Pound­ing the ground in Py­ongyang

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE -

yuy­ilei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Hu Jin­nan’s pas­sion for run­ning in­ter­na­tional marathons has taken him around the world. From New York City to Tokyo, he has crossed the fin­ish line in a dozen such events.

So, nat­u­rally, the Py­ongyang In­ter­na­tional Marathon was a chal­lenge too good to miss.

“I was tempted by the mys­tery of the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, and I just love run­ning marathons,” said the 37-year-old, one of many Chi­nese ath­letes who have taken part since the race was opened to am­a­teur over­seas run­ners in 2014.

Hu booked a three-day trip for the 2015 event through a Chi­nese travel agency. The pack­age cost about 5,000 yuan ($770) and in­cluded a roundtrip to Py­ongyang on Air Ko­ryo, ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion and en­try to the marathon.

When he ar­rived on April 11, he said he dis­cov­ered his fel­low guests at the ho­tel were al­most en­tirely Chi­nese. “I am the kind of per­son who is com­fort­able with wher­ever food or

Kang Xu 27, Beijing Jour­nal­ist with Fron­trun­ner mag­a­zine Has run more than 20 marathons, in­clud­ing Prague, Beijing and Shang­hai ac­com­mo­da­tion is of­fered up dur­ing a trip. So I did not make any spe­cial prepa­ra­tions,” Hu re­called.

The next day he rose at 6 am and took a shut­tle bus to the 60,000-seat Kim Il-sung Sta­dium to join more than 500 in­ter­na­tional run­ners at the start­ing line. (This year, the marathon started in Run­grado May Day Sta­dium, the largest arena in the world with a ca­pac­ity of 150,000, and re­port­edly at­tracted at least 1,000 run­ners from out­side the DPRK.)

The route through down­town Py­ongyang passes some ma­jor land­marks, in­clud­ing Kim Il-sung Univer­sity and the city’s Arch of Tri­umph. Pho­tog­ra­phy was al­lowed dur­ing the race, ac­cord­ing to Hu, but peo­ple were told to show “re­spect” to portraits and stat­ues of state lead­ers.

He said there were no se­cu­rity checks at the start­ing line and no por­ta­ble toi­lets, and that the rules for run­ners’ at­tire were unusual. For ex­am­ple, en­trants were told be­fore­hand not to use com­pres­sion wear un­der their suits be­cause “it is ad­verse to the tastes of the Korean peo­ple”, al­though he said that the dress code was not strictly en­forced.

In the end, Hu fin­ished out­side 3 hours 52 min­utes, al­most 16 min­utes slower than his per­sonal best but eight ahead of the event’s clos­ing mark, a rel­a­tively tough task for many am­a­teur run­ners.

“The or­ga­niz­ers lit­er­ally closed the gates to the sta­dium (where the race also fin­ished) af­ter four hours, and any run­ners af­ter that were not able to en­ter,” he said.

Hu, who works for a me­dia com­pany in Beijing, said his last­ing im­pres­sion is of the lo­cal spec­ta­tors. He said they were much more ac­tive and en­thu­si­as­tic than he ex­pected, in par­tic­u­lar the women and chil­dren in­side the sta­dium and along the marathon route.

“The men ap­peared to be a lit­tle bit up­tight, but the women and chil­dren were vo­cal in their sup­port all the time, even some­times shout­ing in Chi­nese. It looked like they en­joyed the race very much,” he said.

“It was amaz­ing to hear thou­sands of peo­ple cheer when you raced in­side the sta­dium.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Hu Jin­nan trav­els around the world to take part in var­i­ous com­pe­ti­tions, such as the marathon in Py­ongyang in April.

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