The Seoul—Pyongyang
Marathon, 1931
(Part I)

An account of the historic 1931 inter-city long-distance running race between Seoul and Pyongyang

The Seoul-Pyongyang Marathon, 1931 (Part I)

From Seoul to Pyongyang

These days the modern Pyongyang Marathon is held annually each April. Seoul holds two marathons a year: the Seoul International Marathon in March and the JTCBC Seoul Marathon in November.

Way back in 1931, a long distance running race was held between the two cities: the Seoul—Pyongyang Marathon (경평마라손 | 京平마라손). With inter-Korean sports exchange and cooperation on the rise since the 2018 Pyongchang Olympics, it may just be a matter of time before we see the revival of a Seoul-Pyongyang Marathon.

The Seoul—Pyongyang Marathon runners and support team cross the Han River

The Seoul-Pyongyang Marathon was planned as a two-part event, totaling 325 miles, in the early August 1931. The schedule was as follows for northbound race starting from Seoul and ending in Pyongyang.

Day 1 | Seven in the morning start at Gwanghuawmun in Seoul, exiting the city at Sodaemun on the Seoul-Uiju Road (a road once taken by Jack London) to Kaesong.

Day 2 | Kaesong to Nanchon or Sinmak

Day 3 | Sinmak to Sariwon or Hwangju

Day 4 | Sariwon or Hwangju to Pyongyang in evening

Three athletes took part in the northward race: Li Song Gun (25 years old) from the White Horse Running Club (백마주락부 | 白馬俱樂部) , Yang Jae Dok (17) also from the same club, and So Jong Guk (20) from Seoul’s Yang Jong High School(양정고보 | 養正高普), a five-year private school famous for producing track and field athletes.

A support team and journalist from the Seoul-based Donga Ilbo accompanied the runners, presumably by car. may just be a matter of time before we see the revival of a Seoul—Pyongyang Marathon.

The Seoul—Pyongyang Marathon Runners on the streets of Kaesong

On the first day, the runners set off with much fanfare with an entourage of 40 bicycles and 5-6 cars to the old city limits with Goyang County (today Goyang City), continuing on to Munsan in Paju County, on the south bank of the Han River, where they were met with torrential rains and forced to end for the day.

The 17-year old Yang Jae Dok set a new record for the road course between Seoul — Munsan at 04:05:30.

Today the city of Paju is the located on the southern side of the post-1953 DMZ and home to the Dorasan Observatory overlooking North Korea and the Dorasan Train Station, the last station in South Korea before Kaesong.

The Seoul—Pyongyang Marathon runners in Sariwon.

On the second day, the group was able to cross the flooded Han River to the Kaesong area, setting out at 08:00. Due to continued poor weather, the runners set the destination for the day as Sinmak, located near Sohung, rather than Sariwon.

The runners passed through Kumchon, Hanpo, where they had lunch and from which both So Jong Guk and Yang Jaek Dok traveling to Sinmak to receive treatment for foot injuries before coming back to Hanpo.

The remainder of the day's race took them through Namchon before arriving at Sinmak in the evening at 20:14.

A commemorative photo of the Seoul—Pyongyang Marathon taken in Pyongyang.

On the third day, the group set out for Sariwon at 10:10 on their way to Pyongyang, with Li Song Gun finishing the race at Pyongyang Station at 18:14 to take first place, followed by the both So and Yang at approximately 18:23.

At 19:00 at commemorative photo was taken at the Pyongyang Administrative Office and followed by a congratulatory dinner.

The runners spent the next three days in Pyongyang, after which Yang returning to Seoul by train, presumably due to his foot injury, and So traveling to his hometown of Ryonggang near Nampo.

Only Li and a support team of two set out to complete the southbound race to Seoul. In Part II, we’ll take a look at Li’s return run to Seoul and some thoughts on what the 1931 Seoul to Pyongyang event could represent today.

Wondering about running a marathon in Korea today? Check out the modern day Pyongyang Marathon with Koryo Tours.

Photo courtesy of the Donga Ilbo Archives via the Naver News Library.

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