A New Zealand man says running in the streets of North Korea's Pyongyang puts a tick on his bucket list.

Auckland-born Timothy Wright was one of hundreds of foreigners taking part in the isolated city's annual marathon, the highlight of its tourism calender.

"I've set myself a goal of seeing every country in the world before my time is up," said the 24-year-old airline pilot.

"It feels incredible to have taken part in something very few might ever have to opportunity to do."


Officially called the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon, it was first held in 1981 as part of festivities leading up to the April 15 "Day of the Sun".

This year, the event commemorates the 105th death anniversary of the late Kim Il Sung, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's grandfather who is regarded as the country's "eternal president".

The marathon was opened up to amateur foreign runners three years ago in 2014.

Wright said getting a visa to North Korea, where military tensions are running high, was surprisingly "very straightforward".

"The tour agency takes care of it all for you," he said.

"If anything, securing a double entry Chinese visa was harder than the North Korean visa."

Koryo Tours, a specialist agency has the exclusive rights to bring Westerners to the marathon, but works with selected foreign agencies.

Wright travelled to the event with Clint Sargent, 28, also a pilot, through Lupine Travel.


They were in Pyongyang for five days from April 8 to12 and arrived back in New Zealand last Saturday April 15.

More than 1100 foreigners took part in this year's marathon, which included the full road race, the half marathon and a 10km run.

"Running the Pyongyang marathon was almost solely because we wanted permission to enter the DPRK," said Wright, who ran the full marathon.

"We could still have done so as spectators but liked the idea of a challenge."

Kiwis Tim Wright and Clinton Sargent in North Korea. Photo / Supplied
Kiwis Tim Wright and Clinton Sargent in North Korea. Photo / Supplied

The course took them past local landmarks such as the Kim Il Sung Square and Mansu Hill, through the recently completed Scientists' Street high-rise district and finishing in the Kim Il Sung Stadium.

"High-fiving lines of children along the footpath as we ran along was awesome, it was also about as close as we came to interaction with the local people," said Wright.

"Crowds of local people were gathered almost all of the way, and cheering us along just as you'd find almost anywhere else."

Dignitaries, some in military uniform were in attendance.

"It most certainly felt as if we were being watched all the time, but never in a threatening or confronting manner," Wright said.

"Our movements were restricted over the course of the marathon, a 'minder' then a military officer, alternating every 100m or so, were dotted along both sides of the road for the length of the entire course."

Local runner Pak Chol, 27, won the race for the third time in 2hr 13min 56sec.

Pyongyang was the cleanest city he'd seen "by a long shot", Wright said, and there were no signs that the country could be on the brink of war.

"The architecture and lack of advertisements we're used to in the West made it feel like Legoland, such a bizarre experience," he said.

"Overall, life there seems to be ticking away as per normal and not once did we ever feel unsafe."

Just a few days after the marathon, North Korea held a failed medium-range missile test.

This reportedly prompted US President Donald Trump to say he was willing to consider ordering military action, including sudden strike on North Korea,.