The streets of North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, were filled with foreign runners on Sunday. The Pyongyang marathon, held annually, welcomed amateur runners from all over the world for the first time.
The marathon, known as the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon, has been around for 27 years. Last Sunday, thousands of North Koreans lined the streets to watch the event and occasionally gave high fives to the runners passing by. According to the event managers from the International Association of Athletics Federations, they decided to open the race to foreigners to make it a grander occasion in celebration of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung’s, birthday on April 15.
The only rule that foreign runners had to follow was that they should not wear attention-grabbing or political clothing during the race. They were also banned from carrying Japanese or U.S. flags.
The majority of North Korea is still off-limits to foreigners, but Pyongyang is more accessible with its plazas, monuments, and avenues.
North Korea has been boosting its tourism. Group tours typically consist of visiting major attractions and watching performance art. North Korea’s tourism agencies said that they were surprised to see the large number of foreigners who wanted to participate in the marathon. However, they also said that most of them just wanted to see Pyongyang, rather than race.
In this year’s race, there were runners from 27 countries all over the world. A total of 225 of the runners were amateurs. The race was also made easier to accommodate the amateur runners.
The winner for the men’s event was Pak Chol, a North Korean who completed the race in 2:12:26, while North Korean twins Kim Hye Song and Kim Hye Gong finished the women’s event first and second with a time of 2:27:04.
“I really wanted to do this race because of the location,” Jen Skym, a Briton who resides in Hong Kong said. Another runner from Nova Scotia, Jacob Young, said “I go to international races every year, but this one just strikes me as the most unique.”
North Korea opens marathon to foreigners for the first time.
Image via YouTube