Heat + Humidity = Stay Home

Since returning to Korea on July 27, 2015, to visit my family prior to moving to Kearney, Nebraska, to start a new career, I have not had one sleep without waking up multiple times in the middle of the night due to the summer heat and inexplicable humidity. The minute I turn off my fan, I sweat as if I have entered a sauna. Thus, signing up for a half marathon on August 15, 2015, confused and worried my parents, especially my father. He repeated, “Why are you doing that?” roughly twenty times the week of the race. Call it confidence or arrogance, but my most recent running event being over twice as long as this upcoming challenge made me regard the half marathon as a mere tune-up. I have also decided to attempt a 100-miler instead of an IRONMAN when I realized—thanks to my best friend’s mother’s observation—I only wanted to fulfill the latter due to its name and the former presented a tougher yet more relevant challenge; I have been running consistently for several years, while I have never taken a liking to triathlons, specifically cycling that crushes my butt and causes pain in peeing.

This year’s August 15 marked the seventieth anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan; therefore, superficially, this running event looked special, although the date’s significance played no role in my decision to run 13.1 miles. Aware of the danger of heat exhaustion, I consumed three half-a-liter bottles of water and slices of watermelon, not foreseeing this would book me numerous must-use tickets to the bathroom. Regardless of how many times I visited the men’s room, not even halfway through the race, I instantly and desperately needed to release my Yellow Sea-turned-white. My pace felt ideal; hence, I refused to stop even for a moment to pee on grass with families and couples nearby, disrupt my flow, and worsen my finish time (goal of under 2:00:00 that appeared realistic for the majority of the run). For well beyond half of the race, I thought of nothing but dehydrating myself enough to not have to worry about this dilemma. I cannot say peeing my shorts did not cross my mind, but a fellow runner from Emory University had promised to wait at the finish line; that sordid option went out the window. Fortunately, towards the end, the visualizing of the toilet faded, but unfortunately, this “holding-it-in” tactic marginally hurt my stomach and narrowed my strides. The course being hillier than I expected and the ongoing ray of the sun did not mitigate the hardship. Considering how powerfully the rain poured at the starting line for thirty minutes before the race, I was befuddled by the abrupt weather change into a runner’s nightmare: heat and humidity. I gradually slowed down from six kilometers to go not because of physical exhaustion but rather the lack of motivation; my body held up as usual, but mentally drained, I kept asking myself, “What the heck am I doing here?” as my father said.

Celebrating the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence

The friend who insisted she would take a study break and greet me at the finish line brought me a carton of Vita Coco—efficient in swift rehydration—and took blurry photos of my final sprint. “Why did you take so long?” asked she, but I had no idea I had fallen over fifteen minutes short of my personal record of 2:01:15 from an exponentially hillier thereby tougher course, completing the run with a time of 2:18:54.59. On a standard occasion, I would have been embarrassed and frustrated, but I spotted veteran runners struggling as I in roughly ninety-degree heat and brutal humidity and countless half marathoners behind me, proving every runner faced this adversity. I continued, “I don’t like how they do this in kilometers [instead of in miles] here. There are more numbers to count, so it feels longer psychologically.” When I returned home and admitted to my father I should not have run in this weather, he replied, “You sweat even when you’re simply standing in this weather. You ran twenty-plus kilometers.”

Looking back, I had trouble finding an ideal breathing pattern from the beginning, leading me to both inhale and exhale through my mouth in replacement of breathing in through my nostrils and out through my mouth. My right knee remained sturdy throughout the course, giving me confidence the injury from the ultramarathon has been relatively healed. Upon my obstacle-running friend’s suggestion, I invested in compression socks, and my calves did not feel the least bit strained after the race, showing this science’s efficacy. The only notable physical pain being a headache informed me I should not treat running at the peak of summer the same way I treat running in a cool temperature. In spite of this race being by far one of my worst performances to date, I gained valuable experience and have no regrets.