Believe and Earn

On my recent three-week business trip to Korea, in addition to working and traveling and helping my parents pack and move into a new apartment, I could not dismiss training for the upcoming 50K with the Prairie Spirit Trail, by Timer Guys, on March 30, 2019, thanks to a Facebook invitation from an old ultrarunning friend. This distance, the shortest of four in the event, would cover three Kansas cities of Ottawa, Princeton, and Richmond, although the latter two should not be categorized as cities. Because of ultrafine dust that polluted all of Korea for a couple of weeks, I wore an air-filter mask and could not even contemplate running outside; thus, I focused on maintaining, rather than improving, my fitness by cross-training indoors and ran outdoors almost daily upon return to Nebraska for the two weeks prior to my first race in my 30s.

Prayers before the start! PC: Mile 90 Photography

I drove over six hours from Kearney, Nebraska, to Ottawa, Kansas, in nonstop powerful rain until I arrived in my destination the day before and then for whatever reason, unsurprisingly, managed only forty-five minutes of sleep; sleep deprivation has never affected my running, but I still felt irate. 50K participants attended a mandatory meeting at 7:30 AM, thirty minutes after which commenced the race. The weather channel forecast heavy thunderstorms for three consecutive days leading up to and in the morning of the event; however, soon before we lined outside, the rain turned into snow, about which nobody complained because nobody preferred rain that creates mud, what concerned me most about the course, to cute snow flurries. (We still faced both snow and rain incessantly and a bit of mud.)

Wet and windy day! PC: Mile 90 Photography

All glory to Jesus! PC: Mile 90 Photography

PC: Mile 90 Photography

PC: Mile 90 Photography

As my body copes more efficiently with the cold than heat, I knew setting a new personal record (PR) from last summer would be likely and humbly hoped for a sub-6:30:00 finish. Despite the vicious headwind for half the race, which forced me to scream (and maybe curse) at one point, I found myself being able to maintain my initial pace far longer than I thought I was capable of, and around seventeen miles in, I realized I could not only conquer but absolutely crush my goal as long as I did not bonk drastically. I desired to make the most of this rare opportunity and almost refused to walk, only taking two uber-short breaks of half a mile combined; in spite of the physical pain and eventual slowing of the pace, I pushed and pushed, constantly praying to and conversing with my Father and searching for various ways to motivate me and make me feel happy, including reminding myself the pain will not always get worse, as ultrarunning legend David Horton would say, and imagining ordering a hot Starbucks coffee to go on my way back home. When my 26.2-mile split shattered my past marathon PR by over fifteen minutes, I impatiently wondered what my finish time will be. The feels-like temperature must have remained below freezing for most of the race, and my body vividly felt the wet cold. Miserable, I thought about taking one more walking break towards the final four miles to garner more energy to end strongly, but a brief moment of worrying if I got lost on the trail, seeing no runner in proximity, increased my heart rate and utterly woke me up, allowing me to carry on running.

With my right index finger pointing to the sky as I said in my feeble voice, “Thank You, Lord,” I crossed the finish line of 31.24 miles, according to my Garmin, in 5:29:33, smashing my previous 50K PR by an hour and ten minutes. God answered every one of my prayers for this weekend, and I acknowledge this miraculous performance could not have happened without His providing me with strength, endurance, perseverance, and mental toughness, especially considering my limited training. Thank You, 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.

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!

Two States in One

Legends Bart Yasso and Jane Serues!

Days prior to my three-week business trip to Korea, I received a voice message stating my name was drawn for a free massage from Essentials Natural Family Health in Papillion, Nebraska, from a raffle at my most recent running event, Beat the Heat 10K. Upon my return to the United States, I sought another race around this area because I refused to drive three hours out and three hours back solely for a massage. I signed up for 13.1 miles in the Heartland Marathon, beginning and ending in Omaha, Nebraska, but taking place mostly in Iowa, on September 23, 2018, only a few days before the event. I felt slightly concerned about my only having run on the treadmill several times while away and not having fully overcome jet lag.

I arrived in Omaha a day early for the Expo, where I met many inspirational runners, including legends Bart Yasso and Jane Serues, guest speakers, and an elderly man who had completed 405 marathons, seven times in all 50 states. Come race day, I had no expectations but simply hoped to score another sub-two-hour half marathon in this beautiful weather for running. I also did not anticipate to run mainly uphill the first three to four miles, at which point I dropped any desire for a strong performance. Nevertheless, as the course, comprising both roads and trails, flattened out on mile five, my body swiftly recovered and I increased the pace and stayed near the 1:55 pacers, which told me I could still potentially break my personal record (PR) of 1:56:55 from over a year ago on a far-less technical and slightly-shorter course. 8 miles in, still full of energy, I passed the pacers and did not see them again until post-race; a new PR seemed almost inevitable.

With a mile to go, I climbed my way up on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge that divides Nebraska and Iowa from the Iowa side, which, maybe due to chugging water right before, made me feel nauseous; approaching the finish line, I came close to throwing up four or five times, which prompted me to pray to God dearly not to let me vomit in front of all these individuals cheering. Especially considering the consistent hills and my just having come back from a lengthy overseas trip, I was pleasantly surprised with the new mammoth PR of 1:53:05, beating the previous by three minutes and fifty seconds and enough for 54th place out of 248 runners. I wonder how I would have performed on a less difficult course, whether I would have run faster or I deal with hills efficiently. Thank You, Jesus!

Wow

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 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.

No Room for Pessimism

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.

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.

PC: Mile 90 Photography

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.