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The Korean Vegan

Thoughts From The NYC Half-Marathon

published6 months ago
11 min read

Don't have time to read this week's newsletter? LISTEN to it instead.

On March 20, 2022, I woke up just 2 minutes before my alarm (set for 5:25 am EST). It was, of course, still dark outside and Anthony was snoring peacefully next to me, not at all aware that he would be yanked rather rudely out of sleep in less than 120 seconds. I disabled the alarm on my phone--appropriately set for the Rocky theme song--and began a mental run-through of race morning:

5:25 am: get up and brush teeth
5:30 am: go downstairs and eat first breakfast (bagel + PB + banana slices) + coffee
5:45 am: go to bathroom
6:00 am: stretch and chill
6:30 am: head to subway
7:10 am: walk to Start
7:30 am: eat second breakfast (bagel) + coffee
7:45 am: go to bathroom
8:30 am: get into corral
8:45 am: Run NYC Half Marathon

Anthony's alarm bellowed just as I was mentally crossing the finish line of my race. He leapt out of bed as if someone were trying to break into our hotel room and it was his job to defend against the intruder with his bare hands, while the voice of an Italian tenor crooned from his phone. Anthony likes to be lulled out of sleep, while I prefer to be punched out of bed, I guess, but he always seems startled when the music begins, regardless of the piece he selects.

Despite my run through of the morning events, I stayed in bed while he showered. It was cold in our room, and the thought of slipping out from beneath the warm cocoon of the hotel comforter seemed unnecessarily inhumane at such an hour. I could easily cut into my "stretch and chill" time, I figured. I'd just started another book the night before and flipped to it on my phone, hoping I'd be better immersed by the time I toed the start line--I almost always listen to a book while running a longer race. But after only a couple pages, I turned the phone face down on the bed and let my hands rest right over my heart as I pondered the undecorated hotel ceiling.

I never understood those who actually looked forward to race day. The night before, Anthony asked, "Babe, aren't you so excited about tomorrow's race?" And I deadpanned, "No. I'm dreading it." Normal people get excited for Christmas morning. Normal people get excited for the first day of spring break. Normal people get excited over a coveted invitation to a dinner party.

Normal people do not get excited about running 13.1 miles. In a row.

"I'm excited about crossing the finish line," I revised.

The truth was, I had no intention of running another race for several months after I finished the Chicago Marathon last fall. My feet were in shambles. It turns out that trying to launch your debut cookbook while also training for a marathon doesn't really work, and my body was in need of recovery. But, when the New York Legal Aid Group reached out to me about running to raise money for them, it seemed too good an opportunity to do something nice to turn it down.

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that often the hardest thing about watching other people suffer is knowing there's little we can do to help them. While it isn't completely effective, I've found that helping anyone, even if it isn't the specific person or persons in need, can help assuage some of the despair that develops from these types of situations. Helping others can begin right at home: I often recommit to loving my dogs as fiercely and effectively as possible after helplessly observing the amount of animal suffering on our planet. When I see yet another attack against an elderly Asian American person, I ask myself what more I can do for my own parents, to suffuse their days with grace, dignity, and joy.

Thus, despite wanting nothing more than to stay tucked in bed for another couple hours, I flipped the comforter to the side and started getting ready for Race Day.


New York blessed us with a near-perfect day for running. It was in the mid-50s while I stood in line for the porto-pottie, something I'm glad I budgeted 30 minutes for--I only just made it into my corral. After discarding my "throwaway sweatshirt" into one of the blue bins designated for donations, I took off at a comfortable but still brisk effort. (In lieu of focusing on my pace, I decided to run the entire race exclusively based upon effort by monitoring my heart rate.)

For the first three miles, we ran through the dappled trees of Prospect Park and this introduction, to the next 2 hours and 20 minutes of my life, was the most pleasant part of the race for me. It was kind of the like the shy, still eager-to-please "getting to know you" phase of a relationship, where each party makes a concerted effort to strike just the right balance between revealing themselves in the best light and "keeping it real." The hills were long-ish (.5 miles), though not too steeply graded. The latticework of tree branches provided a gentle awning from the sun, and overall, I found myself happy with how well the pavement responded to my quick feet.

