Istanbul Marathon, the distance runner’s ultimate experience!

by capetocasa

I have just registered to run the 2020 Istanbul Marathon. The only marathon that is run on 2 continents: It starts in Asia and finishes in Europe. I’m not quite sure how this happened. I am by no means a marathon runner. In fact, I’m really not a runner at all. I have been running short distances ( 4-5km) occasionally over the past few months. That is nowhere near what I need to do to prepare to run a 42km race. I’m still trying to figure out how all this happened.

So I woke up for work this morning, like any other. I said goodbye to Fay as she left for work and made some coffee. While still coming to my senses, I saw a post on Instagram about a race that happened last weekend. “OH NO, I missed it”, I said to myself… “that would have been a cool idea but it’s too late now”. And then something strange happened. I somehow opened up a race calendar and learned that I have a chance to enter the next race, Istanbul Marathon. I sent my dad a message asking if he was awake and didn’t expect him to reply. If he hadn’t replied I guess none of this would have happened. However, as I got ready to hit the road for work, he called me back.

Running history

My dad is an experienced marathon runner. He has been running marathons in South Africa and internationally for almost 20 years. He has finished the epic Comrades Marathon several times. It has been his thing, since we were kids. He has moulded his life around running and plans his routine and holidays around his race calendar. He also co-established Shakaland Athletic Club and is still the club manager. But the big question is, where do I fit into all of this?

Once upon a time, I was kinda interested in running. I thought of running as a good way to get into shape for my real passion, Squash. There is a saying, “you can’t play squash to get fit, you need to get fit to play squash.” But to be really honest, my running career began long before that, when I joined the 100 Club. As someone who grew up during the transition from Apartheid to democracy in South Africa in the 90s, I was fortunate to go to a school that encouraged, nay, enforced several sporting codes upon its students. It was a rule (The Apartheid Regime were big on rules) that every child had to participate in at least 1 sport during every school term. Hence, I joined the 100 Club.

When I think back, I can’t imagine why I would have opted to join this particular sport. It involved going to school 1 hour early and running a few kilometres every day until one reached the celebrated 100km goal. Why would an 8 year-old child, who hated school, especially the ‘waking-up early’ part, agree to such torture. 23 years later I am faced with the very same question? Why did I voluntarily sign-up for this marathon? I probably had a reason when I was 8, although I can’t remember it now. I have been living in Istanbul for almost a year now. Istanbul is not the worst place to run a marathon, I guess.

Back to running Istanbul Marathon 2020..

So my dad calls me up at 7:15 in the morning (6:15 in South Africa) as if he was just waiting for my call. He began giving me facts and figures about what to do and I got really confused. The connection was also unclear so we agreed to talk later. That’s where I stand at the moment. I’m planning to do my first training run today after work.


Note on race registration: Istanbul Marathon 2020

I had to do some digging online to find the relevant page to register for the Istanbul Marathon 2020. There are a few pages like worldmarathons. This website is helpful. However, if you register with them you would pay a registration fee of 75 Euros, which is a great deal more than the 150 Turkish Liras I paid. I would suggest booking directly with the official website, sporistanbul.

The initial page is only available in Turkish so make sure that you have enabled your Google Translate extension so that you can navigate the website easily.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the page you will see a link to the registration page. The registration process was pretty straight-forward. Now the hardest part is the waiting. I need to wait another one month for the Race expo. I really hope my T-shirt fits.


How to prepare for a marathon

I have made it into my second week of training, which means that I have only 4 weeks left before I begin to taper in preparation for race-day. This means that there will be no big runs or fast runs after 25 October.  This is what my dad suggested which makes sense to me.

I have been watching some youtube videos and reading a bit online about how to prep for your first marathon. While I have picked up some good pointers from these aids I feel like most of their advice won’t work for me, for 2 reasons. Firstly, I am way past the deadline of starting to prepare for a marathon, which is supposed to take months. Secondly, this is not my first marathon. I did run a marathon some 10 years ago. Even though it was a long time ago and I was in a very different physical condition, I still have an idea of how I prepared and how I managed to cross the finish line. To be honest, it destroyed me and I vowed never to run ever again.

Is 1 month enough to train for a marathon?

There are loads of ‘how to’ guides available online. They have been compiled by professional athletes in great shape. They give you the ideal training plan for the ideal person. I wish I was that ideal person with an unlimited budget to buy the best equipment and have 5 months to train and build myself up gradually. Unfortunately, my situation is the opposite. I don’t have 115 USD to pay for an online coaching membership, after the 5-day free trial. Nor do I have a lot of time on my hands. I was able to run a marathon before on minimal training but overall good fitness. Will I be able to do it again? Only time will tell.

Aches and pains

Over the weekend I ran 14.5 km. It took me 2 hours, which even I consider to be slow. However, my intention was to run for 2 hours at a comfortable pace and finish strong. I finished my 2 hours without any hassle. However, I have since been feeling soreness in in both my front calf muscles, commonly referred to as shin splints, and a little niggle in my left Achilles. In addition to my regular ‘before and after’ streches, my goal today is to find ways to address these issues so that they don’t become a nuisance for me now and a big problem later. I’m also searching for a pair of compression socks, which I am still having trouble locating. I am hoping that the compression socks will help with my lower leg issues.

