Goodbye, Kearney

1,576 days, nearly half a decade, full of good and bad, my time in Kearney, Nebraska, at last came to an end. Believing this day would come much sooner, I continued to hint at my “leaving soon” for a couple of years to the point most of my friends did not take me seriously this time, like The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Prior to coming across the position of International Recruitment Specialist at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), the term Nebraska had never exited my mouth. UNK offered to sponsor me for an H-1B visa during my grace period of Optional Practical Training Program, meaning I would have had to remove myself from the United States otherwise, and subsequently agreed to sponsor me for a green card (minus the medical fees). Although I believed this to be one of the primary reasons God sent me to such a foreign place, especially in the first half, I debated whether or not the green card was worth accepting the way my former boss and the few of his nepotic minions treated me. One time following a phone call with the boss, I became lightheaded in fury, knelt down, punched the floor, and rushed out of my office, impulsively thinking about quitting because I could not find any reason that justified my having to tolerate such disgusting evil. Here, my Christian colleague stopped me, put her hands on my chest and back, and prayed for me, which calmed me down. The adversity continued, but I learned to deal with it more efficiently each day, albeit the long-overdue firing of the boss, who really should have been imprisoned, did make this much easier.

When I initially submitted my resignation letter in June 2019 with the intention of moving on the following month, the new head of the office asked if I could continue to work for UNK remotely half-time until I found a concrete plan for my future. After praying about the matter, I took the offer, planning to explore different parts of the country to see where I would like to live next while working wherever I want; however, I ended up spending most of this golden opportunity still in Kearney, one of the reasons I decided to fully resign so that I feel more desperate and do not have any comfort holding me back. Even while working half-time, my workload remained the same, if not more, and I continued to do three or four colleagues’ jobs on top of my own while they took credit, not to mention I always worked well over my hours.

This pretty much sums up my last 4+ years in Nebraska!

Just this past week, God gave me back-to-back-to-back messages of confirmation and encouragement, which boosted my confidence to move on. The last Sunday of 2019, due to the major snowstorm that had just hit central Nebraska, my regular church closed; I barely made it to the location to find this out the hard way, after which I spotted a different church I had never attended that still held an 11:00 AM service. Here, the pastor emphasized, “God is the God of the promise. He is not the God of your timing,” which echoed in my heart, that God’s Word never fails and He will fulfill what He has promised me not when I want Him to but rather when He wills it. Throughout my time in Kearney, I learned a valuable lesson not to set my own timing, which led me to decide in my head I was leaving soon and sell much of my furniture over a year in advance and live in almost an empty two-bedroom apartment for the remainder. This same Sunday, the Korean church of my mother and father sent another message directly to me using a verse given to me as a child, Genesis 28:15: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Here, the pastor highlighted “wherever you go,” that wherever we decide to go, God will be with us; as he so beautifully expressed, “It is God who is with you and not you who are with God.” Even if Jacob had decided to go elsewhere, God still would have been with Jacob. As the pastor added, we need to move and take that first step for God to work in us; if we stay still and do not take any initiative, God cannot work. Lastly, in my final (24-hour) race of 2019 that carried into the new decade, I finished at 74.2 miles, 119.413 kilometers with which God reminded me He rescues me (119 is Korea’s equivalent of 911) and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). How could I ever doubt God?

This was essentially my office once I began working remotely. I will miss you all too!

As lonely, stressful, and challenging as this journey has been, God continued to provide. Focusing only on the positives, my Father gave me a gift I had been begging Him for since childhood and used me to spread the gospel and even turn one student to Christ, I became a permanent resident as early and smoothly as I did due to the lack of international competition/demand in Nebraska, and I completed forty races that include a 102-miler, a 74.2-miler, a 50-miler, two 50K’s, two marathons, twenty-six half marathons, and seven 10K’s during my time here, which would have been highly unlikely elsewhere. Perhaps most thankfully, I found the perfect church for me, the senior pastor of which started the same Sunday I did and contributed significantly to the strengthening of my faith, and used much of my free time, often hours a day, thoroughly reading and studying the Bible. Towards the conclusion, I made many new faithful Christian friends that made this departure difficult, which I never saw coming. I deeply appreciated most residents here identified with Christianity and I never had to filter my faith to avoid hurting sensitive individuals who do not yet know Jesus.

My training in Kearney is complete. What is next? I do not have my life figured out yet, but I have confidence I am making the right decision to take this leap of faith moving forward, because God will be with me wherever I go.

Yet Again

I opened Thanksgiving 2019, like the last three years, running my fourth consecutive Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 in Pickrell, Nebraska, the familiar flat trail I had already conquered on four separate occasions. I recently reset my frozen Garmin, not knowing this would format all the saved data on the watch, and for the first time maintained the auto-lap to read each of my mile times rather than only the average mile pace of the whole. I decided to use this standard method here but fretted I may not as easily be able to tell my estimate finish time this way. With the temperature hitting just below 30 degrees, my preference, and acknowledging this to be my final half marathon of the year, I set out to run my fourth sub-1:50:00 in the distance, which I have accomplished twice on this course.

