Running 15k at Istanbul Marathon

To be honest, I seriously decided not to get into the starting line.

It was almost 7am in my hotel room at Çemberlitaş, the heart of old Istanbul. It was comfortably warm and dry, with a cup of coffee. Beyond the window is the darkness night of Istanbul winter. It was raining, and according to the weather forecast, the temperature is below 10 degree Celsius. How do you expect me to get out of the hotel and walk to Haghia Sophia for our shuttle bus? And running under this weather? Forget it!

But then, when I put my cup of coffee, I found a piece of paper on the table. On it written the famous mantra for every long distance runner: “Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever”. Yes, I came to Istanbul to run from Asia to Europe. Through the Bosphorus strait. The rain and cold probably temporary, but the pride of running through Bosphorus is forever.

Little that I know about the pain of running in the winter.

Marathon Race Expo

“So you are here, flying from Asia, for the Marathon?” Gülay, our walking tour guide looked surprised. We took a city walking tour a day before through Istanbul’s historical building.

“Yes I am”, I said.

“It is the only time of the year where Bosphorus Bridge open for pedestrian”, Gülay, our tour guide told us. “It was possible to walk through the bridge at any day before. But due to some suicide and other incident, it is no longer possible. Good luck with your run.”

Light drizzle welcome me as I open the door of our hotel. I charged forward, careful on the slippery pedestrian. The disposable plastic raincoat provided by the organizer did well to keep me dry, but did poorly to keep me warm. I was soon joined by many others wearing the same disposable raincoat, the other runners, as we walk to Haghia Sophia.

Waiting under the Rain

There was already long queue of runners queuing up at Haghia Sophia. It was indeed a different sight compared to our walking tour a day before. Not many people took picture. Instead the chatter is full of running experience, at least from the one that I can understand.

The air feels a bit colder when you stop walking and just standing there. Many people, myself included shake our legs or just move around just to shake of the cold, which made worst by never ending drizzle. To try to forget the cold, I started a conversation with a fellow person behind me.

“Where was your last run”, I asked one of the runners

“Tehran Marathon”, he answered

“Iran?”, I asked in wonder

“Yep……”, he said. Few buses pulled over near the front of the queue

“Wow, I would love to run in there. Good luck with your run”, I said

“You too”, he said. The queue has started to move towards.

The bus provided temporary relieve from the cold. We drove through quiet Istanbul street, passing through roadblocks being set up to secure the running route. In fact, I feel that the bus was backtracking our running route, kind of like a preview. We passed the bridge over Golden Horn, through the running route in Karakoy and Beksitas. The water station along the road is still being set up, including one gate of Vodafone, the event’s main sponsor. And finally, we reach the bridge, the Bosphorus Bridge connecting Asia and Europe.

Our bus stop right on the other side of the Bosphorus bridge, on the Asian side. And with it also goes our place of warmth. The fact that we now have sunlight does nothing to the weather, raining and chilling.

I walk around the starting line to look for the bag drop. Found the bag drop bus for 10k, around 20 of it, followed by 42k. And that’s it. No bag drop for 15k?

“The other side of the street”, one of the organizer’s staff told me. “Right at the end of the road”

“Thanks”, I said. Walking to pass some 30 buses was not fun, but at least it kept me moving than standing still and freeze.

Clear Sky Ahead

What happen after the bag drop is something that no training can prepare you. We are again standing still under the rain and cold, waiting for the starting time. Only then I feel that my shoes and socks were wet, soaked by the rain. Any long distance runners know that wet shoes and socks are recipe for very painful blisters. It will be a painful run.

Relieve come when finally the flag off ceremony started. We started singing a song which I think national anthem, in Turkish. One by one, we throw or disposable rain coat aside, myself included. No gun shot heard but the pack has finally moved. Slowly at first, getting faster and faster. And finally I passed under the starting gate. Istanbul Marathon has begun.

Running on Bosphorus Bridge was really a one-in-a-lifetime experience. The strait is so big, well over 1 km wide, and is a major shipping lane. Big cargo ship will pass under your feet, under the bridge, just like when I cross it. From the highest point you can see the hilly part of Istanbul’s European side, which made an interesting terrain.

The bridge itself shakes as thousands of runners trampled through, just like several 18-wheelers passing by. Some people stopped in the middle to take picture of this magical moments. However, noone can stand still for too long, as the strong winds that blow was very cold and will make you shiver, no matter how long one has run.

Bridge Stampede

It was close to 2 km mark when we finally off the bridge and turned left. The route was getting dull compared to Bosphorus Bridge experience, so I started to pay attention to fellow runners around me. I ended up following groups of runners with similar shirts. They sing and chat together, and although I don’t understand what they are singing, it helped to pass the time. Some of them have the word “Coach” written on their T-shirt.

And then I heard voices behind me. A group of runners were pushing someone in wheelchair, asking for a way to pass. The coach and his runners spontaneously clapping and shouting words of encouragement. I don’t know what words to say, so I just clap.

The route become more interesting once we turned into the main road of Besiktas. We reached the first water station not far from 5 km mark. They only have water, and blocks of sugar. I took 2 of it, and spit half of it. I think eating sugar is just too much even during a run. There are no sport drinks available.

