Pak blends his passion for obstacle course racing with his mechanical engineering background.
Junyong Pak, 36, loved boot camp training classes long before there was such as thing as obstacle course racing. They didn’t even feel like a workout. There were so many things to do. “So when the first Spartan Race and Tough Mudder events came around, I was all over it like a little kid counting the days until Christmas,” he said.
Now he’s one of the best in the world. The 5-foot-8, 140-pound resident of Beverly, Mass., is a two-time World’s Toughest Mudder champion, in 2011 and 2012, and he was in the runner-up in 2013. He’s also the 2013 Spartan UltraBeast World Champion and a Summer Death Race runner-up, as well as a multiple winner at Spartans, Warrior Dashes and a three-time Mud, Guts and Glory champion. Finally, he’s a member of the Greater Boston Track Club and has finished in the top 100 many times at the Boston Marathon, with a marathon PR of 2:32.
How did you get into obstacle racing?
I ran cross country and track in high school and really developed my thirst for competition there, but I put it on hold during college to focus on studies. Of course once school kicked me out into the real world I gravitated back to my first love, running. Obstacle racing is such an incredible sport because it draws on so many different skill sets. It truly defines fitness in all of its functional form.
Do you have a job or are you an obstacle racer full-time?
I’d been a full-time mechanical engineer through 2012 when I decided to commit myself fully to the sport of obstacle racing as an athlete and entrepreneur. I’m presently working on a platform that marries my engineering background with my experience as a competitive athlete to develop products and offer consultation services to the obstacle/sporting industry. I also intend to coach the next generation of elite athletes to future Olympic superstardom—fingers crossed—and hope to ultimately put on some races of my own some day.
You’ve done a variety of races, from the 24-hour Tough Mudder to shorter Spartan events. Do you prefer one over the other?
It is pretty obvious the longer and more strenuous/unsavory the race, the better I perform. That said, I absolutely love the really short, exciting races with a high obstacle density. Unfortunately I don’t have a firm stranglehold in that realm where a lot of times explosive power is necessary. At 5-8 and 140 pounds, I am at a disadvantage there.
How often do you race?
I do firmly believe that there is no better form of race preparation than racing itself. So I will integrate all types of races (road, cross country, obstacle, marathons, even triathlons) whenever possible if it does not detract from my originally intended volume or completely derail me. I would say I like to race about two to three times a month at max concerted effort in-season, four or more times per month as hard tempo workouts out-of-season.
What does your training schedule look like every week?
My training is largely dictated by what I’m training for, which these days and in the foreseeable future is obstacle racing and the championship season. During the off-season I’m typically building up base mileage at fairly low intensity and maintaining general fitness while allowing my body to reset for the next big push. I can be all over the place ranging anywhere from 30 to 120 miles a week depending on what I can fit in. When it’s crunch time, and I’m aiming to win important races, I’ll pull out all the stops and prioritize my training above all else. The dust usually settles around 60 to 140+ miles/week with high intensity and strength-type workouts blended in. My favorite obstacle training workout is something I call the Burpee 5K: Five burpees after every quarter-mile for 5K. If done right it is quite possibly more miserable than hell.
Why do you do it?
I do it because I am never more alive than when I’m screaming down a mountain at greater than top speed, completely out of control and racing for my life. And then I sign up and do it again because that memory only lasts so long before I need to do it even better, faster and with greater precision until I catch that perfect, elusive wave that may never come.