This is my race report for the Seoul Marathon held on March 18th 2017 (not to be confused with the other Seoul Marathon held in November). I’ll try to break this experience down and provide some useful information for anyone considering this event.
Registration: Even though this is an ‘international’ event (and has the IAAF gold rating), the website is painfully inadequate if you don’t read Korean. Basic information is in English but registration is a nightmare. First of all, the registration opens relatively late. This year it opened on Dec. 12th and I registered promptly on that day. To my knowledge, the race did not fill up quickly so no need to stress too much about doing it very quickly. However, be prepared to spend some time trying to figure out how to get through. The website did offer some English for the main page, but once you go into the registration area it’s all Korean. It helps if you can use google chrome which will offer an English translation (you’ll probably also need to cut and paste into google translate). But even with that, you’ll find some parts unclear. At some point I even needed to enter an address with a postal code in Korea, so I put in something random.
Then the real fun started. For some reason I needed to install a special app for the browser in order to complete the payment. This cannot be done on a Mac computer. Fortunately I have a virtual PC software installed, so I was able to get through by switching over to Windows. I can’t remember which browser I used, but I had to try a few… it was totally ridiculous. Then my credit card didn’t work (which I think was because the system did not have a way to deal with the visa verification step which is usually involved). I switched cards to my other visa which is through my bank in Canada (which does not have a verification step), and it worked!
After all of that, I still wasn’t sure if everything was right, so I emailed them (they replied the next day to tell me that everything was ok).
Note that if you want to get a starting place near the front, you need to email the organizers a past race result. This is communicated in a pop up window (only in Korean) once you successfully register. I did this and I was given an A start on the basis of a 2:53 time. If you don’t do this, they will put you near the back (by the way, I did noticed some B bibs in the A start area, so it did not seem to be very strictly enforced).
Accommodation and transportation: On my first night I arrived very late so I stayed out at the airport. On the second and third nights I stayed at the Sieoso Hotel which gets good reviews and is very affordable. It is indeed an excellent budget place with friendly staff, and the location is also near the start (only two or three subways stops). However I wouldn’t stay there again. The neighbourhood around there is a bit too boring and the selection of restaurants is limited. Better to stay in a tourist friendly area, even if that means a bit more time on the subway in the morning. It’s not a super early start (8:00 AM), so you will have time. After the race I just wanted to have easy access to some nice restaurants or find a place to chill out outside the hotel, but that area seemed devoid of things to do.
Expo and Race organization: You’ll be able to find information elsewhere, so I won’t go into the details too much. The expo is basic and there’s not much to do, or buy. It’s held outside near the stadium where the race finishes. They had the registration area set up next to some blaring speakers, which was annoying, but they did speak English and there were no problems.
Race day was well organized. You have to put your drop bag in the correct van before the cut off time. It’s all very clear and there were no problems. They let the different groups go in waves. There is a first wave in front of the A group, which confused me. I suspect that this is for local club athletes (similar to Japan). I was disappointed to see that the 2:50 pace group was in the front group, so I wouldn’t be able to join them. The pacers had balloons attached and were clearly visible. I think they had pacers at 10 min increments. By the way, they have bins for discarding old clothes at the start (it’s cold in the morning). Also there are plenty of pota-potties in the start area and also the nearby restaurants or cafes didn’t seem to mind allowing runners using their facilities.
The gun went off at 8:05 for the A group. I’ll spare you my personal story here. Basically, there was nothing surprising on the course. As you may have read elsewhere, it’s a good race if you are looking for a fast time. I ended up achieving my goal with a time of 2:49:25. The conditions were really ideal – cool temps, no wind, and flat course. Maybe a bit sunny near the end (consider a hat or visor). There are water stations every 5k and they were sufficiently supplied (they could use a few more, actually). The stations are long so you have time to get two cups. I seem to recall that there was one station with food about half way.
Post-race: The free massage was good and worth waiting for. They gave us some cheap buns and snacks in a finishers bag, but there was fresh fruit eventually (as you keep walking towards the subway).
A drawback of this race is that they do not provide race statistics. I can now log on to the website, navigate the Korean again, and get my official time (with 5k and HM splits). I can also download a certificate. But it appears that I do not have my age group result (I do know my overall result but I can’t browse the finishers list). Also, it appears that foreign participants don’t have the option to buy race photos which is annoying.
Overall, I’d have to say that despite a few minor problems Seoul Marathon has a lot going for it. I’d highly recommend it for anyone serious about running a personal best. I think for many people this is a good consolation race if you fail to get in to Tokyo Marathon in February. While it lacks the atmosphere of a race like Tokyo, it is still a very exciting event and you’ll feel a real buzz finishing in the olympic stadium.