Name of the race: Lee Bong Ju Day 5K
Where: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, NY
Date: Nov 4, 2017
Time: 9:00 am
Distance: 3.1 miles
Terrain: Flat race on the pedestrian paths in the park
Entry fee: $30 + fee
Post-race Food: Bagels, bananas, tea, coffee, water, and instant ramen
Swag: Cotton t-shirt, free finish line photos, and video of crossing the finish line
Performance: Overall: 13/99; Gender: 2/47; Age (40-49): 2/5
Weather: 48 degrees, 62% humidity
First, congratulations to Shalane Flanagan for winning the 2017 NYC Marathon! This is indeed big news, as she is the first American woman to win the NYC Marathon in 40 years.
Whereas in the United States, running stars aren’t household names, in Korea, marathoners are heros. To understand why, you need to some Korean history and the stories are actually incredibly interesting and moving. I’ll do some future posts on this topic.
I was feeling a bit left out of the NYC Marathon excitement, when I saw an email by Elite Feats, a local timing company, about Lee Bong Ju Day 5K. As I said before, marathoners are heros in Korea, so it was a big deal to the Korean community that Lee Bong Ju (the link is a sadly meager Wiki stub) was going to be at a 5K in his honor put on by the Korean Road Runners Club. Lee Bong Ju is the silver medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Games (see here starting at min 41 for the finish, the closest top three finish in modern Olympic history), the 2001 winner of the Boston Marathon (see the highlights here), breaking a 10-year streak of wins by Kenyans, and set the current Korean national marathon record (2:07:20).
I’ve participated in a handful of races by Elite Feats and I really like their races. They provide you with your race results quickly (email & text), and they’re known for providing free finish line photos and a video of you crossing the finish line. So it was a no-brainer that I was going to do this race.
The race was taking place at Flushing Meadows Park, the home of the US Open. It’s difficult to find parking there unless you know where my topsecret parking spot is. I will never reveal it. <insert evil laugh>. I’ve there races there before, so I’m familar with the park.
Ben wasn’t feeling 100% so he decided just to spectate and cheer me on. We arrived with some time to spare so I warmed up and Ben kept me company. Then just before 9 am, the race organizers herded the runners to the start line. As expected, a million photos were taken because of Lee Bong Ju. He was also participating in the race and wore Bib 1. I got to stand like 3 feet away from him. It was really cool thinking that I actually got to be in a race with an Olympian and Boston winner.
They played the national anthem for both the US and Korea. Then there was an interview with Lee Bong Ju (yes, right before the start, I don’t know why the interview wasn’t conducted a lot sooner or after the race). Finally the horn blared and we were off.
It was a small field (99 people total), so I seeded myself at the front along with the other eager beavers. When the race field is small, I look more carefully at the other women runners to judge whether they were faster than me so that I can forecast which award I might get. A smaller, stouter, older woman wearing long sleeves and tights took off like lightning. She was the only woman ahead of me. I quickly dismissed her. I let her go and figured that I would pass her after a half mile.
I never caught her. She was ahead of me the entire time. And not only that she was running comfortably while I was definitely pushing myself. Ben waited for me by the fountain where I had about another half mile to go til the finish line. The older woman was about 20 secs ahead of me. Normally in this type of situation, Ben cheers and encourages me to run faster and see if I can try to catch whoever’s in front of me. She was running so comfortably and easily, meanwhile I was close to redlining, that Ben merely yelled, “Good job, honey! You got second place overall!” After the race, we both agreed that even if I had been able to run faster and catch up to her, she would have merely sped up and sprinted away.
I was running well, when all of a sudden with about .2 miles left in the race, I thought I was going to throw up. I was pushing myself to the limit. Now I have thrown up at the finish line in races before and it’s not pleasant. So with the aim of avoiding that fate, I slowed down in order to prevent it. When Ben and I watched the finish line video later in the afternoon, we could visibly see me slowing down and looking a touch queasy right after crossing the finish line. I did not throw up, so mission accomplished! But I just looked terrible (or angry – I have that running b*tch face) as I crossed. It wasn’t that bad because moments after I stopped, I went back to being a 100% normal. I even did my cool down.
At the awards ceremony, the 2nd place medal was placed on me by Lee Bong Ju, himself! He shook my hand and congratulated me. There were lots of photos taken of me and Lee, and also with all three top women and Lee. It was so cool to be awarded like that.
I almost forgot! This is a new 5K PR! 22:31 (If I hadn’t thought I was going to immediately up chuck, I would have been under 22:30.)!!!! I’m excited about this PR, but meeting and running with Lee Bong Ju was even cooler than the PR.
I texted my mother who knows nothing about running, a photo of me and Lee. She knew right away who he was and called me to ask for all the details. She was impressed that I met and ran with him in a race, and told me about the other things that he does and his popularity in Korea.
Have you ever badly misjudged someone at a race? Which running stars did you get to meet?