Eventually, though, the welcoming arms of the Park let go, and we were trekking up the Manhattan Bridge--a solid 1 mile of unrelenting uphill running that made you genuinely start questioning why any sane person would voluntarily sign up to do this. I heard a runner next to me say to his running buddy, "Just run to the top of the hill... and then run up the next hill," in that cheerful sort of voice that makes you want to punch someone. Every few feet, at least three runners in front of me slowed to a walk. Some stopped altogether and took selfies. I finally looked up to see if I could pin-point precisely where the hill crested, but true to the annoyingly cheerful runner somewhere behind me, it was too far in the distance to identify. So, I settled for resting my gaze on the back of the runner right in front of me, a lanky young man, his long dark legs pumping rhythmically up the bridge without even so much as a hint of fatigue. I wondered, "Do I look this good to the person behind me?"

He wore a bright yellow t-shirt, with the words:

Running in memory of Heather.

"Heather" was written in with a black marker.

For no particular reason, I imagined Heather was the young runner's mother. Perhaps because he looked just old enough to have lost a mother, even if her death would have been premature. There were many runners on the course running for cancer charities, and so I wondered if Heather might have succumbed to breast cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, any number of candidates that lurked in the greyed out corridors of life, those places we only visit when we must.

The notion of running for someone can, at first blush, sound a bit odd. When I told my friends at dinner the night before that I was running on behalf of a charity, they looked at me questioningly: "Like how do you run for them? Do you get money for every mile?"

How does the act of running inspire compassion and generosity?

As I followed the yellow t-shirt up the bridge, I thought about just how powerless he must have felt when Heather died, how powerless we all feel these days while a senseless war rages on in Europe, how powerless we feel as the end of the pandemic continues to elude us. Sometimes, the world shifts in a way we cannot control and the pain of it is so large, so beyond our own bodies, it becomes all too easy to give up, to stop running, to despair.


In 2017, as I trained for my first marathon, my partner, Bill McKenna, a crusty Irish-American true blue Chicago trial lawyer, sagely advised, "You know, the first guy who ran a marathon died right after. So... why the heck are you doing it on purpose?"

I've been thinking about this question for awhile, now. I've determined that the reason I run is to prove to myself that I can do something. Something exceptionally hard. Like running up the Manhattan Bridge instead of staying in bed on a Sunday morning. But it occurred to me that running not only proved to me that I could overcome the odds and recover from immense physical and mental strain (though self-induced). By inflicting its unique brand of suffering, running also deepened my capacity for empathy. As Yellow T-Shirt and I finally topped the undeniable apex of the bridge and started the breezy jog down the other side, I noticed a pair of socks striding next to me, with chunky pink letters spelling out the word:

H O P E

We run for a lot of reasons. I started running as a cost-efficient way to burn some calories. And then running turned into a way to gain confidence. I also run because I love being part of a community--I can keep up effortlessly with the biggest running nerds on the planet. I enjoy the meditative aspects of running. It's my "me-time," when I'm allowed to avoid phone calls, text messages, emails, and notifications because everyone understands that "I'm running" translates quite politely into "leave me the f*** alone I'm trying to do something unassailably good for my health so you cannot judge me." But beyond all this, I realized as I crossed the finish line in Central Park, running toughened my resolve to cling to hope.

Because make no mistake: hope is not some mamby-pamby, touchy-feely feeling.

Hope is a choice.

And sometimes, it'll be the hardest choice you have to make.


I finished the half marathon in 2:20:04. We raised $9,813.00 for the New York Legal Aid Group.

We did something hard. We did something nice.

Ask Joanne.

Recently, I realized I'm having trouble moving on from my first love. We dated not for very long but he completely changed my mindset for the better. Meeting him turned me into a better person and losing him completely broke me. I have dated other people but I can't shake the feelings I have for him. So my question is have you ever had to move on from a loss like this? And if so, how did you do it? -Addison

Dear Addison,

I'm sorry you're going through such a rough time. The length of a relationship doesn't always correlate to impact, so you don't have to discount the import of your feelings simply because it didn't go for very long. There can be a lot of things that factor into why this particular relationship has affected you in the way that it has. Some of it will undoubtedly have to do with the person. But a lot of it is about who you were when you met him and who you were when you were dating him. This is why I think it's helpful to frame this as a question of a relationship's impact, as in, it's not just him, but what the two of you created together that has left a mark.

