Sunday, April 9, 2017

Seoul International Marathon 2017 - Race Report

A bitter sweet race, but still managed to pull a big personal best

I have always race with a very clear objective that is a beat my previous best. This race was no exception, but this time is also to finish up the goal which I failed to achieve in 2016. Training was a struggle coming out from a Nov big race, I was tired and the annual family holiday in Dec kept me out from training most of the time. Nevertheless, I set out to a proper training regime in January 2017 with a little less than 10 weeks before race day in March.

Training proper for a marathon race has always a pain, balancing between various workout plan, work, recovery, family time and the many risks of injury are just part of the struggle I'm facing week in week out. Discipline and commitment were key seeing through the weeks. Fortunately, I not alone doing this with Nick  sticking to a crazy advance plan and Yan Leng who is taking a walk in the park plan, taking things really easy. I'll not bored you further with my training philosophy and jump straight to Seoul, the land of K-POP

Fast forward to March, things looks pretty promising although I am not 100% sure I'll make the target but things are going the right direction. Flew in to Seoul on a Wednesday morning with my wife and immediately we were welcomed with a -2 degree Celsius weather, we were expecting the cold especially the morning and evening hours but temperature gradually climbed to 7 or 8 during the day and we were dressed to comfort for the weather. After about 70 mins of airport bus ride to city center, we were greeted by our Airbnb property owner Jeremy. His hospitality immediately made us felt at home with the many facilities and conveniences that comes with the unit. After a short rest, we head out to look for food before meeting up with Nick later in the day for a BBQ and Soju dinner. Seoul is a vibrant city rich in history and at the same time with modern arts and architecture not to mention the K-Pop culture. Places like Gwanghuamun in Insadong and the modern art in Dongdaemun are obvious contrast of the old and mordern. Often times the contrasts were just separated by the many palaces' wall that we have visited.

Nick and I had our shakedown run in the morning hours to test out gears and doing the tourist thing during the day for the next few days before receiving Yan Leng and Jeanie on Friday. Wife was complaining the shakedown on the first day was more for the vain pot in us to take vain shorts, while second shake down was a more proper one morning. Saturday was a no run day and heading to race pack collection in the morning hours and relax and rest as much as possible for the all important race on the next day. The open air expo was located outside of the stadium where the race would finish. Expo was really small for a Gold Label standard road race, apart from the main sponsors like Adidas and Pocari Sweat, there were nothing much to do nor see unlike the ones in Gold Coast or Japan which was packed with sports related booths and foods stalls. There were no English speaking staffs, most of the time we would need to guess what's going on, similarly the staffs were trying to guess what we were trying to say. They were a name printing service by Adidas and a finishing band booth which will have your race distance and finishing time engraved. Mind you I find out all these based on the Korean words and queued up to find out later that the band will only be ready on 8th April and I need to collect it in Korean, no mailing service..ppprfff!!!  I was also expecting at least a K-Pop group dancing and singing away but instead their appearance was only on paper standee in the form of Instagram frame :). Jokes aside, there was really nothing at the expo with only Adidas being the major player with very little merchandise up for grab. We then continue with little sight seeing, an early dinner and call it a day as we go separate ways getting ourselves prepare for race day.

Going into the race with confidence
The sleep the night before wasn't sound due to nervousness and woke up earlier than planned even though the race starts at 8:20am. I was expecting a cooling weather for the race, however the morning hours were still chilling, so I dressed up warmly, wished my wife a good race for her second 10 km race and walked a few hundred meters meeting up with Yan Leng heading to the race site where we would catch Nick at the baggage area. As we reached the race site, it was already packed with participants with speakers everywhere blasting out from the emcee, we have no clue what he was announcing and not a single word of English for the foreign participants. Nevertheless after checking in our baggage, we started our warm up routine to loosen up the muscle and would hide behind a tent that shield us from the wind chill. As none of us understand what the emcee were announcing, we assumed the Elites category started on time followed by runners in A, B and C corals. Without any clue, we would just follow the crowd moving forward and there we were the race starts.

