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New York Road Runners

Korean Road Runners Club

Unity in Endurance

This Running Town Newsletter
Fall 2007, Vol. 2, No. 4

By Tracy Ziemer

“Without running, a day is not complete,” says Yi-Joo Kwon, 61, president of the Korean Road Runners Club (KRRC). Commitment to pounding the pavement daily rather than winning races sets the tone for this running club, which Kwon founded in February 2004 with nine other Korean runners for social and health reasons and to promote running in the Korean community in New York.

Today, the club has more than 200 members across the New York metro area. Members are predominantly ethnic Koreans and range in age from 19 to 70, with the majority over the age of 40.

“Most members are hard working people, and this is one way to relieve stress and promote family unity,” says Kwon, 61, through a translator. He emphasizes that after finishing a marathon, the group congratulates first-time finishers and members who set personal records, rather than focusing on the highest finisher.

“The club is both running and social,” says member Jung Chun. “It’s nice because the people in the club have the same interests, and members are really active.”

Chun joined the team in February 2005 after hearing about it from one of his Korean friends. “I’d been running three or four miles every day at that point, but I didn’t have that kick,” he says. “I thought that joining this club might help me to reach my goal, which was to finish a marathon. The club has served my purpose – I’ve run a marathon 10 times since joining.”

Encouraging members to run a marathon is one priority of the club, which divides membership into two categories: “full,” which signifies the completion of at least one marathon; and “associate” level, for members who have not reached the marathon milestone. “New memberscome in all the time saying they want to run marathons, says Son Chong Hwan, 44, the KRRC coach. “More than 70 percent of our members complete at least one marathon.”

The group fields a team for at least four marathons each year, including the ING New York City Marathon, and hosts a summer barbeque and other group outings every year. On Sunday mornings, the team meets at Engineers’ Gate in Central Park at 7:00 a.m. for a group run, rain or shine. Kwon, who lives in Palisades Park, NJ, commutes to the park to start running at 4:00 a.m. and some members join him and segue into the team workout later. Afterward, they meet at Jackson Hole diner on the Upper East Side for the nourishment of breakfast and Korean conversation.

The goals of the club focus less on the competitive aspects of racing, and more on the social, health and, increasingly, the altruistic benefits of representing the community through running. Kwon has signed up for several ultramarathon races to raise money for causes benefitting the Korean community, and the whole club shares in this effort.

In July, he completed the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run in 26 hours 56 minutes to raise funds for the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York (KCS) in Flushing. KRRC member Doyong Yu ran the last 38 miles with Mr. Kwon this year, while other members served as his crew.

In addition to the Vermont race, Kwon competed in two more legs of this year’s Grand Slam of Ultrarunning: the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado (August 18-19), and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run in Utah (September 8-9). Kwon used these events as an opportunity to raise money for the KCS, and again the running club played a supporting role as his crew. Kwon’s dedicated running regimen, and his focus on having fun while doing his best rather on times and medals, are the foundation of the club’s running philosophy. To members, Kwon leads by example.

“To run, time is not the important thing,” says Chun. “Everyone says, ‘Well, I have to work.’ But Mr. Kwon works seven days a week, so that’s not the excuse. If you want to run, you will find the time.”

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