Review: Seoul International Marathon, Korea (March 20, 2016)

Overview

  • Race Name: Seoul International Marathon
  • Date: March 20, 2016
  • Country: Korea (6th country)
  • StartTime: 8am
  • Cutoff Time: 5 hours
  • Hotel: Grand Intercontinental Seoul Parnas (5 star)
  • Size: Not sure, maybe 10,000
  • Course: Urban point to point
  • Scenery: Urban, history near the start and cool finish
  • Hills: Super flat
  • Water Stops: Well staffed; water, energy drink, food, sponges
  • Bathrooms: I didn’t see many
  • Crowd Support: Only at a few points in the race
  • Registration: Very difficult, most instructions in Korean and very little English, packet pickup is outdoors at finish

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Travel

Asiana and Korean Air are the two major Korean airlines operating out of Seoul. Most runners will fly into ICN and it takes about 45 minutes by train to get into Seoul.

I flew Japan Airlines First Class, via JFK and Narita, and arrived late at night. I got a great deal on a room at the Grand Hyatt Incheon (5*) and spent my first night there. You can probably find cheaper accommodations near the airport.

The start and finish of this race are in busy areas of Seoul and you should have no problem finding a hotel in your price range. I opted to stay at the Grand Intercontinental Seoul Parnas because it was a 10 minute walk from the finish line and one minute from the number 2 green line metro. I always prefer staying near the finish of a race and commuting to the start.

The Race

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I read lots of horror stories about the Seoul Marathon and was pleasantly surprised by the race. It appears organizers started listening to runner complaints and made necessary changes to improve the race. I believe 2016 was the first year with an actual expo for packet pickup. Online registration is still a nightmare to navigate, but all of my questions were promptly answered via email and it cost less than $50 to register.

The marathon course weaves through the city and, in 2016, the marathon started at 8am with a five hour cutoff. The start is in Gwanghwamun Square and the finish is in the Olympic Stadium (very cool). Refreshment stations were very well staffed, but I would have liked more of them. I only saw 1-2 bathrooms on the course, which is terrifying. I guess you could always try your luck in a building.

Metro lines are probably going to be your best bet for getting to the start line. The race starts at 8am, but the baggage check closes promptly at 7:30am. I cannot emphasize this enough.

There are dozens of bag trucks, but they all start closing their doors at exactly 7:30am. There was a lot of shouting at 7:32 when only a few trucks remained and I ended up throwing my bag over a crowd of people to get it into the truck. At the end of the race, the marathon has a ridiculously efficient baggage pickup system. I’m guessing this is because they have a few hours to sort all the numbers. The 10k bag lines were massive and there were hundreds of people waiting.

Temperatures at the start were in the mid 40s (F) and increased about 20 degrees over the next five hours. The start and finish areas are really awesome, but most of the course is mundane urban streets. There is a pretty cool tunnel about 14.5 miles into the race and lots of Korean runners get jacked up and start screaming “fighting” in Korean. That should get you pretty jacked up.

You cross two rivers in the last 10km and the second is the massive Han River. You take a right after crossing the bridge, run past an amusement park with some rides that look terrifying and finish with a lap around Olympic Stadium. Running in under the rings was really cool and I made sure to pass a couple people in the last 300m.

After the race, some guy sprayed my knees with some sort of joint liquid and then there was a bit of a walk to get outside the stadium. I traded my timing chip for my medal and then walked past a baseball game on my way back to Gangnam. Seoul is an awesome city with good food and great parties. I also really liked finishing in the Olympic stadium so I have no regrets running this race!

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