It was almost a week after I completed the 1st All Women Ultra Marathon in Cebu before I flew into Seoul, South Korea for my next marathon. The reason for running the Seoul International Marathon was to get a slightly faster timing (below 4:40) so as to get a better seeding for Comrades. And since I achieved my marathon PB here in Seoul 3 years ago, I was confident of running within the cut-off time of 5 hours. However, I was not sure if my legs had the speed required to run fast after AWUM in Cebu. Hoped the sports massage I did on Thursday night was enough and that I had recovered well just in time.
Seoul International Marathon - Road Race Gold Label Awarded by IAAF
I arrived on Sat morning, the eve of the marathon. Had breakfast at the airport before taking a bus ride into Seoul city centre. After checking into the hostel, I went to the Donga Daily News Building to collect my race packet. The instructions given to overseas participants were precise and accurate - after reaching the Chungjeongno Station, and exit through Exit #8 along Line 5, I saw the Holly's Coffee as mentioned by the race organiser on the ground floor of the building. I took a lift to the 3rd level and saw 2 staff attending to calls. A guy then came over to ask for my identification, before retrieving my race packet from a box. I acknowledged by signing on a form before going to Holly's Coffee for brunch. Then, it was back to the hostel to catch up on my sleep before carbo loading dinner. I also tried out their milk tea before returning to the hostel for early lights out.
Things That I Did After Arriving In Seoul
Race Pick-up @ Donga Daily News Building
Breakfast @ Holly's Coffee & Inspecting Race Packet
Dinner Time - Appetizer & Dinner
I woke up at 5.30am to have my bun and drink. The weather was cool but not as cold as in 2009 where it was 1 degree Celsius. The bed was inviting so I went back to sleep before forcing myself to wake up and change at 6.30am. I put on my long sleeved tee over my short sleeved tee, CW-X long pants and packed my jacket into my bag deposit. And then I realised I didn't bring along my gloves! :( After checking my timing chip, I left for the start line. Out on the streets, I easily spotted other runners walking towards the start line direction. I followed them instead of taking the subway. I reached there around 7am and saw a few stalls selling all types of sporting stuff, including hot soup, gels, caps, shades, and GLOVES! And I bought one for 1,000 Won. Depositing my bag at the counter was an ease - they had many counters and you just need to look for one in which your bib number fell within the range. Every counter had 3~4 assistants and took care of 260 runners (xx001 to xx260). There was no queue at all the counters. After taking care of my bag, I went to Sector C and saw runners following to the music beat and exercise moves of the "model". The atmosphere was electric and the runners well mannered. Everyone gave each other their space and there was no shoving around unlike other big city marathons. Okie, maybe Seoul International Marathon wasn't as big scale as other big city marathons but it was a race that attracts Kenyan runners and worthy of fast times. I walked back to my Sector E to await the race start. In South Korea, races were started in waves. There were human chains standing in front of every waves to prevent runners from joining the front wave. Each wave given 3~4mins to clear before the next wave was flagged off. Being in the last pent meant that the runners won't start until 15~20mins after start for the elites. This was to avoid the route being too congested.
Layout of Starting Point
Layout of Starting Point
I looked at my watch when the race was officially started: 8:02am for the elites. And I didn't dare look at the watch again as I was not confident of running my sub-4:40 target. Soon, the last wave was flagged off and I just ran hard! The weather was nice and soon, I was heating up. Gosh, should have trusted my instinct and wore only my short-sleeved tee. Even before the 5km marker, I had to roll up my long-sleeved tee while wondering if I should remove it altogether. At the 5km marker, the timing clock showed "00:54" and I saw the sweeper bus on the opposite side of the road! I was worried that I might be caught by the sweeper bus and I ran even harder. At around 7km thereabout, I had a chance to look at the elite front runners. I loved the way they run. They were so fast and looked so effortless, while my every step looked laboured and hard. I ran past a group of performers hitting the drums but unfortunately, I didn't quite appreciate it as it sound like some death tune. :( At the 10km marker, we passed another timing mat and the clock showed "01:26". So far so good. I was able to maintain my pace by focusing on my run especially as this stretch of road along Cheonggyecheon was typical city centre, with a lot of shops, buildings, and nothing scenic.
