Don’t let the smog and congestion distract you from the great running that Korea has to offer.
Words by Adeel Ahmad, shots by Scott Hemsey
Concrete canyons, whizzing motorcycles, and endless traffic make running in Korea sound like an oxymoron. But while the country may appear on the surface to be a complete black hole for the sport, there are some awesome spots for jogging if you’re willing to dig a little deeper. Though you may not see runners pounding the sidewalk (and plunging through the smog), there are thousands of them out there in spots more conducive for some good outdoor aerobic exercise. If you follow this article’s advice, you may just become one of them.
Warmer weather comes early in Korea, at least for Canadians and Minnesotans, which is a nice incentive. Running on an early spring day in March is a nice time to begin. If you didn’t run much over the winter or if you are a new runner, start out easy.
The most common mistake made by new or occasional runners is doing too much. Running is not supposed to hurt all the time. If you’ve never run before, try starting with a workout that alternates a minute of running and a minute of walking for twenty minutes (see c25k.com for details on the “Couch to 5k Training Plan”). If you ran 30-40 minutes per run last year, try starting out with runs of 20 minutes, or even as short as 10 or 15 minutes, to ease back in.
Get in gear
Running is a simple and cheap sport. When you start running, you don’t need any special clothes or equipment. Those who say otherwise clearly haven’t met a non-runner in denim shorts and cross-trainers who ran 13 km in an hour while explaining their dissertation to you.
However, if you do decide to go running more regularly, consider buying a pair of running shoes. Wearing the wrong shoes, along with running too fast or far, is the cause of most running problems. A good running store for those in Seoul, Suwon, and Jeju is Fleet Runner (fleetrunner.co.kr). Another option in Seoul is Runners Club (runnersclub.com) near Yangjae Stn. (line 3).
In the humid Korean summer, wearing a cotton shirt will make any run miserable in a hurry. Spending a little bit of money on a t-shirt in a technical fabric that keeps you dry will go a long way. Korea is great in this regard, as a lot of hiking clothes can be bought cheaply and used for running as well.
Join a group
A great way to keep running and to enjoy it is to find an exercise partner. You might know somebody who runs already. If not, see if any of your friends or co-workers want to start. Running at a conversational pace can be a very social activity.
If you don’t know of any runners in your area, join a club. There is no shortage of running clubs in Korea, and some cater to expats. In Seoul, try the Seoul Flyers (seoulflyers.com) or Smile Run (smilerun.com). Gwangju has the Gwangju Running Club, which has a Facebook group. A very social, laidback approach to running is guaranteed by the Hash House Harriers, who meet across the country. Active groups are in Seoul, Gyeonggi-do, Jeonju, Gwangju, Busan and even Geoje-do.
Enter a race
For runners new and old, a great way to keep running interesting is to sign up for a race. If you can regularly run for 30 to 40 minutes, why not sign up for a 10k? If you’ve just started running, sign up for a 5k that’s two months away to give you time to prepare. A 5k will take beginning runners 30-35 minutes to complete.
Participating in a race can help you experience multiple facets of Korea. Some races start and finish at familiar places like the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, while others give a tour of sites in the DMZ. Races in other areas of Korea are parts of festivals or tourist destinations (like Boseong’s Green Tea Marathon), making running a great way to visit parts of Korea you might not have seen otherwise. For those that are into hiking, there are also races that climb mountains, ranging from hilly 40-minute runs to grueling 85-kilometre races over a dozen different mountains.
From morning runs past groups of people heading home from bars to the beautiful views of Seoul from the Han River to the breathtaking scenery on the 33-km race up Jirisan, you’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable experience.
Running a race in Korea can be bewildering, though races are exceptionally well-managed. Here is some general information worth knowing.
• See the sports and fitness section of the 10 Magazine event calendar for info on upcoming marathons all over Korea.
• Registration is conducted almost exclusively online and tends to close well in advance. Plan your races weeks in advance, if not months. Race-day registration is impossible.
• Race fees are cheaper than back home and include souvenirs like T-shirts, backpacks, blankets and even rice or seaweed! Race kits are always mailed.
• Races are large and friendly, and runners are very helpful. Most races start by massaging the shoulders of the person in front of you. Expect the usual mix of serious competitors, recreational runners and people wearing octopus costumes to advertise a restaurant.
• Most marathons have shorter cut-off times than in the West. Five hours is typical.
• The Seoul Flyers maintain a great listing of races and help with registration on their Facebook page.