This race was the most popular I have yet attend with running friends. Three groups from the London region travelled out from different airports, and the one that was departing from the same as me was on a different flight. I arrived in the early evening, but not in time to get to the expo which was only 3 stops on the tram from the airport. So I took the airport shuttle which terminated close to Taksin Square and using the map I had been sent confidently set of to walk to my apartment. I actually went in the opposite direction to that which was required, and there was an incident. As I was walking past what looked like a shoe cleaner, he picked up his stuff and followed me. As I was approaching some bollards in the pavement he ran past and barged into me, spilling what he was carrying. He spoke sharply to me, of course I didn’t understand him (but I thought I did hear the word “telephone”) so I shrugged and carried on. After he had picked up his stuff he went past me again, stopped and then kicked me on the shin. Of course I moved quickly away and he carried on following talking at rather than to me. I made sure I was with other people, but when they turned off and he was close I made the obvious choice for a runner and legged it. He didn’t respond to my change of pace! When I did discover I had walked more than a mile in the wrong direction my only concern was that I had to walk back along the same road. I made sure I was on the other side which was more crowded.
When I eventually reached the streets around Taksin Square to look for my apartment I heard someone shout “Keith”. It was Dave Ross, he of Hermes Running, who I knew was coming over. Amazingly he was staying about 50m from me, and we spent much of the weekend in each other company, not actually during the race as he finished in 2:52. I also managed to say “Hi” to the amazing running/cycling/swimming machine that is Susie Chan, who with 3:27:41 can second in her age category.
Runners were bused to the start, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus Bridge, arriving an hour and a half before the start. There was nowhere to shelter, and although it wasn’t too cold it wasn’t warm and there was a breeze. We found a road tunnel to spend some of the time, and the nearby trees/bushes off the road were used by many!
Istanbul is an IAAF Gold Label race, yet the start was unbelievably chaotic. A 15k race began at the same time and place, with parallel start lines, and they immediately joined so over 8000 headed for the Bosphorus Bridge which joins Asia and Europe. All 8 lanes of the bridge were used which would have been enough. However there were no starting pens, so anyone could start where they wanted and they did. Many local walkers had only entered so that they could cross the bridge, as all other times pedestrians are prohibited. So right from the start all runners were encountering many very slow, sometimes stationary, competitors.
It became much less crowded after 13k when the 15k race runners split off to go their finish, but annoyingly after we done a 4k loop we joined the even slower ones again!
The weather conditions were ideal for running cloudy, cool, very little wind and drizzle on and off during the race. But what the drizzle did was make much of the running surface surprisingly slippery, and care really was needed. I actually ran right by the curb, which was dry but it did mean often running around the outside of curves .
The course wasn’t difficult. There were a couple of minor hills, one leading up the the spectacular Valens Aqueduct but they were not as bad as I had been expecting. Even towards the end which involved running up on cobbles towards the Blue Mosque for the finishing line was not as daunting as it seemed from descriptions I had read.
I was apprehensive before the start. It was only three weeks since my previous marathon, where I had actually run 45k. The shortest interval between marathons before had been four weeks, after which was Edinburgh and that became very hard going after 32k. But this race was very different. I didn’t find it difficult at all. I had intended to run with the 3:45 pacer for as long as possible, but I couldn’t find it before the start. So I ran on my own at a comfortable pace going though the halfway mark in a time similar to the last 2 races. I actually moved up from 1547 to 1057 male over the second half of the race, passing 48 over the last 2.2k.
I ended up with a 5:46 PB and felt at the end it could have been faster. I really do need to find a pacer at the next race.
So what do I put my impressive (well I think it is) performance?
- I had used the same pair Asics Gel Nimbus for the previous 8 marathons (superstition?); since earlier in the year I have had a pair of Brooks Glycerine which I have trained in a few times and I wore for my big half marathon PB in Brussels 6 weeks earlier.
- Core strength is bound to have improved tremendously just because I have run 8 marathons, with 7 in the previous 10 months.
- I had a couple of beers on the night before the race, something I have specifically refused to do for the other races. Maybe this needs to become a pre-race ritual?
- My bib number was 4109, which is clearly my lucky number as I had the same one for my Brussels half marathon 6 weeks earlier as mentioned above.
- I have purposely lost 4kg since July.
I don’t usually bother with anything in the goodie bag after the race, but the Ulker cikolate with pistachio pieces was so excellent that since getting home I have sourced out a local supplier.
