The Korean crew put in work for their home event
Editor's Note: We have a great relationship with Korean crew Private Road Running Club (PRRC). To us, they epitomise what run crews are all about. Here, James Lee McQuown breaks down their home city marathon, with beautiful imagery captured by Seonggeon Ahn (@guntastic).
We first learned of Bridge The Gap (BTG) from afar, through social media. Our first real experience with BTG was not until our Japanese neighbors, Athletics Far East, started hosting their own events. And it was not until a couple years of participating in Tokyo, did we dare to wonder if this was something that we could do.
No stranger to community building, Private Road Running Club (PRRC) developed as an extension of our preexisting crew, 360 SOUNDS. For those unfamiliar, this year 360 SOUNDS celebrates 14 years of party-making, scene-shaping, street cred. We are a collection of underground artists, made up mostly of DJ’s, but also photographers, graphic designers and other creative types. Back in 2013, PRRC was born out of this community. Our group runs actually jumped-off at Rm.360, an independent record shop ran by our brother DJ Soulscape. I think what sets PRRC aside from other crews is that we developed organically due to the creative nature of the group. Our crew’s warmth, energy and core values are representative of the city we live in and our street culture grassroots. So it was only a natural progression for us to extend an invitation to the world and start hosting our own BTGSEL back in 2017.
Whether it is craft beer, nitro brew coffee or even designated driver apps, Seoulites are some of the fastest early adopters on the planet; making our city one of the trendiest in the world. Seoul really is a 24hr nonstop sort of town. Practically any kind of food delivered readily, lightning fast free WiFi everywhere, great public transit, an abundance of taxis; it is one of the safest and friendliest metropolises you will ever visit. As a runner, I am very thankful for the plentitude of saunas, cheap massage and acupuncture places that can be found in damn near every neighborhood. Seoul is split into North and South by the Han River. Riverside is where you will encounter most of the city’s runners, because it possesses an expansive uninterrupted well-paved route to your desired distance while still remaining within the city. Although littered with skyscrapers and ginormous apartment complexes, if you are lucky to be in town while all the flowers are in bloom, it is very easy to appreciate how much green space there is scattered about Seoul.
The beginning of the race shows you some of the oldest landmarks of our city. We start at GwangHwaMun Plaza, in front of the royal palace. We run past City Hall, and then around the corner to pass the picturesque Great South Gate. There is a long stretch to Dongdaemun Design Plaza, an architectural marvel that was constructed on the site of the old Dongdaemun Stadium. You know the finish is near once you have reached Chamsil Bridge and you can see the newly erected Lotte Tower piercing the sky. This year our cheer zone was smack dab in the middle of the bridge at the 37km mark, where everyone is pretty much hurting and in need of some encouragement. Seoul Marathon’s cultural exchange does not end with you crossing the finish line. Once you have ran your 42.195km’s, the organizers had the sense to include some very iconic staples in your finisher’s packet. It is ladened with Koreanisms such as a Ginseng drink, Orion Choco Pie and even Sweet red-bean bread (Danpatbbang).
Runners get finisher medals, but for those who are out there all day, cheering their throats hoarse, it is only right that they are able to walk away with a fresh keepsake or two. This is why our once very coveted small batches of one-off gear has been expanded, and is now made more readily available. Many may participate in the BTG, but not all are necessarily running the marathon. So, sandwiched in somewhere between the weekend’s events, we usually put together a pop-up, where anyone can stop by and get their hands on some special edition BTGSEL items. Every time we have held a pop-up, it has sold out right away. So if you ever see that new PRRCBDU is available, please do not hesitate. There is a great sense of solidarity when there are some one-hundred folks mobbing together all in uniform. And during the race, when you pass the cheer zone and everyone is decked out in our gear, it is nothing short of heartwarming, like a hero’s welcome, your family welcoming you home.
With a litany of amateur races every month all over the country from full marathons to 5k fun runs (Son Kee Jung, We Run Seoul, Give ‘n Race, Color Me Rad, etc.) Korea has no shortage of runners, but only five IAAF compliant full courses. Seoul International Marathon is the oldest marathon in Asia, and the fourth oldest in the world. Almost completely flat, there are only two gradual inclines throughout the whole race, an ideal course to pursue a PR. And if you do find yourself running your greatest, an added bonus, the course being an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, you can use your times to qualify for any majors you plan to run in the future.
Although our marathon has some heritage, the race itself is still not that famous. Internationally it isn’t well renowned and the Korean public at large is still sort of learning about this global running culture; so there is a bit lacking in the cheering department, but the plus side is that the race is still very cheap (€50) and since most of our residents are not even aware of the event, the price for lodging will not be affected like in other cities. For those who would like to participate in the events, still want to run, but perhaps were not able to prepare for a full marathon in time, do not fret, because Seoul International Marathon also has a 10k and a 4-person relay.
As an American buddy who now lives in Germany once put it to me, “Korean friends are for life.” It is something you will find not only from our crew, but from any Koreans alike, we feel that we have an obligation to take care of our visitors. It is not uncommon for Korean friends to go out of their way to help accommodate you. We have an eagerness to share our customs.
Also it is no secret that we like our nightlife here. Koreans are some of the best partygoers you will ever encounter. If they decide they are going to have fun, they will not let anything get in the way, be it the weather or what have you. PRRC members have joked that cheering is harder than running the marathon and that we train for the afterparty as much as the actual race.
East Asia being so far from anywhere, we often feel cut off from the rest of the world. It is great hosting an event like Bridge The Gap, because we get to meet so many people from different countries and crews while sharing our culture and city. This year we had around 90 runners fly in from afar. This was very fitting because Donga Marathon, or better known abroad as Seoul International Marathon was also celebrating its 90th Anniversary.
PRRC was created in March 2013. Seoul International Marathon is always held around the second week of March, so this is why we have hosted BTG then, sort of serving as our anniversary party. With so many people visiting all at once, it is easy to get lost in the fold. If you plan on participating in future PRRC events, if possible, I suggest that you fly out a little early to get a sense of the city and our group energy. This will give you some time to acclimate to the spicy food and adjust to the possible time difference. We have also been known to put together what we call “Thunder Runs” for visitors who are in town for only a couple days, but are not able to make the group run. So, if you are ever in these neck of the woods, feel free to contact us on social media. Next year we plan to switch things up. In celebration of the Olympic Games, PRRC will not be hosting an event in Seoul, but rather, we will be joining our brothers-in-arms for Tokyo Marathon on the 1st of March. We have yet to work the details out, but in the past, when we have done AFEPRRC events, we have used the title “Our Common Future”. So stayed tuned for that and see you all in Tokyo for 2020! For 2021, we want to be back to business in Seoul, doing things bigger and better. Be sure to follow us on social cause the crew never disappoints.