The golden age of South Korean marathons was from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. The 1970s-born trio of Lee Bong-ju (53-best 2:07:20), Kim Yi-yong (50-2:07:49), and Hwang Young-jo (53-2:08:09) dominated the world stage, but the dark ages that followed saw little light at the end of the tunnel.
That glimmer of hope can now be found in the form of twenty-four-year-old marathoner Park Min-ho (Kolon). His best time was 2:10:13 at the 2023 Seoul Marathon. He still has a long way to go. But his non-stop improvement from 2:15 in 2019, 2:13 in 2021, and 2:11 to 2:10 in 2022 is a reason for hope.
“My goal is to break 2:06, and I’m sure I’ll do it soon, and then a lot of my juniors will see me and start running marathons.”
The Hangzhou Asian Games, which kick off on March 23, will be his last chance to break 2:06. He has a blueprint to break 2:06 by the age of 27, and he’s taking it one step at a time. He’s aiming for gold at the Asian Games, but it’s hard to deny the competition. The favorites are Bahrain’s Shumi Dechasa (34-2:06:43) and Japan’s Yohei Ikeda (25-2:06:53). However, it’s not too early to get your hopes up as the race will depend on the conditions on the day, road conditions, and weather. Recent Asian Games marathon winners have been in the 2:11-18 range. He has a good chance. “It’s the right time to go for the win. I want to win the gold medal and use it as a new motivation for my marathon journey,” he said. Ji Young-joon, 42, won the marathon gold at the 2010 Asian Games in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 11 seconds. South Korea has won the most marathon gold medals at the Asian Games (seven). Park is determined to continue that streak.
As a young boy, Minho Park was an ordinary schoolboy who spent his lunch breaks kicking a ball around the playground with his friends. Then, in the sixth grade, he won the 1500-meter race at a school sports meet and was encouraged by his physical education teacher to start running. “I thought about switching to sprinting,” he says, “but when I saw my times, I didn’t like it. The only way was long distance,” he laughs. In 2013, he won the third section (3km – 10:44) in the secondary division of the Kolon Sectional Marathon (co-organized by Chosun Ilbo, the Korea Athletics Federation, KBS, and Kolon), a 15km race for four runners. He was praised as “something came out of Jeju (athletics),” and to make a bigger leap, he moved from Namnyeong High School in Jeju to the prestigious long-distance school Bamungo in Seoul. 굿모닝토토
Frequent injuries, including muscle tears and stress fractures, plagued him at a time when he should have been at his peak. In her senior year of high school, she pushed through the pain to accomplish her goal of going to college, which only hurt her body more. Her grades suffered. “I was mentally exhausted, wondering if running wasn’t for me,” he said at one point.
I got into college (Commandments), but I was so unsure of my future that I took off my sneakers and wandered around for about six months. I also drank frequently. His family tried to convince him to get back into sports, but he couldn’t make up his mind. Then he saw a friend from high school who had been chasing after him, winning a medal at a national meet and celebrating. “It felt like I got hit in the head with a hammer,” he says, “and I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘What was I doing when they were running so hard?
He got back on the treadmill and ran intensely for six months, trying to figure out what was bothering him and how he could maximize his physical performance and avoid injury. Instead of blindly pushing myself for long distances, I focused on running short, frequent runs and focusing on my form. He realized that his upper body was swaying too much when he ran. This lack of posture strained his thighs and pelvis, leading to injury. He dedicated himself to correcting his running form and built up his endurance with strength training. I stopped drinking soda and watched my diet. I finally felt like a true professional. My injuries began to fade away, and I began to enjoy my workouts as I saw results, including a 15 minute improvement in my half-marathon time. After my lethargic wanderings, I enjoyed running for its own sake, running 210 to 220 kilometers every week. By sticking to his 10 p.m. bedtime and 5 a.m. wake-up routine, his performance improved dramatically.
His current team, Kolon, is coached by his childhood idol, Ji Young-joon. The last of the Korean marathon glory generation. “It’s a great privilege to learn from your childhood role model, isn’t it? I really want to achieve my goal of 2:06 and share the joy with my coach.” The Asian Games marathon will take place on October 5.