The briefest of Race reports on the Incheon DMZ Peace Marathon
Apologies for this being overdue, I just back to China after finally visiting home and family for the first time since I moved over here already 18 months ago (!).
But for anyone who is interested, here is the Reader's Digest version of a Run Report.
I flew into Seoul late Friday night after work having not been back since my first visit for the Seoul Marathon. I quickly learned something about the taxi's that I hadn't had the chance to try last time: in Korea, Taxi's can (and do) refuse fares. After haven taken the airport bus in (the Seoul airport is about 75 minutes out of town as most new asian airports seem to be), I tried to catch a cab to my hotel only to have at least 55 with their lights on either never slow down or slow down, crack the window to either see the paper I had with Korean on it or to find out I didn't speak Korean and then sped off.
Being close to bar closing time, a very nice and very bilingual Korean girl adopted me and tried to help me out, no kidding another 40 at least gave us the same treatment, even with her bantering in Korean until finally we walked a couple blocks over and found one finally.
After that adventure of a Friday Night, I got up bright and early Saturday morning and took a package tour of a different part of the DMZ (I figure might as well do it right since I was here), went up to the UN's Joint Security Force Base, saw lots of US and other UN Coalition soldiers, went down into the 3rd North Korean tunnel that was intercepted, went to some of the listening posts, the POW exchange bridge, the active train station to link S and N Korea (even got a passport stamp, though sadly on a piece of paper, not my passport like most of the other tourists as apparently US Immigration REALLY doesn't like a stamp in your passport saying North Korea , and finally went to the infamous Peace Treaty Negotation houses where you go up to the DML (Demarkation Line) which is a cement curb about 3" high and about 24" across which is the border and you see the South Korean/American Forces standing quite near to the N Korean forces like so many pictures. The tour was sombering and very interesting. Was educational to see the S Korean military forces as I this was the first time I had a close up experience with a military that has mandatory conscription/service of 2 years, most of the soldiers were quite young, I believe the serving age is 18-20 and then most leave the military. The show of force, barricades, spikes, minefields, and barbed wire was quite prominent and would continue the next day on the course as well.
Returned to Seoul to get some sleep before catching the bus at 0500 to head north to another area of the DMZ for the marathon.
After catching the bus from Seoul Station at 0500, it took about 90 minutes to escape the maze of highways surrounding Seoul and make it to border town of Incheon where it was misty/foggy which was odd, because as soon as we stepped off the bus I realized the bus had been running the AC the whole time, it was 0800 and already quite hot (~31C or 85F!), this was not a good sign indeed ( In fact later on, standing at the start line, I was sweating and we hadn't even started yet, this worried me even more but was relieved to see everyone else around me sweating too so at least it wasn't just me!)
I had to pick up my race packet as it could not be mailed internationally, managed to do that and instead of the usual flimsy bag, I was surprised to receive a considerable box that was about the size of 2 shoe boxes in volume and heavier than expected!
It had the usual Bib, timing chip, and papers, as well as a agreement I had to sign that was in Korean that I had a person help me translate to the point I could understand that it was basically saying that no I was not going to defect to N Korean and no, I will not screw around inside the DMZ. Or it might have said something to the effect that I'm a pretty pretty princess who runs like a bunny rabbit, I really don't know, but signed it I did.
I dug through the rest of the box and found the source of the weight, every entrant got a 4kilo bag of DMZ rice, which is about 5x more expensive than the local rice as it is grown in one of the few remaining villages in the DMZ and as such, is away from most of the pollutants. Sadly, the US sees this is still a agricultural product of North Korea so I had to rid myself of it before boarding my plane back home, but I think the airline desk clerk who I gave it to was quite happy to get it
Anyways, I stowed the bag, and laced up the shoes as the hot mist melted away to reveal just a hot morning. It was slightly eerie/somber though that the mustering grounds for the race was the town's war memorial so there were 2 US Phantom warplanes, a smaller spotter plane, two AA guns, and Tanks lined up in the grass which I was using a shade while getting ready....wow.
