left towards the finish line motivated me to push faster and harder, as I thought, after each run, I too should be feeling like she did in the final sprint to introduce an upgrade of me. I constantly reminded myself of this and observed my setting PR’s day after day, including at the Run Country Style. What a difference a simple mentality adjustment makes.

Mind over Body

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Just over a month left until my fourth half marathon in the Lincoln National Guard Marathon & Half-Marathon 2016 on May 1, I went on a three-and-a-half-week business trip to South Korea to recruit students for the fall semester of 2016. On the trip, with the combination of a cold that lasted three weeks and the inexplicable pollution that prevented me from running outside, I checked only six or seven cardio sessions, two of them on the treadmill and one on the cycling machine, in the inanimate basement and stairway. I embrace nature while I run, so I find running inside mentally draining. Upon my return to Kearney, Nebraska, I ran three times, concluding training camp on a hilly 5.13-mile run, in the week and a half I had left prior to the half marathon. Cross-training in swimming and cycling as well, I prayed my three-month preparation had been sufficient for my first race in 2016.

What she is able to do blows my mind.

What she is able to do blows my mind.

I drove to Lincoln, Nebraska, the day before the half marathon to pick up my bib and cruise through the Expo in the Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker Hotel. Surrounded by hundreds of dedicated runners and veterans, I was reminded of the joy of embarking on this journey with strangers who share the same passion and inspiring one another; my preceding three races in 2015 did not offer an Expo. As I prepared to leave the building before the one-hour free parking expired, I ran into Kaci Lickteig, 2012 Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon, runner-up of 2015 Western States Endurance Run, and one of the top female ultrarunners in the world today, along with her Boston-Marathoner mother and best-friend pacer. Months ago, I observed the track records of the University of Nebraska at Kearney and read Kaci’s name as the university’s second fastest 10K and eighth fastest 5K female runner of all time, discovering she graduated from the school for which I work. She was even familiar with the Brazos Bend 100 and humbly complimented me on my completing 51 miles in the event. Talking to her had me encouraged and pumped for the following day.

I look like a blowfish.

I look like a blowfish.

Waiting for my corral to start, I told myself to never underestimate 13.1 miles; the time I did so following a 50K resulted in one of my worst performances. With 13,800 participants anxiously waiting to take off, I predicted I would never be alone throughout the course and worried I may have to spend much energy passing slower runners ahead of me as I did in both the 2014 and 2015 Publix Georgia Marathons. Although many runners were not fond of the rainy 40-degree weather, I took this to be a blessing in disguise to avoid dehydration. For the first mile, I could not wipe the smile off my face, as I thought, “It feels good to be back,” especially with the fervent crowd holding up motivating and hilarious signs to cheer the runners on. In attempt to finally achieve a sub-two-hour half marathon, I ran significantly faster than I did in any of my training sessions for this race, and I did not plan to conserve my strides and endurance. I was pleasantly surprised I could maintain such a high pace without exhausting myself or running out of breath. I also tried not to look over my Garmin to see how many miles I had left in the race so that I would enjoy the moment rather than desperately hoping to cross the finish line.

All smiles after three PR's!

All smiles after three PR’s!

On mile three, I caught progressing stomach cramps. Even though I initially decided not to drink at the first couple of aid stations, I knew based on experience I needed water to resolve the issue; the pain swiftly escaped after my first cup of water. I let my weight carry me over running downhill and did not back down running uphill. On a lengthy and moderate uphill around mile seven, likely due to immensely overpacing, I pulled a muscle in my right knee; nevertheless, I blocked the hurt out of my mind and did not let the burden slow me down, even if I had to pay for that decision for days. Only a 5K to go, I was en route to breaking two hours for the first time. One mile remaining, with the 2:00:00 pacer still behind me by quite some distance, I thought I had barely accomplished my time goal. According to my Garmin, I hit 13.1 miles under two hours at an average of 00:09:08 per mile, but the course frustratingly measured 13.22 miles, and my official time read, “2:00:43,” yet still my personal best. I technically ran a sub-two-hour half marathon but was disheartened I had missed my official time goal by merely 44 seconds. I even set new personal records (PR) in the 10K and 15K splits, 00:56:46 and 1:25:05, respectively, and thus must not exude an arrogance of disappointment.

At the Expo, I wrote on the banner, “Running keeps me active and determined” for the reason I am running in the Lincoln National Guard Marathon & Half-Marathon. If I could, I would change my answer to, “Running keeps me humble.” Each time I participate in endurance running, I realize how vulnerable human body can be and, without God, I cannot do anything. Humanly, I might not comprehend how I set three PR’s in one race considering all the training distraction from the business trip; however, I follow my Father’s odds, and “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).