Sometimes, when a relationship has ended and we've gotten over the initial sting of "rejection," what lingers isn't so much a longing for the other person, but the person you were when you were with them. You say that "meeting him turned [you] into a better person," but that cannot be true. You know how they say that when you're drunk, the way that you act is simply how you'd be with no inhibition? It's not as if the alcohol turns you into an entirely different person. It just reveals the "potential Addison," the one you could be under the right circumstances.

Ask yourself to be more specific: what are the things that you liked about the person you were when you were with him? Try and identify specific examples of how you acted differently with him. For instance, I've noticed that since being with my husband, I've stopped caring so much about wearing the right clothes and shoes, and care more about being strong and confident. I've also started to value having a more positive outlook on things, instead of always looking at the downside and guarding against the worst. What are some of the things that you liked about yourself when you were with your ex?

The reason I ask is because this "new and improved Addison" has been lurking inside of you all along. She just needed a little nudge and a safe space to grow. And the best part is--you don't need anyone to provide that nudge and safe space.

You can do it yourself.

You may have to "fake it till you make it" for awhile. In the beginning, you won't want to do anything. You'll say no to all the invitations collecting in your inbox and DMs, because doing anything other than replaying how things went wrong feels like some sort of betrayal to yourself. Your heart will ping-pong between despair and determination: "I'm going to get him back" verses "I'm never going to be a normal person again." It'll be all too easy to do nothing, see no one. But, in answer to your question on "how did [I] do it?" I forced myself to go out with my girlfriends, even if it meant taking lots of bathroom breaks to cry on the toilet. I put on my favorite black dresses and went dancing, even though all I wanted to do was sit in bed in my sweatpants while eating through a box of chocolates. I spent time with my mom, who did everything in her power to remind me that I was worth more than any man by stuffing me with gyerranmari. I'm not saying that any one individual friend, outing, or piece of gyerranmari did the trick. Rather, all of it, together, helped to push me forward, until, amazingly, one day, I was able to walk on my own.

I am not suggesting that there isn't some part of you--perhaps a large part of you--that misses him, just him. I know that feeling well. And it's possible that you'll end up carrying around a small hole in your chest for the rest of your life, because that's what some loves tend to do. If you are broken, that's ok. You know why? Because you have all the tools to not just fix yourself, but to make yourself even more effective, more beautiful, more resilient. You don't need him to do any of those things.

Wishing you all the best.

Joanne.

Voicing Change Volume II.

Several months ago, I was honored to be a guest on The Rich Roll Podcast. In fact, I would not be surprised if many of you reading this newsletter today found me through the RRP. Rich subsequently invited me to submit an essay for his book, Voicing Change Volume II. It is an absolutely stunning compilation of some of Rich's most thought provoking and potentially life changing conversations. I am so proud to be a part of it. You can pick up your copy now!!

Announcements.

  • For TKV Meal Planner Members: Our next LIVE Event will be on March 27 at 7 pm CST! Make sure to mark your calendars and keep your eyes peeled for more information coming soon! Not a member of The Korean Vegan Meal Planner? Sign up here!
  • BOSTON BOOK SIGNING!! Yup! I'll be back on the road for another TKV Book Event! Boston friends, make sure to circle May 17 on your calendars! More details to follow! Can't wait for a signed copy? You can buy signed copies of my book here!
  • LA Times Festival of Books! I will be doing a LIVE cooking demonstration on April 23 at USC's campus as part of this awesome food festival. Tickets go on sale on April 17, so keep your eyes peeled for more details soon!
  • Vegan Women's Summit! Super excited to be a speaker in this year's VWS! If you haven't purchased your ticket yet, it's not too late! Get your tickets here.

Parting Thoughts...

Yesterday, I received some unpleasant news. I wasn't ready for it and, as a result, it started to unravel my day. I had a hard time focusing on the things I needed to do for work. I wasn't as present as I wanted to be for dinner with my parents (Omma made me japchae bap--coming soon to a meal planner near you!). And when I finally crawled into bed, I had trouble falling asleep, because I couldn't stop examining my pain, fingering its jagged edges, as if doing so might make it more bearable. Eventually, though, I did fall asleep, and when I woke up, I discovered that the ache had dulled. It hadn't completely disappeared but it had gotten better.

Isn't that amazing? How sleep can literally make your hurts better?

Whatever it is you're battling right now, however much it hurts, just know that better days are literally less than 24 hours away.

Joanne.