Finally they did group stretches led by a peppy quartet of girls on stage in skirts and sweatshirts, how they could be wearing sweatshirts I don't know but I was pretty sure they weren't running the marathon that morning.
As we assembled at the starting line, my morning long observations were confirmed that I had yet to see any other non Korean/Asian runner there, and I thought that was actually pretty dang cool! Already for registration and such over the net I had to use google's translator and stab in the dark at which field was what on the form, but actually being here and being so isolated was really a trip. But it is definitely true that a smile overcomes and international barriers and I am beginning to think my pantomine skills are being developed to the point at which I could totally rock at Charades .
(later in reading the race manual which had all entrants names in it, for all 3 races, there were total of about 6000 racers and a total of 11 non Korean names in it, very cool stuff!)
Finally we lined up, there was much speeches and cheering (not to mention singing of the theme song of the race, seriously they gave you the sheet music to sing along to in the race packet!). I couldn't read the characters but I can read music, I did the best la-la-la-ing I could muster and got quite the laugh of those around me, I think they appreciated the effort though! )
Then with the simultaneous push of some buttons by 8 white-gloved hands, a cannon sounded, rockets and columns of colored smoke shot up and we were off! As we cleared the start line the pack revealed the SOuth Korean Military brass playing us off, which made me do a quick "woah!" and take a moment of amazement as this was another unique experience.
here is one of the start line pics, can you find the white guy in the picture?
We shot off through the town of Incheon and was fairly mundane, at the 10k mark we began to pass more and more checkpoints/barricades we had to zip around until the 13k mark which revealed the actual DMZ checkpoint at which we zigged and zagged around the anti-vehicle barricades and barbed wire and passed through the gates while the sentries on either side of the road in their sandbagged positions sat with what appeared to be 50cal's on turrets (!). On the road we encountered our first of many squads (platoons?) of sizes ranging from 20-40 all in full BDU gear and helmets and weapons slung across their front. All of them cheering on the runners (no one else was allowed in the DMZ, so it was amazing to realize there was military personnel in here cheering us on! I thought it was going to be quiet and lonely...) I'm not 100% sure why, but the fact that the sea of Koreans were ahead of me getting cheers were quickly replaced everytime by even louder cheers when they saw me, a white guy, chugging along with them, I wish I knew what they were saying! I always smiled and gave a thumbs-up while yelling back "Ahnyahng (hi!)" or "Kahm Sah Me Dah (Thank you!)".
Admittedly, being a non-local that could not have read all the korean literature I was slightly concerned that it could be a problem, and was relieved when I passed into the DMZ unhindered. Needless to say though this was the first marathon that I've run with the passport pinned to my hip in a duct taped plastic bag (and subsequently continually reached down to make sure it was still pinned on, could you imagine if I'd lost that in the DMZ, yikes!!)
The groups of military personnel were very quick to want to lean out and give high fives to me, a couple reaching out for a double handed hi five (I made sure not to bump their assault rifle slung between us!). Through out the DMZ, they'd roll by in a deuce and a half or standard military jeeps, in fact they continually patrolled by in the military jeeps and while they didn't stop to aid people, I did see them using the radio which soon had an ambulance coming along so I think they were helping us. I should note for medical aid they did the same thing as the Seoul marathon which is had rollerblading medical volunteers who continually streamed by, never really went 15 minutes without seeing one, a really smart idea I think and seemed to work great.
As we chugged through the DMZ we passed by some of the more prominent military and residential bombed out structures admist a visual irony of absolute beautiful nature with lots of wild flowers and never ending stream of butterflies (until it got too hot and they all disappered). This was explained by the continual heavy gauge wire paralleling the road on both sides for the majority of the time in the DMZ. the wire had the reoccuring red triangle signs on them that stated all too clearly what the permission slip was about as they were emphatically labeled:
So needless to say I did not stray from the pavement and prayed to the flying spaghetti monster above that the need for a pitstop did not occur as it would be an opportune time to say the least!
