Running (in Korea) is NOT fun

Sunday I ran a 10k here in Daegu.  You might recall that when I signed up to run, my Korean teachers thought I was being ridiculous for calling it a “fun run.” 

Now.  I understand.

But first let me set the scene.  Per the “runner instructions” – I was supposed to be at the running site by 7am.  LIES!  We got up SUPER early (5:15am) and got to the venue on time – and then…waited.  We waited over an hour trying to stay warm. 


I’m freezing and not very pumped for the run.  Can we just go home?


First Aid Team getting ready to rollerblade to anyone’s aid.

Although I rarely see Koreans running around the city or at my gym – on this day, it was like half the country was signed up to run.  I was shocked.  Where have they been hiding?

And since Daegu is host to the 2011 World Track & Field Championships, the 10k and full marathon race was kind of like a big kickoff (i.e. it was a BIG deal).  They even had opening ceremonies – complete with band, partially clothed (and freezing) girls, fireworks, and lots of ticker tape. 


Thousands of colorful balloons released into the air – to support the city’s theme “Colorful Daegu.”  At least they don’t call themselves “Green Daegu.”

Finally – race time.  They let the marathon runners go first.  And then a bit more pomp and circumstance – and then it was our turn.  But no…we had to do some group stretching first. 


The countdown begins and then we are off.  Well, sort of.  There was absolutely no attempt at staging the runners (i.e. fast runners up front, followed by average runners, joggers, and then walkers).  With that said, the start of the race was chaotic horrendous!

The moment I crossed the start line (and my timing chip starts), I am met with a human maze.  Okay Lisa…time to be strategic.  I look to my right.  Korean couple jogging and holding hands at the same time.  To my left – wall of Korean women linked arm to arm.  In front, a small gap is opening – I must sprint and take advantage.  It was real life Frogger.  Zig, zag, slip in here, jump through flaming hoops there.  It was ridiculous.  

 Note: I’ve run TONS of races in my life.  I understand the beginning is always a bit chaotic.  But this was unlike any I have ever witnessed.

Oh, and seriously, I encountered several Korean couples who were running and holding hands.  (Not sure if they lasted the whole race that way, but I wouldn’t put it past them).

The first 2 kilometers (a little over 1 mile), I had wasted a ton of my energy just trying to find space to run.  And then it started to finally thin out a little bit.  I still had to dodge runners left and right, but at least I actually had space to run around the slower runners.

I hadn’t even run half the distance, and I was tired.  I spent the whole race trying to make up for the minutes lost in the beginning and with only 10 kilometers, it’s really not that much distance to make up for such a slow start.

I don’t know my official time, but it’s somewhere around 54:20 (about 9 min miles).  I was hoping for faster, but not in these conditions.  It was still a good race and I was surprisingly tired and sore from it. 


Thank god that’s over.


Plus, I got a medal.  Cue the Star Spangled Banner!

The last 3k of the race, this Korean guy was pacing off of me.  If I sped up and passed someone, he would follow.  And the last 1k, he started to slow, so I turned around and waved him on and encouraged him to keep up with me.  I think he even beat me in the sprint to the finish…that bastard!  Kidding.  He found me later to thank me for helping him (and I met his brother too).


Although I don’t plan on running another race while I’m in Korea, I can at least cross “Run race in foreign country” off my bucket list.  Wait…it was never on there.  Dammit!

73 Responses to “Running (in Korea) is NOT fun”

  1. 1 Jen April 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Wow, what a crazy race! Sounds like a memorable experience though. I’m impressed with the couples who were holding holds. I can barely grip a dog leash while I’m running. Would you run another race in Daegu? Thanks for sharing!

  2. 2 Cheryl April 12, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    hey! nicely done, i’ve always wanted to run an 8-10km race…we’ll see. i’ll be headed to korea this summer (my first time) and this sounds amazing! i’m glad to have stumbled across this blog (: keep it up!


  3. 3 Gayle April 12, 2010 at 2:49 pm


    Stumbled upon your blog. Love your post. My goal: Run one mile this year. No marathons in my immediate future.

    You inspired me to think about it though. We’ll see how it goes. lol!

    Great job!


  4. 4 Kris April 12, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Well done you!! Very inspirational!

  5. 5 hogeruns April 12, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    What a crazy race, I’ve read articles about how crowded races in China, Korea and Japan can be loaded with people running “unconventionally” (holding hands, never ran before race day, etc). Congrats on a great finish time in a difficult environment!

  6. 6 Tia* April 12, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing this experience. Now I know a little more about running races and what to expect when I decide to run in a race(which will be soon). Great post.

  7. 7 Jane April 12, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    I’m so glad to have found your blog – found you through the WordPress home page. My sister is a runner and I read this post aloud to her over the phone. We both found it so amusing! I’m looking forward to discovering more of your adventures in Korea!

  8. 8 dancingirja April 12, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    well done, looks like a nice experience!

  9. 9 dudetteinbrownsweater April 12, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    I’ve often had romantic notions about jogging up and down those Korean mountains my grandparents scale every day…but Korea being jogger un-friendly, I might have to let this dream just ferment inside my brain. I can’t imagine what it must be like to go for a casual run in the neighborhood…you’d have to flatten the people walking all around you.

    Congrats on your medal! And that dude shouldn’t have sprinted in front of you in the very end…that was just wrong.

  10. 10 tzhang71 April 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    aha great read – well, at least it was an experience!
    congrats on the medal – you finished in great time.

  11. 11 Victoria April 12, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Your page came up on the front of wordpress and was interested to read your story. It was great! I hope some day I’ll be able to do a “fun run” in another country!

