JejuTrail 70 km Nirvana Trail Run

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

제주의 아름다운 자연을 달린다

2019.4.5~7 See you in 2020 :)


70 km Trail Run Nirvana

This trail race was so different than other races I have entered. As with most things in life, change is the only constant. Your health comes and goes, money comes and goes, and time is something we can never get back.

Why not spend some time testing limits in nature with like minded people?

Logistically it is tough to get to Jeju from where I live while working a 9-5 Monday - Friday job. Luckily there was a Friday night flight that worked out and catching the ferry during the day on Sunday looked like it would work, as long as I made good time in my race. Extra incentive to finish fast?

Arriving in Jeju for the April 5th Jeju Trail race was a breeze once everything was booked. The bus from the airport took me to the gym where I set up my camp. My camp was a sleeping bag and my backpack acted as a pillow; high class.


50 KM (my first ever trail race)

This was only my second trail race ever. Most of my training for my first trail race wasn’t on anything technical. My first race was a battle into the unknown, Trans Jeju 2017. I went solo and ended up camping at the starting line because I couldn’t get to Jeju until a few hours before the race. Running on only a few hours sleep and in a brand new place with a few hundred people who thought running 50km was normal was a bizarre experience. Usually I am met with blank stares when I tell someone about my running schedule.

Also, throw in the mental mind fuck(멘붕 - mental breakdown) that comes with thinking you are at km 35 of your first ever 50 km race to only being at 25 km. My mind really let my body move at a snail's pace after that news.

However, that was in 2017 so I learned through experience and hopefully won't make that mental slip up again. I did make a Garmin purchase slightly after that debacle so I won't have to rely on my brain to keep track anymore. Cliche number 239402 that rings true - You live, you learn.

Trail running and life seem to go hand in hand. While training for my first 50 km I didn’t know what to expect and was forcing myself to train on those long runs. Many times I wanted to stop or got frustrated because I couldn't sprint up a large incline.

Transferable Life Lesson: By staying within myself and laying focus on one step in front of the other I was far better off. By blocking everything that wasn't directly in front of me out I was able to cross the finish line.

FLASH-FORWARD TO: 70 km Trail Run Nirvana

I got to the gym and heard applause coming from a room, which luckily wasn’t for me. I met a few people and could feel the great energy, but it was time to settle in. It was time to get some rest because this was my first time in a multi-day trail race. Morning came fast and breakfast was served around 5 a.m. With some packing and getting us to the start line it added up to a busy morning. I stuffed myself with food as I have been the past few days so I would have the energy to get through. I have experimented with not eating enough many times throughout the past few years and while you are capable of so much more than you think on low fuel, I didn’t want to test it this weekend.


Yeosu Full Marathon

During my full marathon race in January within the 20 to 30 kilometer mark I felt UNTOUCHABLE. I had a revelation that wasn’t unique and wasn’t the first time I thought this; nutrition is key. I knew that was a weak part of my lifestyle, so the goal mid race was to finish up the best I could and then get to work. The Yeosu marathon is a tough one. Around the 38 km point my wheels started to come off. A guy I passed at the halfway point came cruising by me to strike up a conversation. He bounced around like a spring chicken as I tried to sludge on. I collected myself mentally and reaffirmed that I had to stay within myself and run my own race. As the final kilometers were knocked off it was a mixture of feelings going through me.

How could I run a marathon better? What did I need to improve?

FLASH-FORWARD TO: 70 km Trail Run Nirvana

Day 1... 34 km

The early morning bus ride felt nice because there was the beautiful scenery to take in on Jeju island. This truly was a gem in nature and I was about to see so much of it on a quest of my own. We piled out of the bus to start stretching and take in the morning sunrise. I have heard others talk about it and I truly believe it as well. Seeing the morning sunrise is an amazing tactical advantage. For some reason it gives me so much energy and usually I am solo. This time I was with a group of people who knew exactly what I was talking about.

As we stretched on the beach and got ready for the easy 34 km day I tried to just stay within myself once again. Suddenly the countdown began and we were off. We traversed a rocky sea line through sandy tall grass. Then it was onto the road for the majority of the day, which I did not expect. Today there was only around 100 meters of climbing with over 800 meters the next day. As usual, I started out too fast and had to put on the brakes a bit because I wanted day 1 to be comfortable. Things really started to spread out and I seemed to be somewhere in the top ⅓ of the race where I seem to be in all these races no matter what the distance but that didn’t matter. What mattered was staying within myself and just focusing on my own race and everything else would take care of itself.

Normally I am not much for the cheer-leading that people dish out. Usually I am self motivated but for some reason at these trail races the volunteer energy is so helpful to me. These checkpoints with bananas and water are safe havens. Some time after the safe haven was forgotten about and on the long lonely road within the prison of your mind there was the 멘붕

And then it happened...

tough as nails

Somewhere around 60% of the way I really had a mental breakdown. Why am I out here? Why am I running? This makes no sense. Why can’t I just take a “normal” vacation? That didn’t last too long because I was just complaining about my pace and blaming my heavy legs. I was far away from my marathon pace and although this was an ultra-marathon, the first day was flat as a pancake! Why was I moving so slow?! This broken mentality lasted until a runner that looked as tough as nails came next to me. He looked like he was one of the real ones out here and after speaking with him that is exactly what he was. He was a Jeju native and he gave me the feel that this wasn’t his first rodeo. He was running the 100 km group and after a minute or two of talking with me he took off. Once again I had to self talk my way to stay within myself. I tried not to think that he just beasted me with another 30+ km under his legs from the previous day but obviously I was thinking about that a lot.

