Seoul: Having threatened to bomb the United States and warned foreigners to leave South Korea due to an impending thermonuclear war, North Korea said on Wednesday it was readying for a marathon to celebrate its founder’s birthday.

The North’s state news agency said a big contingent of foreign runners was expected from countries including Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ethiopia as well as 600 North Koreans at the April 14 race, which is recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

“I think enthusiasm for the upcoming tournament is running high among local marathoners and their coaches as never before,” the KCNA news agency cited Ham Chang-hyok of the Sports Ministry as saying.

This is the 26th time the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon, named after a hill revered for its association with the country’s founding hero, Kim Il Sung, has been held.

The men’s event was won by Ukrainian Oleksander Matviychuk last year and North Korean Kim Mi-gyong won the women’s event.

It is not known if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose portly frame would appear to suggest he is not a keen runner, would attend the event.

Kim is noted for his love of basketball and recently hosted former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman in the capital, Pyongyang.

The anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the current leader, is on April 15 and is usually marked which a big military parade.