The heavy medal of course features the Bosphorus Bridge and the technical top is the size it is supposed to be. A second t-shirt is provided for finishers; it is cotton, covered in advertising and there was no size choice.
Position 1166/3877 (male 1055/3122) (1174 DNS and 305 DNF and 63 DQ)
Category position (male 65-69) 7/49
Age graded score 69.6%
Age graded time 2:59:28
This was the eighth marathon in my project, one that (almost) no one would have heard about and likely to be the one with the smallest entry. The race started and ended in Aarschot, which is 40km NE of Brussels in the Flanders region of Belgium; so it followed my rules, name of the marathon in alphabetic order and a different county.
I travelled over on the earliest (hence cheapest) Eurostar possible which meant getting up at 4.15am to catch the first bus to East Croydon. One of the advantages of travelling Eurostar to Belgium is that you can then travel on to any other rail destination in Belgium for 24 hours after your arrival in Brussels, then back to Brussels for 24 hours before the return train. So I travelled to stay in Leuven overnight then to Aarschot next morning all within the rules. Leuven is the home of Stella Artois, but I did resist the temptation to have a pre-race drink in its home town. And actually when in Belgium there are too many other more preferable beers to try.
I walked to the the race HQ from the station, despite being told by locals it was a ‘”long way” and would take “too long”. 20 minutes later I was at Cafe de Knoet, its proprietor organises the race and likes to keep it small and cheap (have you run an official marathon for less than the €10 this cost? But unsurprisingly for this cost there was no medal or T shirt but there was a free beer!)
After a pre race briefing in Dutch I realised the race had started as everyone began running in the opposite direction to the way I was expecting. All I knew of the route was ” Het opzet nog steeds hetzelfde als de voorbije jaren: vier lussen van ca. 10 kilometer in het Aarschotse te combineren tot de marathonafstand” which translates as “In the Aarschotse combining four loops of approximately 10 kilometres to the marathon distance”. I had pictured a relatively flat circuit around the outskirts of the city, on roads/paths/cycle tracks and the like. Maybe I should have downloaded the gpx file available!
After a straightforward first few k with a water station at 3.5k we moved onto trails through the trees with puddles, mud, tree roots and undulations. This looped back to the same aid station then back into the trees on different trails with a considerable incline that involved some walking, as did the steeper downward section. We did return to the start at the half marathon distance, and I went through in almost the same time as Guernsey in August, 1:55. Then we set off in a different direction around two more loops which is where the problems occurred. After about 10k some of the sights seemed familiar and I was certain I had missed a marker when I arrived at a picnic table I had certainly run past before. So I doubled back, met some of the runners who were on there first trip round the section and found the marker I had missed. Back on track I set off around the final loop which started along a tow path, where the leaders were already coming in the opposite direction. Things seemed to go well, through more trees for a few more k and back onto the tow path. The road I saw approaching meant just under 3k to go, or did it? Where was the aid station? I followed the marker and again realised I had been this way before. So I again doubled back on myself, met one of the accompanying cyclists who said I had missed a turn-round arrow after rejoining the tow path!
It’s amazing how the brain reacts to knowing you are not going to get ‘a time’; after my two errors, both totally my own fault (the signage was comprehensive and very clear!) it wouldn’t let me push myself. But as long as I could achieve one of the aims I set after my first marathon in Athens, to run all subsequent ones faster than that one, I would be happy. The final 3k were probably the easiest part of the course, and they were the extra distance that made my 8th marathon my first (mini)ultra. I finished with a distance of 45.28k in 4:42:48 I was 42nd out of 48 finishers, but the only one to run the extra distance! The whole event was sufficiently casual that you could decide how far you wanted to run at any time during the run. I saw bib number 102 which suggests less than half of those that started choose to complete the whole distance.
I drank with a very convivial bunch of local hardcore runners, must of whom had many more than 100 marathons to their name. They kept me long enough so I didn’t have time to stop in Leuven for a Stella, I ended up getting the last possible train to Brussels that connected with my Eurostar booking.
Just 3 weeks after this is my last marathon of the year, Istanbul. This is the shortest interval between marathons for me, maybe it’s good I didn’t have any inclination to push it over the last 10k of the run, need to have something left in the legs for my two continents run.
