For the first time amateur runners will be allowed to compete in the Pyongyang marathon, North Korea tour group Koryo Tours has announced.
The marathon will take place as part of the annual Mangyongdae Cup sports festival, which marks the birthday of “eternal president” Kim Il Sung on April 15 each year.
Previously only exceptional foreign runners could take part due to a set minimum completion time of 2 hours and 40 minute – a time that contrasts strongly with the average international marathon completion time for men of 4 hours 32 minutes.
This year the marathon, which is recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations as a Bronze level race, will see those restrictions limited so that all can participate.
Speaking to NK News, Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours said that his Beijing based company has long had enquiries about the marathon and has been lobbying North Koreans to allow amateurs to take part for “years”.
“I’ve spoken to at various times the sports marketing group and the Ministry of Sports about inviting amateur runners to the marathon and it’s never been possible before,” he said. “It’s very much been something we’ve worked on for a long time”.
“It’s unclear as yet whether they’re going to ask for any qualifying time for amateurs, but it seems not,” he said, adding that the marathon is extremely popular among North Koreans: “there were at least 200 runners last time, but it’s all people who take it seriously, people who run a lot.”
But running does not enjoy the same amateur popularity in North Korea as it does in the west, he pointed out. “You never see a middle-aged man out running… [North Koreans] consider that a bit silly, doing exercise when you don’t need to is a bit of an odd thing for them”.
“They might think it a bit undignified if somebody were to do it very badly,” Cockerell said.
The Mangyongdae Cup hosts other sporting events, too, including men’s and women’s football games, which take place once the marathon runners exit the stadium.
The 2013 marathon was won by a foreigner – an Ethiopian competitor who completed the marathon in 2 hours 13 minutes. The marathon featured runners from Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ethiopia.
In 2005, 150 South Koreans went to Pyongyang to take part in the first ever inter-Korean marathon. Held at a time when relations were much more cordial between the two countries, the marathon saw participants run from Pyongyang to the coastal city of Nampo.
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