As NK News first reported, North Korea held an unsuccessful marathon on Sunday in its capital, Pyongyang.
Even North Korea's notoriously unreliable propaganda outlets couldn't hide the failure. NK News quotes one propaganda mouthpiece as reporting that "240 male and female runners from the DPRK, Netherlands, Sweden, the Czech Republic, UK and other countries competed in marathon, half-marathon and 10km race and 5km race."
Two hundred-forty. The New York marathon involves 50,000 runners, and London, 40,000.
Correspondingly, Sunday's event proves that Kim Jong Un's regime remains a hermit kingdom.
Of course, it's not hard to understand why foreign or domestic runners wouldn't want to participate in Kim's latest pageant.
First off, while those living in Pyongyang are traditionally better off than their fellow citizens outside the capital, they don't exactly lead easy lives. And when one thinks about the energy needed to complete a marathon or half-marathon, it's not surprising that most North Koreans decided to stay home. Indeed, considering North Korea's scarcity of food supplies, the costs of running a marathon might well be catastrophic.
But North Korean runners would also have faced the risk that they might fail to reach the finish line. In turn, seeing as Kim's government has no qualms about sending hundreds of thousands of its own citizens to concentration camps, prospective marathon runners might well have decided that the best option was to stay home.
What about the absence of foreigners?
Well, I think the most likely answer here is that foreign marathon runners have decided the risks of going to Pyongyang are now too high. As one American visitor told the Guardian over the summer, "I wouldn’t mind seeing more of North Korea but honestly with the saber-rattling going on right now I think you’d almost have to be a lunatic to be an American and to roll out there."
Between that and Otto Warmbier's fate, the point is well made. Kim and his minions have total power to imprison and do much worse to visiting U.S. citizens. Even for the most adventurous of marathon explorers, visiting Pyongyang is now an exceptionally dangerous gambit. Were conflict to occur, a foreigner would be caught between American bombs and a fanatical regime.
Still, there is an alternative for those seeking a Korean October event that balances running with security. It's called the Seoul International Marathon. It attracts about 20,000 runners each year.