Where to go to feel the burnMarathoners estimate that there are about three million runners in Korea, which would make it the most popular leisure sport in the country. There are those who speculate that the real number might be well over five million, if one counts office workers on treadmills in gyms and middle-aged women clapping their hands while running around their apartments in circles.
When it comes to actual marathon runners ―a marathon being defined, since ancient Greece, as a footrace of 26 miles and 385 yards, or 42.2 kilometers ― the figure is of course much smaller, but not unimpressive. More than 38,000 Koreans are believed to have completed a full marathon course within the past two years. Fall is a great season for cross-country running; here are some popular courses.
Breathing fresh air in Suwon
This course near Mount Geanggyeo in Suwon is often used by beginning runners; the most popular route stretches about 4.3 kilometers. Branching off the main path are others that climb to higher elevations. By our estimation, the difference in elevation between the starting and finishing points is about 65 meters. There is a small footpath, but it’s best to run along the main road.
Runners report feeling less exhausted at the end of this course because of the refreshing air, which makes it seem almost like running in the countryside. But be aware that this is, after all, a main road ―cars do come by often, especially along the roads beyond Youngdong Highway, where the footpaths are narrow. Also, there are relatively few streetlights. There are distance markers every 100 meters.
You’ll want to be sure to stop at the Banditbuli restroom, which many runners use to shower. Until you hit the water fountain near the turnaround point, there’s no other place to obtain water.
There are parking facilities below the bank of the Gwanggyo Reservoir and below the Banditbuli restroom. If using public transit, take bus No. 13 and get off in front of Kyunggi University. Admission is free.
Incheon Grand Park
Runners in Incheon and Bucheon rave about the design of some of the courses in their area. Indeed, the course that circumvents Incheon Grand Park is easily as good as any of the ones in Seoul mentioned here.
During the balmier season, the park is filled with flowers of many kinds. This may be one reason Incheon seems to have a relatively high number of amateur runners for suburban Seoul.
The park has an asphalt path, with streetlights, which runs alongside a lake. Stores and public restrooms are conveniently located.
This course is ideal for beginners, because it is mostly flat, but a disadvantage is that there are usually a lot of inline skaters and cyclists. This is one of the reasons why many runners choose to come out early in the morning.
Veteran runners often go beyond this course to a nearby mountain.
To get to the park, take subway line No. 1 to Songnae station and catch bus No. 13 or 103. Admission to the park is free.
The city’s most popular destination for runners, Mount Namsan, is used mostly by casual joggers, but it does attract some of Korea’s so-called “sub 3” marathoners ―that is, runners who have completed a full marathon course in under three hours. (There are approximately 400 of these hardy souls in Korea, according to our sources.) However, routes around Namsan may present a challenge to beginners because of their steep inclines.
The first route is situated to the north of the mountain, and is about three kilometers long. This path was originally designed for walking; nothing with wheels is allowed onto it except wheelchairs and baby carriages, so there’s little danger of crashing into an inline skater. The surroundings are very pleasant, with plenty of shade trees. There is automobile traffic on the segments marked in blue on the above map.
The second course is more challenging because of its steep hills. Distances on both routes are marked off every 500 meters; there are plenty of public restrooms, water fountains and other facilities. The paths are paved in asphalt.
To get there, take subway line No. 3 to Dongguk University station. Parking isn’t easy to find, but some spaces are available at the National Theater of Korea at a cost of 1,000 won per 30 minutes.
Along the stream
Joongrangcheon stream is one of Seoul’s newer attractions for exercise enthusiasts. The bicycle path, which begins under the Gunja Bridge and runs to the main road at Dongbu, and the fishermen on the river have become familiar sights for local runners.
Runners from all over Seoul have been coming here since the city government repaved the course. The new surface is made from a mixture of asphalt and cement, which supposedly causes less stress to the back than either material alone would.
Many runners go from Wolleung Bridge to Nowon Bridge, a distance of 17 kilometers. One good reason to head north from Wolleung Bridge is that there are separate paths for cyclists and for runners.
Though the course is flat and therefore a little boring, the riverbanks have been landscaped with flowers and other plants, and the view is nice, especially at night with the illumination from the side roads. The restrooms along the route are portable, and it’s advisable to bring your own bottled water. Distance is marked off at 500-meter intervals.
To get to the course, take subway line No. 6 or 7 to Taeneung station, and walk five minutes to Joongrangcheon.
by Sohn Min-ho