We stand in single file, the six of us, with a rope tied to our right ankles. We are aiming to beat three other teams in a synchronised-running race, which means we have to be well coordinated as a team. We get into position, with our feet slightly apart, waiting for the signal. The three referees seem bemused, the crowd amused.

The whistle goes and so do we. First the left feet, then the right, left, right, left, right. I struggle to keep up. I hold on to the shoulders of the man in front of me for dear life. One mistake and the whole team will crash and burn.

We don't win, but we do make it up and down the course safely. I congratu-late my team. Who would have thought that one day I would be high-fiving North Koreans?

It all started with the deafening noise outside my Pyongyang hotel. Curious to know what was going on, I stepped out into the car park - and sports day for the staff of the Yanggakdo Hotel.

Korean music blares, drums are being beaten and wooden clappers slapped together as an ecstatic crowd of 100 or so - cleaners, managers, waiters, chefs and the guy who brews the beer at the hotel - watch teams compete.

North Koreans do not get much free time. Sunday is officially a day off, but they tend to busy themselves with household chores, "voluntary work" or public meetings. Every April, however, the citizenry get three days off to celebrate the most important of all holidays, the Day of the Sun, the birthday of their "great leader" and "eternal president", Kim Il-sung. This year was his 103rd birthday.

During this national holiday, North Koreans pay respects to their "dear leaders", Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il, by offering flowers, bowing in front of their statues and visiting revolutionary sites. For us foreigners, for the second year running, there is the Pyongyang Marathon, for which I have come.

The carefully scripted fun includes exhibitions and art festivals, the mass dance and fireworks. The people can attend the funfair, the circus, the opera and the cinema, have a picnic in the park or play games - hence the hotel sports day and our synchronised-running race.

The games look elementary but would vex health and safety officers elsewhere in the world. Cone-faced football looks the most dangerous: think birthday party hats worn over a player's face with the tapering end cut off. Players have to locate the ball through the hole, kick it towards one end of the tarmac car park, then return to the starting point and pass it on to the next team member, which is fiendishly difficult with cone vision. As players concentrate on keeping their eye on the ball, they lose sight of the other competitors. Bang! Four players go down.

The game of hooking-the-bottle involves skill, concentration and speed. The teams are each assigned a glass bottle, which is placed half way down a track. They are also given a long stick with a piece of string tied to one end. To the other end of the string is attached a small piece of thin wood. One by one, the players try to insert the piece of wood through the bottle's neck. They must then pick up the bottle and run without dropping it to the end of the track. They then have to turn back and return the bottle to its original place, unhook the piece of wood and pass the stick on to a waiting teammate. Players must use only one hand, which requires strong hand-eye coordination.

As the crowd cheers, a bottle goes flying into the spectators and another smashes to the ground. The game continues, a scorer awarding points to the teams on a large board.

I cannot stay to watch the prize-giving ceremony; but there are more fun and games to come.

In Paeksong, outside Pyongyang, we visit a "revolutionary site". A small path through forest leads us to a pair of thatched houses, which are very well looked after and do not look "old", as our guide maintains. Inside, spaces are laid out as classrooms, dormitories and a kitchen. In the grounds, a large propaganda picture painted onto a concrete wall depicts Kim Il-sung giving guidance to students and teachers in a classroom.

During the Korean war, students and teachers from Pyongyang's prestigious Kim Il-sung University were moved here for safety. According to the guide, the president visited the place in April of Juche year 1941 (that's 1952, according to the Gregorian calendar) and was confident of victory in the war. He advised both teachers and students on the need for post-war rehabilitation and construction. This speech came to be called "The Prospects of the Fatherland Liberation War and the Tasks of the University".

In keeping with their juche doctrine of "single-hearted unity", team spirit is an important part of North Korean identity, as our guides remind us at every opportunity.

As we return to our bus, the sound of drums and shouting drifts over from a flat patch of cement - a ubiquitous sight in North Korea and where students must, when the usual routine prevails, take part in daily "noon stretches".

Today, though, people are having fun, and we badger our guide into allowing us to participate. The locals - military cadets, judging by the row of neatly folded military uniforms placed to one side - seem delighted for us to join their party.

There is always a first time for everything and in this case, for me, it's hula-hoop football. Each tourist is paired with a Korean and we are split into two teams. Each pair has a single hula-hoop placed around their waists and we have to dribble a ball to the other end of the course and back. It demands teamwork and delicate ball skills. If you don't keep up with your partner, you could fall flat on your face and destroy that new-found single-hearted unity.

The crowd eggs us on by beating drums, clapping and whistling.

Next, each pair is given a volleyball, which is placed between the temples of each of our heads. We have to hold it there, without using our hands. Then, we have to run to one end of the track without dropping the ball and return to pass it on to the next pair in our team. When the ball slides away, teammates bang faces.

Our hosts are gracious but we outsiders are woeful; single-hearted unity takes some getting used to.

Getting there: visitors to North Korea must have a guide and book through a tour company connected to the Korea International Tourist Company. Flights into the country leave from Shanghai and Beijing.