A week after the Athens Marathon and all its history, I was in Istanbul for the only inter-continental marathon  (that I am aware of).  Clive, my mate who had been to Athens with me, was also along for the trip, having been to Albania in the week between the two and had a holiday.  As with Athens, the first challenge was getting registered.  Having flown in on the Friday afternoon I thought we had time to get to the registration from the hotel before it shut that evening.  However, a longer than expected journey coupled with missing the poor signage to the expo building resulted in our arrival 4 minutes after last entry.  (I wasn't alone in being refused).  That night we picked up the breaking news of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

The next morning I had a short, 35 minute, run around Istanbul - actually crossing the finish line a day early as I encircled the Blue Mosque, and covered what would be the final 2 kilometres of the race and passing two other runners in Athens Marathon T-shirts - with a knowing nod and thinking I am clearly not alone in seeing the logic of doing both events in a week whilst in the "area"!  Run done, breakfast eaten, it was then back to the Expo and this time I collected my race number etc.  I was impressed to find it was only 6 numbers different to Athens - 1191 (Athens was 1197).  I also found my name on the large display with all the marathon runners names - albeit I was near the top of a column making the photo a challenge.  Clive had had a more chilled morning wondering around the Sultanahmet area, looking for the route and finish.  We headed up there again later so I could show him and he had the chance to cross the finish line too - something he wouldn't repeat not being known for his running!
Istanbul Marathon 2015


Left - Queuing for the buses beneath Aya Sofya

Below: In the starting pen - Bosphorus Bridge ahead and the red balloons are the pacers all near each other

Marathon day and it was handy the hotel being so close to the finish, which doubled up as a collection point for runners to transport us to the start.  The usual queues for the Basilica Cistern and Aya Sofya were replaced by a huge queue of runners at 7am.  I briefly chatted to some French participants, offering condolences given the terror attack in Paris two days earlier. In a country bordering Syria, taking part in the event made me feel some sense of standing up to the terrorists and showing we won't be beaten.  Whilst Istanbul is some distance from the Syrian border, the presence of much more security than I've seen at any other race was a stark reminder.

The start was on the Asian side of Istanbul just before the Bosphorus Bridge - one of the two crossings between the continents.  Somehow, it had been closed to traffic, as had the entire route.  Having seen the bedlam of Istanbul traffic and drivers, this was a fete in itself.  We would run on some of the city's busiest routes.  The start area was somewhat chaotic.  Firstly, everyone was getting a selfie with the bridge.  (You cannot walk across the bridge any other time so even for locals this is a rare opportunity).  I then dropped my race bag and battled through the runners to the toilet queue.  A little agitated by some non traditional queue tactics by some runners (I am too British!) and amazed by two cars trying to drive through the packed area, I successfully used the facilities and battled through the masses back to the marathon starting pen.  The start had three pens - the marathon, the 15km and 10km races.  Within that there was no breakdown of estimated times.  This left the random image of the pace setters being lined up out of sequence and near enough alongside each other.  I started chatting to a fellow Brit, who was equally frustrated by this disjointed start.  Welcome to Asia! (Possibly an unfair comment on other nations I've not visited).

Finding my name at registration on the marathon wall

Lots of frenzy in the build up to the start and support for stopping Violence against Women - a very positive message in the Islam world.  9am and we began - the most chaotic start with it as not only did runners head off, so did many locals who had travelled with runners and decided they'd take advantage of the opportunity to cross the Bosphorus Bridge by foot, in their usual every day clothing, oblivious to the runners!  The 15km and marathon runners merged immediately, resulting in a lot of slow runners being mixed in.  A fellow English speaker expressed his frustration behind me with a few choice words, which were how I felt!  The chaos was further exasperated as everyone was taking photo's as they crossed the bridge - some even stopping to do so!  The novelty of running between two continents was being embraced, in a way I'd not quite anticipated!!  On the other hand, a ship passing under the bridge acknowledged the event with a horn sounding in support.

At 2km's we passed the large "Welcome to Europe" sign, and I even got the camera out as it wasn't a picture I'd be taking again anytime soon. The chaos of the bridge complete, I finally managed to run more freely as we climbed from the bridge and then dropped down to head through Besikitas and a designated cheering point.  The crowds weren't exactly out in force, but they had some drummers and music. We headed along towards the Galata Bridge, which takes you over the Golden Horn.  Clive was awaiting me on the approach to the bridge but never saw me or vice versa.  (The first time he's never seen me when supporting).  After an hour and a half he decided he must have missed me, having had no updates from the app that was linked to my timing chip.  

