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12 Oct 2008

10k report – After a little over a month of training, Hyunjin and I ran the 10k race in the Hi Seoul Marathon this morning. I’m not pleased with my performance at all, although it wasn’t as much about my performance as it was about just the general environment of the race. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll get to why I’m not happy later.

“I ran the race. I crossed the finish line. But I didn’t do my best, and I was not even remotely proud or happy when I crossed the finish line.”

We got out of bed at about a quarter to six this morning and spent a few minutes trying to wake up. For breakfast we each had a banana and two pieces of toast—one with peanut butter and one with fig jam for me. I also had a cup of “honey tea” (just honey in hot water). We drank some water after breakfast, got dressed, and left the house before seven o’clock.

When we got to City Hall Station it was like walking into a refugee camp, except the refugees were all stretching. We went out of the station, took off our outer clothes (we had just put them on over our running clothes), and then waited in line to check our belongings. It was cold, and I think the temperature was what worried me the most. I knew we would be fine once we started running, but we were in for a long wait before that happened.

After checking our belongings, we looked around for the bathrooms, but it turned out that the only bathrooms available were in the subway station. So we waited on line for nearly fifteen minutes just to go to the bathroom. I don’t know how you can have nearly 10,000 people gathering for a race and not give any thought to maybe setting up extra restroom facilities.

Anyway, waiting for the bathroom ate up a good deal of time, and by the time we got back outside it was time to think about finding our starting point. There were three races going this morning: the full marathon (42.195 km), the half marathon, and the 10k race. The 10k race was divided up into two starting groups: those who were going to run in under 50 minutes, and those who were going to run in over 50 minutes. Even though my latest 5k runs have been under 25:00, I wasn’t entirely confident that I could run the entire 10k in under 50 minutes—and besides, Hyunjin was starting in the latter group—so I went with the slow group. This was mistake number one.

Mistake number two was actually believing the organizers when they said that our chips (our number tags had electronic chips on the back) would activate only when we crossed the start line, so there was no need to push and shove in order to get to the front. Not that they lied about the chips starting when we crossed the start line (although, honestly, now I’m not too sure about that either—more on that later), but the idea that this might be the only reason one might want to start closer to the front was, in hindsight, absurd.

After everyone else had started, the slow group moved toward the starting area. We were given the start signal and we started to jog toward the start line in one big mass of people. Even when I crossed the start line and waved goodbye to Hyunjin, I was hemmed in on all sides by slow people. I felt more like I was playing an avoidance game than running a race.

Only a few hundred meters in, though, I forgot about the jostling crowd around me. For some reason, I developed a severe cramp to the left and slightly below my solar plexus. At first I was surprised, as this usually doesn’t happen to me when I start running, especially at that speed. In fact, it’s never happened to me at that speed. After I got over the surprise, though, I realized that it was going to suck to have to run ten kilometers with a stabbing pain in my abdomen. I hoped that it would go away, but I was prepared to run ten kilometers through the pain, and I maintained as reasonable a pace as possible.

Fortunately, at somewhere around the 1k mark, it did go away, and I could once again focus on the race. I looked down at my watch and saw that it had taken me nearly seven minutes to run the first kilometer. Part of it was no doubt the cramp, but I think it was more the fact that I was stuck in a huge crowd of people. In that moment I realized that any chances of a personal record were probably now out the window, but I was still going to give it my best. The crowd stayed pretty thick for the next few kilometers, though, and I spent most of my time trying not to run people over. It wasn’t so bad with individual runners, but there were people running in pairs, or even threes and fours (abreast), and doing so very slowly. I even saw three or four people walking abreast on more than one occasion.

It was at this point that I started to realize something that had begun tickling the edge of my conscious mind as I had waited for the start of the race: pretty much everyone and their brother runs in the 10k. There were people there who had no intention of running the whole way, if they were going to run at all. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Everyone has their own pace, and everyone has their own goals. I really can’t fault anyone for that. I just really wish I had known in advance so I wouldn’t have had to spend the entire race avoiding people.

