Running in Korea

One of the best things I have done in a while was start the Gwangju Running Club. I had been seeing people all around town running and I was in desperate need of a running buddy. Little did I know that great weekend runs and good people would help me fall back in love with running. We have really been having a good time.
Gwangju Running Club after a Sunday evening run
From the Sunday runs I gained two regular running buddies in Jon and Justin. After a month or so, Jon left for the US, and another running buddy appeared in Dan. Luckily, we all live within a mile of each other and we have been keeping up with what Jon, Justin and I started and meeting up at 6:30AM for runs with even a morning of speed work. We have become runner geeks talking about running articles read, ways to prevent chaffing and how we love that we found each other. It’s enough to make a non-runner puke.

In the last 24 hours I have been reminded how different running in Korea can be.  For one, it is rare to be the only one out exercising.  Koreans take to the sidewalks and trails at almost all times of day. The biggest crowds are out in the morning and in the evening as late as 10 or 11. There are families, adults out running, men decked out in biking gear on their mountain bikes and couples strolling in the many parks around Gwangju.

Jon, Justin and I join the Eudeung Running Club for a half marathon

These people also offer words of encouragement to us bearded, shirtless runners. This morning a bus driver hung out of his window with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and and yelled 화이팅 (Hwaiting!), which means “Fighting” or “Go!” About half a mile down the road this same bus driver had pulled over and repeated the words of encouragement along with a “Good morning!” This happens every day I run. Last night at a Gwangju Running Club meeting I was running with 5 other guys in a pack and a car pulled up beside us yelling “Hwaiting!” and saying things like “Your body is good!” “Six pack” all the while snapping photos of us, and this was a car of Korean teenage guys.

Usually Koreans smile and offer words of encouragement, but there are moments where they stare curiously and suspiciously at you and even demand you put a shirt on. Going shirtless is okay, but extremely rare in Korea and some older Korean men will not appreciate the partial nudity. This summer is the first time I have dared gone shirtless on my runs. I don’t think it is disrespectful, but you might feel uncomfortable with the stares and giggles.

Korea also offers a unique landscape. This morning we made our way up to a Buddhist temple that sits, like most Korean Buddhist temples, high above the city. During the Japanese occupation many temples were pushed out of the cities and the monks took them up into the mountains. These trails or roads are dangerously steep and usually extremely beautiful. This road curves up through overhanging trees and next to a stream that offers a cool breeze on even a hot and humid day. We pushed up the rain soaked road and made it to the temple where monks were busily getting ready this cloudy but beautiful Monday morning. Clouds sat in the green hills surrounding the temple. After circling the Buddha statue in the temple and taking a few swigs of water we made our way back down into town through the throngs of Korean children on their way to school at 7:15AM.

Before I moved to Korea I was certain that my running would suffer in this crowded and urban country.  But there is always a trail or sidewalk to run that comes complete with your own cheering section. Come join the Gwangju Running Club.  We have all speeds and several running options. After about an hour we meet back and all have dinner together. It makes Sunday evenings much better than sitting around dreading Monday. If you are in Korea come join us for a run.  If Gwangju is too far then I suggest forming a group of your own.  Either way get out and run!


  1. Costa Rica says:

    Thank you for this blog! The running entry & entry on your bike tour were great. I'm thinking of teaching in Korea and it's great to see there are options for outdoorsy people.


  2. I think you'd like it here. Among the cities there are lots of options for running, biking, climbing and almost anything else you can think of. Korea is an active country.


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