  12. 12 slamdunk April 12, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Congrats–that sounds like some running experience.

  13. 13 Heidi April 12, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Congrats! I’ve always wanted to race abroad (especially Korea..) and oddly enough your post makes me want to do it even more! Even with the insanity it had to be exhilerating! Great job on your time while playing human frogger! 😉

  14. 14 HK April 12, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Fun post! I especially loved all your photos.
    You’ve inspired me to keep training for my 10K in 2 months. Hopefully the start wont be as crazy as this one!
    Running a race holding hands…. Seriously? ha ha ha

  15. 15 Rohit April 12, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Ha ha. I had taken part in a 10 Km race a couple of years back and faced similar problems for the first 1 or 2 Kms. I took almost 72 min. to finish the race. I only got a certificate and no medal.

    There is another race in May. It will be the peak of summer. Lucky you.

  16. 16 Adam April 12, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Great post and too funny! Most of the people that I see running in Seoul are doing it on a dreadmill. But, we are also lucky to have wide sidewalks and the paths by the river. Question: The couples holding hands…did their outfits match?

  17. 17 Trish Sissons April 12, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    You should just add it on to the end of your bucket list and cross it off. Just because you can 🙂

  18. 18 Adam Saeid April 12, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    “First Aid Team getting ready to rollerblade to anyone’s aid.”

    Now that just sounds like it will lead to even more injury!

  19. 19 muchadoaboutlisa April 13, 2010 at 12:06 am

    @Adam – haha…surprisingly, I didn’t see many matching outfits.

  20. 20 muchadoaboutlisa April 13, 2010 at 12:07 am

    @HK: I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Good luck with your race!!!

  21. 21 muchadoaboutlisa April 13, 2010 at 12:09 am

    @dudetteinbrownsweater: Yes – it’s hard to run outside in Korea. You have to be on constant lookout for crazy cars and scooters. And there’s SO many traffic lights here (that take forever to change) – so you’ll be running one minute and then waiting for 3 or 4 minutes.

  22. 22 muchadoaboutlisa April 13, 2010 at 12:10 am

    @Jane: I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Living in Korea lends itself to many interesting stories and experiences 🙂

  23. 23 muchadoaboutlisa April 13, 2010 at 12:12 am

    @Gayle: You can do it!! It starts with one mile…and then two, and then a 5k fun run. Baby steps 🙂 Best of luck!!

  24. 24 muchadoaboutlisa April 13, 2010 at 12:13 am

    @Cheryl: What area of Korea are you headed to? And is it just visiting or to live there? I moved here in the late summer, so I don’t know yet what a real Korean summer is like – but I hear it is pretty brutal (heat and humidity).

  25. 25 muchadoaboutlisa April 13, 2010 at 12:15 am

    @Jen: Honestly, I wouldn’t run another race here. It was SOOO frustrating! If I was running with a bunch of friends and just wanted to goof around – then yes. The funny thing is, the Koreans are so used to things always being crowded, that they probably didn’t bat an eye to the craziness that was going on.

  26. 26 br April 13, 2010 at 12:21 am

    I always like the thought of run and walk-a-thons, but the I do them and think why did I think this was a good idea:)
    Anyway! Great job! keep it up!


  27. 27 utherdoul April 13, 2010 at 2:23 am

    I jog just for a bit of fitness here in Daejeon and have a fairly quiet 2km stretch of road that leads to a river. However, it can get ridiculously busy during the day, complete with illogical driving threatening to crush my feet and staring and pointing old men and women and children.

    Now I only run at night, when there is virtually no traffic (human or otherwise). Shame there aren’t any midnight marathons.

  28. 28 tim April 13, 2010 at 2:54 am

    Very Cool. I run with my sister in some half marathons and I have to agree that the beginning is insane, I couldn’t stand running like that the entire race. And that guy is smart (except chicken shitting u in the end), me and my sister pace ourselves behind someone that pushes us. Cool blog.

  29. 29 Abbey April 13, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Hey Lisa,

    I found your blog by mistake and really enjoyed your recent post about running a race in Korea. I’m always freaked out before races, so I can relate to the frustration you felt!
    Thanks for a fun post!

  30. 31 Mom April 13, 2010 at 6:22 am

    Oh my gosh!!!what an experience. Tera and I are doing Bloomsday in May and we are in the walking section. I just hope I can keep up with her and Isabella. We are supposed to finish NO FASTER than 1hr. 40min! You put me to shame!!!!!

  31. 32 micah April 13, 2010 at 10:22 am

    get ED to run too suz.

  32. 33 BDK April 13, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Nice Post, I am studying Korean here and trying to find a place to run was impossible until I found a nice path along Olympic Park. Interestingly enough, even there its 99% Ajumahs wearing visors, covering themselves from head to toe making sure no sunlight hits their bodies. I feel unless I run 3-4 times a week (not fast, 3-4 miles only), this food will turn me into a Korean version of Homer Simpson.

  33. 34 jankliciouz April 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Hi Lisa, this is one of the things I want to do, if I get the chance to visit Korea sometime soon. =) I think it’ll be a great experience. haha.

  34. 35 Tera April 13, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    You’re famous!! Haha

  35. 36 Cheryl April 13, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    hi lisa, thanks for the reply (: i’ll be headed to seoul from june – aug. are you there? i don’t really know what to expect. I can speak basic Korean but can’t hold a proper conversation yet. How do you get around in Korea with just english?

  36. 37 Deborah April 14, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    Hooray for you!! Holding hands must have made you laugh.

  37. 38 jhsketch April 27, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Great stuff! Congrats!

  38. 39 marty42km July 26, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    good time considering the messy start. nice going

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