Her athletics background is impeccable. One-time nationally ranked in gymnastics, a former professional triathlete and a strong runner, Canadian Laura Walsh might have travelled the world and seen and experienced a lot. But nothing really prepared her for a 'mind blowing' trip to Pyongyang, North Korea. Walsh was specially invited by the country's athletics federation to present one of several marathon training seminars before the Pyongyang International Marathon on Easter Sunday. The experience of being one of the few foreigners to compete in the event (she took part in the half marathon), let alone speak in front of a North Korean audience, was an experience she won't forget. 'There are no tourists in Pyongyang and all the 150 foreigners who live there work for the embassies or the NGOs [non-governmental organisations]. It was a phenomenal experience,' says 36-year-old Walsh, a freelance athletics and fitness coach based in Hong Kong. 'When I was asked to conduct a seminar in Pyongyang, I quickly took up the opportunity because I knew it was rare for anybody to be there. North Korea has world-class marathon runners. I talked about technique and training methods used in the West. The North Koreans are trying hard to open themselves. They want the best in the world to go there.' The Pyongyang International Marathon - held on the birthday of the North's late founding leader Kim Il-sung on April 15 - was naturally won by a North Korean. Kim Jong-on, husband of the North Korean women's world marathon champion Jong Song-ok, won the men's race in a personal best time of two hours, 11 minutes and 48 seconds, while Chong Yong-ok won the women's race in a course record of 2:28.36. Some 20,000 North Koreans wildly cheered the 51 foreign runners who were allowed to compete in the ground-breaking event. It was also the first time that sponsored sport was allowed in the rigidly controlled country. Four international companies paid several hundred thousand US dollars to be associated with the event. Walsh clocked just over 1.5 hours in the half marathon, but her presence at the seminars was more prominent. Her own hour-long talk, given to a 100-strong audience comprising the country's elite distance runners and top athletics coaches, focused on differences in training methods between North Korea and the West. Then there was the race. 'It was the first time in the 14-year history of the race that foreigners were allowed to compete,' she says. 'It was a great experience just walking into the stadium and being cheered on by 70,000 spectators. The festivities later that night were incredible. There was huge pomp and pageantry and the North Koreans sure knew how to put on a show. 'It was a big race for them and they have fought so hard and were determined to make a success. It was a huge moment to be cheered on when I competed. I have blonde hair and I stood out. At the celebrations later that evening, there were 100,000 in the square celebrating Kim Il-sung's birthday. 'They threw a huge banquet and there was dancing, great food and music. There was a fireworks display. It was a big deal to the North Koreans. It was like their own Olympics. They tried really hard to host the marathon.' Walsh started her athletics career quite late. She took up gymnastics at 15 and had competed in the Canadian national championships until a spinal injury forced out of the sport. She later discovered triathlon and became good enough to finish 11th as a pro in the Panama City Half Ironman in Florida. She also finished 40th in the Hawaiian Ironman and gained a top-10 place in the Canadian Ironman. Her wide-ranging talents also include adventure racing and she has competed in the Mild Seven Outdoor Quest, an adventure series four-day stage race. But her experience in Pyongyang will count as one of the highlights of her career.