An Interview With Joseph Steven Van Dorn: On Fitness in Korea

Running (and fitness in general) can be a whole new game in Korea. When I first started running here my head was filled with questions: Where can I run here? How do I sign up for races? And where am I supposed to find protein powder?? If you have any of the same questions, I would like you to meet Joseph Steven Van Dorn: an EPIK teacher who has finished over 20 marathons and has some great insight to into Korea, the EPIK program, and running.

Running

Background:

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I moved to Korea roughly a year after graduating at UC Irvine with a degree in Biology and English literature. I never had a chance to study abroad during college, so I really wanted to work abroad. Though I originally wanted to work in Germany, I changed my path to Korea after learning about the teaching opportunities there. I am currently working the same teaching job at an elementary school in Seoul, but I am pursuing my master’s of education on the weekends. Once I obtain the degree in January of 2018, I hope to start teaching English language at a university in Korea. I would also love to publish my novel, and hopefully become a novelist and language professor one day.

Why did you choose to come to Korea and why did you choose (and stick with) the EPIK program in particular?

After Germany didn’t work out, a good friend of mine suggested looking into Asia. I was ultimately drawn to Korea because of a Korean American in my town, who shared all the awesome parts of Korean culture with me. Plus, the collective benefits in Korea compared to Japan and China were superior at that time. Though  I could have come to Korea much faster if I applied to a hagwon, I read too many articles warning of the potential dangers of ending up in a bad hagwon. I instead threw my energy into the EPIK program through a recruiter from Educon. Educon and EPIK helped me get a position in Seoul, and for that I am eternally grateful. 

How long have you been running for? Why did you pick running in particular? 

I ran track in high school from 2004 to 2008, and switched to half marathons and full marathons in college. I never had the grace to excel in sports like basketball or football, but I was always able to outrun my fellow athletes. The idea of a sport purely focused on running fascinated me, and I became a dedicated runner. After switching to long distance running in college, I now race anything shorter than a 5K. Running brings a certain order and purpose in my life; training for a race requires fitting in a daily run, and that structure influences your entire life. Runs also give me time to destress and ponder the issues in my life. The convenience of the sport cannot be beat either; all you need is a pair of shoes and some space to get a good workout.

What other sports/activities (hobbies) have you done/like to do? 

Though running is my primary hobby, I have many other interests. I enjoy hiking, cycling, swimming, and scuba diving. Reading and writing are big passions of mine, and I also enjoy more nerdy activities like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons.

What do you feel is your greatest athletic accomplishment? 

As of now, my biggest athletic accomplishment is probably completion of “The Devil’s Dare” in 2016. I wanted to try something difficult that year, so I created a challenge that required completion of the following: six 10Ks, six halfs, and six fulls in a calendar year. Though it kept me tired and insanely busy, I felt incredible pride after finishing the goal at the Taipei Marathon in December of 2016. My running goals for 2017 are more mild, but I will most likely attempt a similar challenge in the near future.

That’s pretty incredible! How do you set your goals? What are one or two things you do that you think are the keys to your success?

My goals are usually driven by a target race, usually 2-3 months ahead of now. After picking a race, I prepare a running plan to condition my body for that race. My training is determined through various resources like halhigdon.com, the wisdom of my running friends, and my own personal experience. The key to success is sharing your goals with others. The support of your friends and the accountability push you to work out even when you rather sleep all day. Training with others is also a big help, as you are far less likely to quit a workout if you are with a friend.  

Fitness in Korea: 

Are there are any fitness related challenges that you are feel are specific to Korea? How do you overcome these challenges? Any special tips for people running in Korea?

The biggest challenges to runners in Korea are finding places to run and signing up for races. When I first arrived in Korea, I was very nervous to run outside, as I was unfamiliar with the culture. Over time, I grew less anxious and with a little courage, I ran around the neighborhood. Since then, I have run in countless neighborhoods around the city, thanks to some tips from my running club. This same group gave me information on upcoming races and helped me register. Through their help, I was able to overcome these challenges.

Is it hard to find healthy foods/needed supplements/protein sources in Korea? What is your diet like? 

Although I should, I don’t really put too much consideration into my diet. I use energy gels during longer races, which I can find at a running shoe store in Seoul. Friends of mine who care more about their diet usually buy their items from iHerb.

Has the yellow dust affected your running? 

Even when the air is bad, I still go out for a run. I am worried about the long term effects, but I think the long term effects of continuous exercise outweigh the potential harm.

How do you think running (and other activities if applicable) has impacted your time in Korea? 

Running has significantly enhanced my experience in Korea. Because of my running friends and training, I became faster than ever before and I have participated in countless races.

You have also traveled to nearby countries for races, right? What is that process like? (Was it fun? Stressful?) 

So far, I have only traveled to Taipei for a race. I traveled there just for the weekend, and it was stressing coordinating with my friends and combining social time for race preparation time. Thanks to my lovely friends in Taipei, however, I had an amazing experience. I will probably do the same race again this year!

Anything else you would like to share? 

The aforementioned running club is called The Seoul Flyers, and I invite anyone interested in running to join us for a group run and race. Type our name into Google, and you should find our website with all relevant information. seoul flyers

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