Nirvana Reached....for a moment

As I took in the Jeju coastline, I couldn’t help to think that this was what it was all about. This was bliss. This was harmony. This was everything. Sound a bit different than my mentality a few minutes prior? The beauty of the sea surrounding Jeju ended because the finish line was in the folk village which was a really cool ending to a scenic day. The folk village was baked with traditional Jeju culture and it kept my mind preoccupied away from my heavy legs. I finished with a stride somewhere in between a turkey trot and a baby crawling. I finished healthy and there were only a handful that were at the finish line in front of me. Although, a few of them looked like they had time for a massage, shower, and five course meal. For me, I had some stretching and eating to do.

While sitting and collecting my thoughts one of the other runners came and asked if I was 70 km or 100 km. I told him that I was doing 70 km and he said I was in first?! I was shocked. All I knew is that there were a bunch of runners in front of me and never would of guessed I was the first one for 70 km. Later in the day I found out there was one runner in front of me by about 30 minutes. My mind immediately jumped to that unclean stretch 60% of the way in when I was just negative and slow as anything. That could've been the 30 minutes right there. O well, lesson learned. Stay within yourself and see what happens I told myself again.

The bus ride back was great and talking with the other runners was the best. The small conversations I had with everyone meant a lot to my experience at Jeju Trail. This wasn’t just a running race but this was a full immersion experience. There were times I thought about my 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat and it had a similar feel at times. This was as much an individual competition as it was a group ride that we all shared together.

Some people were there to win. Some were there to test their limits. Some people were really serious and others seemed to not have a care in the world. Some people were there for trekking, taking pictures, and taking in the breathtaking views. Some people like myself stumbled into a position where they were in contention. I was there to experience it all and after day 1; I knew this was my perfect vacation.

Trail Running can be for EVERYONE.

Day 2

I didn’t get much sleep again but it didn’t matter because what could I do? The race was here and somehow I was in prime position; but again the same thing was echoed by telling myself to stay within myself. The course for day 2 had over 800 meters of climbing which dwarfed yesterday but was absolutely nothing compared to any “real” ultramarathon. So for anyone who is looking for a bridge between a marathon and an ultra marathon then 70 km Jeju Trail is absolutely perfect.

The starting and finish line were at a festival so once again a perfect set up by the directors and planners. Day 1 finish was the folk village and day 2 was a decent sized Korean festival. Another amazing part of the race is that at 50% point you turned right back and went in reverse. It was so cool to see the leaders of the 100 km and 36 km race come blazing by me on the trail. So on the last day of the race we had 100 km, 70 km, 36km, 10 km, and 5 km all finishing together. That feeling of looking around and seeing 36 / 10 / 5 km single day people having no clue about the multi-day events...just like the I had no clue about the previous day journey the 100 km members had. That is another life lesson right there.

Transferable Life Lesson: We might not know what is going on in a person's life before having an interaction with them at that moment so having compassion for people should be top priority. Just as I sit here and say that the single day runners had no idea; how do I really know?!

Starting out I was with one of the great women runners. While I watched her stride she didn’t look particularly gifted or different. In fact, the most remarkable thing was that she looked quite ordinary. After all my reading and watching movies about trail running I was finally seeing what greatness looked like in person. Who knows what was going on in her head but from the outside looking in, it looked like she was just cruising. Her stride was effortless and looked like she was in perfect flow. She looked equanimous.

Things progressed nicely in the beginning of the race and power hiking up the first big hill of around 400 meters was fun, kind of. I was the tallest in the field which really works against me when it comes to managing calories and carrying this frame around. However, it is useful going up steps and definitely flying downhill if I am able to be carefree. Something was unlocked after the halfway point.

Bliss after the 멘붕

I just started steaming and had so much energy. This usually happens at the halfway point for me in races as I get too excited. Being aware of this is the first step and knowing how to manage it is probably the second. I came up a 400 meter climb power hiking through and in good rhythm. I took in the sights on the top for a split second and then was off. As some people were struggling up the hill I was flying down.

After this high inevitably wore off I managed to get through a low point by reaffirming that this too will pass, just like Samwise told.

“But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow.

Even darkness must pass.

A new day will come.

And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”

Rule 1 when you are in a low point: use anything and everything to accept where you are, and battle out of it. In this case, it was remembering a movie title. Sometimes it is reaffirming to stay within yourself, and sometimes it is thinking about chicken and beer post game.

2nd Place!

A completely unexpected 2nd place finish. To be honest I didn't really care about the 2nd place finish although the trophy is a unique one :). The trophy is called Dol hareubangs and this symbol is all over Jeju. It is a Godlike protector of the island. The 2nd place finish just was the icing on the cake of an amazing weekend filled with everything! Planes, buses, taxis, and ferry rides. Great conversations and a tremendous amount of eating with a little alcohol after the races provided just enough energy to get through the running. This trail run had it all for terrain, we were met with road, beach, rock, and dirt trails. There were moments of euphoria, low points where I didn't want to continue, and boringly painful times with everything in between. So many life experiences are connected to one another. For me, at this time, I have connected with the world of trail running. Trail running is for everyone. See you on the starting line.



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