Fresh from running my 13th marathon in Detroit, in which you cross the US-Canada border (which is one of 10 reasons you should run the Detroit Marathon), I couldn’t pass up the invite to run the Istanbul Marathon, even though it was just two weeks later.
Is the Istanbul Marathon one you should add to your bucket list? Yes! There are so many reasons you should make this a fall destination race. I’ve narrowed it down to 11 reasons here:
- You run across the Bosphorus Bridge. If you’ve got a thing for running across bridges (like I do — running across the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit was phenomenal!), then you’ll love the start of this race as it takes you across the Bosphorus Bridge. The sun will have already risen (the race starts at 9 a.m.) so you’ll get great views on either side of you. But the best part about running across this bridge? See point #2.
- It’s the only marathon in the world that crosses continents. The Istanbul Marathon starts in the Asian side of Istanbul and you run across the Bosphorus Bridge, which brings you to Europe. You’ll be able to add “ran the only transcontinental marathon in the world” to your list of achievements!
- It’s a challenging, hilly route. If you love a good challenge, then the Istanbul Marathon is for you! The race is, thankfully, not through some extremely steep parts of the city, for example, Beyoglu, but you definitely hit some decent inclines (and some declines), plus there’s a very special “treat” of two steady hills in the last kilometre or so of the marathon.
- Street dogs keep you company along the route. I spotted at least six street dogs trotting along the route. If you’re an animal lover, this will lift your spirits. All the street dogs are gentle and appear to be well fed and tended to, much like the many cats in Istanbul.
- The spectators are few but they’re enthusiastic. Based on what I observed, many of the locals aren’t the type to cheer random strangers running a race, however there are several cheer squads who come out and these groups really get into it. There is little in terms of entertainment along the route, so you’ll really come to appreciate their support along the way.
- The exciting energy pre-race. With the race start located on the Asian side of the bridge, the area where you check your bag, go to the portapotty and wait to get into your corral is right beside the starting line. Unlike many races, where you’re off in another section before getting to your corral, with the music and announcer blaring and runners from the marathon and 15k all gathered in the starting area, there’s a palpable energy in the air. Note: the 15k race is a much more popular event, so if you don’t feel up for training for a marathon, the 15k is a fantastic option (and it had a fun-filled post-race party at the finish).
- The scenic Istanbul Marathon route. You start on the pretty bridge and after that the next 16k or so is much more scenic than the latter half (where you’re on a pretty bland throughway out and back), so soak up the pretty views while you’ve got them. The mosques make for such a beautiful and unique skyline.
- You can experience Turkish Airlines to fly to Istanbul. I was blessed with a seat in Business Class (thanks to being hosted by Turkish Airlines) and so I got plenty of sound sleep on the flight there thanks to the lie-flat seat, and it’s such a pleasure to eat delicious food on proper plates (by faux candlelight, no less!), have noise-cancelling headphones, cozy slippers and useful Versace toiletry bag. Oh, and the lie-flat seat was great to stretch out my marathon-recovering legs for the flight home. If Business Class is not in your budget, the economy is still a step above other airlines and the flight attendants are all very congenial.
- Stay and explore the incredible metropolis of Istanbul. This bustling city is a treasure trove of beautiful architecture with so much history to dive into. It’s a fantastic reward for that marathon you just crushed to stay here for vacation exploring the stunning mosques, gorgeous palaces (do not miss Dolmabahce Palace and Topkapi Palace), and ancient sites like the Galata Tower and Basilica Cistern. Composed of seven hills, the city might seem like the worst enemy to your tired body when you are sightseeing the day or two after the race, but I stayed at a charming little apartment in Galata, where it’s quite hilly and I tried to view the terrain as a great way to keep the legs moving to avoid DOMS.
- The delicious Turkish food to indulge in post-marathon. Foodies, your new motto after visiting Istanbul might just be “Run to lahmacun/manti/kofte/hummus/halloumi/Turkish breakfast/doner/simit/kebap — and the list could go on and on! You will eat very well in Istanbul. The array of mezes is delightful and there’s a relaxed ease to how the locals seem to live that is admirable: pulling up a stool to enjoy tea with a friend is just part of one’s daily ritual.
- You can experience an authentic Turkish hammam. As part of your marathon recovery, book a hammam bath experience and get your skin scrubbed clean and feel the soothing warm water and bubbles cascade over your body. We recommend the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, which is in a beautifully restored 16th century bath and where your treatment will start with a refreshing sip of sherbet.