Koreatown Run Club show us how they do it in their LA neighbourhood
We couldn’t possibly cover the running scene in LA in one feature, so we decided to link up with Koreatown Run Club to get the scoop on LA through their eyes.
Koreatown is a culturally diverse neighbourhood in central LA, with Latinos and Asians making up the majority of the population. The establishment of Koreatown came in the late 1960’s and 1970’s when Korean immigrants began coming to the area and setting up businesses.
“When we started KRC we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we knew what running could do for people” explains Nguyen.
We decided to hit up two KRC runs; a 5 mile Thursday night and a 3 mile Saturday morning option.
8:30 PM - 3 or 5 Mile Option
The Thursday night run, with 3 mile or 5 mile options, starts at Beer Belly, a popular craft beer spot that also has a location in Long Beach.
“Jimmy, the owner, has been a supporter of the run club from the beginning. It’d be one of our main spots to hit up after a Saturday morning run because of their food and great beer selection. All the runners get beer deals Thursday nights as well so everyone wins” explains Nguyen.
"Hakim leads mindfulness exercises before the runs to get everyone in the right headspace...he's also one of the loudest motherfuckers in the crew, you wouldn't want to mess with him"
The run heads off through Larchmont, a small shopping strip that is widely described as 'quaint', and features mostly independent businesses such as bookstores, hardware stores, and dog friendly cafe's.
It's such a quiet area that it's usually lights out on the strip by the time KRC rolls through.
The Thursday night run is led by Hakim and Dylan.
"Dylan, is the nicest, most down to earth dude you’ll ever meet. You know when someone holds the door for you when you’re a little too far away? That’s him when he cheers for you when you’re like a block away. “Yeah Koreatown!”" explained Duy Nguyen.
The contrast of a city like LA is never more evident than on this Thursday night loop. From sleepy villages to derelict areas covered in graffiti and rubbish, to finishing amongst the hip, new-wave restaurants.
Throw in a run past The Edmon and you've got a comprehensive LA experience.
The Edmon, built in 1927, was once frequented by stars of Hollywood past, and after being restored to its former glory, now presents once again as an opulent bar and restaurant, reminiscent of a pre-WW2 vibe.
After The Edmon on Melrose Avenue, the run takes a right turn onto another busy street, Western Avenue.
Western Avenue is one of the busiest streets in Koreatown, lined with the familiar neon glow of Koreatown's all over the world, with some mom-and-pop stores and restaurants thrown in.
It's the kind of street where a different food smell hits you as you pass every store front. These aromas give you that extra bit of motivation to finish strong (before refuelling of course).
From here it's another mile or so back to Beer Belly, rounding out a 5 mile loop with a cool down drink and some stretching.
It's a chance to catch up on running, and more importantly on life.
"We recently lost one of our best runners in Kathleen. She best exemplified what KRC is with her happiness, attitude and smile.
She said training for the marathon was one of the hardest things she’s done but it always seemed like she had a smile on her face.
Even after her death, she’s still bringing people together"
10:30 AM - 3 Miles
The Saturday morning run meets at The Line Hotel in the heart of Koreatown. It's a modern hotel full of local art and expressions of creativity. Duy Nguyen explains how the relationship with The Line started.
"The Line is where Mike and I decided to loiter and bring a bunch of sweaty runners together and take all their water. I like to say we forced them to partner with us!
We throw parties in the summer at their pool, hold events in their ballrooms, and we’re about to start tai chi classes with Hakim in their garden. They’ve been nothing but accommodating and we want to thank them for allowing us to create with no boundaries".
"Saturday is like getting together for Church. It’s necessary. Duy and I both lead Saturday’s which gathers about 40 people who travel from different neighborhoods in LA. We have a few runners who drive an hour out just to run with us!"
The Saturday run is a straight up out and back along Wilshere Boulevard and the pace is pretty cruisy.
"Running down Wilshire Boulevard is hectic as fuck. You usually see a lot of crazy drivers and everyone honking at each other or the occasional homeless guy shooting up. That whole street keeps you alert and focused on the run. Wilshire Boulevard will give you the street smarts you need to run through Koreatown" says co-founder Mike Pak.
The turn around point on the run is MacArthur Park, a large green space with a colourful history.
In the 1980's and 90's in particular, MacArthur Park was known for frequent gang violence, until a concentrated police effort in the early 2000's cleaned the area up.
"Sometimes we’ll do a little circuit on the soccer field if it isn’t too busy. There’s a bit of a homeless population there but it can get poppin' too. Once we ran there and it was closed off because Anderson Paak was performing".
KRC is made up of a diverse group of runners from a range of backgrounds, and the story is similar to many other run crews we've met with. Without running as the common thread, many of these people wouldn't have had reason to cross paths, introduce themselves, and form authentic friendships. And they would all be poorer for missing out on those opportunities to meet each other.
"We’re truly a family and so many people have helped us along the way. We have so many strong women and men, too many to list, that watch out for one another inside and outside of running that really ties everything together".