Below - going through the 5k point

There was a good crowd as we came off the Galata Bridge and headed west along the Golden Horn valley, passing the 10km finish line.  As we headed along this out and back stretch, the 15km turned at around 12.5km's, with the marathon heading further west before turning and then rejoining the 15km runners.  Much about this point a cat or kitten was meowing on the sidelines - not in support but because the poor thing was stuck trying to get over a metal fence.  A runner took pity and went to its rescue - to the applause of the runners around.  Now mixed with slower 15km runners for 2km, we were parted again as they headed for their finish and we turned south for the long hill climb through the Valens Aqueduct - a great landmark to run through.

Down the other side and through an underpass, where the local traders had very slow business but didn't come out and cheer us either.  We then took a few rights and left turns to bring us onto the coast road westbound alongside the  Marmara  Sea and cross the halfway point.  Shortly after this the front runner passed us on the return.  The next 15km's were, to be blunt, boring.  The route was uninteresting, near enough flat (I like a little variation, even if a gentle sloop occasionally) and gave us view of the busy shipping channel and a lot of concrete.  But it was just the lack of supporters - I could have easily counted them they were so few and pretty quiet when we did see them - my thanks to some noisy German's at one point around 33kms!  

Welcome to Europe

I had banished any great time after the first two miles (over 17 minutes alone due to the aforementioned chaos!) and at halfway had taken over 1 hour 47 minutes.  I didn't feel very motivated - maybe the excessive level of oily food in the preceding week and actually having been pretty chilled out had not helped, on top of the second half of the route not inspiring me.  I also believe having not seen Clive at either of our anticipated points had not helped.  I did see a handful of other Brits running and a couple of supporters.  Thankfully, when I wasn't expecting it, Clive appeared at around 38km.  It turned out he'd missed the second point because he'd waited so long at the first and then been un able to get near the finish area when he initially tried too as he had a backpack and was considered a security risk. As I passed him I challenged him to a race to the finish. (He got to take the shortest route).  I won!

The final few kilometres take you along the coast road beneath the shadow of Topkapi Castle, before a sharp turn into Gülhane Park with a short sharp rise before hitting the final kilometre in the park.  You then exited the south side and had a hill climb for 300 metres to Sultanahmet square, where you ran right through the middle of what is usually a cross road junction full of tourists beneath the shadow of the Aya Sofya and Blue Mosque's.  The local's seemed less impressed as it was, apparently, taking tourists away.  The final section was better supported (They'd allowed them it turned out after Clive's attempts) and I reached the line only 40 second slower than in Athens. 3:54:35.  However, given the much flatter course, this wasn't anything too spectacular.  It was a warm day, but not as warm as Athens and we'd had more cloud cover.  I just didn't feel I had any mojo!  Likely the somewhat worn out trainers I was wearing didn't help - no bounce left and they remained in Istanbul in a bin, their running days well and truly over! (And created space for a bottle of wine to bring home instead).

Security presence near the finish area

Passing Clive at around 37-38km’s

The finish area was a swift affair - you were literally a metre over the line and they thrust your goody bag into your hand- handed a bottle of water and you emerged into the throng of awaiting friends and family.  The medal was in the goody bag for you to self award!  The only positive was when I was nearing the baggage bus with my bag on it (these too were not parked up in numerical order!!) as I diverted to a bin, a volunteer caught me up with my bag having spotted my race number.  He won volunteer of the day award.  I located Clive at our agreed meeting point and we exchanged anecdotes about our morning's adventures. He had walked 9 miles in his minimally successful supporter role - a fair distance given the lack of success he'd had for reasons already mentioned. However, he was there and that was the main thing.

Left: Clive waiting for Lucas after the finish

Right: Lucas & Clive

Whilst it was far from the highlight of my marathon career, when put into context of what else is going on around the world and the continued development Turkey makes as a nation, I was proud to be part of it and experience such an event in a different cultural setting.  In the two years since I visited Istanbul the first time, the progress was evident.  To close down the roads they had and put on such an event with the political situation so much closer is to be commended and it is evident they are a nation determined to gain global events, such as the Olympic & Paralympic Games.


What stood out though was the back of one runners t-shirt just before we started - on it was:

Mama - 31 Aug 2015

Papa - 3 Aug 2015

Paris - 13 Nov 2015

Istanbul was dedicated to those brutally murdered in Paris two days before. In solidarity we run.