Today’s Istanbul Weather Forecast: Sunny With a Chance of Tear Gas and Bursts of Water Cannon

This morning I was up early to run. Not as early as normal as I had gone to bed later than I’d planned. But I was out the door by a quarter after six.

I was hoping to get my run in before things got nasty. We live in Şişli which had been expected to be a site of clashes between protesters and police on this May Day. Many labor organizations wanted to demonstrate in Taksim to mark May Day. President Erdogan told them all no. Ferry ports have been closed. The subway line that runs through Taksim has been closed down. The funicular that runs from the square down to the ferry port is also down.

My route took me up near the Sişli Mosque, then back down Halaskargazi, then Rumeli into Nişantaşı, passing the Teşvikiye Mosque, and on down toward Dolmabahçe. There were police and barricades everywhere along that part of the route. I stopped seeing police after Teşvikiye. I didn’t see any police on Dolmabahçe. Only a handful when I headed up toward Machka Park, and none when I went toward Taksim on Asker Oçağı.

That’s when I ran into a little trouble. At the top of the steep hill. For the people staying at the Hotel InterContinental and the Divan Hotel, it’s a good thing they’re very nice hotels. Because no one is going to be entering or leaving those hotels today. The police barricades completely surround them. I was able, along with some pedestrians, to slip in-between one small opening in the barricades and get on the sidewalk so I could go up Cumhurriyet back towards our apartment.

But then there were barricades and police swarming all over. I had to run through and around groups of police and, more ominously, men dressed in plain clothes carrying billy clubs. The street was closed off and that proved the easiest to run on. So I ran up the street, garnering several curious looks. The police probably thought I was a dumb tourist. No, I’m just a dumb yabancı running fool.

When I finished my route a block south of the intersection of Ergenekon and Halaskargazi, I walked, weaving my way through more police. One of the börek places was doing a booming business. Every available chair was occupied by a börek-eating and tea-drinking police officer in riot gear.

I reached the Ramada there at the intersection and went to turn on Ergenekon but was greeted by barricades. The street was completely blocked off. I walked further up to the next side street. Again, the street was barricaded off completely. No access. Luckily, on the next side street there was a gap in the barricades and I slipped through down the narrow street and turned onto Ergenekon. All of the shops were closed. There were police blocking off the road, forcing what little car and pedestrian traffic there was to go back or down Kurtuluş. Good thing I was walking in the direction the police wanted people to walk, away from Halaskargazi Avenue.

I bought some börek from my usual place and returned to our apartment.

Just after I had finished my breakfast the protestors chanted and marched in the direction of Halaskargazi.

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Some took the time to drag the planters out onto the street. Later, our doorman, with help of some others pulled them off the street and back onto the sidewalk.

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This group were picking up bricks and breaking them into pieces to be used in sling shots.

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One guy was slamming the side of the building. Two people from Onur came out and told him to stop. He did. After the protesters left they sent a guy out with a cart to collect all the loose bricks.

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It wasn’t long before the protesters were pushed back down our street.

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Here’s the TOMA that was shooting the water.

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Fireworks could be heard going off for several minutes after the TOMA followed the protesters. It’s a common tactic used by the protestors to keep the police back.

About an hour later, things had settled down enough that I was able to walk up the street to our favorite bakery and buy a few sweets for this afternoon.

Despite it being a beautiful sunny day, we’re stuck inside the apartment. We had originally planned to do a cruise up the Bosphorus. We had thought it would be a good thing to do on a sunny day and also to be away from all the madness in the streets. But, alas, with the subway down, the ferries not running, the streets closed, and several bus lines not running or rerouted, we’ve nowhere to go.

How was your morning?

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A Morning Run in Istanbul

At 5am the alarm on my phone goes off. I tap the screen to turn it off. I stretch my feet. From off the floor I pick up the running clothes I’d laid out the night before, and tiptoe quietly on my stiff feet out the bedroom.

After I’ve emptied my bladder, I put on my running clothes, then go into the kitchen where I have a drink of water. I only eat something before I go out on long runs; runs that will last longer than an hour. I tuck my keys and a ten lira note into my pockets then head out and ride the elevator down.