I have been reading Deena Kastor’s New York Times Best Seller Let Your Mind Run and consciously applied her motivating tactics and positive attitude to push forward. Rather than solely focusing on my own running, I would pick one runner in front, gradually catch up, and then gently pass without forcing the pace out of my norm, the process I successfully executed several times throughout the race. I found this more thrilling, as running alone does not motivate me as much to pick up the pace. When my earphones ran out of batteries with four miles to go, instead of panicking this could slow me down, I reminded myself, after being grateful this did not happen sooner, most elite long-distance runners do not even listen to music when they run and thought optimistically this may help me concentrate on the rhythm of my breathing and strides, as I counted one-two-three-one-two-three and one-two-three-four-one-two-three-four.

As I thought, because I did not know my overall average mile pace, I could not tell how much faster I had to go to reach my goal and moved forward with every ounce of my remaining energy. Aside from the very first mile of 8:08, I ran my fastest mile of 8:12.3 in the final full mile and most likely secured a negative split in the second half, still not sufficient and crossing the finish line in 1:51:03, third in my age group of 30-34. Everyone has good and bad days, so I remained content simply knowing I could not have done more this particular day. In this period of uncertainty and all that I have been dealing with mentally and emotionally, I, from the start of the run, in my head said, “Running is easy,” as I know clearly the task ahead of me. At least, for the moment, I do not have to stress over my future, perhaps one of the main reasons I so habitually sign up for long-distance races that also happen to play an accurate metaphor for life.

As I prepared to celebrate this holiday alone at Golden Corral again, I checked a text message from a church friend inviting me to join her family, which I strangely predicted beforehand. I told the family she saved me from being “emo” again. Happy Thanksgiving!

Fourth of July Tradition

10-year-old marathoner! 🙂

Participating in the Brownville Freedom Run Half Marathon in Brownville, Nebraska, on the Fourth of July has become a tradition for the past three years. This year, however, I did not firmly decide until the week of due to a subtle yet lingering soreness in my right foot, many symptoms of which hint at a developing stress fracture; therefore, I for the first time in 47 races registered the morning of the event, as online registration had already closed. I have not been able to run as frequently or hard as I normally do in the past month and thus added occasional swimming to my training.

With the foreseeable heat and humidity this time of year in Nebraska and not entirely confident in the state of my right foot, I did not set a specific time goal. The majority of this course takes place on rugged trails, but my adrenaline kept me from feeling any unbearable pain in the injured foot, even though I felt the sting for nearly the entire race.

I, still on pace to break two hours around mile 11, thought to sprint the final half a mile, but miscalculating the finish line led me to kick too soon for how little energy I had left, at which point I only focused on finishing strong. Concluding 13.15 miles in 2:02:25.4, first time in almost a year not comfortably coming in under two hours, I felt slightly demoralized until realizing most runners I spoke to after ran significantly slower than their capabilities. The beauty of summer running (and an injury), I guess!

I thank Jesus for protecting me throughout the race, as always. Happy Birthday, America!

Running Transforms, Literally

Running transforms you, literally.

What else could I have expected in Texas in late April (of 2017)? After spending 39:25:44 covering 102 miles in the heat of up to nearly 90 degrees with no shades, I became a different race, pun intended. I had never experienced and knew nothing about a sunburn prior to this, so when the skin in my face, followed by my neck, arms, and legs, began peeling off, I freaked out until my father over the phone laughed and told me that my skin would probably look cleaner than pre-race. Next time, I will certainly remember to apply sunscreen in this type of condition. I also must have lost, temporarily, around 20 pounds and do remember my feet and one calf had bizarrely swollen up like hamburgers.

When I signed up for a 10K in Omaha, Nebraska, in February 2019, I did not expect to be running in 0 degrees, although I had run a few miles slowly in this temperature one recent evening. I could feel and see my eyelashes had frozen, but little did I know my entire face (and beanie) was covered in frost. I can only imagine how much funnier I would have become with a legitimate beard and mustache. As I awaited my official result, a lady in front of me asked to take a photo of me to send to her husband to prove the brutality of the race conditions, which prompted me to take a selfie and realize how hilarious I looked. I still managed my second-fastest 10K of 50:02.1. My body for sure prefers extreme cold to extreme heat.

I know I cannot use #TransformationTuesday today, but I did not feel like waiting until Tuesday just for the sake of this hashtag. Feel free to share your transformation running photo(s) in the comment section below!

