Prior to participating in my first race, I detested long-distance running more than words can describe. Exhaustion and boredom aside, I could not stand the notion of wasting so much time moving aimlessly. About a month before the end of my military duty, a newspaper company in Gangwon-do, the province in Korea where I was stationed, hosted a 5K running event. As much as I disliked the sport, I was obsessed with any sort of tangible awards, specifically medals. The second I discovered the event included medals for finishers, I was convinced to join. I surprisingly enjoyed the race, as I was amused by the idea of running with hundreds of strangers cheering on one another. Once I was honorably discharged, I had over four months until returning to the United States. Having grown up in North America since age ten, I hardly had any friends in Korea and thus did not have much to do for leisure aside from catching up on academics. I believed participating in another race in Seoul to be a wise way to meet people and decided to run another 5K. From that point forward, taking part in running events rapidly became an addiction. I ran two additional 5K races, one of which I placed second in in my age group of 20-24, in Georgia before taking this newfound hobby to the next level. My best friend and I, scheduled to travel to Korea together for a couple of weeks in May 2013, registered for a half marathon in Yeoju. Having planned many places to visit, neither of us had time to train aside from a round of suicide and one-hour jog a few days earlier to ensure our bodies could keep up. We had one goal, to finish, and our time did not matter. We kept a slow pace until the final sprint and were able to satisfactorily complete the race.

First half marathon with my best friend! PC: Yeoju King Sejong the Great Half Marathon
Publix Georgia Marathon 2014

Although I repeatedly told myself to take my desire of fatiguing my body down a notch, I signed up for the Publix Georgia Marathon, one of the most physically demanding marathons anywhere due to the course’s ceaseless hills and set to take place on March 23, 2014. Completing the ATL Challenge 39.3 became my new objective, requiring me to successfully finish the marathon within six and a half hours and the Michelob ULTRA Atlanta 13.1 Marathon later that year. To keep from becoming lazy and attempt all categories of running events, I entered two 10K’s and a 10-miler in Seoul, London, and Atlanta, respectively.

My entire body cramped up like never before.

Thanks to insomnia, I did not fall asleep for a split second the night before the marathon, adding a minor headache to my list of obstacles. I still had to believe I could overcome this race, which had been my athletic aim for almost a year. The first fifteen miles could not have gone more smoothly, but then I caught unanticipated stomach cramps that refused to fade until the end. The second half of the course contained mainly steep uphills, and the run turned into a war. I questioned the purpose of my enduring this grueling process, but my ego helped me carry through to the finish. I walked a few times towards the end, which initially made me feel like a failure. Albeit proud of crossing the finish line, I could not help but be disappointed with the slowing of my pace due to the cramps, as I completed the first half just over two hours but the entire race in 4:52:44. Fellow runners and volunteers encouraged and complimented me by informing me of the difficulty of a first-timer’s finishing under five hours, especially on a brutal course of the Publix Georgia Marathon. After letting this bittersweet experience sink in, I registered for the Michelob ULTRA Atlanta 13.1 Marathon and set my eyes on this new test to fulfill the ATL Challenge 39.3. Being physically and mentally challenged helps me grow as a person and appreciate my privileged life; hence, whether through running or other hobbies, I will continue to seek challenges.