Would You Defy the U.S. Government to Run a Race in North Korea?

The marathon in Pyongyang saw 650 runners compete in 2015, including U.S. citizens. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
The marathon in Pyongyang saw 650 runners compete in 2015, including U.S. citizens. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

About 100 U.S. citizens defied a travel warning issued by the State Department and visited North Korea earlier this month to run a marathon celebrating the birthday of the regime’s founder Kim Il-sung.

The Americans who went to Pyongyang were thankful for their experience to engage with North Koreans who have lived under a totalitarian system for over 70 years.

The U.S. citizens who participated in the half marathon live in Beijing and around Asia.

Nicholas Bonner is co-founder of the Beijing-based company Koryo Tours, which brought in 300 foreign runners to the event.

This is only the second year that North Korea has allowed foreign runners in the Mangyongde Prize Marathon. As Bonner noted: “This is the biggest-ever total of U.S. visitors for one event.”

 

Runners take off at the marathon which was founded in 1981. (Image courtesey of of Koryo Tours Facebook)

Runners take off at the Mangyongde Prize Marathon, which was founded in 1981. (Image courtesy of of Koryo Tours Facebook)

Some outlets are calling this the world’s strangest marathon. The 650 runners were under constant surveillance and forbidden from taking pictures, though most foreign runners snubbed the ban and snuck in their smart phones.

The U.S. State Department “strongly recommends against” traveling to North Korea. It is a place where American citizens are often arrested and detained.

Patty Hunter, a 45-year-old American now living in Beijing, thought the risk was worth taking. She finished third in the half marathon, and was able to go up on the winner’s podium in front of 40,000 North Korean fans: “It was a cool experience, and very well-orchestrated, as you’d expect,” said Hunter, who is also the daughter of a Korean War veteran.

 

Children participate in the half marathon in Pyongyang. (Image courtesey of of Koryo Tours Facebook)

Children participate in the half marathon in Pyongyang. (Image courtesy of Koryo Tours Facebook)

Bonner told media outlets that if people “don’t believe in the value engagement brings, then don’t visit.” He claims: “Tourism is part of the process of change.”

Would you want to be part of history and run a race in North Korea?

 

 

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