This is the third year that Pyongyang Marathon opened to foreign armature participants. More than 1,000 foreigner were among the 1600+ marathon participants this year. More than 25 nations have flew into Pyongyang to participate the marathon in my Tour Group and some of them have travelled a long way from Europe just for the marathon. The event use to be held the Kim Il Sung Stadium, which sits 50,000 people, however, it moved to the May Day Stadium because Kim Il Sung stadium is under renovation and new location can accommodation 150,000 people. It was quite a spectacular thing to start the run inside the May Day Stadium, which was filled with almost 100,000 audience. Many of the runners were busy taking photos and selfies at the starting line instead of dashing out after hearing the pistol.
The May Day Stadium was built in 1998 and it looks quite new even at today. I was quite impressed when I first saw the stadium when the UriTour took us to go around our running route the day before the marathon. The stadium is located on an island in the middle Taedong River near the city centre and looks quite stunning from afar.
On the Day of the Marathon
We stayed at Pyongyang Koryo Hotel, which is in the middle of the city centre closes to all the monuments. There are only two 5-star hotels in Pyongyang: Koryo Hotel and Yanggakdo International Hotel; by 5-star I’m sure those are self rated 5-star hotels. The facilities in the hotel were very basic, however, it has all the amenities we needed and it was quite clean. It was quite happy with our stay and it was definitely better than what I have expected.
7:00am: One last group photo before we head off to the Stadium.
8:00am: People were busy stretching and were having their last minute checks before we line up and head into the stadium for the opening ceremony.
- Tracking chips are on (TICK)
- Warm-ups (TICK)
- Energy capsules loaded (TICK)
8:30am: Everyone had pretty much lined up and were waiting to enter the stadium for the opening ceremony. The professional runners were lined up at the front of the line and they can to start the run at the front whereas the armatures were placed at the back.
One of the guys in my group is the organizer for Run Croatia. Croatia would be a very beautiful place to run for sure! Maybe it’s time to brain storm for my next trip 🙂
9:00am: We have marched into the stadium and unfortunately no photos were allowed during the ceremony and we were given 15 mins to get ready before we start the run at 9:30. With such a large crowd of audience, everyone was very busy taking selfie photos and videos during the march and I had completely missed the starting pistol until I saw people at the front of the line started running.
9:30am: The marathon started at 9:30 sharp, but some people were held up by the huge line at the bathroom and some were too busy taking selfies and posing in front of the audience, they were quite far away from the starting line.
(Taken by Pyongyangmarathon)
I’m now officially on the roads!! Although we were giving very strict rules about the running outfits, but it was very relaxed on the day. Participants were wearing all kind of running outfits and colours. We were also told that GPS watches were not allowed during the run, but no one really checked and I got a pretty good running routed plotted by my iphone 🙂
The streets were packed with audiences on both sides of the street as soon as we left the stadium. The crowd was very cheerful and many of the kids lined up on the side of the street try to Hi-5 us.
The run started a little tough since weather was very hot in North Korea as soon as the run rises and we were running towards the sun. We needed to cross the Chongyu bridge right after we left the stadium and the head wind was quite strong, which probably slowed everyone down by at least 0.5km/hour. I didn’t get to pick up my speed until we were in the tunnel, which was a lot cooler and and the ground was quite flat. The 10km runners run around the route once around the city and the full marathon runners needed to run 4 loops and finished inside the stadium. There were only 2 water stations and they were 5km apart. I was feeling pretty dehydrated after the first 5km and there was no water station to be found. However, the crowd was so cheerful and they were very excited to see us running by, which kept me going till the next water break.
The professionals made the run look so EASY!!
Some local kids have participated the marathon and they were chilling after the finishing line.
Most of the vehicles in North Korea were manufactured either in China or locally in North Korea. I did not see a single American car on the street, and occasionally I can see a few old vintage Mercedes Benz parked outside the restaurants and hotels (there’s hardly any restaurants in town).
While others were finishing their half marathon, this guy was heading into the stadium for this finishing line for the full marathon.
As soon as we entered the stadium, the news reporters from Xin Hua News approached us for a TV interview and asked us about how we think about the marathon and our perception about North Korea. It was also very interesting to hear their perspectives about North Korea, as their speech was not rehearsed by the North Korean Government. The reporters from XinHua News Agency needs to serve a 2-year term in North Korea before they get to rotate to another country. During their stay in North Korea, they live in the Chinese Embassy and they only get to visit home once or twice a year. From our conversation with the Chinese news reporters, it seems like North Korea has opened up during the recently years. Many of the North Koreans now get to study or work abroad, but they have to return to their home country after their study or at the termination of their working contract.
As what the Western social media has described the attire in North Korea, 99% of the audience dressed in black, grey and navy blue, occasionally with only a few bright colours among the women.
(Taken by Pyongyangmarathon)
(Taken by Pyongyangmarathon)
Congratulation to every finisher and to those who finished in the Top 3. It was quite a tough run due to the hot weather and specially for the full marathon runners, who needs to finish the run within the 4-hour time limit.
(Taken by Pyongyangmarathon)
The trophy that was given to one of the guys came Second in our group. Congratulation on the 2h45′ finishing time!
I was quite surprised to find myself ranked 15th, after all the pit shops I made for photos 🙂
Which tour to choose (for people who wants to join next year)
There are quite a few numbers of tour companies run the Pyongyang marathon tour, with Uri Tours and Koryo Tours as the most popular ones the Pyongyang Marathon. After conducting a thorough research, comparison and reading previous participants reviews, my friends and I decided to go with Uri Tour for the following reason:
- Koryo Tours and Uri Tours charge exactly the same amount of money, however, Koryo Tours only accept cash or bank transfers from the Chinese banks. Given that all of us are based in Hong Kong and we don’t have Chinese bank accounts, it would be a hassle for us to transferring them the money and if we pay by credit card there is a 4.25% transaction fee, . Whereas Uri Tours takes credit card payments free of transaction fees, which makes life a lot easier.
- Schedule between the 2 tours are quite similar, however, Uri Tours include a tour to the DMZ from the North Korea side.
- My friends who joined the Pyongyang Marathon with Koryo Tours told me that Yanggakdo Hotel, where Koryo Tour puts their guests, has only one lift. It was quite inconvenient to go up and down as there was a constent long wait for the lift, especially during the rush hours in the morning. Whereas Koryo Hotel, where we stayed with Uri Tour has 8 lifts, 4 lifts for each tower.
- We get to choose our own colour for the free Marathon t-shirt (the one I was wearing in the photos), whereas for Koryo Tours, everyone was wearing the same colour and other tours don’t even get a t-shirt. AND we get a free Metal, which is great for photos!! So many participants from the other tours asked me where did I get my Metal, as I was walking around in the stadium. Those metals were sold at RMB300.
- Our group were divided into small groups (in groups of 20 or less) for the tours and activities, which allowed us to have the whole row of seats for ourselves in the bus, it was definitely needed after the marathon when you needed to stretch your legs. Three local tour guides were assigned to each group and they have taken good care of us in every single aspects.
Overall, we were really happy with our tour with Uri Tour and I strongly suggest my friends who wants to run for Pyongyang Marathon 2017 to sign up with Uri Tour.
For more details, please visit Uri Tour via the link below,