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Foreign fun runners add colour to Pyongyang marathon

Foreign fun runners have taken to the streets of Pyongyang for a marathon that has become a popular tourist event in the North Korean capital.

Officially called the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon, the race became a hit with tourists looking to run in possibly the world's most unusual location when it was opened up to amateur foreign runners in 2014.

Like everything else in North Korea, the race has a political backdrop.

First held in 1981, it is part of nationwide festivities leading up to the April 15 Day Of The Sun, a national holiday marking the birthday of the late Kim Il Sung, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's grandfather and the country's "eternal president".

Later this week, North Korea is expected to open its doors to foreign journalists to further publicise the holiday and show a new residential area of Pyongyang with several high-rise apartment buildings.

The country is expected to put on a major parade on April 15, and North Korea watchers are eager to see if it will display its new long-range ballistic missile.

This year, more than 1,100 foreigners took part in the full marathon, the half marathon or the 10km run.

The course took them past such Pyongyang landmarks as Kim Il Sung Square and the recently completed Scientists' Street high-rise district.

All runners finished in Kim Il Sung Stadium before tens of thousands of cheering North Koreans.

While the runners were off on the streets, the crowd in the stadium was kept entertained by a football match.

"I don't know if you would say it was on my bucket list, but it was certainly something out of the ordinary," said Philippe Sacher, a 38-year-old from Munich, Germany, who ran the half marathon. "I want to see for myself."

Curious Pyongyang residents lined the streets to look at the foreign runner.

Many yelled "Hurry! Hurry!" as the runners passed by.

"I think many of them only know what they have seen in their media and have a mistaken image," said Pyongyang pensioner Choe Yong Su. "But seeing is believing."

The marathon also includes a race for elite runners recognised as a bronze label competition by the International Amateur Athletics Federation.

Just a handful of elite runners joined this year, mostly from Africa, and North Koreans won the men's and women's marathon golds.

To the delighted roar of the crowd, the first runner to enter Kim Il Sung Stadium was Pak Chol, who finished in 2 hours, 14 minutes, 56 seconds. Jo Un Ok, who took the bronze in last year's Beijing Marathon, won the women's race in 2:29:23.


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