I was still tagging along with the coach and his team as we turn into a downhill. It was a long downhill, with wet slippery road from the morning rain. Instead of speeding up, I choose to be a bit careful while hoping my knee won’t give up.

Some time later, on the left side, there are a big European-style gate. Several guards manned the security post in front of it, so it must be a very important building. My brain must be freezing from the cold and lack of oxygen, because it took me a while to realize what building it is. It is the gate of Dolmabahçe palace, the palace of the late Ottoman Empire.

From Besiktas, the running route continue to Karakoy, mostly known for Galata Tower and Galata bridge that pass throught he Golden Horn. We didn’t pass through Galata Tower, but we did cross the Golden Horn through Galata Bridge. Nike, one of the main sponsor, set up spectators booth, stage and music on the bridge that made the run more like festival than a sport event. It is definitely a relieve for the sore feet in the 2nd half of the run.

After the bridge and the fanfare, the real test of mental game begin. First, the fellow runners in 10k category has finally reached their finish line, while for us the 15k runners took another road to continue. Not far from the branching, we can see the 15k finish line, across the street from where we are. So close, yet still 5k away, as we need to continue along the Golden Horn for 2.5km, before taking the U-turn to the finish line. The sun has getting higher, and my wet socks has caused painful blister on my feet. The sighting of the finish line only make the run feel harder.

The Finish Line

For the rest of run I was running at autopilot mode. I kind of missed the beautiful scenery of Golden Horn, at least until I arrived in the next water station. Thankfully they have cold sponge, and apple! Yes, someone is actually peeling fresh apple for the runners. Whoever he is, I thank him for the fresh apples.

Powered by the apples, I took the U-Turn and run the final 2.5k of the run behind group of people pushing a wheelchair. We were joined by a group of pacers, which we stick until we cross the finish line.

The blister in my feet has become unbearable that I decided to take off my shoes and limping to collect the finisher medal. The cold pavement of Istanbul winter actually helped to numb the pain as I walk away from the finish area with a thought: If I decided to take the Full Marathon, will I be able to finish the race in the cold winter? Definitely not with wet socks, I hope.

Finisher 15k

Not so Royal Seal Anymore

Former Seal of the Sultan

The inscription above is the seal of the Sultan of Ottoman Empire, or Tughra. Each Sultan has its own Tughra, but generally follow the same pattern as in the picture. The symbol is actually the Sultan’s name, written in a beautiful calligraphy. Each line depicts one or more words, as seen in below animation.

Baba66, Tugra Mahmuds II, CC BY-SA 3.0

You will find a lot of different Tughra in Topkapi Palace, the palace of Ottoman Empire. Nowadays, I think the symbol is used as the mark of Ottoman Empire and Turkey in general, just like the restaurant where we ate.

Written in response to WordPress Photo Challenge: Names

The Most Popular 2016 Words

In Response to WordPress Discover Challenge:

And so, at the final day of 2016, the final sunrise, and soon going to be the final sunset, this is the recap of words in 5 most visited post in 2016.

Favorite Words 2016

My travel scene in 2016 has been amazing. It has seen my come back to Scuba Diving after 5 years of hiatus. The underwater world rejoice, and the Manta Ray spread their wings to greet me. And Bali is still awesome.

But nothing compares to our family trip to Turkey, the run across Bosphosurs bridge from Asia to Europe, the hot air balloon ride, and the first snow experience for me and my son.

Wishing another great travel year for 2017.

Turkey Trip 2016

The news on Turkey is barely encouraging few hours before our departure. Just 5 days ago, a bomb blast rocked a city near Syrian border. Well, the city is actually quite far from Istanbul and Goreme, our 2 main destination. But even if you googled Istanbul, there were 3 bombs and 1 attack in the first half of 2016.

And to add more to the situation, Turkey are still in the state of emergency following the failed coup in July 2016. The state of emergency is expected to stay until January 2017.

So, why are we going after all?

First, and this is what we are counting on, the media often over-report a certain situation that is not really accurate, just like we learn from recent US presidential election. I have checked with several Turkish friends who lives in Istanbul. The situation wasn’t as bad, although most of them recommend to avoid tourist crowd.

Second, the fear created by point 1 above has created a low tourist season in Turkey. This in turns results in everything being sold at a discount, mainly hotel and local tour. For example, we were able to book a family room in 3-star hotel in the heart of old Istanbul within 10 minutes walk from Haghia Sophia for 213 Euro for 3 nights, breakfast included. This also include 1-way airport transfer and half-day city tour for 3 adults.

Night view of Bosphorus Bridge

Third, and my main reason for the trip, is to join Istanbul Marathon. Why Istanbul, you may ask. Because, it is the only event in which you can run from Asia to Europe, through Bosphorus bridge, which is normally closed for pedestrian. This will be once-in-a-lifetime run where you can run between 2 continent.

So here we are, sitting at the airport waiting lounge, anxious to wait for the boarding call and start our Turkey trip.

Post-trip edit: Our guess of security thankfully turns out to be true. While most public place such as Ataturk Airport and Grand Bazaar was guarded by armed guard, we still feel safe walking around Istanbul street. Even at night, there are still few women walking alone on the street, a thing that I use to measure security of an area.

Not a Tourist, Not a Backpacker