At this time in the morning, it’s still dark in Istanbul. Few people are out on Ergenkon, with the exception of the handful of men at the taxi stand next to our building. They acknowledge me, at this point they’re used to seeing me, the lone runner in the early morning in the neighborhood.

As I walk briskly to warm up toward where I’ll begin my route, I pass the börek place where I will stop on my way back. Yavuz will either be sitting at a small table outside drinking tea with someone or inside cutting up the börek for a customer. We’ll say “good morning” to each other and wave. I asked him once what time he opened and he said 4:30am. He will be there serving up börek with the help of one or two other people until sometime after noon.

At that time of the morning, the streets and sidewalks of Istanbul are clear. There is plenty of light from the lamps overhead. It’s a peaceful time in this city of 15+ million people. That’s why I prefer to run at that time of day. No crowds to push through. No traffic to look out for when crossing streets. It’s almost like having the city to myself. Whether I’m in Nişantaşı, Taksim, Harbiye, Karaköy, or Cihangır running in the early morning is a way to see the city without being pressured to hustle. You don’t feel like you have to keep moving with the crowd, or hurry up to catch the tram or the ferry, or carefully time your walk across the street to avoid the cars, trucks, and scooters.

That might sound odd or contradictory, but when I’m running I don’t feel hurried. I’m enjoying the feel of movement, the view of my surroundings, sometimes the scents (especially now with so many flowers in bloom), and (often) the music I’m listening to on my iPod Nano.

The simple serenity of putting one step in front of the other. Just me and the stray pedestrian here and there, or the worker hosing down the sidewalk in front of their restaurant in preparation to open for the day.

Sometimes, depending on the street, I’ll see a couple of transgender sex workers still out, probably hoping to get one more client before the sun comes up and scares away the People Who Only Do Certain Things at Night. If my route takes me down past Taksim and onto Tarlabaşı I’ll see a handful there, too.

Once, after I’d finished my run, a few transgender sex workers were still there at a bus stop not far from our apartment. One looked my skinny legs up and down and said something in Turkish to me with a big smile. I have no idea if they were flirting with me or mocking me. I just smiled.

In the early morning, the only crowds I have to dodge are those that form in front of the entrances to clubs. While it’s Opening Time for the places that serve börek, it’s Closing Time for the places that serve alcohol to beat-based music. I’ve never been attacked, but something about the volatility of drunk young men coming out of clubs at that hour of the morning always makes me wary.

One time, a young woman wearing clunky high heels and a mini skirt, who was stumbling on one of the many cobblestone walkways here, mocked me for running. She was swinging her arms like a runner and laughing and looking at me and saying a whole bunch of things I couldn’t understand. Her friends were laughing, too. I wanted to say, “So says the drunk-ass bitch who can barely walk.” But I don’t know how to say that in Turkish, yet.

If I’m going around Maçka Park (which is often), the free-roaming dogs are either laying down or sniffing around for something to eat. The park is on the side of a hill leading up from the Bosphorus, passing the construction for the new Besiktas football stadium, and up to the posh Nişantaşi neighborhood with its Gucci, Hermes, and Armani stores. I can see the murky Bosphorus and the lights of the Asian side of the city through the trees in the park.

In the winter months, my runs were completed before the first Call to Prayer. Usually at some point on my cool-down walk the prayer would start. Now that it’s spring, the Call to Prayer comes sometime after I’ve woken up and before I’ve made it out the apartment. It no longer has the jarring effect it once had on me. It’s simply part of the aural landscape of the city, like car horns, the zipping of scooters, and the restaurant proprietors shouting “Buyrun! Hoşgeldiniz!”

Still sweaty, but no longer breathing heavy, I’ll go into the börek place, greet Yavuz, shake hands, and choose some börek to eat for breakfast. Once he’s loaded up a to-go container to the point of overflowing, I’ll place the ten lira note in the tray on the counter. He’ll hand me the börek and put the change on the tray. We’ll say goodbye and I’ll walk the short walk (less than 40 meters) to my apartment.

