Brief Interview with Junyong Pak…

I recently had the opportunity to have a brief conversation, via Facebook, with one of the few men to consistently give Hobie Call a run for his money at various Spartan events. Rather than be a one trick pony though, Junyong Pak races without discrimination or favoritism toward any specific company or obstacle race. The proof was in the  (mud) pudding, so to speak, at this years Worlds Toughest Mudder, where Junyong dominated and took the title back home to our beloved state of Massachusetts.

Give us a brief run down on how you got started living an active lifestyle.
I’d have to say that it actually started early, as in way back in elementary school where as kids, my friends and I would spend a LOT of time outdoors exploring the woods, playing tag and other games that involved lots of running. I definitely feel the times have changed even over these last couple of decades; I just don’t see a lot of kids doing much of that anymore. (On a side note, it would be pretty cool to see obstacle racing make its way into a school curriculum (i.e. make running fun). Maybe it could be the thing to kick start healthy living into a lot of young lives.) Officially though, my competitive edge was whetted when I got to Junior High and my friend inspired me to join the XC team.

Do you have different training regiments throughout the year? As in, do you have an “off season” and an “on season” schedule?
I ran in high school and regrettably didn’t continue into college but I became competitive again when I moved to Boston in 2006 and joined the Greater Boston Track Club. Over the years with the club I’ve participated in whatever was going on at the time, which generally transitioned from track in the winter and spring, to road racing into the summer and fall, to cross country through to the early winter… and put on repeat. So there was never much of an off season per se but the change in seasons would keep things fresh and interesting. I ran everything from the mile to the marathon—roads, trails, and everything in between. This mix would ultimately help me in obstacle racing. In the past year however, I have shifted my focus towards obstacle racing and will be strategizing to time my fitness peaks to coincide with important races.

Do you have a trainer, or have you ever used one? If not, how did you come up with your training program?
When I was running with my club I was joining them in the city for weekly workouts, but between the distance and straying off on my own unpopular direction with obstacle racing, I’ve sort of become the black sheep of the bunch. So I’m my own coach, trainer, doctor, and athlete. It can be really good that way as the feedback loop is very small and continuous, but it certainly is extremely difficult sometimes and I can fully appreciate the benefits of having a coach or trainer type figure, or even training partners to keep motivated. However I’ve never been in shortage of self-discipline and that’s 90% of it right there; just having the mental strength to get out there and go to work, whatever that may be. There is no special recipe for success that bypasses the work aspect. It’s seems obvious but it needs to be said: Some people have talent that can easily carry them above everyone else, but even the talented will only bring them so far before they have to bridge the gap with effort to reach their own full potential. I train by feel, and being my own coach and athlete it’s easier to execute successfully. But basically when I’m ramping up for something big, I try to go right to the edge of breaking down then back off a half-step. This has just as much to do with training the mind as it does the body because when the mind is well-conditioned, the body will obey and follow naturally. Come race day when the two are playing in harmony, it will become a symphony and you’ll be ready for your opus.

What drove you to start obstacle racing, etc?
I had always envisioned myself doing obstacle races but until recently they didn’t exist. I knew my odds of being decent at it were good because none of my fast running friends were very strong above the belt and everyone who had enough strength could never run very fast. Welcome to my world of being a jack-of-all-trades, and a master of none.

I wasn’t going to touch this question, feel free to “no comment” me on it. There seems to be a rivalry of sorts between some of the obstacle racing organizations, mud runs, etc. At times, it seem to get kind of trivial, and to me it seems to lose sight of the goal many of them started with. They’ve always talked about inspiring folks to get fit, to have fun and just be active. Do you think it’s just friendly competition betwee them? Thoughts?
I don’t follow it much but I’ve definitely sensed and witnessed the bitterness of the rivalry first-hand. Regardless of what anyone says their motives are, it seems obvious to me that it’s a matter of finances (and as business endeavors, at no fault to them). But with the sport as young as it is it, there’s no limit on the foreseeable horizon to indicate they wouldn’t be better off working in harmony with each other to grow the sport for the long haul and prosper simultaneously. Taking early profits can only lead to the demise of growth, and possibly even a phasing out.

Back to the real stuff here… What did you do to prepare for the WTM? How long did you train?
This answer could have been an insanely long one, I should have realized that when I asked it. So, Junyong is referring us to http://tinyurl.com/JP2011WTM for the answer. You will find an extensive training schedule, nutrition and supplement info and more than you might need to understand what the beast went through.

Do you follow a particular diet? You get this guy talking paleo, that one talking vegan, this guy talking carb loading before races. Where do you stand on nutrition?
Again, my take on this exact topic can be found in the link above.

Finally, a huge congrats to you for the win at the WTM. Where are we going to see you this year? You going to continue to race right? Thanks for taking time here, Junyong!
I got off to a delayed start and I’m presently cramming like crazy to prepare for the Boston Marathon next month. Then I intend to carry some of that fitness over to Tough Mudder New England and the Death Race in the months following. I’ll also be at the Spartan Sprint in Amesbury, Spartan Beast in Vermont, World’s Toughest Mudder (wherever that is). I’m sure I’ll jump in some other races as well when the time comes.

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