Desert run­ner re­counts ‘eye-open­ing ’ Sa­hara Race

In mem­oir, civil ser­vant says his ad­ven­ture goes on

The Korea Times - - CULTURE - By Kang Hyun-kyung [email protected]­re­

Kim Gyeong-su, a civil ser­vant and an ul­tra-marathon run­ner, has re­leased a book re­flect­ing on his 17-year ad­ven­ture as a desert marathoner that be­gan in 2003 when he first par­tic­i­pated in an en­durance race in the Sa­hara Desert.

In the mem­oir, “It’s Not Time to Quit” pub­lished by ISAE Books, Kim said his jour­ney to places off the beaten track will keep go­ing, not­ing he has learned a lot from pre­vi­ous desert races.

He gives de­tailed ac­counts of his “eye-open­ing” first desert race, how he bal­anced his day job and desert marathons and how a once timid man trans­formed into an ad­ven­turer.

“I still have the vivid mem­ory of my first en­counter with the Sa­hara Desert back in 2003,” he writes. “The 243-kilo­me­ter race, which con­tin­ued for five days and seven nights, was full of ad­ver­sity and ex­pe­ri­ences that tested the lim­its of my phys­i­cal and men­tal en­durance. But such ex­pe­ri­ences didn’t stop me from run­ning. I didn’t give up then, and still keep chal­leng­ing my­self by run­ning ul­tra-marathons.”

Kim, 56, said the Sa­hara Race, also known as Marathon des Sables, was a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The Sa­hara Race trans­formed me into an ad­ven­turer,” the book reads.

“It’s Not Time to Quit” is Kim’s fifth book since 2005 when his first book “My Jour­ney to the Ul­tra­ma­rathon” was pub­lished.

Asked if there were any tar­get read­ers he had in mind, Kim said he hopes his book can in­spire the younger gen­er­a­tion grap­pling with high youth un­em­ploy­ment and those who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a midlife cri­sis to find hope and have a fresh start in life.

“In our so­ci­ety, I think there are the two groups of peo­ple who are in de­spair and need help from oth­ers — those in their 20s and mid­dle-aged bread­win­ners. Days are tough for them be­cause the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion has been go­ing from bad to worse with few signs of get­ting bet­ter,” he told The Ko­rea Times over the phone.

“So, with my new book, I wanted to cheer them up to help them over­come the tough re­al­ity they are fac­ing. My past 17 years as an ul­tra-marathoner was full of ad­ver­sity. I think be­ing pos­i­tive has been the source of my power to over­come those sit­u­a­tions.”

His new book was pub­lished in late Oc­to­ber, weeks af­ter he re­turned to Ko­rea in early Au­gust af­ter com­plet­ing the Gobi March. The desert race be­gan in Karako­rum, Mon­go­lia on July 28 for a seven-day run.

Over the past 17 years, Kim has run a to­tal of 6,300 kilo­me­ters.

In each en­durance race, he runs 250 kilo­me­ters car­ry­ing a 10-kilo­gram out­door back­pack full of food and other ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties.

On sev­eral oc­ca­sions he has guided vis­ually-im­paired marathon­ers to help them com­plete the race.

Af­ter his sto­ries were made pub­lic on TV and in news­pa­pers, Kim was called upon to speak at var­i­ous events about his mo­ti­va­tion and the lessons he has learned from en­durance races.

He said be­com­ing a fa­mous mo­ti­va­tional speaker was some­thing he pre­vi­ously had never thought would hap­pen to him, not­ing the unimag­in­able thing hap­pened af­ter he be­came coura­geous enough to par­tic­i­pate in ul­tra-marathons.

Be­fore his first desert race, Kim said he was a timid man stuck with the idea of mak­ing money as a bread­win­ner to sup­port his fam­ily. “When I was young, I used to be a boy dream­ing of be­ing an artist and a James Bond-like spy. I know they are two very dif­fer­ent jobs but I tried hard to make those dreams come true. Af­ter be­com­ing an adult, I came to pri­or­i­tize job se­cu­rity over my child­hood dreams and be­came a civil ser­vant,” he said.

He used his in­flu­ence for char­ity. In Fe­bru­ary 2016, he got a phone call from Woo Heon-ki, chair­man of the Beau­ti­ful Le­gacy Foun­da­tion, a lo­cal NGO. It was about a month be­fore he was to par­tic­i­pate in the Ul­tra Asia Race 2016, an ul­tra-marathon which starts in Viet­nam’s north­west­ern region of Pa Co near the bor­der with Laos.

“Mr. Woo asked me to join his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ef­forts to raise funds to build an orphanage in Pak­istan. He pleaded for help, say­ing it was needed to take care of war or­phans and other chil­dren who had lost their par­ents and who lived in fear and en­dured ter­ri­ble liv­ing con­di­tions,” Kim said.

He posted on the plight or­phans face on so­cial me­dia sev­eral times, ask­ing for help from in­ter­net users. His fundrais­ing was ef­fec­tive. Upon his re­turn to Ko­rea in late March 2016 af­ter the en­durance race in Viet­nam, Kim heard good news. He turned on his mo­bile phone as soon as he ar­rived at In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port and re­ceived tons of text mes­sages. Among them was news that his so­cial me­dia-based char­ity cam­paign had raised 5.8 mil­lion won.

“My toe­nails were dead and I had blis­ters on my feet from run­ning the ul­tra-marathon. I felt it was worth it be­cause my en­durance test in Viet­nam moved peo­ple to do­nate money for the orphanage project in Pak­istan,” he said.

Kim said run­ning ul­tra-marathons is a sport in which past ex­pe­ri­ences don’t nec­es­sar­ily help ath­letes learn lessons. “I feel like things are new in ev­ery desert race. I re­al­ized that there are no short­cuts and I can’t use ex­per­tise that I learned in a pre­vi­ous marathons,” he said.

“Desert marathons helped me be­come stronger. So I will keep run­ning as long as my health al­lows it. Maybe I’ll quit af­ter I turn 70.”

Cour­tesy of Kim Gyeong-su

Ul­tra­ma­rathon run­ner Kim Gyeong-su, right, crosses a river while hold­ing a rope at the 2019 Gobi March which be­gan on July 28 and con­tin­ued for seven days. Kim, a civil ser­vant, has run a to­tal of 6,300 kilo­me­ters in mul­ti­ple desert marathons since 2003 when he first par­tic­i­pated in an ul­tra­ma­rathon in the Sa­hara Desert.

“It’s Not Time to Quit” by Kim Gyeong-su

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