On race day, I take up position side by side with locals at the starting line. Their faces are marked with intense concentration as we set off on the 26-mile race. The mood lightens with the false start, which leads to much laughter from the stands and looks of frustration from race officials. This is one of the few moments where the marathon feels chaotic; the rest of the day goes off without a hitch.
Unless, that is, you needed to stop to use the toilet midmarathon, something that unfortunately many marathon runners do (as Paula Radcliffe famously demonstrated in full view during the London Marathon in 2005). Most city marathons are lined with portable toilets; otherwise you can jump over the barrier and find an empty stretch of wall.
But in Pyongyang, we’re told not to urinate in the streets, and running off the course is a definite no-no. Instead, there are a few strategic toilets marked along the route in public buildings and restaurants, some as far as 50 meters away from the course and one, unbelievably, on the second floor of a building.