Monday, November 23, 2015

Istanbul Marathon 2015...

Event: Istanbul Marathon 2015
Venue: Bosphorus Bridge, Istanbul, Turkey
Date: 15 November 2015
Time: 9.00AM
Distance: 42.195KM (42.51KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Kinvara 7
By Frank

Though it’s a distance that needs to be respected utmost, the 42.195KM marathon distance is no longer a distance I favour the most as it requires too much speed and strength, 2 things that I can no longer find balance in me. But come every year, I just need to run a good marathon at the fourth quarter of the year to get myself qualify for the Comrades Marathon the following year. With my first marathon of the year back in August 2015, the Kuching Marathon 2015 which can’t be used due to the change of qualification date, I had only Istanbul Marathon. Many will have said that this will be the better choice as the weather is much better. But I actually have earlier the Jedburgh Dirty Double and Glen Ogle Ultra to tackle for in a span of 23 days. Therefore, I had to go easy on both the earlier event especially the Glen Ogle Ultra to take care of both legs and also cardio.

The Istanbul Marathon came into view when Chee Kong spotted it in the running calendar. Once identifying it as a potential fast course and a city worth visiting, we confirmed our participation in it. However, it was almost a no go for me as my Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt where I was to transit after flying from Aberdeen to Istanbul was cancelled a day before due to the cabin crew strike. I was really disappointed as I wanted to qualify early no matter the seeding so that I can start focusing on training. I started searching for alternative races to use as a qualification race, but then, Chee Kong tried really hard to call Lufthansa help line hoping for a change of flight and after holding on near to 90 minutes, he got through. And within minutes, we managed to switch flights to Turkish Airlines and in an even more convenient time schedule too. Problem solved and it was game on!

Flight cancelled!

Turkish Airlines to the rescue!

We flew in arriving on Thursday evening and after a horrifying taxi ride, we checked into Peyk Hotel at Sultanahmet which is near to the finish line. It was a nice hotel and I am expecting proper rest here before the race. However, due to the change of time zone of 2 hours earlier compared to Aberdeen, I kept waking up pretty early at around 4AM.

Race bib pick up.

Nevertheless, it was Turkish dinner at Sultnahmet on the first night before proceeding to collect our race pack on the second day at the expo which is rather disappointing. From there, we visited the Grand Bazaar and Taksim square. On the third day, we took the ferry ride along the Bosphorus chanel crossing from Europe into Asia and back. A walk around Sultanahmet and I was back at the hotel to freshen up. I had a simple dinner of kebab, kestane (baked chestnut), simit (sesame bun) and fresh pomegranate juice alone at a park near Sultanahmet to calm some nerves before heading back to the hotel to call it a night as early as 9PM.

The Istanbul Marathon race course.

Race day morning, I found myself awake at 3AM despite setting my alarm at 5AM. Went back sleep and woke up again. Didn’t have the feel good feeling though but the show had to go on. Pre-race ritual went smoothly and at 6.40AM, I checked out of my room and left my luggage at Chee Kong’s room as we were allowed an extension of 2 hours for one room for us to clean up after the race. Proceeded to Sultanahmet to catch the shuttle bus at 7AM which was actually very well organised!

Long but fast queue for the shuttle bus.

The shuttle bus took the runners across to the Asia side via the Bosphorus Bridge where the start is. A smooth ride and within 30 minutes or so, we arrived! The place was rather congested though and we had a little difficulty locating the luggage bus and also the toilet. But well done to the organisers for providing overhead plastic covers to keep runners warm while waiting. But what amused us were the numerous coffee, tea and simit carts trying to earn a living. I lost touch with Chee Kong while queuing for the toilet though which was a long queue despite having lots of them. But after relieving myself, I just proceeded to the start and tried to squeeze in as front as possible. Made it to about one quarter of the crowd and just waited for the start at 9AM.

"High-end" mobile coffee machine on the go!

Fresh yummy simit!

Ready for haircut, I mean race.

With the sun blazing at full force from the clear sky without any clouds, I was expecting it to be a hot and cool race. I took off my overhead plastic and within minutes, the 37th edition of the Istanbul Marathon got underway at 9.02AM alongside the 15KM category which I do not know the reason why as it added congestion. With minimal training back home due to air pollution, only to clock in some fruitful last minute mileage which includes races and drills the pass 3 weeks, I wasn't expecting much from this race. I will be happy to settle for anything that can get me qualified for next year's Comrades which is a sub 5 hours finish. And with some fine tuning to the yet to be launched all new Saucony Kinvara 7 as my race shoe, I was just hoping for the best. I didn't wear my regular Saucony Type A6 as I thought my legs will require more protection and also to test out the new ride as part of the test team.

My race strategy was simple. To run with the flow and follow the pace where my heart brings. I've learnt a lot from Amsterdam Marathon last year, and the experience back then will certainly come into good use. Trying to stay constantly in aerobic metabolic zone where body fat is used as my primary fuel instead of my glycogen level. And once again, I am not relying on any energy supplements such as gels. Am only going in with water and just water.