Plan for the week

My plan this week is simple. I will do short and fast runs during the week and a long slow run on the weekend. I have run 4km on 2 days this week, so far. If I can comfortably run two more 4km runs on Wednesday and Thursday, I will have a breather on Friday and do my big boy run, about 15km, on Saturday morning. For the big run I plan to hit the road early on Saturday morning. This will give me the whole of the weekend to recover and be ready to resume my training on Monday after work.

2 weeks to race day

It is evident that I am not in the best shape to run a marathon. However, I feel confident that I will pull it off as I did once before. I feel generally good. I say generally because I am still having some minor shin pain. Sometimes its the front. Then it goes a little higher. I have accepted that I will have to run through it and hope for the best.

 Important information about Istanbul Marathon

I am concerned about the lack of information about the race as a whole.  It has been a month since I registered and I have received no information about anything from the race organizers. Due to my daily searches, I have found that there is an Istanbul Marathon page that includes some race rules and details like the route and how to get there. There is also an Instagram page that is updated daily and which I found helpful for answering runners’ questions. This is where I learned, only yesterday, that the Race expo has been canceled. They are supposed to make arrangements for runners to pick up their race bags in the coming days. 

I can understand that the expo poses a problem because of social distancing measures. However, my excitement and anxiety about the race lead me to be less tolerant of the lack of correspondence from the guys in charge.  My job is to run and the rest is theirs. I shouldn’t have to worry about anything else.

What I know so far…

  • The route has been changed. The race will now begin in Yenikappi and end at the same location. this location is easily accessible via public transportation.
  • Water will be served at 5km intervals during the race.
  • Roads will gradually be reopened to traffic and the remaining runners, like me, will have to continue on the pavement.

What I don’t know:

  • What time the race will start. Previous start times suggest that it will begin at 9 a.m. However, this information is nowhere to be found on any of the race sites.
  • When I will receive my race bag: T-shirt, number, chip, etc. There is a new tab on the Login page of Spor.Istanbul called Location selection. I assume this is the option to select where you want to fetch your race bag. This tab doesn’t have any options or information to select yet.

I have been living in Istanbul for a while now. I know my way around the city and will have little trouble making my way to whichever location they use for race-bag collection. For international runners and runners coming from outside Istanbul, this won’t be so easy. I hope that they can figure things out soon and make it clear for everyone.

Burning with Excitement!!!

Regardless, as the days bring me closer to the race I can feel my excitement and nerves mounting. With every post I see on the Insta page, I get more excited. I really can’t wait any longer. I want to run now.

Race bag collection

While the Race Expo was canceled, they had organized for runners to collect their race bags from Zorlu Centre, in what looked like a more low-key event.  I found the collection point a bit hard to find, at first. There were no signs posted or officials offering guidance from the bus station. I walked around for a few minutes and then spotted a guy carrying the Istanbul Marathon race bag, a bright blue bag. He gave me adequate directions towards the place I needed to be. Once I arrived, the procedure was quite fast, like 5 minutes. There was no queue.

Inside the Race Bag

I was rather disappointed with the contents of the race bag. Istanbul Marathon is supposed to be the Premier race event in Turkey. I am told that this is the solitary Marathon event in Istanbul. If I want to run another marathon I would have to travel to another city. It didn’t look like a world-class marathon race bag. Nothing compared to the Comrade’s Marathon, in more ways than one. The bag included a T-shirt, an envelope with the Race number and shoe-chip, and 1 energy gel. Then there was also a few small bags of beans, soup, and bulgur wheat. Not really helpful for running. That’s it. I expected more goodies.

Istanbul Marathon 2020 Race day

The Istanbul Marathon 2020 Race day had finally come and I managed to survive without injuring myself. I could consider myself a winner already, right? WRONG. Although I was feeling really good leading up to the race I still made a few silly mistakes. Firstly, I hardly slept the night before. This is a problem that I usually suffer from. I get too anxious to get a good night’s sleep. Also, I didn’t have any breakfast before the race. This really came back to burn me. I got up early so that I could reach the start on time and I was just in no mood to eat. Still, I should have tried to eat something or carry something for the road.

At the start

The start was alive with runners scattered everywhere. Everyone was excited and so was I. The bag-drop tents were clearly marked according to color. I was red. Once I dropped my bag it was almost 9, the official start time so I made my way toward the start point. There seemed to be some commotion at the start there was a small opening for runners to go through to the starting line and race officials were preventing most people from going through. This created a huge crowd in that area. Meanwhile, in other parts of the area, runners were still chatting and waiting around for something. I couldn’t really figure out what was going on. When I got into that huge crowd I realized that they were only allowing black numbers to pass through. It was kind of chaotic because there were black numbers that didn’t even know that it was their turn. The whole thing was just too lackadaisical for my liking. I wanted to get on with it.

