LAHORE, Jan 30: Thousands of people thronged the Qadhafi Stadium on Sunday for the first Lahore International Marathon in which athletes from 16 countries took part.

The people of Lahore treated the event as a major festival and the Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi said that its success would go a long way in boosting the image of the country abroad.

Sixty foreigners and 400 Pakistani athletes ran in the main 42.19 km marathon while the shorter 10 km and six km versions attracted 3,500 runners, including 15 foreigners, and over 10,000 respectively. Children and burqa-clad women also took part in the 6 km event.

The foreign athletes came from South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ukraine, Russia, Zimbabwe, UK, Belarus, Denmark, Tanzania, Sweden and India. Cash prizes of $100,000 in the main events were at stake.

The city government had made special arrangements for students of the junior and high schools to watch the event. The oldest participant in the 10 km race was Fauja Singh, 93.

The London-based Indian won the hearts of everyone by donating his prize money of $5,000 to a charity. He took part in the race with his three colleagues - Ajit Singh, 73, Amrik Singh, 70, and Harmander Singh, 45. He improved his previous best timing to 64 minutes from 68.

Fauja Singh has been a regular participant in marathons for three decades. The prize for him was announced by Chaudhary Pervez for his stunning performance.

"I want to break the record of a South African who took part in the race till the age of 97," Fauja Singh said, adding that he was happy to be in Pakistan and particularly in Lahore.

Rubab Raza, an international swimmer, said it was a fantastic event and she was sure that it would convey a very positive image of the country abroad. Rubab was to run in the 10 km race but missed it because of being late. Former international athlete Shazia Akhtar said the race would set a new trend in Pakistan and now people would have healthier events to watch.

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