Two brave ones with shorts
First 10km
Race start at Gwanghwamun Plaza
The race was expected to be crowded and fast as the cut off time was set at 5 hours, everyone was rushing passed the starting line like a swam of bees . Fortunately the route was wide enough for all runners to maneuver around,  not much of a problem there seeing me, YL and Nick started off and picking up our pace nicely. Within 300m, I lost sight of Nick as he was maneuvering around the crowd while me and YL stayed together chasing our goal. The first 20km will see us race through the city of Seoul, with many u-turn points before heading out. I was keen to repeat the pace in Gold Coast 2016 but not the drama that I had, hence I kept  the pace in check and would keep YL informed on our pace as we go along. First water station at 5km, we sped passed as we were each holding a small softflask with a minimal stop strategy, I mean not that we have a choice as the water station were spread apart every 5km... yup you heard me 5km apart water station was pushing the limit of a Gold Label Standard minimum guideline I was told. Instead they put sponge station in between the 5km water station...Why would you need a water sponge racing in cold weather? I have no clue and I'm not fast enough to generate heat to the extend that the cold weather was not cooling enough to cool me down. We grabbed a quick sip at 10km water station and our pace and race time were spot on with GCAM16 building a nice buffer which would be crucial for later part of our race. There were not much scenery for the first 10km apart from  Namdaemun (south gate).

Heading towards 20km
Thanks Nessa for the beautiful pic
With the quick sip at 10km, the temperature started to climb making it very nice to run. At this point of time we were running along Cheonggyecheon stream and we would first spot the Elites heading the opposite direction across the river after making one of the many u-turns within the 1st half of the race.Shortly after that around 12km, we were at the end of the stream and make our u-turn heading the opposite direction. Our pace was very consistent keeping it around 5:20min/km, heart rate was rhythmic without any sign of struggle with no drama. At around 14km we spotted Nessa, gave her a shout out and in returned she took this beautiful and only picture of me in Seoul racing hahaha. Then it hit me that Nick may be running behind us as I was expecting him to be much faster ahead of us, I got a bit worried and told YL that we may be going too fast and would pay dearly in the later part of the race. We slowed down very slightly but would still naturally spin at 5:20min/km. Took a another quick sip at 15km and finally head out to another part of the concrete jungle. At one of the right turn into a long straight, there were a group of RPM trainer on their spinner, giving cheers and support to runners. Again I have no idea what they were shouting out, but it was still a welcome sight and a much needed support going into the the half way mark of the race.

Halfway mark - 21km
Water station at 20km point, similarly we slowed down for a quick sip but this time slightly longer as we both need to refill the softflask to last the second half of the race. Legs were pretty fresh, no sign of fatigue and we raced on side by side toward 21km mark building up a very healthy buffer. I told YL we need to keep this pace for another 9km reaching 30km than we would have the luxury to slow down to 6min/km pace.

10Km start for my wife. This was her second running race and she nailed it under 60 mins !! I have no idea how she do it but she never failed to amaze me
Let me take a reality check here. Halfway point, apart from Namdaemun, Cheonggeycheon stream and Dongdaemum Design Plaza, there wasn't much to see within the city. So if you are looking for a great scenic route, this is not your race. Local support along the race route was rare or close to none. Local runners (I assumed) were spiting without giving a damn if runners are on their spitting path. Hey you may say I'm here to race, which I am. but those scenic route and local support is what makes a good race great!!

Breaking point 30km
Race starts at 30km so they say. We were on form, race pace was superb to say the least still averaging at a pace that would carry us both to our goal. We did not slowdown and approach the 25km water station the same way we did on the earlier ones. Dash passed with a quick sip and race on. At this point, the legs were still spinning great and keeping informed on our pace and how we were doing, I was quick to suggest that we should take a longer break at 30km water station to give ourselves a mental break in preparation for the "Race Start". As much as I would like to remember how I felt and what I see in this phase of the race, I was and I could only focus on the run from 26-30km. This was a crucial phase not by Marathon definition, but it was crucial for me as this was where my race had gone south for my past 5 Marathon races. I was putting full attention on how my body react especially on the legs as I kept charging at a below goal pace. Keeping my salt and gel intake to the plan, I finally got it right to 30km, I crossed the the 30km mark and a longer walk break at the water station. 2 water, a pocari sweat and a cup of water down on my head... oh boy the chill woke me up albeit starting to feel fatigue. Quads were little numb from the 30km spin but no pain. Mentally I was ready to take on the remaining 12km

