by Alec Blenis
At times running over 100 miles per week in freezing temperatures, he takes endurance to a whole new extreme. Placing third in the Spartan Race World Championship, he won the World’s Toughest Mudder competition just two weeks later. Mechanical engineer by day, hardcore endurance athlete by night, he often doesn’t finish his grueling workouts until after midnight. This extraordinary gentlemen is known by some as Pak-man.
Sparta, meet Junyong Pak.
Junyong, 34, was born to a loving family in Korea. To survive the harsh winters in his homeland, extra body fat was sometimes a necessity. Always slender however, Junyong was actually considered unhealthy by his family. Now living in Boston, perhaps it is this background which helped him win the World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24 hour test of endurance in which icy waters and harsh weather kept all but ten of the initial competitors from even finishing the event. With a 2:33 Boston Marathon finish previously this year, it’s no surprise that he did well. Second place was more than four hours behind. “I could have run farther,” he says, “but I didn’t want to get hurt.” Junyong has other big races coming up…
Junyong started racing in middle school when a friend convinced him to join the cross country team. Never one to disappoint, Junyong ran hard for his high school coach but, regrettably, he didn’t run in college. He had always wanted to run an obstacle course competitively, but “there was nothing like [Spartan Race] when I was growing up,” he says. When he saw an ad for Spartan Race a few years ago, he jumped on the opportunity. An inspiring athlete, Junyong always places well at Spartan Races. With another successful racing season behind him, Junyong has big plans for 2012. He’ll be running in multiple Spartan Races: the infamous Spartan Death Race and the Spartan Race Championship to be held in Killington, Vermont.
So how does he balance a full time job and personal life with his rigorous training? Admittedly, he is not a morning person. He does all of his workouts when he gets home from work around 10:00pm, tired and hungry. It’s not always easy though. “Not working out is simply not an option. The rest of life starts when you’re done training. I just make it happen.” Junyong has no secrets. In fact, his training log is available for all to see online. What separates him for his competition is his grit, work ethic, and passion to succeed. He envisions each workout as the one that will make him a better and stronger athlete than the rest.
This year at the Spartan Race World Championships in Glen Rose, Texas, Junyong briefly overtook Hobie Call at the spear throw, only to be passed again at the herculean hoist. Never too far behind Hobie, the reigning champion, many wonder if Junyong has what it takes to claim the title next year. “Hobie’s on top,” says Junyong. “I don’t think anyone can beat him right now. I’ve gotten to be such good friends [with Hobie], I don’t think I would want to beat him even if I could.”
I asked Junyong what new obstacle he would like to see in an upcoming Spartan Race. “A peg-wall… It would only be feasible for the top athletes, but it would be great to see at a championship level event.” This obstacle would be a wooden wall filled with holes. Athletes would climb the wall by hanging from two pegs which would would be moved from hole to hole.
Along with his World’s Toughest Mudder victory, Junyong took home a $10,000 prize.
“I’m giving it all to my dad,” he says. “The sacrifices he has made for our family are so great. He really needs to retire, and I want to help make that happen.”
It’s easy to see why everyone loves Junyong Pak. We’ll be seeing a lot of Pak Man in 2012.
Editor’s Note: Alec Blenis is an accomplished endurance athlete and Spartan competitor. Finishing in the top three at several Spartan events and top five in the Spartan World Championships he was the youngest competitor in the field at 17 years of age.