▲ “Sparkling on the horizon, my de facto hometown, Seogwipo City,” writes Elwood about the run from Mt. Songak. Photo courtesyAndrew Elwood
“See you in five hours.”
I replied, “Two and a half.”
I was speaking with the owner of the Joy Full Cafe and Guesthouse, the first of many strangers that would end up “crewing” for me. A couple steps from a sparkling and deserted Hwasun beach, at the head of Olle 10, this cafe was the perfect spot to change into my running clothes, stow my backpack, and grab one last cup of coffee. I was going to run the whole course, east to west, and then do it again, west to east.
The official site of Korea tourism labels the Hamo Beach Resort as Olle 10’s terminal location, but in reality Olle 10 ends 1.3 k.m. down the road from Hamo beach at the Moseulpo port, Hamo Sports Park. All in all, 16 k.m. out and 16 k.m. back, my GPS watch logged 32.3 k.m. in total.
While I’ve run several complete Olles, I’ve never walked one in its entirety. Besides the glaringly obvious, however, there are a couple of reasons why not only running, but running out and back on an Olle is different than walking.
When walking in one direction your back is always turned on some amazing views. Running out and back lets you experience a trail from both directions, lets you reconnect with hikers you previously passed and, if you’re lucky, allows you to find that sense of peace that only comes after hours of physical exertion. As British singer/songwriter Paul Weller mused, “Why walk when you can run?”
Olle 10 has something for every runner. Long stretches of beach, soft loose sand, beach grass, single track technical trails, wide dirt paths, concrete farm roads, wooden boardwalks, lots of steps, and roads. While mostly flat, a round trip on Olle 10 provides the opportunity to ascend and descend roughly 600 meters in total.
I knew that on my return the strong northeasterly that propelled me along the coast from Mt. Sanbang to Mt. Songak would do its best to impede my progress, so I took advantage of the wind and my fresh legs and made a brief detour from the course to attack the crater rim of Mt. Songak.A violent gale at the summit blended with unimpeded views of Gapa and Mara islands, Mt. Halla, the entire route I had just run, and the one I would soon tackle. Sparkling on the horizon, my de facto hometown, Seogwipo City.
The path to Moseulpo
The world-class ultra distance runner, Scott Jurek, spoke about siren songs that, when running, bode him to rest, stay in bed, or succumb to the pain. Jeju too has sirens that sing a million melodies; one would prove to be irresistible: “Stop and take some pictures.” Lonely beaches, lagoons lined with hexagonal basalt rock formations, random works of art, archi-tecture, and landscaping all threatened to derail my progress.
Road rash. In Moseulpo, while looking around for the markers that would lead me to the beginning of Olle 11, my shoe caught a bit of uneven sidewalk. I crashed. Fortunately, a decade of BMX taught me how to wipe out on asphalt, and I barely missed a beat. Aside from my pride, I was in good shape and ready to continue.
While having an energy bar and a drink at the Olle 11 marker, I got mobbed by some elementary school children romp-ing about at a nearby playground. Did they recognize me from an outreach program I taught in that area a year before? Children are natural runners. I was teaching a lesson one day at work, and did a quick survey with my elemen-tary students. “Who likes running?” I asked. Every hand went up, mine included.
10 miles down, 10 more to go.
The entrance and exit to the Mt. Songak section are only a couple meters apart. I could skip across the grass and forego a second tour of the mountain. Turning my head to the right to face the ascending trail, I ignored the tempting shortcut, and I was glad that I did.
Along the undulating bluff and hundreds of stairs, I became aware of the fatigue in my joints. The discomfort must have shown. However, it was here that I found the motivation to finish the final 10 k.m. while logging my fastest split times of the day. It didn’t come from within me, but rather from the countless thumbs up, “fightings,” short rounds of applause, offerings of more mandarin oranges than my stomach could handle, and even a random roadside K-pop cabaret.
After three years in Jeju, I’m by no means an expert on Korean society and culture, but I feel like the people know how to overcome adversity. So many perfect strangers seemed to empathize with me and in turn cheer me on.
The iron oxide, crimson-capped Broth-ers Islet, impossibly green farmlands, and glassy azure seas all swirled in my head in the final moments before I returned to the Joy Full Cafe and the beginning of Olle 10. I was left with the final impression that Jeju is indeed a land of abundance, in natural beauty for sure, but more so in the overflowing spirit of those who call this place home.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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