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.
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!