By Mark Jolin, U.S. Army, Korea
On September 11th, I was fortunate enough to become the first foreigner to ever complete the 308K Trans-Korea. Your products were a huge reason behind my success. I was having a great race and alternating between HEED, Sustained Energy, Perpetuem, and all kinds of Hammer Gel. I really trained hard for this event and, as a result, was having a great race. For the entire race, I was alternating between 4th and 8th place with a field of 119 runners.
My experience prior to the Trans-Korea had been really positive with the Korean Ultra Marathon Federation (KUMF). My girlfriend and I joined their organization in December 2009. Many of the members are great people and very nice. Korea has an incredible running scene with so many talented distance runners. This was my 6th Ultra in Korea this year. I also ran the Jeju 148K Trail with my friend from Alaska—we ran up the highest peak in South Korea three times (elevation gain 18,000 feet). The next race was KUMF 67K Five Mountain Ultra just north of Seoul. The course was incredible—lots of scrambling and parts so steep that you had to grab giant ropes and pull yourself up. I loved this course so much that I signed up for the exact same course in reverse the next month with the 5 Ten racing group. Next was the KUMF Track 24 Hour Championship in Seoul. I used it as a mental trainer for the upcoming Trans-Korea. My real love is running on trails and up in the mountains, so after so many laps on a track, I had to get back on the trails. I signed up for an 85K where we hit more than 13 mountains just south of Seoul. Then, it was time to completely focus on my biggest race to date, the 308K Trans-Korea.
The Trans-Korea started in Kangwha on the west coast (approximately 70K west of Seoul) and ended on Gangneung’s Kyungpo Beach on the east coast. The course followed roads where we ran on a small shoulder, and we were fortunate to be able to run 50K on a river bike path through the heart of Seoul. Prior to the race, the temperatures were in the 80s and 90s, so I thought I would be fine with just a small rain jacket. During the race, however, the temperature dropped by 10 to 20 degrees, and we received the largest 3-day rainfall in Korea’s history. This worked to my favor though, because it wasn’t the typical hot humid weather that I had been training in; anytime I got cold, it forced me to “rev up” the internal engine and push harder. In what was the craziest part of the course, we got caught in a lightning storm in the middle of the countryside and passed through six highway tunnels. There are no sidewalks in the tunnels; instead, there were uneven 1 foot by 1 foot concrete blocks. The blocks would teeter totter as you ran across them, and I had a couple of stumbles. Luckily, both times I fell forward and not off to the side. (It would have been ”game over” with all the buses and trucks whizzing by.) The course was relatively flat until we hit 100K; from there, we had five great climbs up the mountain range on the east coast. The entire gain was a little over 11,000 feet.
The race was going well until 252K. I reached this checkpoint around midnight and told race officials that I was out of water and needed it badly to mix up some Perpetuem, HEED and to get some Gel down. (I had brought along a hydration pack with a 3-liter bladder; in addition, we had two drop bag locations, one at 100K and one at 200K, so I always had plenty of Hammer products.) They told me there was no water there and that I would need to go two kilometers further for water. I got 5 kilometers down the road . . . and nothing. At this point I was running really low on energy and had to walk for awhile. After being denied water, it also became evident that they did not want me to perform well and finish their race. I explained my situation at the next checkpoint by showing them that, according to my map and directions, the checkpoint location was wrong. I downed a liter and a half of water and left the checkpoint.
Just a short while later, I was feeling really good and ran to the top of the final climb and all the way down the backside of the mountain. I was beginning to celebrate in my head and felt great—I knew that I was going to break the 50-hour mark. With approximately 15K to go, we left the main highway and entered a small road with no shoulder. The officials in race vehicles who typically rolled their windows down, gave me encouragement, and asked me if I needed anything never acknowledged me. At this point, the lack of sleep for two nights was beginning to affect me, and I pulled off the course and sat in a park, thinking that, “If they don’t want me in this race, is it really worth it?” After sitting there for awhile, my girlfriend showed up and talked some sane sense into me. We couldn’t let all the negativity stop me from finishing. From three days of record rainfall, my constantly soaked feet were aching, and I had a sore groin chafed from wet clothing, so I had to hobble along after stopping for so long in the park.
This experience has taught me to never ever take for granted all of the volunteers, pacers, and fellow ultra runners that show so much support and will do anything for you during a race, without even thinking about it. I am completely sold on Hammer products; thanks for being there with me when it seemed no one else was.