Meet Duy Nguyen, Co-Founder of LA’s Koreatown Run Club
Meet Duy Nguyen, Co-Founder of LA’s Koreatown Run Club
INTERVIEW BY : NOAH PHAM | PHOTOS BY : JOHNNY LE
Koreatown, Los Angeles is a neighborhood that comfortably sits in between MacArthur Park and Central LA. Stretching close to three square miles from Melrose Ave to Olympic Blvd, the culturally diverse hub is one of the only pockets within the city that is running on a 24-hour schedule. Where else can you roam the block for late-night Korean barbecue, followed up with karaoke and a 2AM spa visit at Wi Spa? Michael Pak and Duy Nguyen, founders of the Koreatown Run Club, have sparked a community gathering to offset the after hours eating and drinking. Noted as one of the coolest running clubs in LA, KRC is hosted multiple times a week with up to 70 runners a night exploring the diversity and landscape of this underrated neighborhood.
Where are you originally from? How was it like growing up there? Both Mike and I were born overseas: him in South Korea and myself in Vietnam. However we both grew up in the suburbs of northern Virginia. I hung out with the skaters even though I didn’t skate — my mom thought it was too dangerous. It probably was. So instead I spent my time taking photos, doing videos and making music instead. It was all the same subculture. Your passion and career has been photography, which is totally different from KRC. What sparked you to build a community through promoting health and exercise? We never set out to do anything too serious with running. I’m a big soccer fan and wanted an excuse to play more during the week. One thing led to another and it pivoted to a run club. People kept showing up, wanting to run with us, and we weren’t going to deny anyone that. The more people that came to run, the more responsibility we had to keep this thing going. And here we are three years later, leading a community of a few hundred locals to get together. It never feels like we’re promoting health and exercise because there’s so much more to KRC than that. It definitely is a by-product though. Photography and film is beautiful because it can evoke such strong emotions through just an image. On a bigger scale, I think having a run club is an extension of that. Being able to create events and communities within communities that are so passionate about running but also each other is an amazing feeling. What does self-health mean to you? I think it can be the difference between life and death, in both a literal and figurative sense. You hear a lot about self-care and mental health these days. It’s never really hit me how important these things can be until I’ve started talking to people who struggle with it. Just being around others can be so important. How long have you been living in LA for? How has moving to LA been a cultural change for you? I’ve been in LA about six years now. It got me out of the cave and really opened my eyes to understand what I’m capable of. Being from a small town, everyone I used to look up to and follow and read about seemed so far away. Not just geographically but on a different plane that I would never be on. Even after moving to LA it took a few years to realize like, Oh shit. I’m not only a part of this culture, I’m contributing to it. Once you realize that, it just unlocks something within you like, anything is possible. You just have to grab it.
Moving to LA, were there any other neighborhoods you were looking to live in? I actually don’t live in Koreatown. When I first got to LA, I randomly landed in West Adams. I had a stint Downtown but moved back to the same place I started. It’s close to the airport, which is important for me. I love having a backyard. I wouldn’t mind living in Koreatown as long as I had parking — the one flaw of that neighborhood. How did you and your partner Michael meet? You two come from industries across the spectrum but found passion through exercise. Give us a quick rundown on how Koreatown Run Club started! Mike tells it better, but despite both being from VA and attending the same college, we met out in LA at a mutual friend’s house party. He was familiar with some of my work in VA and we quickly became friends. He’s heavily involved in his neighborhood, Koreatown. He had the opportunity to work with the local Fatburger and brought me into help develop the Koreatown Burger. Long story short, it was a success and I told him about an idea of Koreatown Football Club (KFC). We tried to get a permit for a few fields but the whole process was a pain and we put it on the back burner. The idea of the run club however was conceived in Port-au-Prince. I had just gotten back from a work trip documenting a few runners run across the country of Haiti for The North Face. It was an amazing, eye-opening experience. When I came back, I told Mike to scrap the football thing. We were starting Koreatown Run Club. Why Koreatown? We chose Koreatown simply because that’s where Mike lived. There was already a strong community there, albeit mostly based off of food and nightlife. We thought it would be interesting to throw some fitness in the mix. Koreatown was never the place you go to run, but it was ours. What’s a place you’ve discovered lurking the streets of Koreatown that you’d never thought would be there? A place that’s just been completely left-field to you. It’s not the places, but the people. New restaurants and bars come and go all the time but the people is what’s special about it. Unlike most of LA, Koreatown is dense and packed with culture. Being able to get like-minded people together and run is an amazing thing. Our runners run the gamut from teachers to book editors, artists to jaw surgeons. Shoutout our LAX TSA runners for the expedite.
You’re stretching up for one of your community runs. If you can have any athlete join you on this meet, who would it be and why? Toss up between Kobe and Kipchoge. Obvious reasons right? What’s some advice you’d give to someone who is scared to run? I’m not one to push anyone into doing something they don’t want to do. But first off, you’re not afraid of running; you’re afraid of how others view you. You’re afraid of being too slow, coming in last. Running can change your life. Showing any interest at all already shows that you want that change. Do you enjoy running? I find it quite difficult to mentally prepare myself before lacing up my shoes for a jog. What’s your pre-run routine and how do you find the mental preparation and inspiration to push those legs across the city? When people ask me how I feel after a run, I tell them, “Great.” Mostly because I’m done running. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard for me to enjoy it. I still don’t think I’ve unlocked that yet. For me it’s all about the routine before a run. That’s why running in a group can be so helpful. Meet up with some friends, a few stretches and we’re off. The hardest part is getting moving. During a hard run, it’s always fun to see how hard you can push yourself. Can you push the pace just a little more? Can you maintain that pace for just a few seconds longer? To the next light? To the finish line? Sometimes it’s a no, but that’s okay too. Setting goals within running is the first step. Let’s get a rundown of your top-five favorite Ktown joints to grub at after a jog. And what to order from those spots. Escala for a Loco Moco Remix. Beerbelly for some duck-fat fries. Roll Roll Roll for some cheap sushi. Ubatuba for an Acai smoothie with peanut butter. And lately, a new taco cart on Oxford and 8th for a few buche tacos. Aside from seeding a community that promotes exercise and health, you also started Love Hour LA, a quickly growing burger joint! How did this come about? And do you feel a sense of contradiction in promoting a juicy, cheesy burger? Mike and I had the opportunity to get into the food game with this burger joint and it really just took off. If we promoted a healthy lifestyle with the run club, we wouldn’t be meeting at a bar and eating out every night. Much like KRC, it’s about the good vibes and community. The PRs and marathons are auxiliary.