Pyongyang, the host
city | Pyongyang Marathon
Runner's Guide

A roadside field guide to places and things along the Pyongyang Marathon course. Today we introduce the city of Pyongyang and its districts.

'Thinking about the capital all the time, I rebuilt it inside myself.' -Julian Green, Paris

Before we start taking a closer look at specific locations along the Pyongyang Marathon route, let’s slow down and get our bearings in this city relatively unknown to outsiders.

The 5 km, 10 km, 21 km, and 42 km all start and finish in Kim Il Sung Stadium in Moranbong District, in the north of the city. Moranbong, literally ‘Peony Hills’, is the name of the heights above the stadium. Korean (and some Chinese) writers through out the ages have immortalized this area in poems and prose. As have western visitors to Pyongyang such as Isabella Bird and Jack London.

One interpretation of the name ‘Pyongyang’ is literally ‘flat land’ (another is ‘peaceful land’). Most of the city sits on an alluvial plain of the Taedong River between low-lying hills formed of metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. Above these hills, ancient Koreans built fortresses, palaces, and temples, below them, the little people lived their lives. As a result, the marathon route is quiet level, with only a few gentle slopes along the 21 km out and 21 km back (each race returns the same way after a turn around at the half-way distance).

Those running 5 km will also visit Sosong District, or ‘West City’, as do the 10 km runners with added treat of reaching the Potong River, a tributary of the Taedong that bisects West Pyongyang and once ‘Pyongyang’s sorrow’. (East Pyongyang is on the other side of the river and while not part of the marathon this year, has been in past years.) Join the half-marathon and get yourself deep into the Central District, the political and cultural heart of the DPRK. This should be motivation enough to at least train for the half-marathon! Those who take on the full-marathon will see all of the above and more. There is Pyongchon District, or ‘flat river’ – perhaps more a prayer than a name - at the confluence of the Potong and Taedong, two rivers once prone to annual flooding, and Mangyongdae, the district of ‘ten-thousand views’.

Regardless of the distance you choose next year, it will be a memorable experience to race on the streets of Pyongyang, greet the locals, be cheered (or cheerfully jeered) by them, get your best time, or just enjoy your run in a unique location.

The Run Down

· Pyongyang means ‘flat land’ and the Pyongyang Marathon reflects this.

· All amateur race options (5 km, 10 km, 21 km, 42 km) are return courses with a turn around at the half-distance point.

· The full course passes 21 km through five districts in Pyongyang.

· Pro-tip: Train for that half-marathon so you can run down Victory Street, Pyongyang’s main downtown drag (you've seen it already from countless images of military parades).

Next time we will get into locations along the course, beginning with Kim Il Sung Stadium, the start and finish point of the race.

'A Pyongyang Marathon Runner's Guide’ is a roadside field guide to places and things along the Pyongyang Marathon course brought to you by the Koryo Tours North Korea Travel Guide.

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