Sleep-Run

Returning to running earlier than recommended, I began to feel the straining of my right foot worsen with each casual run and worry I may indeed be verging on a stress fracture. Before taking some needed time off running to err on the side of caution, I decided on one more 10K at the Hero Hustle, taking place on June 8, 2019, at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park in Ashland, Nebraska.

PC: Bodies Race Company – Omaha

PC: Bodies Race Company – Omaha

Not falling asleep the night before a race has become the norm, but I struggled this time with sleepiness significantly more than usual due to picking up two friends and driving two-and-a-half hours to Ashland at 4:30 AM. I had trouble waking myself up from the drowsiness prior to the event, and I felt as if I almost ran instinctively while half asleep. I struggled the vast majority of the race with unanticipated vicious stomach cramps that refused to leave. Completing the same hilly 5K loop twice felt repetitive, and the heat that must have reached 80 degrees made this one of the toughest 10K’s I have ever run, although thankfully my right foot held up.

After recklessly starting at a six-minute-mile pace, I had a very average performance of a 53:48.53 finish, but I acknowledged, if these conditions affected me, they must have affected other participants also. Although I was initially declared the winner of Age Group 30-39, which pleasantly surprised me, I saw there could have been multiple system errors and asked the racing company via Facebook to recheck the results. The team, after looking over the timing computers and results, confirmed I actually placed second and thanked me for my honesty and mailed me my silver medal. I do not want a gold medal I did not actually win, so this correction relieved me.

Nebraska (Half) Marathon Major

PC: Jason Feddersen

On May 5, 2019, I participated in my third Lincoln National Guard Half Marathon in the past four years. Familiar with this semi-hilly course of the biggest race in Nebraska, I hoped to set a personal record, predicting my adrenaline rush and more intangibles of running alongside thousands of fellow dedicated runners and with spectators lined up on both sides spreading cheer and sporting amusing signs throughout the entire 13.1-mile distance to play a factor. I also acknowledged my body that copes with the cold much more efficiently than the heat would not enjoy the temperature advantage with a 54-degree start and this objective as overly ambitious. As per usual, I managed barely any sleep, of three hours, before the event.

The uncovered sun in the clear sky, contrary to the forecast of a potential thunderstorm, released sweat from the early miles, and I took a couple of sips of water at most aid stations, just enough to stay hydrated without being bloated. The straining of the outside of my right foot, which I began feeling earlier in the week, that flared up again with four or five miles to go bothered, though not worried, me. I knew I could and would block out the pain in my head until the end and find a way to not allow this symptom to slow me down and ruin my performance. This, however, did remind me to practice what I occasionally preach: take recovery as seriously as training. Running an ultramarathon and two half marathons in just over a month, without sufficient rest in between, may have been too much too soon and overwhelmed my body. Regardless, this certainly did not annoy me as much as some in the crowd, one openly, smoking cigarettes in front of runners heavily inhaling and exhaling to maintain the pace and rhythm. Really?

That left calf though. 😉 PC: Lincoln Marathon

Following a 2:00:43 finish the first time in 2016 and 1:59:08 finish the second time in 2018 on the same course, I crossed the finish line this third time in 2019 in 1:51:51. My sub-1:50:00 streak of three came to an end, but I found contentment in this visible progress, that consistency pays off. I shared with multiple people throughout the weekend that I took a while to break the two-hour barrier, but once I finally did, my speed rapidly improved that even breaking 1:50:00 soon no longer appeared unusual. Quite surprisingly, many seemed to agree and relate. With summer swiftly approaching, I doubt I who prefer racing in the low 30s will be setting any PR’s in the next several months, but never say never! As always, I thank Jesus for blessing me with good health, time, and motivation to continue to pursue this healthy and joyous hobby that attracts a myriad of amazing and inspirational people.

Run for Krispy Kreme

Having completed an ultramarathon just two weeks previously, I had almost zero expectations for the Cool Peeps 13.1 that took place in Pickrell, Nebraska, on April 13, 2019. I no longer felt any soreness within several days of the 50K, but my first slower-than-usual run back showed me my body still recovering; although my speed came back soon after, I could not confidently predict my physical state and even worried I may be doing too much too soon.

In the ideal weather of low 30s and little to no wind, I simply needed to focus on running the flat trail I had already conquered three times in the same distance. Prior to the start, I told a friend lined next to me, “I won’t be greedy with time today because I don’t know if my speed is back.” Well, not greedy maybe for the first thirty steps. Once I saw my mile pace ideally maintain, praising my Father for His beautiful nature, I began to hope for a strong performance, and around the halfway turnaround, I knew I would attempt my third-ever and consecutive sub-1:50:00 half marathon. I gradually slowed down a couple of seconds per mile at one point, and with over two miles to go, I repeatedly did math in my head to figure out how fast I needed to go to realize this goal. Not wanting any regret and slightly looking forward to the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts at the finish, I sprinted the final one-and-a-half miles, understanding this would be close.

