65-year old relishes 200 kilometersIt began to drizzle before the start. I have to run 200 kilometers (125 miles), but worry has overtaken me. Even though my wife and three daughters and members of my club dissuaded me, I still want to accomplish this. My physical strength from running for five years will prove itself. After running 70 kilometers, my left leg gradually starts to feel heavy. I have taken pain relievers four times but the pain persists and my stomach aches. After passing the 180-kilometer threshold, my mind numbs. Though this is definitely my first time running on this road, it feels like I have run here before. I ask passers-by if this is the road to Jeju. My legs feel incredibly weary. I have walked and walked until I was sick of walking. Soon the city of Jeju appears before my eyes. Finished! Completed 200 kilometers in 34 hours and 28 minutes. I am proud of myself.’ (Excerpt from the diary of “Running an Ultramarathon”)
He has completed 31 marathons, four ultramarathons and five overseas marathons. Such accomplishments do not refer to Hwang Young-jo or Lee Bong-ju, Korea’s greatest runners. This is the story of Kim Tae-sik, 65, the former CEO of Kookmin Lease who epitomizes the saying, “Life begins at 60.”
Mr. Kim began running marathons at 60. Five years later, he became the oldest man to complete an ultramarathon. He is rewriting the history of marathoning.
“During my 30-year tenure at Kookmin Bank, I spent almost every weekend climbing mountains,” he says. “In 1998, when our bank underwent restructuring, I went through some hard times with layoffs and a union strike. At the time, I found it painful to meet people and needed time to think. A friend of mine who entered triathlons suggested running. It was a sport that I could do alone so I thought this was it.”
He never intended to complete a full course of 40 kilometers. Gradually, though, his speed and distance developed. He lost 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and his face darkened from the sun. “Everyone thought I had cancer or something,” he says. “But I found myself happiest when running.”
Nine months after taking up marathoning, he completed the standard race in 4 hours and 53 minutes. Since then, Mr. Kim’s zest for the sport has been boundless. “I think I have been to all of the marathons organized by newspapers. I have even done marathons in two-week intervals. Last April, I participated in the Boston Marathon, every amateur marathoners’ dream.” Among 17,000 participants, he placed 1,313.
Of the 31 marathons he has entered, Mr. Kim has never quit. Despite protests from his wife and warnings from his doctor, he continues to run more than 10 kilometers daily. He has no fixed course. From Han River park in Seoul’s Yeouido island he may run out to Banpo-dong, or choose to circle Ankara park near his home. After a run, he always makes an entry in his diary.
Mr. Kim’s health has improved since taking up running. He is now down nine kilograms, to 64, and abstains from alcohol. “I have the physical strength of a person in his 30s,” he asserts. “Because cholesterol is burned through running, I can eat as much as I want.” Mr. Kim’s praise for his chosen sport never ends.
In November, he plans to participate in a 100-kilometer ultramarathon. Mr. Kim says he will run until he has no energy left. “When I was in an ultramarathon, I kept thinking I cannot do this anymore. But after it ended, I forgot about it and wanted to run again. Even if it’s unbearably painful, if I persist to the end, there is a great amount of bliss.”
by Roh Seung-wok