NKorea Opens Up Its Marathon to Amateur Runner-Tourists

AP Photo: Runners at the Pyongyang marathon from 2013.

The world’s most secretive country is opening up the streets of its capital city for runner-tourists from around the globe to compete in its annual marathon.

North Korea will welcome amateur runners, as well as internationally renowned, invitation-only athletes, for the first time in history to its annual Pyongyang marathon on April 13, the Associated Press reported. The races include a full marathon, a half marathon and a 10-kilometer run.


Much of North Korea is still off-limits to foreign tourists, but the communist regime has used Pyongyang to boost tourism, and this latest move to open up the marathon to recreational runners from abroad seems further proof of that strategy. Of course, most tourists must abide by strict regulations and are constantly monitored by authorities.


The race, formally known as the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon, which enters its 27th year, is sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federation. Until this year, only a limited number of elite athletes were invited. Last year’s race was won by Ethiopia’s Ketema Nigusse in 2:13:04.

Simon Cockerell, a Beijing-based agent for the Koryo Tours travel agency, said that about 200 foreigners have signed up for the marathon, which coincides with the April 15 birthday commemoration of North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il Sung.

“I think a lot of the attraction is the ‘Pyongyang’ part rather than the ‘marathon’ part,” Cockerell told AP. “A lot of the people going along to take part are interested in simply doing something a bit unusual.”

The North Korean government, led by its young leader Kim Jong-un, has been giving sports a higher profile in recent years. Just this year, it also unveiled its first luxury ski resort to lure ski enthusiasts from around the world and announced plans to create special trade and tourism zones across the country.

Runners in this year’s marathon will have a rare opportunity to explore the streets of Pyongyang, a city of about 2.5 million North Koreans. The course of the race, which begins at the Kim Il Sung Stadium, includes the streets around the Monument to Chinese Soldiers and the Kim Il Sung University. The runners will also cross a bridge over the Taedong River.