Food, The Deepest Subway & The Race
The Health Centre
Some how Andy and the one guide decided that before the run I needed one of the state issued hair cuts, so off we went to the health and beauty centre housed in a 4 story building and serviced 10-000 people per day. The complex consists of shower and bath rooms, saunas, massage facilities, beauty salons and hair salons.
In we went for the normal “official” tour and then into the hair salon. On the wall was a massive poster of 15 official hairstyles that I could choose. After much debate and old guy who had just come out, finally decided on the one I should get. There was quite a lull in action and then women appeared, the lets say elder pro of the joint was called and the circus began. Wash, cut, massage, shave perfume and a good neck slap and finally I was given the official look and stamp of approval and ready to be let loose on the streets of Pyongyang.
There are various types of meals that we were treated to and I must admit that everyone was really great. The food is a lot different in flavour to the close neighbour China, but similar in other ways. There were hot pots, table top duck barbeque, but then the traditional fare. One sits down at the table and in front of you is about 20 little brass bows, each with some type of food in it, roots, meat, Tofu, fish , vegetables, plus some sauces. This is then followed by rice and a broth. In a way it was really difficult to site and be fed this absolute show of opulence when one is aware of what is going on just the other side of the plate of glass you are looking out of.
The World’s Deepest Subway
As part of our orientation Andy and I were taken on quite a few lets say special trips of discovery and in a way to portray that society is totally normal and that Pyongyang and N-Korea is exactly the same as any other country as no citizen ever need want for any –thing, we have it all. So the underground here we come. It is said to be the deepest underground in the world. 100 meters down we went on an escalator in to the bowls of the earth down this clear white tube. The one thing that stood out to us was that there were absolutely no advertising, just blank white walls. Once we got down to the platform, the walls were adorned with massive mosaic pictures of over 70 meters in length. Suddenly, in rattled the train. An ancient old coach, probably 50 years plus. The people streamed out like ants as the next group loaded in. we then hopped on to travel a few stations. The train was packed with local folks all looking very conscious of us, but not at all engaging a women stood and offered me her place, I tried to refuse and remained standing, but a murmur ensured from the crowd and I had to accept the seat as a visitor.
It was an early start on an 8 degree morning. A quick cup of coffee – that’s all the nerves would allow. Its was a bit of a panic, a quick into the mini-bus and off too the stadium. We arrived there and the masses were already gathering, I have never seen so many in one group in utter silence, with such order just quietly moving into position. We then entered the stadium and the vibe hit us, thousand upon thousands clapping, chanting as the energy grew. We were separated from the N- Korean so called pro runners; they started an hour after us on their own. We were the rabble, the amateurs who went off first, needles to say we were lapped by the androids. We were all huddled together in the middle of the stadium a cold 8 degree morning. Then the gun fired, everyone lurched forward, we though out of the blue the race was on, but we were quickly stopped by a wall of white coated marshals. Finally we found out that that was a 10 minute warning shot – ok we thought so when the” AK” rattles off we go. Finally the second shot rang our and away we went, the 10km run the 21 km run and the 42 km run all at once all on the same route, its was going to get interesting and so it did, but what a jol. The best was my no was 1 and Andy was 2 for the race.
The 42 km Race
It was 4 laps of 10 km plus a bit. The rules were simple. If you tire or get injured during the race and can’t continue, you stop and wait where you are. Roll up your number and wait- You will be collected. Then the most important thing is every 10km split if they feel you won’t make the cut they will pull you off. Then at exactly the 4 hour mark the gates to the stadium will be locked and if you did not get there in time you are locked out and miss the ceremony.
The laps were hard and fast on this flat route through the city of Pyongyang. The streets were lined with local folk on both sides high five-ing you as you passed. It was just head down and grind, as I didn’t want to be counted out. My first 10 km was 48 minutes that was great as I then banked 12 minutes. The second was 52 minutes, now I had another 8 min in the pocket. Each lap was getting harder as you worked the whole way round on this flat track. That last lap as I ran into the stadium I will never forget. The place was going off its head, a soccer game was on and we were doing our last 400 meters round the stadium, what a vibe. Then finally to cross the line and get presented with your finishing town as the crows shouted and cheered , one has to fight back the tears of emotion.