When I arrived in Seoul a week before the marathon I had a head cold and needed to acclimatise to much colder conditions then I have been used to in Australia. This was a concern but I was able to get in three runs in Korea before the race and felt fine with the temperature by race day, the head cold was still lingering but very minor by race day and it didn’t affect me at all.
I arrived at the race start about an hour before the race start and felt I had more then enough time to prepare, weather was fine but chilly so I kept warm for as long as possible. Lengthy wait at the toilets was the only pre-race negative, I thought the organisation of the start area was excellent albeit not a lot of english announcements.
One of the things I was apprehensive about was the E start group that I had been given. As I wanted to run a fast time with a goal of going under three hours I was nervous about running through the crowds at the start and negotiating my way through. There turned out to be nothing to worry about at 8am the elite runners went off and about five minutes later the A,B and C groups went together. At this point there was an announcement for five minutes for the D and E groups to start together, I tried to make my way closer to the front of these groups to avoid running in a large crowd. The start of these groups went and I was about a quarter of the way back in this start, I started my watch as I crossed the start line and was happy to see some clear running room. I was able to run at my desired pace from the start of the race. By the end of the first 3km I had made my way near the front of this group and running with little crowd around, this was about to change a kilometre later when I caught the first group to start and there was a lot of people on the road at this point. I was thankful to be still able to run at my desired pace but I did need to be attentive and zig zag my way through the crowd at some points.
Another thing I was apprehensive about was drink stations every 5km and sponge stations every alternative 2.5km starting at 7.5km. In most marathons i have run there is drink stations every 2.5km. This didn’t turn out to be an issue, the aid stations were the best I’ve seen, very well stocked and long. I was able to drink two drinks at every station. My strategy was water every drink station until 30km and then utilise the electrolyte supplied Pocari Sweat which is a Korean sports drink and one that I enjoy the flavour of.
The course is fantastic, flat and fast and going through all the major sights of the Seoul city. The crowd was large along the entire course and supportive. The race itself for me was panning out nicely, I felt very comfortable running at my desired pace of 4:05-4:15 min/km for the first 10km. At the 10km point I made a small error and missed one of the timing mats and had to quickly turn around to repass, no big issue as I discovered the mistake immediately. The 10-20km section was relatively uneventful, I was still negotiating the crowd and running through what seemed like endless amounts of runners. One of the things about starting back in the pack was I was running past a lot of runners which gave me the feeling that I was running well, it also allowed me to run my own race as I didn’t have any runners to run off at my pace. I think overall this helped me.
I went through halfway in 1:28 and feeling a little disappointed as I thought I was going to be slightly quicker then this. I was now mindful that I needed to run a good second half and not drop off too much to run a sub 3 hour marathon. I made the decision to pick the pace up slightly and was attentive to each kilometre split to make sure that I focussed on keeping them quick enough.
Earlier by 10-15km I was in need of going to the toilet, after each of the drink stations there was a small amount of portable toilets and I kept telling myself that if there was no one in them I would stop, this didn’t happen until kilometre 26 where I desperately needed to go and made the decision to do so, I still had over an hour to run so to lose a minute now was not what I wanted but in hindsight a good decision. Kilometre 26 was a 5 min kilometre which was not in the game plan so I made up for it in the next three and made them all on 4 min each.
This marathon has stretch of road that is completely straight from about 27k to about 35km, this period is mentally testing and seems to go forever. At this point a break in scenery would be amazing but it doesn’t happen. In every marathon there is a time when you have to dig deep and trust that the training you have put in will get you to the line. This was the point in this race. When I went through 34km in 2:20 and told myself 8km in 40 min for a sub 3 marathon. I knew it was achievable now. From here I ticked off every kilometre as I ran them and gave everything I had to make sure every kilometre was on the planned pace or quicker. When I turned the corner after the bridge over the Han river past Lotteworld with four kilometres to go I was in a world of pain but just kept telling myself to keep going.
I’d envisaged seeing the Olympic stadium from 5-6km back and that driving me to the finish. It didn’t happen and the first I saw of the Olympic stadium was with about 2km to go. From here it felt like I was running on a treadmill, I just kept telling myself to keep going and willed myself to the finish line. There is a sign with 1 km to go and then a 500-600m stretch before entering the Olympic stadium. Entering the stadium was an amazing feeling, as a great lover of the Olympic movement to run into this stadium where the heroics of the 1988 games happened was the best moment of my running life.
Lap of the track and I crossed the line in 2:57:24. My first marathon under 3 hours and a race I’ll never forget. Looking back at my race I was very consistent across my kilometre splits and don’t think i could have executed my race much better.
Couldn’t recommend the Seoul Marathon more, for a fast course and real destination marathon this is excellent. It’s a great course, well organised and real privilege to have run this year.