I Miss Winter…

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.

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Why, Nebraska, Why?

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.

Spontaneous, Again

Presenting 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.

Because 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

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.

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.

Lovely way to explore Kearney!

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 concrete, 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.

One Year Down

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

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, language, 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

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.

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.

Presenting at the annual Family History Fair

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 and 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.

Mind over Body

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).

5,000-Year-Old Diamond

Gojoseon, the first official kingdom of Korea, is most commonly believed to have been founded in 2,333 BC by Dangun Wanggeom, who is depicted as the grandson of Hwanin, the “Lord of Heaven.” A legend says his mother turned from a bear into a woman after surviving a hundred days on garlic and mugwort without sunlight. Gojoseon covered all of Korea and much of Liaoning, China, and Manchuria. With the fall of Gojoseon emerged the Three Kingdoms of Korea: Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje, established in 37 BC, 57 BC, and 18 BC, respectively. Silla and Baekje were located in South Korea and Goguryeo in North Korea of today. The three kingdoms, covering the entire Korean peninsula in addition to China and Russia, were significantly influenced by China and its culture and continued to battle one another for dominance over the nation of Korea. Goguryeo and Baekje took over most of the era, stopping multiple Chinese invasions along the way. However, Silla steadily rose in power and eventually overthrew the other two kingdoms, giving birth to the Unified Silla in 668 AD. This new dynasty lasted 267 years prior to King Gyeongsun’s submission to Goryeo in 935; a warlord by the name of Taejo Wang Geon defeated his rival and became ruler of the succeeding Goryeo Dynasty, from where the name “Korea” derives. This era introduced legitimate laws and a civil service system, and, with the impact of China, Buddhism became Korea’s predominant religion. In the thirteenth century, the Mongol Empire invaded Goryeo six times and overruled Goryeo for approximately eighty years, but Goryeo regained independence in 1350.

Baekje vs. Silla

Baekje vs. Silla

General Yi Seong-gye, or King Taejo, conquered Goryeo and became king, beginning the Joseon Dynasty in 1392. The king moved the capital to Hanseong, the present-day Seoul. Joseon held the entire Korean peninsula, but because Korea carried the impact of China and its culture, Koreans mainly remained Buddhists and abided by the teachings of Confucianism until missionaries from Europe came over and spread Christianity. In 1443, King Sejong created Hangul, the Korean alphabet; previously, Koreans wrote in modified Chinese characters, still taught in Korean schools today. Japan invaded Korea between 1592 and 1598; Admiral Yi Sun-sin, although killed at the end of the war, led Korea and pushed away the force of Japan. In the 1620s and 1630s, the Manchu Qing Dynasty invaded Joseon numerous times.

To this day, Korea, excluding North Korea of today, has never been the instigator of any battle. This 5,000-year history of Korea’s constantly being invaded yet preserving independence and the country’s own identity proves the persistence and pride of Korean ancestors. After Japan triumphed in both the First Sino-Japanese War from 1894 to 1895 and the Russo-Japanese War from 1904 to 1905 for control over Korea, the Japanese invasion of Korea became inevitable; Japan annexed Korea from 1910 to 1945. During this time, Koreans were banned from speaking Korean or even learning about Korea, and Korean history became deliberately distorted. Whatever Koreans did had to be under the Japanese flag, and tens of thousands of Korean women were used as sex slaves to Japanese soldiers. The regime tortured or even murdered courageous Koreans who retaliated.

Prior to the intrusion, as Japan’s seizing Korea became apparent, many Korean families who lost hope immigrated to other parts of the world for a chance to lead greater lives and opportunities. Simultaneously, patriotic Korean men moved to mostly nearby countries to prepare a rebellion against and bring independence back to Korea from Japan. A handful immigrated to Kearney, Nebraska, to receive education and military training. This group of Korean nationalists worked as houseboys in exchange for room and board. In 1908, Yong-man Park, a renowned name in the Korean independence movement, enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while studying political and military science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. On a farm roughly a mile west of the Buffalo County Courthouse in Kearney, Park established The Young Korean Military School in June 1909, four years after the foundation of the Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney. This military school offered courses in English, Korean, history, and agriculture and military training to nationalistic Koreans willing to fight for the preservation of their roots. Hastings College, where Park went to school temporarily, lent him additional twenty acres of farm on which to train his student-soldiers.

Park met South Korea’s eventual first president, Syngman Rhee, in imprisonment, fighting for political reform. Park accepted an editor position for the Korean National Association in San Francisco, California, and asked Rhee to take over the military school. Rhee was pessimistic about Korea’s chances of escaping the Japanese colony and abandoned the school, which led to the school’s closing in 1915. Park was murdered on October 17th, 1928, in Tianjin, China. Henry Chung, another protagonist of this journey, attended Kearney High School and graduated from the Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney in 1914 with a degree in political science. He briefly partook in Park’s military school but primarily focused on academics. Ironically, he served as ambassador to Japan under Rhee’s presidency. Chur-hoo Park, a cum laude student out of the Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney, taught at Chosun Christian College upon his return to Seoul, South Korea. Ilhan New, the most respected businessman in Korea to date, immigrated to Kearney in 1904 at the age of nine from Pyongyang, North Korea. He enrolled in Park’s military school in 1909 and learned the history and mentality of Korean ancestors. He established La Choy Food Products in 1922 and the Yuhan Corporation in 1926 under the belief “only healthy citizens can seek sovereignty.” The latter company became the first to work for the benefit of all Korean citizens rather than its own.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” said William Faulkner. These ancestors may be gone physically, but their influence lives on. The freedom in which South Koreans live testifies to this; we breathe and taste independence because of the unconditional sacrifice of our ancestors for our future. Will we take pride and keep their legacy in the present or push this pivotal chapter back into a dusty past?