Prior to participating in my first running event, I detested and feared long-distance running more than words can describe. Exhaustion and boredom aside, I could not stand the notion of wasting so much time moving aimlessly. About a month before the end of my military duty, a newspaper company in Gangwon-do, the city in Korea where I was stationed, hosted a five-kilometer running event. As much as I disliked the sport, I was obsessed with any sort of tangible awards, specifically medals. The second I discovered the event included medals for finishers, I was convinced to partake. I surprisingly enjoyed the race, as I was amused by the idea of running with hundreds of strangers cheering on one another. Once I was honorably discharged, I had over four months of vacation before returning to America. Having grown up in North America since age ten, I hardly had any friends in Korea and thus did not have much to do for leisure aside from catching up on academics. I believed participating in another race in Seoul to be a wise way to meet people and decided to run another five kilometers. From that point forward, taking part in running events rapidly became an addiction. I ran in two additional five-kilometer events, one of which I placed second in in Age Group 20-24, in Georgia before taking this newfound hobby to the next level. My best friend and I, scheduled to travel in Korea together for a couple of weeks in May 2013, registered for a half marathon in Yeoju. Having planned many places to visit, neither of us had time to train for the race aside from a round of suicide and one-hour jog a few days earlier to ensure our bodies could keep up. We had one goal, to finish, and our finish time did not matter. We kept a slow pace until the final sprint and were able to complete the race without injuries.
Although I repeatedly told myself to take my irrational desire of fatiguing my body down a notch, I signed up for the Publix Georgia Marathon, one of the most physically demanding marathon meets in the world due to the course’s ceaseless hills. Completing the ATL Challenge 39.3 became my new objective, requiring me to successfully finish the marathon within six and a half hours and the Michelob ULTRA Atlanta 13.1® Marathon later that year. To keep from becoming lazy and attempt all categories of running events, I entered two ten-kilometer and a ten-mile competitions in Seoul, London, and Atlanta, respectively, all of which failed to break me. I began training for the marathon a few months prior to the event, working out my leg muscles and running two to four days a week, between thirty to sixty-five minutes each time. Needless to say, not having had sufficient training camp, my body was not as prepared as average dedicated marathoners’. In addition, I journeyed in Italy for five days the week before the race and caught shin splint-like symptoms from excessively running to make up for the lost training time in Europe.
Due to insomnia, I did not fall asleep for a split second the night before the marathon, adding a minor headache to my list of obstacles. Regardless of these barriers, I had to believe I could overcome this race, which had been my athletic aim for almost a year. The first fifteen miles could not have gone more smoothly, but then I caught unanticipated stomach cramps that refused to fade until the end of the race and continued to whisper in my ear to quit. The second half of the course contained mainly steep uphills, and the run turned into a war against me. I questioned the purpose of my enduring this grueling process, but my ego helped me carry through to the finish line. I walked a few times towards the end, which initially made me feel like a failure. Though proud of crossing the finish line, I could not help but be disappointed with my slowing of the pace due to the cramps, as I completed the first half around two hours but the entire race in 04:52:44. Fellow runners and volunteers encouraged and complimented me by informing me of the difficulty of a first-timer’s finishing under five hours, especially on a brutal course of the Publix Georgia Marathon.
After letting this bittersweet experience sink in, I registered for the Michelob ULTRA Atlanta 13.1® Marathon and set my eyes on this new test to fulfill the ATL Challenge 39.3. Will I enter a tougher contest in the future? I would not be surprised if I do considering I originally never imagined running past five kilometers. I have already begun thinking about the Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, triathlon, and ultimately IRONMAN in Kona. Being physically and mentally challenged helps me grow as a person and appreciate my privileged life; hence, whether through running or other hobbies, I will continue to seek challenges.