Since 2011, Turkey has a very unique long distance race and I was lucky to run the 3rd edition this April in the beautiful historical town of Iznik. Iznik formerly named Nicea is one of the oldest established towns in Anatolia. Ottoman Empire was also started its huge roots here. But before the connection from Bursa to Silk Road, Iznik was one of the most important stopovers with Mosques, food and drink facilities. The region is surrounded by olive trees and green fields. But on top of that, Turkey`s one of the largest lakes are here and this makes a 130km race circumnavigate it along with spectacular views.
Race organizer, Caner is a friend of mine plus we share common interests like ultra-running, blogging, gear reviews and on another bucket; we had produced Turkey`s first and only Ultra Marathon documentary “Pathway to Dreams” summarizing what happened before, during and after our 2010 UTMB TDS Journey. I am also very proud that I share his vision and also help through the year to plan the best race experience along with bunch of close “ultra friends” by supporting him with ideas, global race best practices and small details.
This year due to our new venture www.kosuyorum.net owned by my wife Sedef, we had the opportunity to be in Iznik Ultra marathon under the umbrella of the French Trail running brand Raidlight as being its official distributor in Turkey. Along with many International runners coming to Turkey this year, Benoit Laval CEO of Raidlight kindly accepted our invitation to come and get to know the Turkish Market and race and challenge the audience in 42km course. (And he bloody did very well)
We took our ferry boat from Istanbul Anatolian side around 21:30 (Pendik to Yalova). You can do the same from European side either with car ferries or fast sea busses. After our 45minute journey, we have landed to another seaside town of Marmara region. From Yalova, Iznik city center is exactly 45 minutes and 70kms by car. Loaded with Raidlight gear and new season equipment, Benoit and I arrived with our minivan and separated around midnight to our accomodations.
The next day which is a Friday started with rain and dark weather scaring all runners. Four course menu is present at this course. 130km 2200m+ is the main course, 80km 1850m+ is the second plate, 42km is the entre and the 10km public run on Sunday is the appetiser/snack. All courses start in Iznik and the 42 and 80 end in different villages. 130km one does the full circumnavigation and the 10km is inside the city.
After our 2hr Raidlight booth construction, we were ready to show the gear and the brand to the racers whom came to registration on Friday around 12:00. The ultra-fair performs hospitality to Asics which is the main sponsor, Redbull, On Shoes, Garmin, Outrunner (Turkey`s firs running specialisation shop sells also RAIDLIGHT products) and us; Raidlight Turkiye.
Friday was very tiring for us but also very rewarding. Met with my old friends whom are pioneers of ultra-running, the elite runners from all over the world like Robbie Briton of Inov 8, Jo Meek, Tracy Dean, Marcus Scotney of Montane and of course the famous host and producer of Talk UItra, good friend Ian Corless. His partner Niandi Carmont was the winner of 42km age group in 2011, the inaugural version of the race.
The British team was fun and was great to see some UK neighbours as a Londoner. Maud Comberaiu whom she is the 2nd lady in UTMB CCC from Basque country of France did not had the chance to race but helped a lot during our presence as Raid light team member
During the time I spent, I packed my gear and went on registration. Organization of it was smooth. We had the chance to get several brochures of the races and a DVD copy of www.dupfilm.com The mandatory gear control was tough and checked all necessary items. This was supercritical and Caner had a lot of experience in UTMB, TDS, Paris Eco Trail and many more races and his knowledge of detail was also his crew`s as well…
Skipped the pasta party and the start of the 130km which was midnight of Friday (start line shown above) due to tiring effort I have given during the booth. Many products were sold and introduced to Turkish ultra and trail running fans. Our good friends Inci, Tibet and Soner Sarihan both accommodated bunch of runners plus helped the booth as a right hand along with Yasemin our assistant.
Slept only 6 hrs and the start arrived very quickly as the sun went up early in the morning of Saturday. Packed with runners, Iznik race start area was ready for a very bright day and race. The weather was dry but showing a forecast of showers in the afternoon. 80km course had 70 and 42km course had over 200 runners already warming up with the music. I had the chance to help Caner while introducing the elite runners to the audience…
Had chance to start in the first pack with Soner (www.minikgezgin.com), Gokhan Ozer, Devrim Celal (a solid experienced multi-stage runner www.devrimcelal.net) I tried to maintain my speed very slow during the first 5-6km before the climb. There are two very tough climbs in this race. Both are almost 5-6km long but the second one is muddier in surface and steep compared to the first one.
I had raced the 50mile version of South Downs Way in 5th April. Therefore this race was a kind of a get-together and fun race for me. But after the good weather the last flat section tempted me to have my PB in a 80km course. I use poles in most of my races and I know my self as a quad man. I like pushing uphill and I believe I am getting stronger and stronger every race. I passed almost 10 people both in 42km and 80km course till to first CP. Seeing our friend Ibrahim Efilti with a cowbell motivating me was great. From onwards this point till to 28km CP it was a hot day.
