48 Hours in Seoul: Part Two

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Going long then getting slices with Private Road Running Club

Welcome to Part Two of our feature with Private Road Running Club (PRRC). If you haven't already, check out Part One.

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The Sunday long run for the crew is just short of two hours today. It’s an out and back along the Han River, starting and finishing in the Apgujeong area where many of the crew live and work.

The Han River is important for Seoul. In centuries past it was a trade route for dealing with China, and it's still a water source for many Koreans. To the north, it separates North and South Korea.

In the summertime, the banks of the Han are heaving with people out to enjoy one of Seoul’s biggest green spaces. Dedicated bike paths and walking tracks get almost as much use as the many workout stations. There are basketball courts and soccer fields at several points along the river.

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Today is a little different. There are very few runners out, and any passing cyclists are completely covered up for protection from the sub zero temperatures. The workout stations are in use, however.

In this weather, the only people dedicated enough to use them are elderly Koreans conditioned to the rituals of daily exercise, probably through their mandatory service in the defence force in decades gone by. Still, on a freezing Sunday in winter it’s an interesting sight.

Think Venice Beach but with pastel tracksuits.

James and I meet the runners just after the halfway point of their run (we’re on bikes), and find them stretched out over 500m. Dae-Kun leads the way, unmissable in his bright blue cap. Even without the cap you would hear him coming, his grunts and groans getting louder and more frequent as each minute passes.

Behind him is Make-1, rhythmic and stony faced as he sits 50m off the pace. Y.J., fresh from 10km on the track yesterday seems content with his position, knowing that marathon PR’s are not set 10 weeks out from the race.

As James informs me the guys have less than a kilometre to run, we ride up to the finish to see Make-1 streaking away from Dae-Kun. Like all good group runs, the last 500m is time to empty the tank, and it’s only now I realise that Dae-Kun’s grunting wasn’t being put on for my benefit.

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Yesterday, I asked Y.J. what role running played in his life.

“Running has always been a solitary sport, but crew running makes it feel like a community. Running brings structure to our lives, and it’s a great teacher.

Every time we do a new race we learn something and learn from each other.

There’s a lot of positivity in running”

Y.J. Jung

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Shortly after the the guys roll in, Hye-Rin arrives out of nowhere. After having some issues with her Achilles, she headed up to the road and jumped on a bus to get her back to the end point. The guys laugh and offer the kind of gentle ribbing you would expect when someone includes a bus trip in their Sunday long run.

It’s cold, so despite having just clocked 20+ km, everyone is keen to keep moving and get inside. A couple of blocks away is Make-1’s studio. This is where the crew store their gear before the run, and it’s also an unofficial clubhouse, with boxes of PRRC merch scattered throughout the space.

The studio occupies a loft in a trendy area of Seoul, close to a strong bar and restaurant scene. It’s not unlike countless other studios you’ve probably seen; light filled, a little messy, and lined with past works, incomplete projects, and striking visual inspirations.

Being the studio of one of Seoul’s most influential street culture figures, it also includes dozens of Nike shoeboxes, a beer fridge, and cases of Red Bull among other things.

Make-1 is best described as a creative director, designer, and artist. He works with a number of international and Korean street wear brands, and has an edgy style that’s unmistakably his own.

Everyone’s hungry, and a couple of short blocks away is Masterpiece Pizza, a new spot just opened up by Y.J.. Y.J. has family in Ohio, and has spent time working in the family pizza restaurants in the US before deciding to open his own right here in Apgujeong.

When we arrive we’re greeted with hot, fresh pizzas waiting for us at the long table in the centre of the restaurant. This is not a time for formalities. As everyone hops into their favourite slice, there’s a familiarity and comfort with each other that only comes through shared achievement. Everyone earned their pizza today (except me, but I don’t let that stop me).

As Hye-Rin moves to the floor to stretch, she’s in for one last reference to her long run. ‘Why didn’t you stretch on the bus?’ someone asks, as everyone (Hye-Rin included) erupts in laughter.

Most of the talk is about the upcoming Seoul Marathon in March. Most of the crew have run a marathon before, but they’re all excited to have another shot at a PB. James is disappointed he won’t get to toe the start line, a recent Achilles injury looks set to rule him out.

As PRRC celebrates its 5th anniversary, their goals for the future have gone past runner numbers or superficial targets. James explains that there’s a bigger goal for the city than just weekly runs.

“We want to continue to be a healthy community. Being more involved in the BTG community has been good for us and been a learning experience. Every time someone goes to an event overseas they come back and tell us new things".

“We also want Seoul to become a destination for runners to come and visit. When we go to Tokyo the AFE guys look after us and vice versa and we want to have that relationship with other crews too”

James Lee McQuown

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Y.J. stands proudly outside his new restaurant

PRRC blazed a trail in Seoul, a city of some 10 million inhabitants. In such a large and modern city, it’s no surprise a number of other run crews have established themselves. When asked about it, again, it’s city first for James and PRRC.

“All these other crews starting is helping running in Seoul and growing the community. Seoul is more of a running city than it used to be and that’s due to everyone”

James Lee McQuown

“Not all crews are the same as ours, everyone has their own slant on what they do, so we encourage people to get in where they fit in.

In March we’ll celebrate our 5th birthday in conjunction with our own Bridge The Gap Seoul event which is really cool to bring everyone together”.

After an hour and too much pizza and Pepsi, everyone starts to head their separate ways. As some crew members leave, Make-1 goes outside for a cigarette, while Y.J. has time to wash up before jumping behind the counter to serve customers.

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I pick up the conversation with James about the future for PRRC.

“Right now in Seoul, there’s not a lot of understanding of running culture. When there are races on most of the people still have no idea why the streets are closed.

I want my daughter to grow up thinking running is normal. In the future people will be more supportive”.

As I jump in a cab with James and Hye-Rin, my time with PRRC is coming to an end. I’m struck by how close the group is. What may have started as a way to keep fit and chase goals together has truly become a family. There are no ego’s, no agendas, just a group of people sharing their lives together…and sometimes that includes running.

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