We made another u-turn at the Gosanja Bridge and I was happy that the sun was behind my back again. I made a mental note to consume my 1st GU Gel at the 15km marker, which I reached at around "01:58" - the 3rd short section of the route in which I walked and drank. (The water point was positioned every 5km apart, with sponges available from the 17.5km mark and subsequently every 5km.) Just after the 16km, we made another u-turn and I ran past the hostel where I was staying! I was very tempted to go back to my room to take a quick toilet break but I resisted. I tried my best to hold my pace but I was beginning to slow down. There were a few more performances along the way but I didn't stop for any photos. I reached the 20km marker at "02:33". Big city marathons could be boring especially if there wasn't any interesting sights to see along the way nor big crowds to cheer you on. There were crowds cheering us along part of the streets though I didn't understand. I made another mental note for my 2nd GU Gel at 25km marker, which I crossed in "03:04". Even before I swallowed the GU Gel, I felt sick in my stomach. I dislike the texture. Makes me sick. It took me a good 3mins to force it down my throat with some plain water. Yiaks!
Starting to 20km Marker
Soon, we passed Ganja Street and made a right turn towards the Children's Grand Park. I was beginning to feel urgent from all the water that I drank but there was no mobile toilet in sight. At the 27.5km marker, I took a sponge to cool myself. Another right turn brought us towards Seongdong Bridge Crossroad and I hit the 30km marker at "03:38" just before the Seoul Forest. I quickly took a bottle of plain water and went to the back lane, hid behind some vehicles before releasing myself. I did a quick cleaning up with the sponge, quenched my thirst before I continued. By then, my legs were getting heavy. We had to go through a short underground pass, some turnings before approaching the Jayang 2dong Crossroad towards the Jamsil Bridge. The "climb" towards Jamsil Bridge was rather slow. I finally reached the aid station at the 35km marker at "04:14" and then saw the 4:40 pace group zoomed past me! I was demoralised as I didn't have the strength to chase after them. Maybe I had pushed myself too early. The weather along the bridge was not as cold as in 2009. There were no strong head wind. Towards the end of the bridge, we passed the sponge station at 37.5km marker and I somehow managed to pick up my speed going down the bridge.
20km Marker to Finishing
Turning right after the Seokchonhosu Crossroad, I saw the 38km marker and continued running hard till I reached the part of the road where there were some constructions and the road had metal coverings on them. This made it uncomfortable to run on and I slowed down. The 40km marker did perk me up a little but the clock showed "04:48". I was sure I couldn't make it below 4:40 chip time even if I pushed hard. And although I tried, I was getting tired. Turning right after the 41km marker, we could see the Sports Complex right ahead. Another right turn brought us onto the road entrance towards the stadium and there were may people on both sides of the barriers cheering the runners for that final push. I entered the stadium with other runners and we had to cover approximately 3/4 of the track. By then, I could hardly pick up my pace and slowly trudged home in "05:05" gun time.
The Post Race
I kind of regretted not to push harder and I knew it would be very close whether I made the sub 4:40 target or not. But there was nothing I could do after the race but hope for the best. After walking out from the stadium, runners were ushered to collect their packet of refreshment and medal. I returned the timing chip before going to retrieved my bag from the bag deposit counter, which again, was a breeze. In fact, the volunteers were extremely efficient: they would spot you from a distance even before you approached the counter and handed over the bag to you! I quickly went into one of a few changing tents where runner could change into their fresh clothing. Overall, the organisation of the race was top-notch. Unlike most big cities marathons, Seoul International Marathon had no big expo to attract local and overseas runners but what counts were how the race was organised. Having sufficient aid stations every 5km (since weather was a cool 5~8 degree Celsius), with tables that were spaced out well to avoid the collision among runners, food (bananas, chocolate) at strategic aid stations, etc were all examples of how the race was nicely planned. Their volunteers were enthusiastic and while I didn't appreciate the music performances located along the course, there were dance performances and overall, I still had a great time running in Seoul again. For the cost of US$40.00, this was a high quality race that I would definitely do it again in future, especially if one is gunning for a fast time. Race Ratings: 9/10.