We look back on highlights from the Pyongyang Marathon since 2014. Registration for the 2019 Pyongyang Marathon closed 28 February.
The Pyongyang Marathon in Review
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The Pyongyang Marathon is the largest international sports event held annually in North Korea since 1981. Journeying through the streets of the DPRK capital, the Pyongyang Marathon is officially known as the Mangyongdae Prize Marathon.
Does it still run today?
Today’s modern marathon starts within the 50,000-seat Kim Il Sung Stadium. Runners then leave on a route through the streets of North Korea’s orderly capital, passing not only many of Pyongyang’s major landmarks but also passing residential areas. Whilst skirting the Taedong River, competitors are met by many locals out to cheer you along with cheers and high fives as you run (or walk) your way through Pyongyang city.
‘Faster, faster!’ families and spectators yell from balconies of pastel-colored apartments.
Background of the Pyongyang Marathon
Prior to the establishment of the DPRK in 1948, the city of Pyongyang did see a number of marathon events during the Japanese colonial era (1910-1945), including the Seoul-Pyongyang Marathon, a long-distance inter-city race, in 1931.
Since 1981, the modern Pyongyang Marathon has grown as an event. At first it was exclusively for men. From 1983, women could also enter. Runners came from socialist and non-aligned states and domestic competitors represented their home provinces or localities.
Since then, the marathon has opened up to competitors around the world.
For a few years in the 1990’s, foreign participants were not invited to the race at all and the year 2000 saw the reopening of the race to foreign runners.
However, it wasn’t until 2014 that foreign amateurs could enter. Since then, Koryo Tours. The official Pyongyang Marathon Sponsor, has been there to witness the excitement (and sometimes drama) that is the Pyongyang Marathon.
Today we’ll take you through some of the highlights of the past four years.
A Modern History of the Pyongyang Marathon
2014 | And we’re off to … a false start!
The first addition of foreign runners into the race may have added an unexpected element into the usual race set up.It was a bizarre start for many as participants crowded into the centre of the stadium. Speeches were made and runners set off to a false start.
2014 saw two local teams warming up ready for the event. Just as the starting trigger was pulled a stray ball found its way into the ranks of the professional starters. The timing car was recalled and runners were reset ready for the race to begin again. Something for everyone for those none runners are allowed to sit inside the stadium to await their returning travellers, although the wait can be long, whilst waiting there a football match.
2015 | More than a marathon
After a successful 2014, numbers are on the up and more runners attend to pound the streets of Pyongyang. But for spectators inside the stadium there wouldn't be any football — perhaps due to the previous year's false start.
Instead, 2015 brought some extra excitement as spectators in Kim Il Sung Stadium were entertained by parachutists falling from the sky with smoke trails and acrobatics as they drop into the stadium.
If that wasn’t enough, they were met by the roar of remote control airplanes buzzing through the stands performing barrel rolls, twists and turns buzzing from end to end quicker across the pitch.
2016 | A Temporary Home
A sad year as the marathon was run without its IAAF Bronze Label certificate. This didn’t, however, dampen spirits of the runners in this year when Kim Il Sung Stadium was undergoing renovations.
The Pyongyang Marathon was moved to Rungnado May Day Stadium — the world’s largest stadium with a crowd capacity of 114,000. Not all seats were full, but enough to make the event more than memorable. Spectators were entertained by a football match and a contentious finish.
For much of the run Pak Chol of North Korea was running neck and neck with Ethopia's Ketema Bekele Negasa. However, as they approached the stadium Ketema Bekele Negasa broke away with a 25 meter lead. Ketema ran into the stadium to applause from the crowd. As he did so, however, instead of turning to the right he broke to the left (the wrong way!) following the timing car. This allowed Pak to break free and take the gold.
2017 | Great News!
Not only does the marathon have its IAAF certificate again, but Koryo Tours takes on the roll of the official marathon sponsor. Runner numbers are at an all time high with 1000 International amateurs taking part. We’re back in the refurbished Kim Il Sung Stadium with maximum crowd capacity, brass bands and the addition of an outside market for those whom do not wish to watch football.
Great beer and great BBQ.
2018 | High rhetoric, low numbers
2017 saw the event take place with higher than normal rhetoric with both sides engaging in these yearly tensions. On the ground its business as usual. The drop in numbers allows runners to grab higher spots on the finishing line. A well as a clear course to make those personnel bests!
2019 | The Future is Bright
2019 promises to be another great event starting from Kim Il Sung Stadium. This year potentially could potentially see the first time South Korean runners can take part in the race.
Come run with Koryo Tours and experience the adventure of running a Marathon in Pyongyang North Korea – and see what surprise awaits for us this year!
If you’re not into running, you have the option of running a 5KM, 10KM or half marathon. This is a great way not only to see the city of Pyongyang, but also an opportunity to catch locals at their best. Plus, no matter if you choose to walk or run, you still get to experience the unbelievable feeling of 50,000 people cheering you along.
See you there!
This year's Pyongyang Marathon registration close 28 February 2019 — sign up on a Koryo Tour for the Pyongyang Marathon today!
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