Around the 4k mark it looked like the crowd might be starting to thin out a little. I had a little more room to run, and I felt like I was finding my pace. I passed a guy who sounded like he was on his last legs, and he picked up speed as I went by. I realized he was trying to keep pace with me, which surprised me because he was gasping for air like a fish out of water. He fell behind not too long after, though. I passed the 5k mark and thought that, if things kept up like this, I might have a chance to beat my personal record after all.

Things, of course, did not keep up like that. At the 6k mark the course veered toward Chungnang Stream, and for about two kilometers we ended up running along a course that was approximately two meters wide. There were far fewer people, thank goodness, but it was almost as bad as it had been at the beginning. It wasn’t until after the 8k mark that things started opening up again. When we reached the 9k mark (I didn’t see it, but I knew about where it would be from a glance at the map before the race), I picked up my pace. Up until that point I hadn’t even been breathing hard, and I was barely sweating. I ended up with so much energy left that I sprinted the last hundred meters or so.

My time was 54:20—over a minute slower than my previous 10k time. Thinking about it now, I guess it’s not so bad, considering the circumstances, but I was extremely disappointed at the time. It wasn’t anything like what I was expecting it to be, and I didn’t feel any sort of joy when I crossed the finish line. Nothing. No, “I did a good job” or “I really ran well.” Just, “Man, that sucked.”

Like I said above, I really can’t blame the people who signed up to run/walk a leisurely 10k and did just that. That’s fine for them. I’m just a little frustrated with myself for not anticipating this. I’m also frustrated at those people in the sub-50 group who had no business being there. I can almost guarantee that there were people who started in the sub-50 group and didn’t finish anywhere near 50 minutes because I passed people continuously and consistently throughout the race. The number of people who passed me was in the single digits, but I passed hundreds (probably close to a thousand, I would guess). And the speed at which I passed some of these people tells me that they started way before I did. Although, again I suppose this boils down to frustration with myself for being an idiot and actually thinking that people would follow guidelines.

I wasn’t really this bitter when I sat down to right this entry. But as soon as I opened up Word and began typing, I got a text message. Apparently they had calculated my official time using the chip I had turned in. That time? 56:20. I had to stare at it for a few moments before it sank in—a full two minutes slower than my actual time. Hyunjin got her time, and it turned out to be faster than her actual time. I could understand the times being a few seconds off, but two minutes? I started my stopwatch as soon as I crossed the start line and hit it again as soon as I crossed the finish line. My time was 54:20. Yeah, it sucks, but it’s a heck of a lot better than 56:20.

I’m trying to let go, I am. I’m trying not to get too aggravated about this, but I’ve been looking forward to it for over a month now. Every day when we went out to run, I pictured myself running in this race. I pictured myself crossing the finish line. Most of all, I pictured myself doing my best and being proud and happy when I was finished. I ran the race. I crossed the finish line. But I didn’t do my best, and I was not even remotely proud or happy when I crossed the finish line. I didn’t even come anywhere close to pushing myself. For the most part it felt like I was out for a slightly strenuous jog at best. This was not what I was picturing; this was not what I was looking forward to. So no matter how I try to tell myself that it doesn’t matter, right now it does matter. Right now I am very disappointed, and just not happy at all.

They say pictures are worth a thousand words, right? Well, I suppose this one really is. After we had gotten our belongings, we went to have our picture taken with our race medals (everyone got one for completing the course). I’m only posting it here because when Hyunjin saw it she said it perfectly captured how we both felt after finishing the race.

Despite being extremely disappointed and aggravated with the race today, I have not soured on running in general. I’m going to keep running. If anything, this experience has solidified my resolve to make my next race (probably next year) a half marathon. I have no illusions that it’s going to be me alone on the road, but it has to be better than what I went through today.

(For the record, I feel a lot better now that I have written this and gotten it off my chest. I considered not posting it, since it has served it’s purpose, but despite the fact that I feel a lot better I still don’t really have anything good to say about the race. I’m not going to lie and say I had a good time, so it’s either this or nothing, and I guess this is better than nothing.)

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