Anyway, back to the race where I will try to recall as many places I ran pass as this is after all Turkey, a foreign land to me. It only took me less than 2 minutes to cross the start gantry. The atmosphere was good with local Turkish musics being played and supporters cheering by the side. The Bosphorus Bridge wasn't entirely flat as seen on photos but yet there were a slight incline towards the center of it. The crowd of runners prevented me from going out too fast on the bridge which really helped and although the tarmac surface was pretty smooth, one need to watch out for gaps and joints along the way, with some of them having tiny holes that look all the way down the straits of Bosphorus. 2 flags were hung along the bridge, with the white being the Asia side and red on the European side. A third French flag were also hung at the center portion to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attack.

Preparing to cross the start gantry with the Bosphorus Bridge awaiting ahead.

Bird's eye view of the Bosphorus Bridge.

With less than 2KM into the race, I exited Asia and was back into Europe. Exiting the bridge, the crowd slowly broke up and I began to find my rhythm as I ran along the freeway keeping myself from the main crowd running at the left most side. There was still some ascending involved before arriving at Besiktas some 4KM into the race where the Vodafone supporters were. From here, it was a decent drop to the flats ahead and I made sure I made good use of the opportunity.

Somewhere in Besiktas. Try spotting me.

Ran into or rather passed the town of Dolmabahce and Kabatas where supporters was still aplenty before I cross the Galata Bridge at Eminonu into the Golden Horn area. Once exiting the bridge, I spotted the 10KM champion being directed into the finish line. That was fast! Anyhow, my direction now is toward Feshane towards Eyup. It was rather flattish here but I kept my composure keeping to my pace, not letting any hasty decision come my way, even when a fellow barefoot Malaysian runner Tan Wah Sing passed me swiftly only to do disappear soon after. I reminded myself that this is my race, and not his.

14KM in and 4KM along the Golden Horn, I arrived at the first u-turn as I made my way to the Ataturk Bridge which was just before the Galata Bridge where the 15KM runners were diverted off to their finishing line leaving a clear road ahead for the marathon runners.

I was almost caught off guard somewhere at the 16KM mark when I trip over a pavement. A silly mistake where I would have risk pulling my hamstring but I was lucky to escape with no mishaps as I continued on.

After a pretty long flat along the Golden Horn earlier, it is time to put some climbing muscle to good use as the course started rolling a little pass some underpass with one being rather memorable as it was filled with bicycles. Then as I approach the 18KM mark near Yenikapi, here comes the biggest climb of the race! An almost 800M long climb with around 32M elevation gained, some runners were reduced to walking it. Besides, the weather has really gotten hot at this stage. I continued on, climbing it slowly cheering and clapping for the wheelchair participant as he struggled up the slope till the top where some palace gates or ruins awaits. He eventually conquered it as I looked back a little while later. WELL DONE!

Let's climb!

What goes up, will go down as I ran comfortably along Ataturk Boulevard before arriving at the half way point at Kennedy Cd. in 1:50:35 hours still feeling great though leg muscles has already started twitching a little. And to make matters more interesting, the top 3 runners were already making their return on the opposite side which is some 36KM for them.

Kennedy Cd. is another long straight along the coastal road at about 8KM long heading towards Rauf Orbay Cd. There were less supporters here and it all plays down to the runner's mental strength now as we grin our teeth to push on as the heat rises. Sounds of ambulance sirens came and went as medics and volunteers on the bicycles were seen riding up and down the roads. Some runners were reduced to walking, some sitting by the pavement and some others succumbing to cramps.

With rising temperatures and an open space along the coastal road, I began splashing myself with water to keep my core temperature at bay and was glad nothing happen including my pace which was still pretty constant. Phew... The 3:45 hours pacer also passed me where he went really fast! Perhaps catching up with some negatives splits?

I finally caught a glimpse of Chee Kong some 26KM into the race where he should be at 31KM. Gave him a thumbs up as we both carried on. And later at 28KM nearing the second u-turn, I caught up with Tan Wah Sing who was struggling. I guess he must have went out too fast earlier when I met him. Called out to him for some motivational support before I moved on myself making the turn ahead.

Another 14KM to go, I reminded myself as I started thinking on when to make my move. Though my cardio can probably withstand the remaining distance, I don't think my legs can. With that, I carried on, on the same pace as I pass Aytekin Kotil Park on the seaside. Besides temperatures on the rise, tempers were also flaring up as I saw and heard an elderly age runner cursing in local language at the volunteer on the bicycle. I assume he was blaming him for being a nuisance on the runner's path which I don't think he was, as he was basically doing his job keeping on the left most inner lane trying to help or signal out for any runners face with trouble. Oh well...

I did pretty find the cursing elderly runner a nuisance as he kept cursing along the way. I really wanted to run away from him but as much as I would like to, I fear it will jeopardized my race later. I kept my cool and waited for him to drop off, which he did soon later. Phew...

Towards Koca Mustafa Pasa Park, a fellow runner was happily running before a sudden cramp hit him hard on his hamstring as he fell to ground. I signaled out to medic ahead who was smoking outside his ambulance to my disgust! His reaction was certainly slow but what really disgusted me was smoking while being a medic downing your uniform on duty! I hope the runner was ok to continue.

