The İstanbul Marathon is one of those that I can count on one of two continents. Turkey, and what used to be the Ottoman Empire, was where the East met the West. It was along the main trade routes, so everything went through here. It’s good to be in the right spot if you want to be important in history.
The run starts in Asia, crosses over the Bosphorus Bridge, and ends on the other side in Europe. I love a good race with an interesting bridge, but two continents make it even better. I scheduled this one two weeks after the Bagan Temple Marathon so I could do two in Asia on the same trip, and many people on the same Marathon Tours trip had just finished the Athens Marathon a week earlier.
Looking at the course, we’re barely in Asia. We start on the bridge, so within half a mile we’re out of Asia and over the water, and in about a mile we’re fully in Europe for the rest of the run.
The problem was staying on the European side. The route was really going to screw with traffic, so we had to get over to the Asian side early enough to avoid the early road closures. Our group went to the top of the highest hill on that side, just up the road from the start of the bridge, and waited for it to be close enough to drop us off at the start.
It was a chilly morning, which is just the conditions that I like for a run, so we wanted to stay on the bus as long as possible.
On the walk, I got to see another beautiful mosque. The are all over the place. You can’t throw a rock without hitting history, and the historical buildings are nice. Modern churches (of any faith) looks dowdy in comparison.
The race bags are very nice, and color coded to the event: 10k, 15k, or the marathon. I didn’t bring a bag since the finish line was a half mile from the Armada Hotel, where we were staying. I did use the bag to carry back souvenirs as my carry-on bag; it’s roomy enough to hold quite a bit and it’s shaped as a cylinder to make it easier to pack than the pita-style square bags.
The start area was one of the most unsecure I’ve ever experienced for a big event. I had to show my bib to get past the police at the official entrance, but when I got to the start line I ran into all sorts of spectators and vendors. Plenty of people had brought their family, obviously not participants, right to the start line. These people did not leave before the start, and even started walking across the bridge as we started. There was another line of people coming the opposite way on the bridge for the 4k fun run that would start later.
Before the Bosphorus Bridge
On the bridge I came upon the same Japanese man that I’ve seen on many other runs. He dresses in pink and carries a stuffed ape on his back. He was in Bagan too.
The first four miles were a bit precarious, even to the point that I was angry with the organizers. The 10k and marathon started at the same time, on a wide bridge, and then merged into narrow roads. There were plenty of people who apparently have never run in a mass event, which is almost also true, but this crowd seemed to be much more dangerous.
The water stops showed up without warning and were short. I missed the first one that was just past three miles. I was on the wrong side of the road, it was very crowded, and the weather was cold so I wasn’t in dire need. I was still angry with the organizers, so this incensed me even more. This isn’t a first event, and they advertised themselves with a gold certification from the IAAF.
Not only that, but the stops had 12 ounce bottles (or a metric size close) instead of cups. I would rather have bottles because I wear a race vest with a bottle pocket. Most people, however, take a few chugs and discard the rest. At the beginning of the race, this means that there are mostly full bottles rolling around in the running path. There are also bottle caps on their own. I don’t get what people are thinking when they disgard the caps like that. They certainly aren’t considering all the runners coming after them.
But, it gets worse. Some of the volunteers think they are being helpful by taking off the caps for the runners. IF you get one of those bottles, you have no way to re-cap it and save the bottle. This turns out to be important because the water stops are too far apart.
Aside from that, I was on a good run, and at a pace far ahead of a personal best. I wasn’t putting out that much effort and kept trying to slow it down, but I felt really good. It chilly and a rolling course. I didn’t want to jinx it, so I delayed a PR decision to the halfway point. Feeling good now doesn’t mean feeling good later and you can’t bank time.
Somewhere around the point where we were passing Taksim Square, I noticed some dogs on the course. They were behaving better than some of the runners. They were running in straight lines along the axis of travel, and they even had bibs. I heard from others that one dog ran the 15k and got to within 100 meters of the finish line before he started walking, at which point the crowd went crazy to cheer him on to finish strong.
I was still running well by the time I reached the old Roman aqueducts, somewhere past 11 miles. It was starting to look like a good day.
But, a half mile later it was all over for me. Something turned in my stomach and I really needed that porta potty break. This has happened before and a porta potty visit takes care of it. This time, it didn’t. I tried to get back into running but I was developing a cramp and the intestinal distress was getting worse. The problem was that there were very few porta potties on the route, and usually a line for them. With all the stops and the lines, I was tightening up.
The middle of the race was awful for me. I tried to get back into it, even run walking, but I was starting to think I might have to quit. I’ve thought that in a few races, but not the sort where the course and weather are perfect for me. Almost everything lined up just right for me this race, and that’s really the frustrating part. I have no idea what caused my problem—my breakfast was my usual straight peanut butter and fruit. But, why doesn’t matter when I’m in the middle of it.