Inside the apartment, I’ll set the package of börek on the dining room table. I won’t dig into the börek until after I’ve done my stomach crunches and stretching. If I don’t stretch, my muscles will be angry with me later. Once I’ve stretched and drunk some chocolate milk (these days it only comes in containers with a picture of Cinderella on them, which means my daughter won’t touch them because of her distaste for princesses), I’ll sit down to breakfast and coffee, and feel like I’m ready to greet the day.

The Good Stuff: Börek

I have a problem. Two months from now, when I’m back in the States, I do not know what I’m going to eat after my runs.

This is not a small problem.

After a run, you want to eat something tasty and filling that has lots of calories. Oh, sure, plenty of running, health, fitness magazines have all kinds of pseudo-scientific advice about the “5 THINGS YOU MUST EAT AFTER RUNNING” or else you are a poorly trained runner who will never improve or even be a proper runner. Those writers have obviously never eaten börek.

Right now, when I finish my run in the morning, I stop at Cakırca, my neighborhood börek place. There, Yavuz, the man behind the counter, asks me in Turkish how far I’ve run and I reply in Turkish with my distance that morning. Then I select the kinds of börek I want. He chops up a batch, I pay him, and then I’m on my way back to my apartment with a small bag full of the börek.

What is börek? you ask.

A savory hearty pastry that is usually eaten in the morning or at lunch time.

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Börek can be filled with cheese, spinach, potatoes, or meat. Usually, it’s fried. So it’s crispy and oily. My favorite kinds are the cheese and potato. There are many variations of börek in areas formerly under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Wikipedia has a good rundown of the many variations. One of them I see a lot in places like Simit Sarayi and small food kiosks is sigara böreği (cigarette börek). This börek is is shaped like a long round roll (cigar-shaped) and is popular as a form of fast food.

Turks eat börek with tea or ayran. I often eat it with a couple of fried eggs over-easy and some fruit juice and coffee.

For me, börek has become the perfect food to eat after a run. My wife has even asked me, “What are you going to eat after your runs when we go back to Michigan?” I really don’t know. There are no börek places whatsoever. There are recipes, but they are labor-intensive. Somehow I’m going to have to learn to live without the convenience of a place nearby that makes and serves börek…or maybe we can stay here just a little longer.

Sometimes the Mind Wants What the Body Can’t Do

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It was a sparkling clear day yesterday in Istanbul. Thanks to the rain overnight, the air was clean and devoid of any smog. From our rooftop terrace, you could see beyond the city and all the way across the Sea of Marmara. By far the clearest day we’ve had since we moved here.

I supposed it was fitting then that I made the clear-eyed decision to stop running for awhile.

I was excited about training and attempting to run a half-marathon. Most especially because it would have been my first and it would have been here in Istanbul.

But my body will not cooperate. During one of my long runs the bottom half of my right calf muscle tightened up as if it had been clasped in a vise, and wouldn’t loosen up for several miles. Then, when it did finally loosen up, my right knee started to hurt, runner’s knee style. I finished the run by walking at several points.

Two days later I went out for a run and ran with pain and tightness in that same lower half of my calf. I took a week off. Then I ran three miles. Still the same pain, though with the addition of an inflamed inner ankle tendon afterwards. Three days of icing brought the ankle back.

Then I waited a full week between runs before going out again. Yesterday morning I ran and it was just like it was the week before. The calf feels tight right now.

Looking at the calendar, it’s clear that with the pain I’m experiencing on my runs there’s no way I can train properly for the half-marathon. I have April 27th circled. It’s a date I’m not going to be able to make.

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Did I mention that every morning before I stand from the bed I have to stretch my feet? Yeah, that’s the plantar fasciitis. It hasn’t really gone away. I have to stretch them in order to walk without stiffness and soreness. And even after stretching them, they’re always a bit stiff for the first 15 or 20 minutes of walking around. Sometimes they stiffen up after sitting for too long. Though it doesn’t happen from sitting if I remember to use a tennis ball to massage my feet.