Three awesome friends running the Lincoln Marathon in three weeks!

I secured my second-fastest 13.1 miles in 1:49:27 and a negative split in the second half, sufficient to declare me first place in my age group of 30-34 out of five, third male out of thirteen, and fifth overall out of thirty-three finishers. I still may have gone overboard tackling a half marathon this quickly after an ultra. I thank Jesus, as always, for protecting me and allowing me this joyous stress-relieving morning.

Late Valentine’s Day

This year, I celebrated Valentine’s Day two days late with the love of my life, running, with the Sweetheart Shuffle 10K in Omaha, Nebraska. This would mark my last race in my 20s.

PC: Bodies Race Company – Omaha

PC: Bodies Race Company

I have noticed for some time my Garmin tends to give me a shorter distance/slower pace the longer I keep the machine on without pressing start and decided to shut it off and restart, right after which the race director began to count down from ten. (I honestly do not know what I was thinking, or lack thereof, doing this following the national anthem.) I anxiously waited until the watch relocated the satellite, which put me in the way back of the line, and I spent the first thirty seconds or so squeezing through and running around slower participants, yelling, “Excuse me! Sorry!” Panicking, I initially even forgot to play the music playlist I created, but I managed to recover and find my rhythm about a minute in. I would not be surprised if this uneasiness inadvertently made me run faster than I would have in the beginning, as I tried sprinting past many, which I never do at the start of a race.

The nearly 0-degree temperature caused my ears slight pain for the first mile, but then my body produced sufficient heat for me to forget about the cold. Because pretty much all of Nebraska received snow the day before, the trail was covered in snow but thankfully not slick enough to worry me. I could see my eyelashes had frozen but did not realize how hilarious my entire face looked until a lady asked to take a photo of me upon my 10K completion to show her husband the brutality of the temperature.

I crossed the finish line in 50:02.1, which upset me having come so close to running a sub-fifty again, even blaming arguably the most inconvenient start of my running career because of my instinctive careless decision to restart my watch so close to the race. I later found out some runners dropped out due to the frigid cold, so I should simply feel grateful having sturdily overcome this condition. I will now shift my focus to a 50K in Ottawa, Kansas, on March 30, 2019, which means I must make time to train on my three-week business trip to Korea that starts next week. Thank You, Jesus!

Plowing through the Snowstorm

PC: Bodies Race Company – Omaha

Itching to return to racing, I, for the first race of 2019, decided on the Resolution Run 10K, taking place on January 12, 2019, starting in Omaha, Nebraska, and crossing into Iowa. The weather app and websites showed no sign of snow when I registered the week before, but then, just the day before, I found out Omaha would receive one to three inches of snow. (I laugh people so confidently predict what Earth will look like in millions of years when they can hardly ever predict tomorrow’s weather correctly.) I became nervous driving from my hotel in Bellevue, Nebraska, to the event location at 6:30 AM, still dark with heavy snow that refused to yield anytime soon.

Due to the weather ordeal, many 10K runners switched to 5K, and I do not doubt some registrants could not even participate. At the starting line, I felt nothing but gratitude that the race was not canceled, for which I profusely thanked the race organizers. (On my way back to Kearney, just from Omaha to York I spotted nearly fifteen car accidents, which reemphasized the severity of the weather.) Currently, in training, I run much faster than when I set my 10K personal record of 00:48:42.8 last summer, so I had in mind to be greedy and slay that here; however, once I saw the degree of snow, especially in the first mile, exacerbated by powerful wind and hills, I thought, “Nope! Not happening!” To make matters worse, my right earphone would continue to slip out due to the freezing temperature of 29 degrees. I slid multiple times and even fell once, after which I needed 30 seconds to find my rhythm. For most turns, I practically jogged in place while shifting the direction of my feet. Concerned about landing on my butt, I could not even attempt to speed up in most parts of the course; regardless, when I saw how much more slowly I was moving than I had planned, I decided to “sprint” the final mile, shaving off six seconds per mile on average during that one mile, implying I could not give my 100% effort because of the icy trail and concrete.

PC: Bodies Race Company – Omaha

Prior to the start of the race, a 10K participant, looking at how I was dressed, commented I must be accustomed to the cold. I have indeed noticed for some time my body copes with the cold much more efficiently than with the heat, probably since I grew up in various unusually cold regions, and I prefer my running temperature to be in the low 30s and do not mind the 20s or even 10s.

Considering these brutal conditions, I cannot be too upset with my finish time of 52:07.2, first place in Age Group 20-29 and seventh place overall. My first race in the snow and first time falling in a race, at least I experienced something new in my 40th race. My resolution? Simply obey Jesus.

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!