Sunday, October 2, 2011

Culture Shock: Korean Run for Peace 10km

I hadn't planned on running a 3rd race in October but when my friend and fellow West Toronto Pacer Joseph Park told me about this race and said that they had good prizes and even better draw prizes (TV's and a round trip to Korea), my interested was piqued.  I asked him how much it was to enter and he said $10.  SOLD.  Hands down the best value for a race considering what I walked away with.

I was scheduled to do a 27km run with a 10km race pace segment in the middle third of the run.  My plan was to drive to the park early and head out for my run.  I was hoping to get about 13-14km in before the race and then do a 3km cool down.  That didn't happen.  I got just over a 7km warm up in before I got back in to the park to collect my race bib.  That was not a speedy process as I think they needed a few extra hands.  After I got my bib, I ran back to the car to drop off my fuel belt and change into something a bit warmer.  It was FREEZING.  It might have been 7 degrees but it was windy which made it feel that much colder.  I wished I had brought gloves.  I ran back to the start area and met up with the rest of the West Toronto Pacer crew.  There were 12 of us and we were all on the Red Hot Korean Chilly Pepper Team.  Talk about a stacked team.

The race was supposed to start at 9:00 am but in the spirit of a true community event, the organizers allowed last minute registration to go on well past the original start time.  The announcer, whom I couldn't hear very well, nor could I understand since he was speaking Korean, had told us the race would start at 9:15.  Apparently he also said it would start with a gong and then someone hit the gong and a bunch of us took off.  False start.  Everyone ran back to the start line laughing.  It was quite funny. There was some more announcing in Korean and then they counted down to the start 3-2-1 and we were off.  It was mayhem.  There were a bunch of slower men in front of me that I had to dodge around to get some space but that didn't take long and within the first 500m, I had room to move.  Roger, John, Victor and Joe took off like mad men.  Normally I can stick with Joe but I wasn't about to make the same mistake I made the last time I raced 10km.  I went out hard but mainly due to adrenaline.  I dialed that back pretty quickly and settled into a good rhythm.  I was running anywhere between 4:05's and 4:10's.  Perfect.  The way out was slightly down hill so I figured I'd make some gains there.  It was very windy so my plan was to draft as much as possible.

I passed a few guys early on and then seemed to settle into my groove nicely.  The course was 2 loops and we had to get an elastic band at certain points so the marshals knew that we did 2 loops.  Much like the run in Ironman Switzerland.  I got to the first elastic band pick up and knew that on the way back I'd be able to see where the next woman was.  I was in the lead, I just didn't know by how much.  She must have been relatively close behind me because I couldn't see her after that first turn around.   I pushed it a bit on whatever downhills I could find and then drafted behind people as the way back was ridiculously windy.  The less work I had to do the better.   As I passed one fellow, he said "You know you are the lead woman!"  I said "yup!" and he wished me luck as I pushed on towards turn around number 2.  My pace slowed a fair bit on the way back as I was running into the wind and slightly uphill.  It was tough.  I could feel my legs starting to complain a bit.

I hit the second turnaround and it was at this point that I finally saw the woman behind me.  She was decked out in a pair of Boston Marathon capris and a Livestrong jacket.  She was also only about 500-600m behind me.  Still too close for comfort.  I was going to have to push harder.   On the way back out, I caught a guy in a Mississauga Run Club t-shirt.  He was running the perfect pace for me to duck in behind him.  So that's exactly what I did.  He blocked the wind for me for the last 1/3 of the race.  I ran just off his shoulder or right behind him for as long as I could.  He got ahead of me a few times but each time I managed to catch him and sit behind him.  At the 3rd and final turn around, I almost lost him but caught up with him when I booked it on the down hill.  At that point I saw I had opened up a decent gap on the next woman.  She was now closer to 800m behind me. Whew.  I kept pushing, hoping I'd have something left in the tank at the end.  I felt like I had raced smartly this time.  My energy level was good, sure my legs were a bit sore but that's to be expected, given I ran an 8km warm up.  With the help of my Mississauga run club friend, we managed to pick off a few more guys that had gone out too hard.  With about 1km to go we caught John Song and at one point I had the 2 of them in front of me completely blocking the wind.  Sweet.  A few minutes later I my pace bunny started to pull away and John & I were running together.  He said we should try and catch that guy. I wasn't sure I'd be able to but then I saw Gary (he was the bike marshall) so I started to push the pace.  I was getting closer to my pace bunny but there was no way he was going to get chicked.  I started to really push the pace, at one point I looked at my watch and it said 3:51 km's.  Jeezus.  I was cookin'.  I lost John and started to close in on my pace bunny.  I ran out of real estate before I could catch him.  He crossed the finish line just ahead of me and then he turned to me and said "You, wow!" as he gasped for air.  I said "Did I push you to go faster?"  He said "Yes, thank you!".  I smiled back and said "You're welcome".

That has to be one of my favourite things about racing right there.   Totally awesome.