Arriving at 36KM where I earlier saw the top 3 runners blaze pass, I again thought to myself if I can withstand the remaining 6KM if I were to go anaerobic? "It was like my daily treadmill training or like my run at Duthie Park, Aberdeen", I told myself, but I guess the difference between tired and fresh legs told me to be patient as I continued on without haste. Besides, some minor issues with tummy kept me cautious too, as it felt a little "windy" in there.

Still on Kennedy Cd. but on a new coastal road now heading back towards Sultanahmet, the afternoon sun was blazing at full force. Despite some coastal breeze, the burning sensation to the skin can be felt and sweat slowly flowing down the skin. I continued pouring water over myself as I passed the water stations here. There weren't many runners around me at this stage and all I could do is to hang on to myself and decide on my very own, on when to make my move.

When my Suunto beeped at 39KM, I was still awaiting the sights of the mosque that surrounds Sultanahmet and also Galata Tower at Taksim where it will give the signs of my approach to the finish. Though it did not come into view, I still decided to slowly up my pace and into the anaerobic zone.  I passed the final water station at the 40KM mark with one final gulp of water and also wetting myself before being directed into a park which I think is the Gulhane Park. I had to watch where I ran as the park was covered with cobblestone which was rather uneven. Don't want to trip after coming so far.

I exited the park with 1KM to go on to the Sirkeci's main street of Divan Yolu Cd. where although it's back onto the tarmac, involves tram tracks. And to makes matter even more interesting, it was an uphill to the finish straight! Despite the uphill, I went for it letting out all the remaining energy and strength I had with "BRAVO, BRAVO" cheers from the local supporters with a sudden"JIA YOU" from a Chinese tourist!

And finally, I saw it. the finish straight in between the Blue Mosque and Egypt Obelisk with the gantry ahead with the timer hanging from the top of it showing 3:54:xx hours! I was home with my 5th sub 4 hours marathon finish and my career second best timing as I crossed the finish line with a nett time of 3:52:29 hours! And with that, it's a passport to a D seeding for next year's Comrades Marathon!

My passport to Comrades Marathon 2016.

My gun time splits. Didn't pick up 5KM and 21KM though.

Finisher's cert.

Despite feeling sore, I was feeling great and of course happy as I proceeded to collect my finisher's pack before exiting the area to meet up with Chee Kong at the agreed place. And while waiting, I met up with a Swede and chatted with him before Chee Kong and Mei-Ee arrived. Apparently there were some issues with the baggage collection which was really slow. Anyhow, a quick photo session and we are off back to the hotel for a quick shower. Once we are done, we checked out and went for a quick lunch a nearby Chinese restaurant before heading off to the airport for a long haul back home via Frankfurt. Thankfully, the Lufthansa strike was already over!

We did it!

Flight was almost full and though my seated co-passenger beside me was a pleasant one, the Lufthansa cabin crew wasn't really friendly and attentive unlike those from my flight to Aberdeen 3 weeks ago. Probably they didn't have the mood to work after the strike. And not to mention the lousy food. But still, shame on you Lufthansa!

Nevertheless, I touched down safely back in a wet but haze clear Malaysia 30 minutes earlier. And not forgetting that I collected my checked in luggage in record time before taking a taxi home which ended my 26 days of my adventure and holiday, a smashing one of course!

To recap, the Istanbul Marathon is overall a wonderful marathon and deserves to be on of IAAF's Gold Label Race. The scenery of Istanbul was great and to top it off, it's one of a kind and only running event that takes you from one continent to another, being Asia to Europe. And I am glad the race course isn't exactly pancake flat cause flat is boring (pun intended). And despite minimal training and with some last minute effort being done in Scotland, I am absolutely delighted with my performance and result. Race strategy worked well taking in small sips of approximately 150ML of water at the very evenly spaced out water station at every 2.5KM while splashing myself with the given 200ML bottled water to keep my core temperature in control. Sponges was also given out too at certain stations. And yes, I only consume water and nothing else throughout the entire race. But if there is two things I would like to highlight will be the smoking medic which was really an eye sore. Perhaps the authorities and organisers should take a look into this should they read this or rather find out. Or is it a norm there? Culture perhaps? And the other will be the communication between organisers and runners where I find it lacking and also the use of language, where English is not the main language used which is rather unfriendly for international runners.

Anyhow, I highly recommend the Istanbul Marathon for it's a beautiful fast course that isn't exactly flat. With the cheers and support you get form the locals, it will be an unforgettable experience! And not forgetting, it's great for travel and food too! Finally before signing off from this entry, many thanks to Saucony Malaysia for putting me in as part of the test team for the yet to be launch Saucony Kinvara 7 where I raced and made good used of it at Istanbul.

* All photos here credited to Chee Kong and other respective photographers. Thank you.


Kevin Siah said...

Well done on your good timing, sounds like a beautiful race!

Nick Phillips said...

Solid run, Frank! Istanbul sounds like a great place to try one day.

Keith McLean said...

Great blog Frank, very interesting. We must have been on your flights on the way out, twelve of us from Dunblane Runners. We really enjoyed the weekend too, keith