Istanbul Eurasia Marathon

The 34th Istanbul Eurasia Marathon took place on 11 November 2012. It is unique in that it is the only marathon in the world that crosses two continents – starting in Asia and finishing in Europe. The entry fee was only 50 Turkish Lira (about £17.50) making it possibly the best value race as well given the plentiful freebies including a red duffel bag, technical T-shirt, drinks, snack bars and pasta meal … and that was just at the Expo. At the finish between the Egyptian Obelisk and Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet Square runners were rewarded with another goody bag containing a cotton T-shirt, pocket cagoule, drinks, a banana, chocolate bar and a chunky medal. The race was due to start at 9am and free buses were available from 7.00-7.30am to transport runners from the city to the start on the other side of the 1500m long Bosphorus Bridge. Although there was chip timing, runners were not separated according to predicted times and in addition to the marathon there was also a 15K, 8K and fun run - so it did not bode well for the start of the race. At least the 2500 marathon runners were starting on the right hand side of the road separated from the 4200 runners that had entered the 15K and the 1800 runners doing the 8K behind. I was still expecting a bit of a scrum.

The early morning rain had stopped by the time our bus pulled up on the other side of the bridge. It was still early and there were plenty of toilet cubicles available though that would soon change. I took up a quiet spot on the side of the road and was going through the usual pre-marathon rituals when two buses pulled up alongside carrying the elite runners and their entourage. With 15 minutes to go I deposited my bag in the bus and leapt over a barrier near the front but there were still well over a hundred runners ahead of me. I hung onto a plastic bag containing an energy drink, tissues, etc and after a few more minutes took off my old ‘Long Eaton 5’ long sleeved top and put it in the bag. Despite three earlier evacuations, suddenly my bladder was fit to burst - so the now empty drinks bottle came in handy and I was delighted to find that my surreptitious deposit was well under the 500ml capacity!

Half the Istanbul Police were out in force, two helicopters hovered above the bridge and TV cameramen recorded the mounting excitement as the masses were led forwards to the start line. On the right hand side of the road there was an open-topped bus containing local dignitaries. Problem: Leaving the plastic bag on the ground for someone to trip on was not an option but launching my man-made Molotov cocktail at the mayor could result in serious repercussions. I tied a knot in the bag. Said a prayer. And lobbed it high over the crowd. Thankfully it whistled harmlessly over the head of a startled photographer.

Seconds later the race started. It took ten seconds to cross the start line and with Garmin watch pressed it was slow going at first having to navigate through the crowd and tollbooths. The views from the Bosphorus Bridge were spectacular, and then the 15K and marathon runners converged at the other end on a slip road that turned under the dual carriageway. My Long Eaton clubmates’ words were ringing in my head as the third and fourth mile split times were disconcertingly fast at 5:54 and 5:39 but in hindsight were due to the steady descent down Barabaros Boulevard towards the coastline.

The race organisation was near perfect with regular bottled water and sponge stations, and all the roads on the route were closed to traffic with police or marshals on every junction. Not long after the 8K finish came the Galata Bridge; a bascule bridge that spans the Golden Horn - an inlet of the Bosphorus that divides the city and forms a natural harbour. There was a lot of support from the spectators at this stage whilst some bemused locals and fishermen gave us cursory glances. Turning right after the bridge my 10K time was 38:33 – over 7 minutes faster than my Heanor 10K debut a year earlier. So far so good.

Continuing along the western side of the city the course went past Ataturk Bridge where the 15K runners turned back towards the finish in Sultanahmet. The marathon continued past the city walls and the Golden Horn Bridge to a provence of Istanbul that was very possibly founded by a Yorkshiremen – being called ‘Eyup!’ Returning on the other side of the road a terrier sprinted out barking and snapping at our ankles. At least the Turkish ruffians hanging around found it all highly amusing. Then up ahead the road was packed with hundreds of 15K runners from where the route had turned back earlier. A marathon runner ahead had to go on to the footpath to avoid them but somehow a gap opened and I managed to weave through. Thankfully the marathon route soon turned away from the throng and we climbed up Ataturk Boulevard through a 4th Century Roman Aqueduct. The sun was starting to come out from behind the clouds and the temperature was rising. Turning right on to the coastal road at Yenikapi, my time at the half way mark was 1:23:31 and my mile splits continued around the 6:30-6:40 area. The route nearly went as far as the airport before turning back on the opposite side of the road by the Istanbul/Bakirkoy ferry port.

At 19 miles I started to fall out the metaphorical back door. Now running against a gusting wind my mile splits dropped to 7:10-7:30. This was going to be a long, lonely slog to the finish and there were scant few supporters. I had arranged to meet my better half at the 21 mile mark to collect a drink and an energy/caffeine gel. She had carefully rehearsed some well chosen words of inspiration and encouragement but when I blurted out: “I don’t feel good!” she was left speechless. Then instead of sipping the drink I took a massive glug – choked – spat it all out and tossed the bottle.

The wind was relentless. At least I was not the only one suffering though as, one by one, runners slowed down and some even started walking. One youngster used me as a wind break for a mile or so before I got fed up with it, waved him through and took my turn behind him. Then a Swede skipped past me with a hearty “Bravo!” I just scowled. With a mile to go, the route turned left away from the coast and the wind disappeared. However here was the sting in the tail - an uphill climb through Gulhane Park towards the finish. When will this ever end? Then with 400 metres to go but still climbing I told myself: “Come on. This is just once round the track at Ilkeston!” The road levelled out and the final run-in was lined with cheering crowds. I overtook another two runners and started to pump my arms forcing my legs into a higher cadence. One final push and another scalp before the final sprint to the line.

The results showed that everybody was slower in the second half including the winner Stephan Chebogut fom Kenya in 2:11:05. My chip time was 2:56:20 - 46th overall and 4th out of the 344 finishers in my age category. The following day I could barely walk. The day after I made my first ever visit to a Turkish bath ... and lived to tell the tale!


This report was brought to you by pabc

Foxontherun wrote; You are well and truly back to form Rich. No race plan survives contact with the actual race! (Adapted for purpose)

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