by Justin Granger
Traveling the world has its pros and cons. Most places we have traveled to for a race are nice but there are the odd few races that are held is parts of the world you wouldn’t recommend to anyone. It can often be a gamble heading to somewhere new that has never hosted a race before and the memories from such an experience last a long time.
Belinda came home raving about her first Ironman Korea experience, she loved the magical island of JeJu with a clean beach swim followed by a rolling 1 loop bike course and hot and steamy run leg out to the World Cup stadium and back. And I guess the fact that she won her first Ironman title there in 2001, helped too! There was no doubt she wanted to return and easily convinced me to come along. For some reason the island venue of JeJu had lost the race and a move to the northern part of South Korea to Sokcho was where the 2002 edition was to be held. Some 50km away from the DMZ (Demilitarisation Zone and North Korea) the multi loop bike course was a stone’s throw away from a very different world that we know. The new choice of venue was a little disappointing as JeJu had sounded very nice but we were up for a new adventure regardless.
Following a ridiculous amount of time spent traveling by car-plane-bus we arrived at our final destination of Sokcho, the venue of 1999 International Tourism Expo, and checked into our basic Korean style pension. Belinda looked at me and apologised – this is not what JeJu was like, she told me. After a little sorting of the room and a full unpack it was time to check the local area out to see what was on offer. We found the main strip not far from our pension and all was going well until I managed to step into a hole. Yep, too busy rubber necking, I had walked into a snapped off plastic drain pipe right in the middle of the footpath and ripped open my shin half way between my ankle and knee. As I pulled my leg out of the dirty pipe to my horror I could see what looked to me like bone, nice one! Well wouldn’t you know it, this happened right outside a medical centre, so I didn’t have far to go to get help. No need to speak the local language, my reason for the visit was quite clear upon entry and 30mins later I was hopping out of there on one leg with 4 internal stitches, 8 external stitches and a handful of pills. The next couple of days were spent laying around figuring out if I could actually race or not.
Race day snuck up far too quickly. I had created a wrapping to try and keep my wound dry under my wetsuit. Luckily the swelling was reducing by the day and I didn’t come all this way to watch. What was the worst thing that could happen…..my leg might fall off? My race was ordinary and I lost time to my competitors on the swim and bike as I nursed my injury and felt flat from the stress I was dealing with. By the time I hit the run I just did my thing and managed to run well, only the run seemed to go on forever. The last 3km felt like when you are on a plane circling, waiting for clearance from the control tower, wasting time. All of a sudden a van appeared offering water, clearly the run was marked out too long and there were no aid stations set up on the newly added extra scenic loop.Talk that day was that the run was between 44-45km and all I needed in my compromised state! I finished in tenth and made the prize money, enough to cover my medical bills. Raynard Tissink won his first of many Ironman titles that day and the start of an awesome career. It was great to be there and watch Belinda cross the finish line in 1st and capture her second ever Ironman title. She had a battle on her hands that day and seesawed over the 45km run with 3 other girls (Andrea Fischer, Belinda Halloran and Marissa Robbins) and eventually came out on top for the second year running.
Post race was good fun as we had a great bunch of international pro athletes come to Sokcho. The award ceremony was a big deal and a chance to try some odd local food while being entertained by the local cultural team of dancers and musicians. A few drinks livened things up as the stories flowed on and on – good times with new friends. My leg healed up well and I was back to normal just a couple of weeks after returning home. To this day I still have the giant scar on my left shin – just to remind me of my trip to Sokcho!