Since returning to Korea on July 27, 2015, to visit my family prior to moving to Kearney, Nebraska, to start a new career, I have not had one sleep without waking up multiple times in the middle of the night due to the summer heat and inexplicable humidity. The minute I turn off my fan, I sweat as if I have entered a sauna. Thus, signing up for the Hope Race Half Marathon in Seoul on August 15, 2015, confused and worried my parents, especially my father. He repeated, “Why are you doing that?” roughly twenty times the week of the race.
This year’s August 15 marked the seventieth anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japan; therefore, superficially, this running event looked special, although the date’s significance played no role in my decision to run 13.1 miles. Aware of the danger of heat exhaustion, I consumed three half-a-liter bottles of water and slices of watermelon, not foreseeing this would book me numerous must-use tickets to the bathroom. Regardless of how many times I visited the men’s room, not even halfway through the race, I instantly and desperately needed to release my Yellow Sea-turned-white. My pace felt ideal; hence, I refused to stop even for a moment to pee on grass with families and couples nearby, disrupt my flow, and worsen my finish time. For well beyond half of the race, I thought of nothing but this burden, and I cannot say peeing my shorts did not cross my mind, but a friend had promised to wait at the finish line and that sordid option went out the window. Fortunately, towards the end, the visualizing of the toilet faded, but unfortunately, this “holding-it-in” marginally hurt my stomach and narrowed my strides. The course being hillier than I expected and the ongoing ray of the sun exacerbated the hardship. Considering how powerfully the rain poured for thirty minutes before the race, I was befuddled by the abrupt weather change into a runner’s nightmare: heat and humidity. I gradually slowed down from six kilometers to go not because of physical exhaustion but rather the lack of motivation; my body held up as usual, but mentally drained, I kept asking myself, “What the heck am I doing here?” as my father said.
The friend who insisted she would take a study break and greet me at the finish line brought me a carton of Vita Coco and took photos of my final sprint. “Why did you take so long?” asked she, but I had no idea I had fallen over fifteen minutes short of my personal record of 2:01:15 from an exponentially hillier thereby tougher course, completing the run in 2:18:54.59. On a standard occasion, I would have been embarrassed and frustrated, but I spotted veteran runners struggling as I in roughly ninety-degree heat and brutal humidity and countless half marathoners behind me, proving every runner faced this adversity. I continued, “I don’t like how they do this in kilometers [instead of in miles] here. There are more numbers to count, so it feels longer psychologically.” My right knee remained sturdy throughout, giving me confidence the injury from the ultramarathon has been sufficiently healed. The only notable physical pain being a headache informed me I should not treat running at the peak of summer the same way I treat running in a cool temperature. In spite of this race being one of my worst performances to date, I gained valuable experience and have no regrets.