Update: Despite ban, two women unofficially ran the “I run Iran” marathon Saturday according to an AFP reporter in Tehran.

Earlier story: Iran will be holding its first running marathon next year, in a move by Iranian authorities and the event founder to improve Iran’s image in the West. The only problem is that women will be barred from participating.

Dutch entrepreneur and former travel enthusiast and backpacker Sebastian Straten, 42, wanted to create the “I Run Iran Marathon,” which will be held April 9, after he fell in love with Iran during a backpacking trip in 2005, to help in “building bridges between nations and people,” he told Iran media outlet Mehr News Agency.

“I wanted to see the country for myself, not by the stereotype images I often saw on Western television,” Straten said.

“I expect it to have a positive impact on the image the West has of Iran. It is more than a marathon. It is opening the Persian gates to tourism, to show the real beauty and treasures of Iran.”

Straten has stated that women will not be allowed to participate in this first “limited edition” marathon which will start in the historic city of Shiraz and end in the well-known and legendary city of Persepolis, the Persian Empire’s ancient capital city.

The success of this first marathon will allow for opportunities for women to participate in future marathons, Straten said.

Iran’s barring of women from spectating and participating in sporting events has been a controversial topic, particularly in the recent case of Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian law student who was jailed for attempting to watch a volleyball match.

Of the 400 spaces available in the marathon, 23 Americans, fifteen Britons, 15 Frenchmen, and two Canadians have already signed up according to the “I run Iran” website registration page.

The I Run Iran Marathon website also states that the event aims to help improve and raise awareness about the current endangered status of Iranian cheetahs with the help of the Iranian Cheetah Society.