Whenever I travel abroad the first items on my packing list now are my running gear. Of course that obviously had to be the case for 2 of my recent trips, the half marathons in Jerusalem, and Marseilles, but when organising for Costa Rica my running shoes, socks, shorts and top where first in the bag. Because a lot of the holiday involved early starts (I actually out of bed before 6.00am for 14 consecutive days and I cannot remember when I last did that – ever?) either for excursions or to move on to a new resort, I realised running was not be the first activity I could expect to do. In fact it wasn’t until day 10 when we were at Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast that I managed to put the gear to use. Even then it was only for a 4.5k run along the beach because we did have an early morning forest walk organised, but it was enough. The temperature was in the mid 20s C when I set out, and as soon as the sun came over the palm tress (just after 6.00am) the (my) temperature rocketed and running became very hard work. I started out a few minutes earlier the next day (even I found it difficult to justify getting up before 5.30am on holiday) and managed almost 6k before the wall of sunlight hit. But just running along a sandy beach (albeit in trainers, as previously in Zanzibar I had ‘shredded’ toes when running barefoot) was so refreshing after months of the Riddlesdown Parkrun mud!
It was however my third and final run while away that was an amazing experience after we had moved back to San Jose in preparation for the flight home. We had originally been allocated a hotel near to the airport, but decided that with a 4.55pm flight, if we stayed in San Jose we would be able to explore the city in the morning. We ended up a couple of km from the centre, very close to the new national football stadium which is at one end of La Sabana Metropolitan Park. One of my first impressions of San Jose, on our first morning in the country (a Thursday) at the beginning of the holiday, had been the large number of runners we passed in the outskirts of the City as we were being driven out to Volcano Poás; before arriving I had no the idea that running was so popular in Costa Rica (why should I have had!) But even this experience had not prepared me for my run in the La Sabana Metropolitan Park. We had visited it the evening before, a Sunday, and it was clear it was the equivalent of Hyde Park in London or Central Park in New York, filled with families enjoying the usual hot weekend.
One of my first observations was a small wooden post about 30cm high clearly having a function other than to trip up unsuspecting tourists. My astute eyes, more use to picking out potholes and mud patches, soon noticed more of them, forming a winding trail through the trees, maybe just a sensible way to make sure the whole area didn’t get trodden down? But soon it became clear that the main users of this trail were not families but the occasional runner. Great, I thought, a route to follow tomorrow. A bit further through the park, it was actually after 6.00pm and dark, an actually running track appeared (the middle used for roller hockey); maybe I could also use this next day?
So before 6.00am on Monday morning I set off for my individual San Jose ‘Parkrun’. My first positive experience was when the driver of a huge truck, the kind you see on films that drive long distances on highways through the US ‘deserts’, stopped for me. I wasn’t trying to dart through a gap across the road at the corner of the park, as I normally would if there was a long stream of traffic, I was just waiting with the only vehicle on the road, this lorry, to pass. But it was inside the park that the real revelation took place. At such an early hour, on a work day, there were 100s of runners, some using the marked trail but most others running along the many paths. And the actually running track was crowded with both serious club runners and enthusiastic ‘amateurs’ like myself. If this wasn’t a big enough surprise, scattered around the area were tables with water, other hydration drinks and even fruit, all of which appeared to be free. I was disappointed that I only had time for a 7k run as I needed to get back for breakfast and our brief walk around San Jose. It was on this that I realised why the park was essential for the runners of San Jose city. The pavements are terrible and the curbs the highest I have seen anywhere, totally unsuitable and unsafe for walking, never mind running!
We walked through the park at midday when the temperature was in the high 20s C and there were still plenty of runners (not workers on a lunch break). I wanted to come home with a San Jose running top, but of course the shops that sold kit only had the logo-ed tops you can get anywhere where the world. I did spot a runner with one in the park and spoke to him; I don’t have
much any Spanish, and him no English, which made it difficult but his top was from the 2012 10.5k run in the city and he won’t have wanted to part with it whilst I would have been a fraud to wear it!
When I make my list of top 10 places to run, La Sabana Metropolitan Park, San Jose, Costa Rica will definitely be one of them. Pura Vida.
For Christmas, my two sons produced gifts that showed unusual originality of their behalf, but that were remarkably similar and could, unwittingly, cost them in the future.
My elder son gave Scratch Map, a map of the world where all countries are covered with a layer of gold foil. As you travel you are supposed to scratch away the gold foil layer to reveal facts and city details of the countries below. But it can also be used to record countries already visited, and as we have already been to many that we certainly will not revisit, this is how my wife and I will use it.
Now put these 2 gifts together and what do you get? A clear picture where we haven’t been, so the incentive to plan a trip, or rather trips, to see how much of the world we can uncover before it covers us.
And that will undoubtedly be costly and mean a smaller inheritance for the boys, and our daughter who sensibly bought me running gear!