Under a blazing summer sun, with sweat pouring down your back, you walk and walk. While pushing your way through a cloudburst, you might not even be able to tell perspiration from rain.
“The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose,” wrote Charles Dickens in 1842. In 2012, some 70 people who may well share the same sentiment as Dickens are set to arrive on Jeju for the Jeju Walking Grand Prix Championship.
The challenge set for the walkers is to cover around 250 km of Jeju’s coastal road within five days, starting July 7. Participants need to finish a certain number of kilometers within 12 hours per day, with the next leg of the race starting daily at 5 a.m.
The race starts from Tapdong, Jeju City, for a mandatory 42.0 km. The following days’ distances are 53.3 km, 51.4 km, 50.2 km, and 39.2 km. Last year, 50 people participated and 45 people completed the race.
This championship is part of the Korea Walking Grand Slam, which is hosted by the Korea Walking Federation (KWF) and held between April to October. The KWF is the only association in Korea authorized by the International Marching League Walking Association (IML Walking Association).
KWF Executive Director Lee Sang Ok said in a telephone interview with The Weekly, “There are 3,500 walking coaches under KWF, which annually holds the International Walking Championship in Wonju, Gangwon province. Over 10,000 people from all around the world participate.”
Participants are eligible for a ”Korea Grand Slam Walker” certificate issued by KWF when they complete the three annual major walking championships in Korea which total 416 km; Wonju (100 km), Gunsan (66 km) and Jeju’s 250. Twenty-nine people in 2011 and 10 people in 2010 earned the “Korea Grand Slam Walker” title.
Every year more people sign up to compete. KWF Deputy Executive Director Jeong Ji Myeong said, “When we first started the Jeju Grand Prix 2010, only 22 people participated. The number is increasing annually through word of mouth.”
Lee said that the key to walking is maintaining correct posture. “Many people undervalue walking and do not consider it as exercise. However, walking [entails] complex motion requiring the coordination of over 100 bones in our body.”
“When I visited government agencies in the 1980s and explained the importance of walking as exercise, no one listened to me. However, with the economic development of Korea, now people [understand] the importance of walking.”
Lee added, “I want to develop the Korea Walking Championship into a world-renowned event like the International Four Days Marches Nijimegen in the Netherlands, which has a 96-year history and attracts over 100,000 people from all around the world.”
Every year, 24 member countries of IML Walking Association hold their own International Walking Competition, which includes the 18th Wonju Two Days Walk held on Oct. 26 and 27. The registration process runs from Sept. 12 to Oct. 25, but includes on-the-spot registration. Last year, 30,000 people participated including 500 overseas walkers. The registration fee is 3,000 won for students and 5,000 won for adults.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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