▲ Thousands gathered to run for the personal challenge. Reporter Susan Shain and her fundraisers pounded the pavement to raise money for local orphanages. Photo by Daniel Quick
There were many tired bodies on Jeju Island last Monday, including mine. The day before, I ran a half-marathon as part of the 16th Jeju Marathon Festival. Approximately 5,000 people participated in the event, including some 270 runners from Japan and lots of mainlanders. According to organizers, there were about 60 Western expats.
On offer were a full-marathon (26.2 miles/42.1 kilometers), a half-marathon (13.1 miles/21 kilometers), a running 10K (6.2 miles), and a walking 10K. The event took place at Gujwa Life Sports Park along Gimnyeong Beach to the east of Jeju City.
Registration for the event ostensibly closed in April, though many participants mentioned having been allowed to sign up as recently as a few days before. The half-marathon fee was 30,000 won, which included snacks, water, sports drinks, a T-shirt, a free lunch voucher, and – the best part – a medal for everyone!
As this was my first race, I followed a 10-week training plan from the magazine Runner’s World, for which I started off running 19-21 miles (30.5/33.8 kilometers) per week and eventually worked up to 32-34 miles (51.5/54.7 kilometers) per week.
One of the surprisingly hard parts of my training was trying to find places to run where I would not be hit by speeding cars, chased by dogs, or be forced to struggle up and down hills. I spent a lot of my time at a high school track fighting for space with power-walking ajummas (Korean for auntie) and 17-year-old boys. So, after 10 weeks of training, I was tired, but ready.
It was a cloudy and rainy morning on the day of the marathon at the Gujwa Life Sports Park, which was very lucky for the participants – in all of their short-shorted glory. The race would have been much more difficult in hot and sunny weather. All the runners followed the same course – a there and back route along the coast. The views are supposedly incredible, but it was difficult to see due to the heavy fog and cloud cover.
Lily Tran, a teacher from the UK who ran the half-marathon, was also enthusiastic about the conditions, saying, “The combination of heavy overcast and light sea breeze turned out to be perfect conditions for long distance running — even giving the route a mystical quality.”
The marathon and half-marathon runners started together at 9 a.m., with the 10K runners starting at 9:10 a.m., and the walkers at 9:20 a.m. Water stations were located every 2.5 kilometers with bananas, marshmallow cream pies, and water sponges provided after the 5K mark. Porta potties and distance signs were spaced along the route, though the distances on the way back related only to the full marathon.
The festival as a whole was fun and well-organized. There was music, food vendors, traditional Korean dancers, and even confetti. The infrastructure was also good, with many expats arriving on shuttle buses that were available to and from the Jeju Bus Terminal and Seogwipo.
My favorite part of the race was definitely the good vibes and sportsmanship that permeated the atmosphere. There were smiling children cheering at every leg of the race, friendly people at the water stations, and best of all, extraordinarily friendly and supportive fellow runners. Everyone cheered each other on, and cries of “Fighting!” (a common expression in modern Korean) were frequent.
E’vone Starks, an American who ran in the half-marathon, put it best. She said, “I had a lot of fun, especially because everyone was so friendly. When I started slowing down at one point, an older man even ran with me to keep my pace up. I felt bad for eventually smoking him, but the vibes there were just great. I am excited for the race in October … well, I will be, as soon as my legs recover!”
Several expat runners, including me, had an extra bit of encouragement in their sneakers due to the fact that they were running for charity. As fundraising for a good because while physically torturing yourself is the norm in the West, we organized our own race-related fundraiser (jejuorphanages.yolasite.com) for two orphanages located in Jeju City.
This was definitely a positive factor in our training, which Tran touched on when she said, “Knowing that I was running for a good cause was really motivating, and I’m looking forward to visiting the orphanages.”
Thanks to the generosity of friends and family here and back home, we were able to raise more than expected and had to use three carts at Lotte Mart to do our shopping. We had called the orphanages to ask what they needed, and with the funds we purchased socks, toilet paper, laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, baby wipes, snacks, school supplies, and toys.
In my tiny car overflowing with jumbo packs of toilet paper and laundry detergent, we headed out to the orphanages this past Sunday, a week after the race. One is located in Nedo-dong, and the other was located in Doryeondong.
Between them, they house almost 200 children from infants to 22 year-olds. According to a translator, though many of the children have parents, they were placed in the orphanages due to abuse. The others were given away at birth because of the the stigma associated with being a single mother in Korea.
Despite this sad knowledge, our visits to the orphanages were uplifting and positive. The grounds and facilities at both orphanages were cheery and impeccably clean. The kids were happy and outgoing, eager to ask us where we were from and tell us “nice to meet you.” The staff was gracious and welcoming. At our second stop, whatever was wafting out of the kitchen smelled delicious. And if you could judge anything from the smiles of the children, these orphanages seemed to be pretty good at what they do.
Upon running in and seeing the pile of stuff we had donated, one group of adorable boys exclaimed “Wow!” in unison. My friends and I decided it was amazing how one little word could mean so much.
Though we have now finished our fundraising efforts, the Korean Kids and Orphanage Outreach Mission (KKOOM - www.kkoom.org) is an American non-profit organization with extremely low overhead that is always accepting donations to support its work with Korean orphanages.
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