▲ Seongsan Sunrise peak is the backdrop for a triathlon swim on Jeju. Photo courtesy Ahn Byung Sik
At six in the morning the sun rises on two groups of people. It says goodnight to those that have reveled in the ecstasy of late night, and it says good day to those who have dreamt the night away in favor of hitting the road in running shoes to chase the early morning wind.
Since my time in Jeju I have joined the early risers to play, more specifically to swim, bike, and run. Triathlon is a sport that started in San Diego in 1974 when a bunch of nuts at a local track club debated who was more fit, a runner or a swimmer. To settle the argument they threw in a bike ride and set out to race all three sports one after another.
Since then the sport has grown with thousands of races all over the world and millions of participants. It’s an Olympic sport (at the 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run distance) and has a famous Ironman World Championship race in Hawaii every year (at a 4 km, 180 km, 42 km distance).
On Jeju I’ve had the good fortune of mucking in with the triathletes here and it’s been a wonderful ride.
These people, these early morning risers, have been a family to me. I started training with them when I haphazardly meet local professional triathlete Kaon Cho at Jeju Cycle (a local bike shop just west of Jeju City Hall). He invited me along for what he called an easy, leisurely ride of 100 km.
Now, keep in mind what’s easy for a professional is not so easy for an amateur like me.
While Kaon and his training partners cruised up the road laughing and goofing about, I turned my carcass inside out trying my damnedest not to get too far behind and be left as road kill. In fairness, once and a while one of them would loop back to check on me and ride with me for a bit, but if you’re a rabbit it’s hard to ride with the tortoise.
When the ride was finished I thought so too was my relationship with my new training partners. But while wolfing down boxes of choco pies and gallons of Pocari Sweat Kaon said, “And tomorrow, we’re running two hours. Start time is 6 a.m. Will you join us?”
I said, “yes.”
That’s the day I forged my mantra, never quit. And more importantly, that’s the day I was introduced to many of the local characters that make up the athletic family in Jeju.
A typical day begins a bit after 5 a.m. by shoving food into my mouth as I race out the door for the first session of either a swim, bike, or run, after which is a second breakfast and then off to work. Immediately after work (but not before stuffing my face again) it’s off to the next session which is a bike ride or a run or sometimes both.
The weekends are usually the same but with a longer ride (typically 100 to 200 km) and a run right after the ride. While this routine may look boring on paper, it’s filled with wonderful moments with lovely people.
As much as sport can be about competing, for the family of athletes on Jeju it’s about camaraderie, and — just as we did when we were kids riding our bikes all day and scuffing our knees and running wild on the playground — it’s about being a participant in life; when there is a bend in the road, whether on a bike or on foot, we’ll explore it together.
And the island is the perfect playground for those who love to dance in the sun. There are beaches galore with clear water to swim in. Never alone, you can float over colorful coral and say hello the haenyeo (female divers).
There is a heap of beautiful oreum and Olle paths that will take you on adventures through the woods, raise you up to stunning views of the island and ocean, and then lay you back by the sea where you can skip along the lava rock. And the roads: pick your choice — hit the coast and enjoy the ocean view, glide along the rolling foothills and wind yourself around the farms, forests and orange groves, or tackle a climb, peddle yourself up through the quiet switchbacks that summit Mt. Halla.
With so many inspiring landscapes it’s no wonder Jeju is a choice destination for adventure seekers.
On July 8, we’ll all celebrate our hard work at the Jeju International Triathlon. It’s a 4 km swim, 180 km bike, and a 42 km run. Races are a great opportunity to express your fitness and well, go as fast as you can! As you run the course with 300 of your friends there is no shortage of high fives and fist pump “fightings” being cheered along the way. And Korean races are a celebration punctuated with post-race makgeolli, soju, pork, and ramyeon.
If you like having the sun on your face mixed with a little happy sweat please join us! If the distance of an Ironman seems a bit daunting then no worries, start with a shorter Sprint Distance Triathlon of a 750 meter swim, 20 km bike, and a 5 km run. You can finish the whole thing in less then an hour and hit the beach by noon.
At every race you’re guaranteed a shiny medal, a bright colored T-shirt, and a coupon for some type of something or another. What a great deal for a little outdoor fun!
We all splashed in the tub as kids, swimming in the ocean is no different (minus the soap), and if you can walk, you can run. Give the rust on your secondhand bike a good coat of grease and bam! the island is yours!
To find more information about the Triathlon scene in Jeju (in Korean) visit www.jejutriathlon.com. See you out there.
Shannon Warren is from Newfoundland, Canada. He loves to run around in spandex and is slowly learning to swim without the use of water wings. If you’re keen on a swim, bike or run, give him a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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