Runners participate in the 2014 edition of the Pyongyang Marathon.
'Ebola fears' halt Pyongyang marathon for outsiders
03:40 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Distance runners looking for an unconventional challenge will have to look beyond the Korean peninsula for now – North Korea has barred foreign participants from April’s Mangyongdae Prize Marathon, held in the capital, Pyongyang.

Citing fears of the spread of Ebola, North Korean officials have slapped a ban on runners – both professional and amateur – from overseas. The marathon is going ahead, but only for locals.

Koryo Tours, the Beijing-based travel agency that specializes in trips to the reclusive nation, told CNN that they had been informed of the decision and were in the process of canceling the some 465 applications they were processing for the spring race.

Last year was the first time that the marathon had been opened to foreign amateurs. Only about 30 foreign amateurs ran the full marathon that time, Will Philipps, a participant in the race, wrote in an article for CNN last April.

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Koryo said they had brought 125 runners to that event, which included 10 km and half-marathon races.

North Korea closed its borders to international tourists in October 2014 over Ebola concerns. The regime has previously imposed border restrictions over health concerns, such as the 2003 SARS epidemic.

“The imposition of this measure means that, despite having taken tens of thousands of tourists to North Korea since our first trip in 1993, Koryo Tours has been unable to take any tourists to North Korea since last October,” the tour group’s founder Nick Bonner told CNN.

He added that the agency still intends to host a 10 km charity “fun run” in Pyongyang in June, and for “more serious runners,” the company will host the first-ever half marathon in the Mount Paekdu area, in the north-east of the country, in August.