My First 15K Race, and It’s In Istanbul With My Sister

One of the things I had been most looking forward to doing was the 15K race as part of the Istanbul Marathon with my sister Lizz.

There were times during the past few weeks that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to run the 15K. First, one Friday morning my left knee tightened up a mile into my run. The previous weekend, I had done a long run of nine miles. With the knee giving me problems I had to stop running for a few days. When I went back to running the knee felt fine after a few runs, and then it was sore again. So I took some more time off.

Then, during the week before the race, I contracted a head cold. Lots of congestion. I suppose it was inevitable. My wife Stephanie had been fighting off various sicknesses for a month and a half. At one point she had to go to the hospital. (She’s doing quite well now.) The kids have had runny noses and the resulting coughs from post-nasal drip.

I went to an eczane (pharmacy) and explained I was congested and the clerks gave me a nasal rinse. So I’d been using that twice a day. I ran a few times, short distances, ranging from three to four miles. I didn’t think the congestion would clear up enough for me to run.

On Sunday morning, I woke feeling clearer in the head than I had since the congestion started. My sister and I ate breakfast and got into our running clothes. Outside it was in the low fifties and sunny; perfect running weather. It had been cloudy and cool the past five or six days. We took the Metro (which was filled with runners) down to Taksim Square and caught one of the race buses over to the starting point.

It was on the bus that Lizz and I realized we had forgotten the bananas we had set aside to take with us to eat before the start of the race. Luckily, my sister was well-prepared with her waist belt, complete with large bottle of water and a pouch filled with granola bars. We munched on the bars and sipped from the water bottle.

We had to empty our bladders soon after arriving at the Start. The lines to use the port-o-potties were all very long, leading out to the street where the pick-up and luggage buses were pulling out. While you waited, you had to dodge buses. The port-o-potties should have been placed somewhere else, and there should have been more of them.

Our bladders drained, we stashed our pants and sweaters into the luggage bag and I forced my way through the dense crowd to the buses. I had the bag put on one of the luggage buses and then forced my way once again through the crowd to where mys sister was waiting. Then we walked over to the Start area and waited for the race to begin. Lizz brought her camera and took a picture of us.

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We did a lot of people watching. There were many Turks but also many people from other countries like Great Britain, Germany, France, the USA, Canada, Italy, and Spain. The announcer greeted the race participants in a seemingly endless number of languages.

Once the Turkish National Anthem was played, the Mayor of Istanbul announced the start of the race.

My sister and I started off easy. There were no corrals for the runners. Which meant that with the exception of the handful of elites, faster runners had to spend a large chunk of the race weaving and elbowing past the slower runners.

I hung back with my sister, hoping to keep myself from getting too ambitious with my pace, given my head cold. The view of Istanbul up and down the Bosphorus from the bridge was fantastic. That alone was worth the price of registering for the race.

The runners were not the only people on the bridge. There were a few young men on the median of the bridge offering bottled water for sale to the runners who were most likely not carrying any money on them. I didn’t see any takers. Not to mention several families walking on the bridge in the opposite direction of the runners. It was not exactly a “closed” course.

We trotted over the bridge and then down and that’s where I high-fived my sister and said, “See you at the Finish Line.”

With the 15K and Marathon runners mixed together for the first 12 kilometers or so, the crowd meant I could not do any Snot Rockets. My shoulder sleeves became the necessary spot for wiping my snot-filled nose. Ah, the joys of running with congested sinuses.

The crowds along the course were small. Turkey does not have much of running culture. Awhile back I had related to a Turkish friend’s mother that I was running the 15K race. She replied, “Yani! Why are you running? Is it for money? Is there a prize?”

I managed to relate how I was doing it for fun but I didn’t bother to explain how I was the one paying the money for the privilege of running in the race. I figured that might confound her.

Around the halfway point, after having come down Barbaros Boulevard in Beşiktaş, my left knee started to feel tight and a little sore, and I thought I might have to walk or even drop out of the race. I kept running, focusing on keeping my form. The knee loosened up and I kept going, past Karaköy and over the Galata bridge. After the turn and the 10K Finish line, my left knee tightened up again and stayed tight for for the next few kilometers, only loosening after the turnaround up the Golden Horn for the last two kilometers.

That’s when I heard a shout of “Go Rich!” It was my sister coming up the other side. I shouted, “Go Lizz!” and kept on going myself.

When the Finish Line finally came into sight, I gathered what energy I had left to sprint.

I have heard complaints that the finish line was anti-climactic there at Eminönü. The Marathon ended at Sultanahmet, in front of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. I can understand the complaint. But that didn’t bother me too much. My biggest complaint about the 15K Finish was that within three or four meters of the line, there was a crowd. Which meant that after my final sprint, I had to come to an immediate stop. I found myself cursing people to get the fuck out of the way for just standing there. I wanted to grab my end-of-race bag and keep walking to cool down so that nothing in this old body of mine seized up.

Inside the bag was a banana, an Ülker chocolate-pistachio bar, a sour cherry juice box, and a race medal. I found a place to eat the banana and drink the juice box. I stretched and then walked over to the luggage buses and tried to get my bag. There was a crowd and it was apparent that the bags had been just thrown onto the bus without any organization. I gave up, figuring I’d go back later when there was less of a crowd. Which I did after meeting up with my wife. She held my end-of-race bag while I made another attempt at getting my bag. It took a long while and I was only able to get the bag once I forced my way through the crowd onto the bus and shouted out my bib number (“seksen-dokuz on-iki!”) in Turkish.

