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More Than 1,600 Runners Take Part in Pyongyang Marathon

Runners are cheered by North Koreans during the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 10, 2016.

The unusual sight of hundreds of foreigners pounding the streets of Pyongyang greeted the locals on Sunday as North Korea's annual international marathon got underway.

It's the third year running that foreign amateurs have been allowed to take part in the event.

The decision to bring in amateurs has turned a rather low-key race into something of a carnival.

IAAF rating

But this year the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has not registered the Pyongyang marathon in the same way as in the past.

In previous years, the Pyongyang marathon was an IAAF Bronze Label Race.

This year, it's not. That's because "the organizers didn't wish to invite an international elite field this year and therefore the race didn't meet the requirements of an IAAF Label Race," IAAF Deputy Director of Public Relations Chris Turner said.

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N. Korea Marathon Draws More Than 1,000 Foreigners
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Of the more than 1,600 runners who took part in this year's Pyongyan Marathon, about 700 were professional runners, with the vast majority from North Korea, and only a few from abroad, mostly Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Zambia) and China and Taiwan.

However, the race saw an increase in amateur participation -- nearly 1,000 foreign amateurs took part, marathon organizers said.

To runners' surprise, they were permitted to take video cameras with them, and many took selfies instead of dashing out after hearing the pistol, Reuters news agency reported.

Tour operators

Tour operators specializing in travel to North Korea have marketed the marathon as a special way to experience the socialist state.

Tourists in North Korea are normally moved around with guides in cars or buses. The marathon allows visitors to stretch their legs and feel like they are getting their own look around the city.

Another change this year was the start and finish point -- Pyongyang's gigantic May Day Stadium. Previously, it was run out of the smaller Kim Il Sung Stadium.

While waiting for the first runner to finish, more than 60,000 people sitting in the stadium watched two soccer matches.

North Korea's own Pak Chol won the men's professional full marathon, completing the course in 2 hours 14 minutes and 10 seconds.

His compatriot Kim Ji Hyang won the women's race in 2 hours 28 minutes and 5 seconds.

The first amateur runner to finish the full marathon was Thomas Dover, a doctor from Australia, crossing the line in 2 hours 49 minutes and 59 seconds.

As well as the full marathon, runners could choose a half marathon or 10-kilometer course.

In honor of Kim Il Sung

The Pyongyang marathon is officially called the "Mangyongdae Prize Marathon."

Mangyongdae is the where North Korea says Kim Il Sung was born.

Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of the current leader Kim Jong-un, is officially venerated in North Korea as the founder of the nation.

His birthday is April 15 and the marathon is one of many events staged to celebrate the anniversary of his birth.

Kim Il Sung died in 1994 but still has the title of "Eternal President" of North Korea.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.