I’m tired of trying to run and “manage” the plantar fasciitis. I’m not going to run until I wake up in the morning and I don’t have to stretch my feet in order to walk without pain. Because my unscientific guess is that the problems with my feet are contributing to the problem with my calf and the resulting tendonitis. I’m sure it contributed to my problems in the Fall before and after the 15K race. [link] Running mechanics seem to be a delicate balance between many different joints, muscles in tendons, from the toes up to the abs.

You know the phrase, “Listen to your body.” So that’s what I’m doing. I just don’t like what my body is saying. I want to run.

I’ll leave you all with another picture from our rooftop yesterday. This time a bit before dusk.

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The Next Challenge: A Half Marathon

Yesterday, I signed up to run the Istanbul Half Marathon. It’s set for Sunday April 27th. Should I complete it, it will be the first half-marathon that I have run. (I am still in the “conquering distances” phase of my running.)

I’ve been running regularly these past few months. My legs feel good. My feet still have a bit a of plantar fasciitis. I’ve been managing that through lots of stretching and liberal use of a tennis ball to massage the bottoms of my feet.

One of the many fun things about running is that it’s a great way to explore a place. As I’ve gotten used to Istanbul’s twisting, turning, rising, and falling streets I’ve been able to see places in the city I normally wouldn’t have made a special trip to see. It’s also let me “preview” places that I’d like to explore a bit more (for example, like Ortaköy, Arnavutköy, or Nişantaşı).

The route for the half marathon will take runners from not-quite-the-top of the Golden Horn down to the Marmara Sea, turning around at the Yenikapı ferry port and back. A beautiful course. I’ve done any runs along the Marmara Coast down there.

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This is not the only race I hope to do. There is a team marathon race in the Belgrade Forest on April 5th. I’m hoping to be part of team for the Istanbul Expat Runners group. Teams of seven will run the 6K loop in the forest, and their times added together for a marathon total. The forest is a great place to run, with several good trails.

Despite Turkey not having a big running reputation, I’ve found there are plenty of opportunities to run in races here.

Now, the official training for my first half marathon begins!

So That’s What the Problem Was

I had been having some problems with my left knee, a bout of Runner’s Knee it seems.

I took two weeks off from running after the 15K race here in Istanbul thinking that giving my legs a rest would do the trick.

Then one Sunday I finally met up with an Expat running group for a fun out in the Belgrade Forest. It’s a beautiful place to run, several miles outside the city. I ran and within one kilometer my left knee started to tighten up the way it had before.

I pushed through, because I was enjoying the conversation I was having with the other runners.

Afterwards, I showered back at the apartment and took a few ibuprofen to nurse my sore knee and sore legs. Then I did what every American runner does with access to the Internet: I researched “runner’s knee.”

Many things came up, but didn’t seem to apply to my case. One thing that came up was that tread on the shoes might be worn. So I looked at the tread on my shoes and here is what I saw.

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I compared them to my newer ones and it was obvious the tread had been worn down too much. Running on concrete and pavement up and down hills here in Istanbul made them wear down more quickly than if I had been running on dirt or even gravel trails. So they were retired. They have been good to me. I did PRs in the 5K with them and ran from one continent to another in them. If we were back in Michigan I would save them for doing yard work. But since we’re in an apartment here, we don’t have a yard. They will have to be thrown out.

I had reached just over 300 miles on my red/black Saucony Kinvara 3s. I was hoping to get another 100 miles out of them before switching over completely to my blue Kinvara 3s with the fluorescent green laces.

I ran a few times with the blue ones and those runs were pain free. (And I’ve continued to run without pain into the new year.) Problem solved.

Now, I just need to buy a few more pairs from the US and have them shipped here. I found it would be cheaper to do that, via amazon.com, than to purchase running shoes here. The Kinvara 4s, for example cost around $140. A pair of Kinvara 3s from amazon.com would cost me just under $100 and that’s including shipping. The import taxes/tariffs here in Turkey are outrageous on certain kinds of goods, especially electronics.

For Christmas, one of my presents was a new pair of running shoes, shipped via Amazon. So when I wear out my current pair, I have another at the ready.

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.