Desert runner recounts ‘eye-opening ’ Sahara Race
In memoir, civil servant says his adventure goes on
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.”
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