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.
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.
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.
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.
But then it started to hit me.
Then it really started to hit me.
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.
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.
— Elif Özgen (@elfozgn_) November 16, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!