Marathon Peace In Seoul
by Serena Burla on March 29, 2012
Looking back, it seems fitting that an old Chumbawumba’s song “I Get Knocked Down but I Get Up Again” played just prior to the Seoul International Marathon last Sunday, even if it was just for that one line of lyrics. Following my disappointing DNF at the trials, my coach, Isaya Okwiya, and I decided to use my level of fitness to lace up again and give the marathon another go. You just never know what life has in store for you.
There was a sense of peace surrounding the whole experience. I was greeted in Seoul at the airport by one of the marathon’s numerous interpreters calling out my name. He was prepared to converse with me through well planned notecards from which we quickly diverted. He was actually the interpreter for Chinese, but I was very impressed at his willingness to give English a try and make me feel welcome. We talked baseball, family, Korean history, the marathon, music preference, t.v. etc. as we waited for a few other athletes to arrive. Maroon 5’s song “Moves Like Jagger” was very popular for South Korean ring tones, but it didn’t go unnoticed when my recommended Adele was played during the athlete’s dinner.
I spent the week reading, eating pasta, relaxing, eating rice, watching t.v., eating bread, socializing with the other athletes and interpreters, and shuffling along the Hongie Water Stream in Seoul, which is a path for runners, bikers, and pretty much anyone who wants to exercise. It runs along the stream and passes rock gardens, small waterfalls, stepping stones, paintings by famous artists on the pillars holding up the roadways above, big exercise equipment stations, and badminton courts. It was really neat to see so many people exercising in one place and to see a badminton match when it was 7 a.m. and 30 degrees outside.
I took the course tour to both check out the roads and see a little more of the city. The race finish was in the 1988 Olympic track stadium and I was in awe and got goose bumps. Seeing a track stadium that grand was amazing, and I could feel the energy from events past. It was also pretty entertaining when at the end of the tour we drove back to the start for an impromptu photo shoot. We pretended to be running and half the group was in jeans and winter jackets. Love these bonding experiences.
Another interesting experience occurred in the bathroom at the hotel. The toilet seriously had ten buttons on it. I wish I had a picture to share. My coach often encourages me to try new things and since he is a seasoned traveler I assumed (I came to find out incorrectly) he had encountered a toilet like this before. I figured I had to try it out before he arrived so I could act like the toilet was no big deal. So, the heated seat function was really nice and I was actually disappointed my toilet at home did not have this function. But the other buttons, Woo wee. Even though I had an inclination as to what they did I was still surprised (and I only had it on the children’s setting). If you have seen the movie Cars 2 (Boyd’s current favorite), think in terms of the scene where Mater uses the bathroom. This toilet may have even giggled at me too. It wasn’t my only Mater from Cars 2 moment either…Wasabi…aahhhhh!
Race morning I felt calm and ready to try and make the most of this marathon opportunity. I remember little things about my journey, like when I pictured the pack at a recent track workout; the racers became my teammates Yihunlish, Amanda, Kristin, and Jacqui. That I almost got hit in the head by a flying water bottle. The drums and gongs I heard summoned me on, and the smiling children became fuel as I relaxed using their energy and even gave a few waves and smiles myself.
The big construction site with multiple cranes made me think of Boyd and how he would have loved this site, and how we would have had a long conversation about it. I thought of an e-mail my good friend Andy sent around the time of my surgery about overcoming such obstacles. Memories of my husband Adam who has his own way of encouraging me and of my family and coach with whom I share the desire to succeed popped into my mind. I remember when I made my move and thought, “Commit to the move and go with it.” I thought of many talks and lessons from Isaya and I remained committed to proving I had grown as a runner.
At times I was filled with such peace and grace I imagined God holding my hand and running by my side. Towards the later part of the race I imagined him tying a rope to me and pulling me along. The last 2k I am pretty sure he was right under my feet, pushing them back up off the pavement. When I crossed the finish line I was overcome with gratitude, joy, relief, humility, and personal growth. I was so glad Isaya was there to share this special moment and race with me, as he has been there through thick and thin. We didn’t have to say much to each other because each of us knew what this race meant.
The rest of the trip consisted of talking our fun loving English interpreter into taking us out via the subway to new parts of the city to eat authentic Korean food-yum (a side note: practice using chopsticks ahead of time because when you are tired and hungry they are even more difficult to use- I am embarrassed to say the waitress offered me a fork). The rest of the time was spent hanging out with a sense of gratefulness that we are granted such a spread of highs and lows in life, and that each is an opportunity to build character, learn lessons, and grow. For me this was a chance to show that “I get knocked down but I get up again.”