So, I try to portray myself to myself as a rational adult who makes rational decisions with great deliberation. I tell myself a lot of things. The truth is that if it’s a fairly big decision, I’ll cross a mental and emotional Rubicon and then that is usually that. I try to think an important decision through, but more often than not it’s my way of figuring out how I can justify the time, and more importantly to a grownup like me, and money such a decision will cost me. This isn’t to say I’m reckless, but there are some big decisions that just click no matter how much I try to hold off. Hell, that’s how I wound up running the Istanbul Marathon! So, it’s not all bad. It’s not cheap, either, but, what good does it do me to be a miser? Life’s too damned short. (Famous Last Words?)
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has existed almost since the conquest of the city by the Turks in 1453 AD/CE (831 AH), with the estimate of its construction taking place between 1455 and 1461 AD/CE (833-839 AH). Luckily for me, one of Istanbul’s main tourist attractions was about a fifteen minute walk from my hotel. So, having no excuse, I made my way there as a relatively quick and easy ‘to do’ on my list of touristy stuff.
A map for your frame of reference:
And so, after stretching my legs, in I went:
An entrance to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Abandon All Cash, Ye Who Enter! Ha ha, just kidding. Sorta.
And I found out was every bit the center of hustle and bustle it was made out to be. See for yourselves (and forgive your humble videographer?):
I wandered, happily so. Some may have a set agenda when coming to a place like this, but I was only to happy to get lost and just see what there was to see. There was a bit of everything – glassware, carpets & embroidered cloth, hookahs, t-shirts, suits, you name it! Best of all, the spice stalls inside the Grand Bazaar were interspersed throughout its enclosure rather than being combined into a single section. This had the added bonus of adding ‘oases’ of fragrance to what was an already wonderful atmosphere.
I finally came across a small shop selling futbol (soccer) jerseys. While my 13 year-old nephew plays the American version of the sport, I figured that a nice jersey from a Turkish team would still be a cool gift. (The jury’s still out on this.) I wound up picking a jersey representing Fenerbahçe Sports Club (Fenerbahçe, for short):
Fenerbahçe 2014 – Turkish League Champions
I picked this because I was informed by the young shop manager that they were the Turkish League champions that year. I was also informed that it would better for me to purchase a genuine Nike brand jersey for a more than reasonable cost. My definition of ‘reasonable’ differed from his greatly, of course. So, we haggled. He better than I. Of this I am sure as I walked away paying more than I thought was fair but one learns. I managed to rationalize that I was on vacation and that such things are part of the experience. Besides, I reasoned to myself, it was for my nephew. Still, I gotta tighten up my haggling game. Though, to be fair, I did do ok the day before purchasing a small carpet – but that’s another story.
On the way back, I passed another tourist site, the Burnt Column:
It was more impressive when Constantine the Great was on top. But that was a looooong time ago.
It was much more impressive centuries ago when it looked like this:
Before it became “The Burnt Column” it was the site upon which the statue of Constantine the Great stood.
After that, I went and grabbed lunch and walked by to my hotel room, biding my time and wondering what to do next. There are worse ways to spend a morning.
I set my alarm for 6 a.m., but that was of secondary importance. I already had a wake-up call: the muezzins’ first calls to prayer came at 5:45 a.m. and rang from at least three different mosques in my neighborhood. What’s more, I got almost five hours of rest the night before. I only got one before running in the 2012 Philly Marathon, so five hours felt like Heaven by comparison. I was up, showered, and even managed to down a light breakfast before getting ready to depart my hotel.
My home away from home.
A short five-minute walk took me to my destination: Sultanahmet Park. This is where the buses would come to pick us up to drive us to starting point of the race, which was across the Bosphorus Bridge on the Asian side of Istanbul. I got there a good 30 minutes early, thinking that was plenty of time for the 7 a.m. departure. What I saw was a pretty fair-sized crowd already milling about.
Sultanahmet Park, a gathering point for masochists.
And so, after even more people came, we were all treated to semi-frantically trying to cram ourselves into a series of buses and hoping praying that we wouldn’t get left. Being in a far away country, and one in which you don’t speak the language, will exacerbate one’s fears of your hosts’ organizational acumen falling short. But, these fears were unfounded. We got on, and were carried to the starting area at the Bosphorus Bridge in the city’s Üsküdar district (don’t ask me to pronounce it) and I even managed to make some new friends during the bus ride. Then we got to the starting point. It was actually more crowded and more impressive than I anticipated.
