I didn’t sleep very well last night. It sounded like someone had turned a hose – a fire hose – on the hostel room window. I kept having, “Look! It’s the sun!” dreams to counteract it, but every time I woke up, the torrential rains seemed worse. It was practically Biblical in proportion. If it starts raining locusts or blood tomorrow, I won’t be terribly surprised.
Thus, sleep deprived and somewhat dreading what was no doubt going to be an outrageously wet morning, I got up at 6:30 a.m. and suited up – as best I could – for the run. It is safe to say that I was tragically unprepared. In order to face a long run in 12C/58F degree weather, I had:
That’s it. That was the complete and total assembled wardrobe and I was drenched to the BONE within minutes. I think we can all consider ourselves lucky that this post isn’t coming to you from a Turkish hospital where I am being treated for hypothermia.
God bless ’em, but Turkey is wildly disorganized. At least they seem to know it. We were required to board the buses by 7:30 a.m, and they arrived at starting point of the race within ten minutes. Thus, we pulled onto the side of the road and sat there for over an hour – nothing like giving yourself a nice wide berth for unplanned mistakes and unintended consequences. As someone who attracts chaos and confusion wherever I go, I can appreciate this.
As we sat on the bus, I surveyed the Noah-esque scene outside. For a brief period, there was a glimmer of sun in the distance, and I felt a rising confidence that my dream had been a premonition. Sadly, my hopes were dashed when the clouds closed and the rains beat down even more furiously than before. For a while, there was even lightening.
Despite it all, the race began at 9:00 a.m. with zero fan fare. I heard a car backfire a few miles away (or perhaps that was the sound of a water-soaked starter pistol?) and the traditional ‘slow trot’ that marks every race on earth began. Istanbul is on both Asia and Europe, and the marathon’s ‘claim to fame’ (which is a bit of a stretch) is that you can run from one continent to the other. Specifically, that entails starting on Asia side, crossing three bridges, and ending by the Blue Mosque on the European side of the city.
Meanwhile, I’m not a super-seasoned competitive runner, but I have done a half-dozen or so in the States. There, crowds show, bands play, people cheer, and there’s an energy and a vibe that gets you fired up and keeps you moving. In comparison, the Istanbul Marathon was like a trip to the morgue. At one point, I ran in total silence for half an hour. I got so lost in thought that I almost crashed into some pedestrians who were wandering across the barricaded street in no particular hurry to get out of my or my fellow runners’ ways. The Turkish are like the wild turkeys we have at home – in the street and not really interested in your opinion of that.
As for the marathon itself, it could be the rain, but I doubt it. To be frank, there is no vibe, no energy, and no scene. No one showed up. No bands. No music. No giving a sh*t. At the most, people looked on confused or even annoyed at these two thousand or so individuals running in the pouring, driving, freezing rain. I thought we deserved a “Boorah” or maybe an appreciative whistle or something just for being insane enough to persist in this weather…but nothing. Even the WINNERS got nothing. As the triumphant Kenyan crossed the finish line in what was probably Arctic weather to his African sensibilities, a couple people yelled “Bravo!” From that point on, I screamed like mad for all the people in the final chute of the complete marathon.
With respect to the ridiculously relentless rain, I can count on one hand the times in my life I have been so cold. It was unreal. Just when you thought the wind and the water had to back off, it would get even worse. At one point a rain drop went directly into my ear canal and hurt for like an hour. The hair on my arms stood on end the entire time. Sometimes, the only sound I could hear was the “squish” of people’s shoes as we worked our way through the ankle-deep water backed up in the streets. Happily, my friend and I were wonderfully matched runners, and comfortably stayed together the entire time, occasionally moaning about how this had to be the single wettest run of our entire lives.
Otherwise, and to my own complete and total shock, I ran really well. I kept a good pace and was never tired. Only in the last couple kilometers did the cold get to my muscles, and I honestly felt like I could’ve gone at least 5KM further, maybe more. It kind of has me fired up to train for and do a full marathon. As for how I managed to muster this athletic prowess with virtually no preparation and my sporadic running schedule, it has to be carrying that damn backpack for three months. I can think of no other reason I was so strong.
And oddly enough, in many ways, the race was a fitting metaphor for this trip. As I was running up a hill near the end, I started giving myself the pep talk I’ve given so many times before, “You can do this. Just hang in there. You’re doing great. You’re tough. You’re all over this. You rock.” I realized I was pulling on many of the same physical and mental reserves I’ve used the whole time: Pushing yourself when you’re miserable, enjoying the moment and the wonderment of finding yourself in such a foreign and magical place even if it’s not quite going according to plan, stretching your physical and mental limits, and all the while discovering strength you never knew you had. Boorah!