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From Start to Finish: An Insider's Look at the 2023 Seoul Marathon

·8 mins
review race

Last month, I had the chance to finally participate in the Seoul International Marathon 2023. Today, I’ll share insights on my training, the race, and my results, but also a detailed review and feedback on the race organization. Let’s dive in.

A few years back, I signed up for Seoul Marathon 2020, but due to the pandemic, it got canceled. When the organizers announced a new edition in 2023, I made sure to train and signed up for it. Started in 1931, Seoul is one of the oldest marathons even in Asia, it makes it quite an epic one to experience.

My goal for 2022 was to achieve a 3:45:00 marathon. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it in 2022, but I felt Seoul could be the “right” place for a new attempt.

The training #

My training program took place over 12 weeks. It sounds short to reach a personal best but I have been running pretty consistently in the past 10 months, looking for new races and “personal bests” to chase. So 12 weeks was enough to ramp up.

The schedule was composed of 5 running sessions per week, including speed exercise as well as long runs. I also included 2 to 3 strength sessions per week, and either a cycling or swimming session once in a while to let the legs recover.

Additionally to the training sessions, I look at other things I could do “outside” of it, to help me reach this goal. I spend more time stretching and getting a better sleep to recover better.

I look further into what I eat before and after training sessions too. Your energy level is defined by what you eat.

Eventually, the time came up to fly to Seoul, Korea 🇰🇷.

The trip #


I planned to arrive a few nights before the race, to be able to visit the city, but also to rest as much as possible ahead of the marathon. I flew by night to Seoul from Singapore, which wasn’t the best idea, arriving at 5 am from a sleepless flight wasn’t a great start.

I have to admit it was my first time in Seoul, or Korea for that matter. It means that I had a lot of things to figure out: how to travel around, where to eat, and so on. That’s also what made the trip so interesting in my opinion, it’s quite an adventure.

I randomly picked a hotel near Euljiro 3(sam)ga MRT train station. It’s not too far from the start of the race, and it was direct to come back from the end of the race.

With few days to kill ahead of the race, I spent time exploring the city, seeing historical monuments, and exploring local cafes and restaurants. That said, I didn’t try to do too much and kept it comfortable: walking too much per day could mess up my preparation.

I even got time to go for a short run, to help the body stay loose but also to test my outfit one last time, but also meet local running crews.

The last evening before the race, I set up all my gear and shoes, prepared my breakfast, and made sure everything is prepared.

Last preparation #

The start of the race is planned for 8:00 am, but my running “door” is planned to start at 8:25 am which is pretty good in my opinion, it allows a full night’s sleep.

The weather looked clear and the forecast was cold and sunny. It means I would start in chilly weather of 3°C and finish (hopefully) through a sunny 12°C or so.

I planned to run with a hat (in case of sun or rain), a pair of shorts, and a tank top that I’ve been using for a few races. However, with this weather, I completed it with a pair of arm sleeves and gloves, easy to remove if it’s too hot but light enough to keep with myself. I also used an old sweatshirt for the first 20 minutes, to stay warm.

I also chose to run with ASICS Kayano 29, a stable pair of shoes that helps me correct my pronation movement.

Planning your outfit is very important, I saw a lot of people buying 7-Eleven gloves and other last-minute purchases.

Ahead of the race, I ate my usual “long-run” breakfast, banana and bread, simple and filling, and drink electrolytes with water.

In my pockets, I brought 6 energy gels. If you are used to it, it can feel too few, if you never used it, it can be a lot. My thought was to use at first regular intervals of distance: 8km, 15km, 22km, 28km, 34km, and 40km.

The race #

Seoul marathon 2023

The marathon route goes through different areas of Seoul with a lot of historical monuments. Luckily, most roads are very wide, which helps to make room for running since there are a lot of us on that cold morning.

For the first 3 to 5 kilometers, I stuck with my planned pace 5:15 min/km. Feeling good and going too fast at the start is a common mistake that can blow my attempt.

After 5 kilometers, I felt warmer, a quick look at my watch, my heartbeat was in a comfortable range, and it reassured me for the rest of the race.

At around 22km, after my second energy gel and a few glasses of water, my legs didn’t feel heavy, I didn’t sense any blisters forming and I was still in the range of my target pace. I felt confident that today was the day for a personal best.

As the race route follows a winding course toward the streets of Seoul, I tried to stay relaxed and focus on my form.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed about the distance to run, I mentally broke down the race into smaller portions of 4km until the 36th kilometer, then 3km portions until the end. It helps me focus only on the current 3 or 4km ahead, and avoid thinking much further.

I noticed that my training in Singapore weather helped a lot. With an average of 28°C and high humidity, the Seoul streets felt easy to breathe, and I sweat very little compared to normal.

On the other hand, I observed other runners puffing and panting, where by the time I reach 34-36km, I still feel good and confident I can keep track of my course.

Within the last 5 kilometers of the marathon, I decided to go slightly faster and faster, ramping up to 5:10 min/km and finishing at 5:00 min/km and below.

I finally reach the end of the route, arriving at the Olympic Stadium with an official time of 3:43:06.

Review #

With a new personal best reached, I am really happy to have participated in Seoul International Marathon 2023.

For me, the training and the conditions were perfect to be able to reach my goal. The city is beautiful to run through, the locals spend time to cheers and there is a great vibe all along the course.

On another hand, the organization of the race for the edition of 2023 was quite chaotic from the start to the end, and for a few reasons.

Seoul marathon 2023 route

The race website opened quite late for registration, in mid-January, which makes it pretty late: if you want to train for it, you should have already started by then. The registration website requires a Korean postal address to send you the finisher windbreaker. As I don’t live there, I put my hotel address and hope they make good use of this jacket, but it feels like a waste. It’s something they could have distributed on the arrival, along with the medals.

The BIB collection for the race itself was also difficult: it was only possible to collect it on the day before the race, and with thousands of foreign runners coming to collect it at the same time, most of us had to queue for hours for the collection. In this case, only one booth was open to collect the BIB, which is hardly understandable knowing the event was sold-out.

They indicated that drop-off bags is possible on race day, we can drop the given bag at a bag drop truck. However, by the time I arrive at the race, 45 minutes before the gun started, almost all the trucks already left the premise. Luckily, I ran around and found one last truck to give my bag to, but it’s the kind of stress you don’t want to have so close to the race.

The finish line isn’t well thought-through either. There are a lot of people waiting here and there and they make participants walk in and out of the Sports Complex to collect the medals and other goodies.

On the same day, there was a marathon relay as well as a 10km race, everybody arrives at the same place, so engraving your medal or taking a nice picture with your official time is another long queue. I chose to leave and go rest instead.

Finally, the official time and official results are not on the race website, I found out the information by scrolling through Instagram comments on the race, by directly going to the race chip website.

Conclusion #

All and all, it was a great experience and I enjoyed my time in Seoul, I would be keen to go again for this race if the opportunity comes again.

That said, I’ll be a bit more cautious about the group organizing it next time.

Seoul marathon 2023 medal

Congratulations to all runners of this edition 👏