One of the features we passed through a half dozen of were (what I later found out) were anti-tank measures that had concrete embankments on either side that from the road went straight up about 4.5 feet, then at a 45 degree angle for about 4 feet, and then straight up again. if you can imagine at the top of the vertical area, there were large cement blocks propped up by small cement blocks that are anti-tank/instant road block measures, blow/destroy the small blocks and the big blocks tumble down the embankments and block the road. These were about 20 yards long each, again, sombering and a big reality check.
We chugged along with North Korea in our sights as we passed the South Korean manned military/monitoring posts and the North Korean posts zipped by tit-for-tat with the Southern ones, we paralleled the DML and came quite close to it (and passing rusted out tanks/vehicles in the process (!)) before turning back south and popping out of the DMZ at the 28k mark.
We tugged along the river back towards Incheon and the course continued for the most part very flat with only a couple of noteable gradual grades. However the heat was becoming notable as at the 30k mark I had emptied all 4 fuelbelt bottles which was a first for me, usually I have enough to cross the finish line with about 20% left! I had been using the water stops and sponge stops as well but still this was a concern. I knew that Korea was drier and hotter than Macau and again at the start line even the locals were already sweating as well, there was also a lot of people already walking on the side of the road and as the race progressed more and more people were laying on the sides of the road in any shade they could find and waiting for the sweep vehicles to come pick them up. The heat and sun were continuing to increase and bear down. Water stops were every 2.5k and I was gulping 2 or 3 water/sportsdrinks at each one, however some were overrun with people rehydrating before continuing and I made the decision to grab what I could and keep on going....welllll around the 32k mark, I noticed I was no longer sweating (uh oh), and then the mouth went completely dry (double uh oh)...last time this happened was doing my long run back in vegas on the old roadrunner's route, I made the choice to stop and drink from a sprinkler (and probably Vegas gray water...mmmmmm!)...no such option this time, I began to get mad as I really didn't want to foul up this race. Shortly there after the next inevitable happened as my left calve seized up in protest and quickly was followed by my right calve in a similar flame out. Zeus' underpants! this pissed me off, so I was forced to stop running and break stride...I had stiffed legged about 50m before a friendly rollermedic came by, I flagged him down, mimed the spray thing, and had him spray my legs which allowed them to unseize and make the remaining distance to the 32.5k water stop where I stopped and had them keep filling up the glass as I traveled the length of the table and then was able to keep going. I was mad at having to walk the 100m or so, I blamed the weather mayb 75% and lack of better long run training maybe 25%, it's just hard to find places to run on this island.
Happily though, I was up and running again (literally!), while there were similar episodes of dry foaming at the mouth before coasting into the next water stop (much like a racing game and coasting to the mark where your time is extended, my vitality was renewed with the sweet sweet water and sponges). On I went and while at a much slower pace, than wanted, finally came across the finish line at a time I don't remember 100% and haven't gotten my certificate yet, but it was 4:32 something.
So not stellar, but it could've been worse!
I of course had a heel click leap in me (I didn't come all this way NOT to do one! )(sadly no finish line photographers though)
Got my bag with my medal, banana, muffin, 12 pack of canned energy milk drink (!), and bottle water. I drank a whole lotta water and then hit the (much welcomed but much overcrowded) shower tent and got changed into clothes to hold me for the flight as I boarded the bus back to Seoul that had taken 90 minutes in the morning, turned into a full 4 hours back and made for a harrowing $60 cab ride to the airport that got me running to the gate just before they closed the doors. I later noticed that on top of dehydrated, I had gotten myself a lovely lovely jogging bra/singlet shaped sunburn from the poor quality chinese sunscreen I had used, oooops!
Okay, so maybe it didn't turn out to be such a brief race report, I guess I can't help myself! But what an experience and a race, being such an isolated loner and running through places I don't know of any other way I could get there was a blast, heat and all! If anybody wants to do next year's DMZ marathon, lemme know and I'll pass on all the knowledge/contacts I have to help you on your way (that is unless you already know Korean! )
Below is more pics from the course, including one of the more famous dilapidated military buildings and the DMZ exit gate as well as 4 of the other 8 non Korean Marathoners
<-------- Finishing the Great Wall of China Marathon for the second time Wheeee!