Saturday, December 28, 2013

Running in North Korea

Back in September I took a trip to North Korea, or DPRK, just for fun. I had read a lot about it for the past decade or so and I wanted to see what it was like for thoughts on that are long and not related to cycling or running.

So while there I just had to run. Problem is, visitors are not allowed out much on their own. Luckily, I was allowed to go out alone just around the parking lot of our hotel, Yanggakdo International Hotel. It's not big, but it was enough to get a mild workout done.

Situated on a tiny island on the Taedong river, the river that runs through Pyongyang, the Yanggakdo has a guarded gate. That was the limit to where I was told I could wander / run.

Google Maps view of the Yanggakdo Hotel

I explored the limits, running up to the gate, as far as I possibly could, without crossing it - despite the fact that the 'guard' was asleep.

It wasn't clear whether or not I could leave the boundaries of the hotel and go right up to the water, on the sidewalk along the river. This would mean leaving the hotel but where could I go? So I tried it and found it to be a great run - a well-maintained waterfront walkway, circling the outermost edges of the hotel.

A fairly pleasant place to run

Of course I recorded the run on Strava. No GPS devices are allowed in DPRK, so instead of bringing my Garmin 910xt (the watch) or the much-more-GPS-like Garmin Edge 705, I brought my phone, and used it in airplane mode (GPS signals are still available).

I created a segment from the hotel entrance to the gate, and I believe this was the first segment ever created in North Korea - I could find no others. Check it out here: Escape from Yanggakdo. However, others had run this route before I had, as evidenced by the segment results. There was even one other tourist out for a morning run while I was.

Turns out Pedro Queiroz has me beat by 10 seconds.

Here's a short video I shot of my run:

The locals run too, but they do it more freely. (I suppose "freely" is a relative term.) On a trip around the city I spotted a cool picture of a runner in front of one of the many stadia.

A painting of a heroic runner at the Kim Il Sung stadium

Also, the Pyongyang marathon is on 13 April, two days before Kim Il-Sung's birthday. Unfortunately, I will not be able to make it, but would love to.

Trips to the Pyongyang Marathon are run by Koryo Tours, the same group I went to DPRK with. Find out more on their site.


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