Off and away

Almost 30 minutes later. I was finally allowed to start the race. The weather was rather good, by Istanbul standards. It wasn’t particularly cold, just a fair breeze. And luckily no rain. The route started out flat and then eased into a mild uphill as we approached Eminonu station. I was feeling good so far. I made sure to keep my pace slow, even though many other runners were passing me. I know how important it is to run your own race. Being thrown-off by other runners is a rookie mistake. As we passed Karakoy into Besiktas the road began to tilt upwards for a while and then came to a steep incline all the way up to the iconic Temmuz Bridge. I made sure to walk all the way up that hill There was no way I was gonna get bust so early on in the race. I could see that this hill had already taken some casualties from among my fellow runners. some ran out of steam and stopped halfway. Others were sitting stuck on the pavement. I was determined to push on.

The view from The Bridge

This is considered the highlight of the race. Pedestrians are not allowed onto this bridge so being able to run here is a privilege enjoyed only by the few that run the Istanbul Marathon, once a year. The view was really breath-taking. It really showcases the sheer enormity and unbelievable beauty of Istanbul. It seemed as if some people entered the race just to stop and take pictures on the bridge. I passed by many such people and never saw them again. Crossing the bridge was awesome and after that, there was, well nothing. Once I crossed into the Asian side I felt really isolated. I saw nothing and no one. It was by far the most boring stretch of the race.

Now, ever so slowly approaching the half-way mark, I could feel my legs giving up and my body was about to succumb to this race. I was tired. I was also becoming very hungry.

The Second Half

By now, I was not happy. All my enthusiasm had turned into pain and exhaustion. I was starting to wonder where it all went wrong. I was beginning to regret everything. Telling myself that I was not ready. Not fit enough. Starting to feel miserable.

Still, I kept telling myself that giving up is not an option. I decided to just count from 1 to 10 and breathe with the rhythm of my counting. This simple strategy really helped. I made sure to keep water with me all the time and sipped regularly. I also tried to focus on how many minutes I was taking to finish each kilometer.

Finally, the finish line!!!

I noticed that in the last hour, after 5 hours that is, the roads had been opened to traffic. This was kind of distracting and possibly dangerous. There was also a bus that was picking up tired runners and taking them to the finish line. The last and hardest kilometer was on a highway that was full of cars. After 40km I really didn’t need this. However, I managed to get to the finish only to find that the cleaning crew were clearing the area. There were no race officials available. Luckily my wife was waiting with something for me to drink.

I just found a space and sat down, completely exhausted. I gave my bag number to my wife to retreive my bag. The collection tent was another 500m away. After a long 5 minutes she returned with a bag of snacks and drinks. The bag also included my medal. overall, it was an interesting experience. However, I would need to do a lot more training if I wer to continue running.


Raihaana October 3, 2020 - 2:17 pm

This is so cute. I love the throwbacks to school days and 100 club

Faheem Suliman October 14, 2020 - 6:11 am

Those were good days…

Muhammed Yasin Augustine October 13, 2020 - 5:29 am

Hi Faheem

Really great article and story of how it all came about (the passion for running / being an athlete)!!

All the best with the marathon:)

Faheem Suliman October 14, 2020 - 6:09 am

Thanks bro, the passion may not be enough to take me accross the line. I hope my legs can do the distance. Right now I relying on muscle memory from 20 years ago…????

Hajar October 13, 2020 - 10:55 am

Bash must be so proud!
I thought I was mad to go from 0 running to 21km is 6 weeks. Can’t wait to hear how it goes!
Also the best advice your father gave me, rather run on untrained legs than tired legs. All the best!

Faheem Suliman October 14, 2020 - 6:03 am

Thank you Hajar for the encouragement. I’m undertrained so I’m just gonna hope for the best on race-day. And keep up the running…

Ahmed Hajaree October 14, 2020 - 3:55 pm

It’s a greater achievement to run in a another country without knowing much . Just to be there before the start is an accomplishment. You have a strong mind. Allah make it easy for you. All the best.

Faheem Suliman October 23, 2020 - 7:35 am

Thank you uncle Ahmed. Appreciate the good wishes. I’m gonna miss the Shakaland boys on the road.

Shiraz Suleman October 15, 2020 - 7:56 pm

Was great reading ur piece Faheem Bhai. All the best bro. I know you will rock that marathon. Just make one two bras while running and start rocking the choons. Before you finish the choons you will see the finish line and think it was nothing, lol. All the best bro. Hope to meet up soon inshaAllah

Faheem Suliman October 23, 2020 - 7:33 am

Thank you cuz. I’m curious to see if I experience that social ‘Comrades’ vibe or if it is sombre like the metrobus. I don’t want to find myself ‘marching ace’ all the way to the finish line…

Rania Edelbi October 22, 2020 - 12:04 pm

This feels like reading somebody’s diary. I like how easy it flows and the enchanting details. All th best on your big run 🙂

Faheem Suliman October 23, 2020 - 7:21 am

Thanks Rania.


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