Race to 40km  
Beyond the 30km, race route was not as straight forward compare to the first half. There were many rolling climb, some hidden. You don't really see it except for those obvious bridge climb but the increase heart rate and heavier breathing are tell tail sign that my pace was slipping away. As I have build quite a buffer, I could afford to slow down slightly keeping any leg cramp at bay. Drama starts at 35km, I felt a twitch on my left calf........... I slowed down again and it didn't go away. My first walk took place at 36km while YL charge on. Average pace was dropping, but it was within threshold crossing the bridge towards 38km. The inevitable cramp finally hit me on the right calf, I limped to a walk at the same time made sure I don't go beyond 6min/km pace for too long. I can see a little more crowd from here onward, some are the local support handing out food, drinks and spray, but mostly the 10km runners are now merging into the same run route. Watch distance (40km) are now 1km off on the course marker (39km) and I started to worried.

Jeanie who was racing in the 10km category running along with the 3+hour pacer. Sight of congestion. Jeanie ran a superb race coming out from a marathon 2 weeks before 

42.195KM (43.18KM on watch)
Traffic is getting heavier while I was fighting my own battle. I see couples held hands walking on the race path, parents held their children forming a human wall and some out with their camera/phone for a wefie/selfie. They all looked so happy and I happy for them too, but on the contrary I was equally frustrated and angry with the organizer on their failure merging the marathon runner and 10km fun runner on the same path at the same time obstructing the 42km runner were chasing goals. Although the route are still somewhat wide, but I had to start maneuvering around for a clear run path while managing the frequent twitch on the left and right calves. It really doesn't help when you are forced to make sudden direction change on a pair of wasted legs. 4l KM (race marker) but watch says 42km, the Jamsil Sports Complex were clearly in sight but my pace was getting slower, the clock was ticking. I did not enjoy this part for the race, the threat of not hitting my goal time was real. I had to walk again with about a kilometer to go and slightly over 6 mins left from my goal.
Stadium on the left and the funnel into the finishing
Couple holding hands while a triathlete maneuver around to the left 
Funneling into the sports complex was the worst part of the race, the whole 8 lanes of the track were hogged, 10km runners (no offence) were taking wefies, some even walking towards the opposite direction, some crossing from left to right. I had a minute left to sprint  maneuver through less than 300m, I was shouting my lungs out hoping for a clear path and the shocking sight towards the finishing gantry.... both marathon and 10km runners queuing to cross the finishing line. Shock to the max!!! Nevertheless, with such a big drama, it was still a big PB for me, 14 mins off from my previous best and I'm taking it with pride. Congratulation to YL for her sub4 finishing, superb run from her and Nick for a race well done coming back from multi injuries hampering his previous 2 races.

Job well done for all
I'm busted while Yan Leng looks relax and happy with her sub 4 finishing

For a IAAF Gold Label road race, this is definitely a disappointing race on the organizer part. There were many complains on the community board regarding the finishing and the secretariat even admitted there were too many runners at the finishing line and the timing system could not cope with the volume screwing up the timing transmission!!! Race ranking was off too I reckoned from some of the complains, finishing tee was a confuse, 2 Garmin and a Sunnto recorded 43k+.... I could go on and on and it would only make me a sour grape. You don't have to take my words for it, just look at the finishing photo photos which Jeanie managed to snap after finishing her race. Would I race Seoul again? The answer in an obvious no if the organizer cannot sort themselves out and IAAF ought to look into the 2017 race edition to reevaluate if they meet the standard with such a blunder. Saying that, Seoul is still a great city but if you are here to race for PB, my advise to you is make sure you run fast enough to avoid the 10km crowd. No offence to the 10km, is all the organizer fault... big time!!!

Click to enlarge the photo. Notice the queue to cross the finishing line 

Pic shows all runners from 10km and 42Km congested after the finishing gantry

Same story, different angle

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