The annual Pyongyang marathon has been cancelled for another year. The last year it was held was in 2019. The announcement deals a blow to hopes of western tourism reopening in the Hermit Kingdom.
The North Koreans announced that they would not be holding the event. Unless North Korea had opened up to tourism it was unlikely the marathon was going to go ahead since the event has a primary focus on the international participation it receives.
The official name for the Pyongyang Marathon is the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon and was held annually from 1981, except for a few years during the Arduous March and now during the Covid pandemic.
It was normally held a few days prior to or after the birthday of the first President of North Korea – Kim il Sung. This day is known in North Korea as the Day of the Sun and is one of the biggest celebrations in the country. This day combined with the marathon event saw the largest numbers of tourists in the country at any given point in the year.
Aside from fireworks and mass dances, sometimes military parades are also held (which are quite difficult to arrange to see, but sometimes it's possible to get lucky and get a viewing!). It’s amazing to see the people of Pyongyang relaxing and celebrating, usually done so with some traditional music and a bottle of Soju in one of the many parks.
The marathon itself is one of the only ways you can traverse the streets of Pyongyang without your guides at your side, starting either in Kim Il Sung Stadium or May Day Stadium and traversing the city past many of the great monuments of Pyongyang. In our opinion this is the best way to see the city!
What if you don't want to run a marathon? Dont worry, there are ways to enjoy this spectacular event without running a marathon. Firstly, you could run either a half marathon or 10km, but you can actually also just sit in the stands as a spectactor. You don't get the experience of running through the iconic Pyongyang streets, but you also get a very unique experience, sitting amongst North Koreans while they're watching the event.
Hopefully, the event will return in 2025 and when it does Saiga Tours will be there to take you!