This part of the course was on Kennedy Caddesi (named for the US President Kennedy), the main road to the airport that was completely closed. We ran out toward the airport and turned around to come back. Although we could see the Bosphorus, especially all the ships stacked up waiting to pass through, it was a very boring and un-scenic part of the course. In my misery I had nothing beautiful to distract me. I’d run through most of that already.
At the turn around I started to get myself mentally sorted. Part of my problem was that I was despondent over a PR slipping away from me, and that’s the danger about thinking about those things too soon. The universe doesn’t owe me a PR, and my usual rule is that I can’t think about that before Mile 18. I broke my rule and let it get into my head and mess with me.
I was doing well at the end, although suffering from tight muscles and tendons, and motored in to the turn off Kennedy Caddesi into Gülhane Park, which looked quite nice despite the washed out picture I got with my iPhone.
The formed concrete statues in the park were fantastical. Even though I wanted to just be done, I stopped to take this picture.
For the past five miles, I had been leapfrogging a woman and I was using her as my average pace. As long as I generally stayed ahead of her, I knew I was doing okay. Stopping to take this picture let her catch up, though, and I couldn’t have that. I had nothing to prove and no reasonable goal, but I was going to finish before she did. I take the wins I can get. I had to get going to put some distance between us again.
I also stopped to take a picture of my feet in Europe, standing over the stripe that marked the full marathon course (the 10k and 15k had similar stripes next to this one but they had different finish areas). I’ve almost run a marathon on two continents, and there’s not much doubt that I’ll make it the final 500 meters.
The woman got pretty close and she was hanging out about 10 meters behind me, which made me think she was waiting for the surge. I decided to step it up a little to demoralize her before she got the chance to pass me. Thinking about it now it sounds awful, since neither of us is really competing against each other, but at the moment I didn’t even want her to try to pass me, and I wanted her to know that before we saw the finish line. Yeah, that still sounds awful, but it’s what I did. I was getting to those finish chute porta potties first.
The rest of the run was a bit dangerous. There were lots of police but none of them doing anything, and the locals were tired of the city being cut in half by this run so pedestrians were flooding the course wherever they could find a break in the caution tape. I had to dodge baby strollers and huge families crossing the street with no apparent urgency or agenda, and I had to do it with police watching it while they smoked.
Finish I did, not looking pretty and happy to be done. I had a bad day with a lot of suffering and the last 250 meters had frustrated me with the poor organization and general lack of motivation by the police. I didn’t have a chance to enjoy that I was running into the Hippodrome of Constantinople and was right next to the Blue Mosque
The chute was mercifully short, about 100 feet. They didn’t hand out medals, but someone handed me a bag. I looked in the bag before I left the not-so-secure area and me medal was in it. I thought that was pretty low class. I don’t have to have someone put it around my neck, but I like to see it as I finish. That’s a small gripe, but they had prepared me to see the worst.
I didn’t leave a bag with bag check, but everyone else complained about that since they had to backtrack on the wrong side of the course, and there was some snafu with them printing finisher certificates on demand.
I didn’t bother to take out my medal and I got away from the race right away. I sat down and a cat came over to sit on my lap, which happened quite a bit on this trip. I didn’t figure this out until later, but the plastic bag I was carrying looks like the plastic bags the old ladies carry loose cat food in. The next day I’d see how the cats stay so fat: woman put out handfuls of cat food. I thought the cats liked me when they really just thought I was bogarting the kibble. Even though they were looking for food, many were happy for pets and scratches.
A cat for every runner
Once I got back to the hotel and took a shower, I found the medal at the bottom of the bag (under a banana), removed it from its plastic, and had a look. The medal is nice, but after the nice flag-design ribbon with the Bagan Temple Marathon medal, I was disappointed in the corporate-sponsor design. It would take the rest of the afternoon for me to get over these petty things, but I’m still wondering if I ever want to do a big city event again. These problems aren’t unique to this event.
The night I felt much better, mostly because I listened to many other runners complain about the same things. That’s unusual. There’s often something wrong with an event, but the multitude of problems in this event is unusual. Experienced runners can forgive quite a bit because they’ve been around to see how good it can get and how other events handle common situations. They know how first time events can be chaos. But, I only felt a little better because I figured I wasn’t just grumpy with no cause.
Thom Gilligan of Marathon Tours made is all better by taking a bunch of runners to Seven Hills Restaurant, a slightly upscale joint but worth it for the views of the Bosphorus, the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia. That purple light in the background is the Bosphorus Bridge that was the start of the run.
The Hagia Sophia
The Blue Mosque
The panorama is even more striking
Overall, I thought the course and weather was perfect, but the organization and support was dreadful. İstanbul is a great city to visit and Marathon Tours put on a great program, but I don’t recommend this race until they fix those problems. There are a lot of marathons in cool places who can do it well, so find one of those instead.