Out of the bus – It’s too late to turn back now.
The Bosphorus Bridge – The Starting Point. I’m here. It’s getting a little real.
I stretched out a bit and chatted with the Americans (and a German by way of Canada) from the bus when I ran into them again. At first, I tried to play off the whole thing in a light-hearted manner to battle my jitters.
Havin’ a real good time! Yeah, that’s it.
But then it started to hit me.
Uh, was this a good idea? I’m starting to wonder.
Then it really started to hit me.
MY GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?
But of course it was too late by then. I had to put away my phone and I tucked away my glasses, too. We lined up, heard some speechifying – sponsors and VIPs pay good money to underwrite these races, so, yinz’ll just have to wait ’til they’re done a-talkin’ – and then the Turkish national anthem. I didn’t understand a word of it, but it was pretty damned stirring all the same. This was a good thing. I needed all the adrenaline I could spare at that point. And then…we were off!
I didn’t have my camera, but the Istanbul Marathon website has a gallery that helps to fill in that long, long gap.
And they came, in their thousands.
And round the bend we went.
I am pretty sure I saw this guy at one point. Actually, I’m certain of it.
The odd part is that I don’t really have any strong memories of the race itself except for a fairly fast (for me) start and then the last 3k. It was a tiring, achy race before those last 3k, but I was managing ok. Then the 3k were basically uphill. No fair! By odd happenstance, I happened across this Twitter photo of myself ‘enjoying’ the final stretch of the race as we made our towards the finish at Sultanahmet Square.
I’m at the far left, forcing myself to run after walking at 1.5 to 2k of the final 3k. Once we closed in on the last few hundred meters I was able to muster enough energy for a last ‘kick.’ I know that’s a cheesy way to end a race, but it was oddly gratifying to know that I hadn’t pushed myself too hard during the race. There’s pushing, and then there’s damned near suicidal. I’ll leave the latter to someone else, thank you. And it wasn’t as if I was finishing ‘daisy fresh’ either.
The biggest problem with the finish was that they ended the race in a heavy tourist area. This meant that the race organizers were unable and unwilling to let us mill about the square immediately after finishing. Instead, we were fed through a ‘cattle chute’ that forced us to come to almost complete, dead stops. This is dangerous. You can’t just ‘power down’ after 26+ miles without risking serious cramping or other sorts of injuries. Luckily for me, I still had enough energy to make my way outta the chute and into the more open area of the square. I drank some water, and forced myself to eat some orange slices and a piece of bread. Odd as it might sound, I had no real appetite at that point. This was in part due to the glucose gels and sugar cubes that I ingested along the way. It also had to do with being to with that amount of running killing my appetite in the short-term. After my light post meal snack, I managed to convince someone to take my picture next to what’s known as the Theodosian Obelisk.
I don’t usually like how I look in pictures. This is a large exception. I was tired enough not to try too hard to pose, if only for one photo.
After I recovered a bit more, I went back and filmed a few seconds of my fellow marathoners finishing.
Afterwards, I kept walking to loosen myself up. I made to the nearby Starbucks and ran into the one other person that I knew from Harrisburg, PA that was running the race for the third time. The first time was during the race as we crossed the bridge. I kept up for about two or three miles until she grew weary of my slow hindquarters and proceeded to motor off. I then saw her again in the square with her in-laws, and then, finally at comfort coffee port known as Starbucks.
After that, I wandered into an English-language bookstore where my smelly, sweaty, half-delirious self engaged in a brief, animated, and perhaps slight manic conversation with some fellow U.S. & A. types. I don’t think the managers/owners quite knew what to make of me. Finally, I convinced the one nice lady who I want to say was originally from Canada but am not sure ‘cuz, y’know, I was exhausted, to take another post-race picture. This one was much more hammy.
Low blood sugar + endorphins = Wheeeeee!
After that, I made my way back to my hotel, cleaned myself up, and then took a nice, long nap. Then I got a call, explored, and eventually made my way to the Sah Bar (“Sah” is pronounced “Shah” by the way.) where I proceeded (to continue) to reward myself for all of my hard work.
That’s Sven in the background. Sven is a German by way of Canada. This means he apologizes exactly on time.
The service was good – and entertaining!
But all good things must come to an end. And so, we headed back to our respective hotels to sleep in after a long day. But not before getting to know some of the local canines (more on them in another post).
It was a pretty great way to end the night, actually.
And that was the end of one of the longest, most rewarding, and most enjoyable days of my life. May we all be so blessed in the days to come!