North Korea Hosts International Marathon in Capital


Share this Post

North Korea allowed foreign tourists to compete in the annual marathon on Sunday in its capital, Pyongyang.

Of thousands of participants in Sunday's event, more than 200 were from other countries.

The race started and ended at Kim Il Sung stadium, and participants were greeted at the finish line by more than 40,000 cheering spectators.

It is also the first time the race was open to recreational runners.

North Korea's Pak Chol was the first to cross the finish line, completing the men's event in 2 hours, 12 minutes, and 26 seconds. Compatriots Kim Hye Gyong and her twin sister, Kim Hye Song, finished first and second in the women's race. Gyong won the women's race in 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 4 seconds.

The race has been held annually for 27 years and is a bronze-labeled event sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Organizers said they decided to allow foreign recreational runners because they wanted to hold a larger race as part of the series of sporting competitions, arts festivals and cultural events marking the birthday of the country's first leader, Kim Il Sung, on April 15.

Organizers also decided to make it easier for recreational runners to join by requiring only that the course be completed within four hours so the roads could be reopened. A  half marathon and a 10-kilometer run was also hosted by the organization.

The Mangyongdae Prize Marathon is named after the birthplace of Kim Il Sung, the country's first leader, and is held annually around the time of his birthday.

Officials said runners from 27 countries took part in the race this year, including 225 amateurs.

Much of North Korea is off-limits to tourists, and tourism agencies that specialize in North Korea said they received a larger than expected number of entries to the race from tourists who primarily wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see Pyongyang close up, rather than compete in the race itself.

Foreign runners were not permitted to carry Japanese or American flags, or wear clothing with large writing, or that was considered political or attention-getting. Runners said they were also not allowed to carry cameras during the race, though they snapped away afterward inside the stadium.

"Basically, we just had to wear regular running clothes," said Will Erskine, a runner from Melbourne, Australia.

"Some people might have wanted to shoot pictures the whole time. But I don't think it was all that unusual. It was a good experience," Erskine said.

Image via Wikimedia Commons