We had good chat and approximately 15kms of run with Gokhan Ozer. Some rolling hills but mostly downhill, the weather got a bit colder and darker while getting close to 42km CP. Around 38, Muskule was the village full of young and old ladies from village clapping their hands and motivating us. Yonca Tokbas, a keen runner and a journalist described this moment as `eye-watering experience` a year ago. I remembered what she said and how she was truly right. Muskule is village that in only 1kms you will gain the motivation either a strong finish for the 42km course or a refreshing start for the reaming half of the race. A simple word to describe is; overwhelming!
Close to 41st km, Maud came nearby and jogged with me and a Bulgarian Runners who was finishing for his 42km course. I have entered the CP around 4:50. Benoit was enjoying his dry clothes and 3:30 epic time as being the second man overall after flying Robbie Briton and only 1.5 minutes in front of Turkish triathlete Duygun Yurteri. 42km CP was full of friends. Mustafa Ucbilek`s girlfriend, Maud, my good friend Deniz who was helping me all day along as crew, guide and everything, Inci (Soners Wife) and Benoit.
Deniz changed my water bottles. Gave me my gels and I ate almost everything in the CP in 2 minutes. Congratulated Elena Polyakova of Salomon Turkey for her course record in 42km and off for the tough hill. From here the climb starts immediately. Steep and the surface is rocky and muddy. Beautiful surroundings, quiet and lonely. I had time to speak to myself, remember my mom, a bit of both sadness and joy along with my playlist covering Coldplay, Depeche Mode and movie themes.
During this course I passed a 80km runner, catch Mustafa and ran along with him till to 65km and we had a good tempo aiming to go under 10hrs. Downhill section of this is tough and rough. Last 3 km is pure concrete and tarmac which is a test before the flat.
We had the showers after 55km and this went on and on till to 60th I could not see my crew Deniz to get my antioxidant gels of Overstims but thanks to Duygun crewing Gokhan Ozer gave me two so I only lost 3 minutes but catch Mustafa again as he exited the CP in front of me. In this CP Ulas and Ufuk other Adim Adim runners and triathletes helped us to gain motivation.
From this section you enter the valley of Olive trees till to the coastline of the lake. In a rainy day, this section might be really muddy. After 3-4km of running and a river passage which makes a cold massage to your feet, you than stroll along the coast of the beautiful and long Iznik lake till to Orhangazi city which gives the name to the 80km course as well. Orhangazi is the son of Osman gazi whom have formed Ottoman Empire in 1200s.
Last 20km was tough as a normal ultra. I pushed myself so hard for a continuous pace with 1-2 minute walk breaks following 8-9 minutes of running. Deniz motivated me by waiving hands 2-3kms before the CP and caught me on the 75km CP. He helped me to get coke, water and my stay on CP was less than 60 seconds. From this moment I clocked 31 minutes in the last 5kms which is a normally an ok time in a 5km race.
Navigation was solid with perfect marking almost every 50meters of the course. Passing a highway under tunnel, reaching the city centre and the last 1km was a test for enduring my self-limits as I was aiming to go under 10hrs. I passed a runner in the last 10 meters of the finish and finished the course 9:55:56 as my PB for an 80km race. Others were 10:26 for Paris Eco Trail and 10:45 for SDW50.
Beautiful tile medal and drinks offered immediately by the organiser crew. Chairs were present for us to rest and congratulate each other finishers before the busses take them to Iznik where all started. Deniz brought me meatballs with bread a traditional and famous food of the region. While eating them we departed from Orhangazi immediately to go to Iznik, take shower and depart for our ferryboat back from Yalova to Pendik at 21:30
We got Maud, Benoit and went back to ferry after one hour. The race was beautiful and a friendly atmosphere. This was my 12th ultra-marathon. I have seen many races in many European cities. Organisation and detail in this race will amaze you. Marking is good but will be superior with new reflectors for night runners in 2015. Every year more and more international runners are coming to the race. Amy Sproston broke the 80km course record as the first overall and lady. Jo Meek improved this time almost by 30 minutes. Marcus Scotney from Montane UK got lost in the first 2 sections but managed to brake the course record going under 13hrs. Robbie Briton of Inov-8 also finished the 42km marathon course in 3:08, a very hard time to break in 2015.
Many runners from France, Japan, USA, Germany, Costa Rica, Kuwait, TRNC, UAE, Great Britain and Switzerland was a huge plus for the race to become much more International every year. Come to Iznik and race in a very warm atmosphere, good organisation, get a hand made tile medal, t-shirt and fully marked course with stocked CPs. Before or after you can enjoy the charm of the beautiful city of Istanbul which is only 2 hrs. away. Iznik Ultra Marathon is a race you can enjoy a long weekend with your family and children. More Info @ www.iznikultra.com