Shape up and fly right
A wine dealer and four-star chef from Italy, a U.S. Army Sergeant from Ohio, an upbeat university professor from Japan and California who loves pink, a Korean head of legal affairs for a major Korean company — these are just four profiles of the 300 active members of the Seoul Flyers running club, which is dedicated to the promotion of running, walking and general health and fitness.
In the club, the expatriate nationalities run the gamut. There are members from all over the world, including Asia, Europe and North and South America. The thing that brings them all together is a passion for running.
But the group is about more than sports. As former club president Eddie Booth once put it, “The Seoul Flyers are not just a running group; we’re a family.”
Current club president Sam Brooks adds that the club has been able to serve as a bridge between expats living in and around Seoul and Korean people: “We want to be good neighbors and continue to contribute to Korean society in positive ways.”
It is a volunteer organization whose membership is its most important resource, according to Brooks. “Without them we wouldn’t be able to provide social events, time trials or special activities that serve to enhance an already active running community in Seoul and South Korea,” he says.
As for the physical aspect, Seoul Flyers is open to people of all fitness levels. Members have said they worried about joining because they would be looked down on for being too slow or unfit, but later found the opposite to be true. Members cheer each other on at every race and group event — no matter how big or small, and no matter their fitness level, running distance or physical ability.
Member Anna Cottrell attests, “Seoul Flyers has provided an opportunity to establish strong friendships and has aided me in reaching my racing goals.”
For new runners, the club has recently begun a “Couch to 5K” group, led on Saturday mornings by board member Marcus White. White has been leading the group of five to 10 runners over a training period of eight weeks to help them reach their goal of running a 5-kilometer distance. While some dropped out of the program after the first few runs, many have stayed with it and some have already reached their goal.
Magsoo Choi, one of the group’s more recent recruits, achieved her first 5K at a recent run on the U.S. military base in Yongsan, and was ecstatic about her accomplishment. “It felt awesome when I ran a 5K for the first time,” she says. “There was always someone who supported me, encouraging me to finish. If I had done it by myself, without the encouragement, I wouldn’t have been able to do it as well and it wouldn’t have felt the same.”
Not everyone is involved in the group just to reach distance goals. Another new member, Kristina Dziedic Wright, an American mother of two, says the group has helped her stick to a general fitness plan. “It’s really helping to motivate me,” she says. “I’ve never managed to stick to a workout schedule as well as I have these past six weeks.”
For the runner who has already achieved the 5-kilometer distance and beyond, there are several professional and semiprofessional runners in the club to offer advice. Norah Newcombe is a member from Ireland who recently won second place in the Guam International Marathon, having already taken first at the Joongang International Marathon. Her advice for distance running is “Every second counts.” She also trains with a coach in Ireland, and for her, “The key is to listen to good advice.”
Other distance runners include Ultra-Marathoners Peter Straghan, who just took first place in the Buddhist 108 Ultra event’s 50K, and Chris Sloan, who took third.
Seoul Flyers has several options for group runs, which are free and open to both members and nonmembers. These include a track session on Tuesday, hill runs on Namsan on Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday morning runs on the Han River. Up next, they have their fourth annual King of the Mountain 10K on June 7 with 93 racers registered. The club also facilitates entry to Korean-sponsored running- and walking-related events for the expat community.
As Newcombe says, they’ll be happy to have you as part of their running community: “My experience with Seoul Flyers has been nothing but positive. It is like a family away from home.”
Find the group at seoulflyers.com or on Facebook.