Apparently this race is a big deal in the Korean community.  The amount of photographers and videographers there was insane.  Because of the close finish between me and my pace bunny, the photographers didn't get a good shot of me crossing the finish line.  So, they requested that I go back out and run back in for the cameras.  Ha ha ha ha.  Seriously.  So I did it.  The next thing I know I've got some reporter with a camera and a mic asking if he can interview me.  What?  Oh my.
Pic courtesy of Roger Jonas

Those of you that know me, know how uncomfortable I am in front of the camera.  It's not like I could say no.  So there I am holding a mic and talking about how I heard about the race and how much fun I had and how happy I was to have won.  I was just about to head back to the car when a second camera crew comes up and asks me if I would mind answering a few questions.  Wow.  Ok so I'm asked a few more questions about the race, how often do I run, have I run any marathons before and which ones.  When I mention Boston I got a series of "oohs" from the camera guys.  Too funny.  The interviewer then asked me if I minded giving my age and when I said "40", he said "Oh wow, you don't look 40".  Totally made my day.

pic courtesy of Roger Jonas
The awards ceremony was taking place at the Korean Cultural Centre just up the street on Leslie so the whole WTP crew made our way over there where Joseph wrangled some seats up at the front.  Everyone was teasing me and calling me the Grand Champion.  There was a little program there that outlined the mornings proceedings and sure enough, the overall winners were called The Grand Champions.  Ha.  Wow.  I caught a glimpse of the trophy up on stage and it didn't look as big as what Victor and Joe had said  Boy was I ever wrong.

Given that this was an event that had some political leanings and we are in the midst of an election campaign, I was not surprised to see the stage filled with local MP's & MPP's.  Of course we had to listen to speeches from all of them as well as have them read well wishes from our Premier and Prime Minister.  There were some important Korean figures there as well and they also gave speeches.  The WTP crew sat through it patiently.  Well most of us did.  Joe kept making comments and making us laugh.  Carrie kept me giggling through a lot of it as well.  Finally they were going to announce the winners from the age groups.  At all the other  races I've done, the overall winners get announced first.  Not so at this one.  The age group winners got announced first.  The age groups were in 15 year increments as well.  Bizzare!  And instead of going first, second and third in each category, they announced the 3rd place winner in each age category first, then they announced the 2nd place winner in each age category, then the first place winner in each age category.  Very confusing.   The West Toronto Pacers cleaned up.  Out of the 12 of us that participated, 7 of us got trophies.  We also got an award for being a part of the largest team (we each got a $5 gift card for Tim Hortons!).   There was a lot of teasing leading up to the announcement of the Grand Champion.  Joe said I'd probably have to make a speech and I was mortified.  Good God.  I was also told I'd have to make sure I bowed my head as a sign of respect to the presenter.  Ok, got it.  Joe was trying to give me a crash course in Korean greetings but I was so nervous I figured there was no way I'd remember it, let alone get it right.  They announced the Men's winner and his time (in Korean first) and there were a lot of oohs and aahs (he ran it in 38 minutes and change) and he went up to get his trophy.  Then they announced my full name (shocking!) and my time, again there were a lot of oohs and ahhs.  The WTP crew were cheering a whistling and I was trying so hard not to turn as red as my Running Free shirt.  I got up on stage and walked over to the presenter bowed and shook his hand and he handed me this ginormous trophy that had to weigh about 20lbs.  Holy smokes.  I shook the men's winners hand and then noticed that he had the women's trophy so we made a switch on stage.  The crowd started laughing.  I was given an envelope with a gift card of some sort in it.  I was DYING to get off the stage but we had to pose for pictures.  Oh my god, the amount of people with cameras was ridiculous.  I don't know how Hollywood people do it.  I didn't know where to look, I had this silly nervous smile plastered to my face.   We started to walk off and then the hostess wanted us to give a small acceptance speech.  AHHHHHH.  I wanted to crawl under a chair and hide.  I do NOT like public speaking.  At least not in front of a crowd of people I don't know.   I was handed the mic and echoed the same sentiment that the Men's winner said.  I thanked the volunteers and organizers as well as the other participants.  I explained how I heard about the race, what a great day that I had and how I pushed myself hard and how I ended up with "a trophy that I could barely hold up".  Apparently people found that funny.   I thanked everyone again and made a hasty exit from the stage.  I sat down with my group again and opened the envelope.  I noticed my hands were shaking.  Wow, I must have been SUPER nervous.  I had won a Best Buy gift card.  Didn't know how much it was for.  I found out later it was worth $200.  That will definitely come in handy since we're going to be buying a new stereo system for the new house.

All in all it was a great day.  The race was so much different than any other races I've run.  It was Korean Style grass roots,  which is not surprising since the bigger picture is the message (Run for Peace). It was a lot of fun to actually race with the gang I train with.  I suspect that this will become a bit of a fall tradition with the West Toronto Pacers.  I do know one thing, I'm going to have to go back and defend my title next year.

The West Toronto Pacers

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