I met up with my wife, the kids, and Amy who had found Lizz. Medals around our necks, my sister and I posed for a picture in front of the 400-year-old New Mosque.

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The official Marathon results were posted within hours of the conclusion of the race, but not the 15K or 10K results. I don’t know what gives. It was Monday morning before the 15K times were finally posted. My time, which is a PR for the 15K for me because it’s the first time I’ve ever run a 15K race, was 1:16:47. I’ll take it.

For me the biggest highlights of the race were the location (Istanbul, crossing from Asia to Europe) and running it with my sister.

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Out to the Sinan Erdem Dome and Back Via the Chora Museum

Friday morning, my sister Lizz, her friend Amy, and I headed to the Marathon Expo which was at the Sinan Erdem Dome. One of the many reasons my sister came to visit Istanbul while my family and I are living here was to run the 15K race as part of the 35th Istanbul Marathon.

Getting to the Expo was not easy. The arena is way out West, near the airport. It’s near a mass transit line, the MetroBus, but from where I live, it would take a very long time. Which would mean less time for eating and enjoying historical sites. So we hired a taxi to take us there.

After a half-hour taxi ride, we were dropped off in front of the arena. Following the thin crowd, we walked to the back of the arena to get inside. We retrieved our packets from the pickup area. It included a luggage bag, shirt, bib, timing chip, and various brochures which were in Turkish.

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Race packets in hand we decided to check out the expo. One store, OutRunner, had a sale on a wide variety of running clothes and shoes. My sister and I browsed but as we were not in need, we didn’t buy anything. The rest of the booths at the Expo were uninteresting. At one booth two guys were playing ping-pong. Not sure what that was about. My sister and I did take the time to have Amy take our photo in front of the sign.

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Our next stop was the Chora Museum in the Edirnekapı neighborhood. “Chora” is an ancient Greek word meaning something along the lines of “country” or “outside the city.” The Chora Museum is no longer outside the city. It’s well within the city of Istanbul, in an area that unfortunately is not well-served by public transportation, making it difficult to find and get to. On the museum’s website they recommend you take a taxi from the Sultanahmet area (which is where many tourists stay and visit).

Outside the Marathon Expo, we hired a taxi to take us to the museum. Before we had left the apartment in the morning, I had printed out the address and a map. It came in handy to show the taxi driver.

The Chora church was first built under Emperor Justinian, destroyed during the Latin Invasion in the 13th Century, then rebuilt and restored. The mosaics date from the 14th centuries. Roughly 60 years after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, the church was converted to a mosque. The vast majority of the mosaics and frescoes were not defaced or removed. Thankfully, they were simply covered in plaster and then painted. When it was turned into a museum in 1945, the plaster was chipped away, revealing the mosaics and frescoes underneath.

Unfortunately, the Naos, the main body of the church, was closed due to renovation.

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But the mosaics and frescoes we were able to see were extraordinary.

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The Chora Museum is definitely off the beaten path of the usual Packaged Tourist Trail. But if you happen to be in Istanbul, you should make the effort to go there.

The Basilica Cistern

This past week has been a very busy one as we hosted my wonderful sister Lizz and her friend Amy at our apartment. I had a fantastic time playing Tour Guide as I took them around Istanbul to see many of the main attractions like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Istiklal Street, the Grand Bazaar, and the Galata Tower, and fed them as many kinds of Turkish food as we could in the time we had.

We also visited several places I had yet to see. One of these was the Basilica Cistern. The cistern is located right next to the Hagia Sophia. Many people skip it. Since it’s underground, it’s not an obvious landmark. It doesn’t have any frescoes or mosaics. But it is a marvel of engineering.

The Basilica Cistern was built in 532 under Emperor Justinian to hold water brought by aqueduct from what is now the Belgrade Forest. It’s filled with water. There are walkways allowing you to explore the cistern from one end to the other. As my sinuses were congested, my senses were dulled and my mind was foggy, so I had forgotten to bring my camera. The pictures I took were done with my phone (the one I registered in Turkey).

The space is lit from below which gives it a tranquil and eerie feeling, a feeling which is easily shoved away as the masses of chattering, picture-taking tourists like us make our way around.

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There are now fish in the water. I’m not sure how they got there. My photos of the fish did not come out. There is a cafe in the cistern. No, it does not offer fish on its menu. I think they’re missing out an opportunity. They could be offering “fresh, cistern-raised” fish.

The two enormous Medusa heads are the most popular site inside. The heads were taken from some other structure and placed there when the cistern was initially constructed. No one knows why one is upside down.

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We also went to the Grand Bazaar that day. Lizz and Amy were overwhelmed with the scale and range of goods available for sale. It is an overwhelming place, in terms of size and intensity, and sometimes because of the prices. Good prices are there to be had for those who are willing to bargain.

They both bought several scarfs, doing a lot of bargaining. My sister also bought her husband a beautiful backgammon set that was inlaid with mother-of-pearl. She did some serious bargaining for that item. She works in sales so she’s rather good at it. I stood by, amused.