Koşmak (v.: to run); Lessons learned by the first time race-runner

First, I want to say thank you thank you THANK YOU to everyone who supported me and put up with my craziness and/or rambling on and on about my running and the race during the lead up to it.  Also, I’ll add a quick “I’m sorry…” for my post-race raving and ranting and my general fixation on the subject.  I’ll do my best to keep it in check, but if I blather for too long you should feel free to tell me to shut up.

Sleepy pup

I did miss the best running buddy ever…

A lot of friends and experienced runners told me some of the things to look out for: the zig zagging around slower runners, the extra adrenaline that might cause me to start too quick and burn out early, the need to eat right and be hydrated.  They were all right though the two glasses of wine the night before were worth it.  Despite the advice and pre-planning I didn’t really know what to expect for my first race.  The running itself I knew and was prepared for; however, the should-have-been-expected pre-race chaos was not.

My first time in Turkey years and years ago I quickly learned a phrase all my Turkish friends used with frightening frequency, “burası Türkiye“.  Literally it means “this is Turkey”, but it implies so much more.

“Don’t expect things to be what you’re used to — this is Turkey.”

“Of course we can drive the wrong way up a one way street — this is Turkey.”

“Why would you even try to apply logic to this problem set? — this is Turkey.”

“Sit. Enjoy the tea and the view.  You can only get it here — this is Turkey.”

Essentially, it means things in Turkey are done differently sometimes better, sometimes worse but that you, yabancı (foreigner), must learn to just accept the way things are because you can’t change them.  After all, burası Türkiye.

This tangent is to explain how I was able to maintain my calm and still mentally prepare for the feat ahead of me while most of the non-Turks* lost their minds at the quasi-craziness.  (It should be noted that the Italians and Spaniards I saw seemed right at home… maybe it really is a whole Mediterranean thing.)  There was some chaos in Taksim to get on the buses to get to the Asian side where the race was to begin, but in all fairness to the organizers there is always an element of chaos in Taksim Square.  Probably less so on a normal Sunday morning at 7am, but still.  After loading on the buses (eventually) and getting to Asia (in record time thanks to closed roads) we did have to kill about an hour before the race began in the impressively chilly morning weather.  Not to be blamed on the organizers of course.

No I am no record setter, but I do know that slow people who plan to walk off the start line shouldn’t be the first ones to line up at the line… there were definitely people who didn’t realize that of course.  When added to the impressive number of people who decided to stop dead in their tracks in the middle of the road to take photos (move to the side, people!!!) I did a lot more darting around than I expected and definitely felt the odd lateral moves by the end of the race.  Who thought I’d dart more during a race when we were all (theoretically) running in the same direction than while weaving around people on the sidewalks in Ankara?!

running gear

Laid out and ready for the post race run. Good news: I can justify the money I spent on my gear. Bad news: I can keep justifying it. Darn you, Lululemon!

All and all, I’m super proud of myself.  Not only did I finish the race (goal #1), I managed to run 8.4km (by the way, race officials, it’d be nice to mention this extra .4km to people before we run it) in 1:00:22.  Obviously not a world record, but an awesome starting point for me.  Yep, you read that right.  A starting point.  As in I might consider doing this craziness again.  Who’d’a thought that six months ago?  Definitely not me.

Run an 8km? Check. From Asia to Europe? Check.

So I did it.  I can scratch it off the old 30 in 30 list.  On Sunday I ran in the Istanbul Eurasian marathon (the 8 km portion).  I’ll write all about this awesome accomplishment later, but I’m exhausted (from hiking all over Istanbul for two days more than from running) so for now you get photos.

Traffic

This blurry photo was meant to show the utter mess that was made of Taksim square while the marathon buses were lining up to shuttle us to the Asian side. Time from Taksim to Asia: 19:06. AKA the fastest ever commute across the bridge.

Shuttle bus

Shuttle buses to bring us to the start line.

running shoes

My awesomely bright running shoes (and proof of chip/number).

Pre-Race smile

Pre-Race was all smiles and excitement. And cold. Oh so very cold!

Start line

Right after the start line leaving Asia.

Simitci

The local entrepreneurs came out in full force. There were water sales kids all along the route and these two simitcis ran onto the bridge with us!

Mid-Bridge

Mid-Bridge or halfway between Asia and Europe (though only about a 10th of the way into the race).

Entering Europe

At the other end of the bridge, as I entered Europe. The police along the route were funny — some were the usual bored to be there but some were great and clapping and cheering us on. These were the former.

Into Beşiktaş

Running down the hill into Beşiktaş. The Bosphorus is directly ahead. The banners hanging into the streets (the non-Ataturk ones) were to wish the Beşiktaş runners good luck. I figure since I’m a fan of the Beşiktaş soccer team I count.

Dolmabahçe

Running past Dolmabahçe which was at about the 6.5km mark.

I know.  No finish line pictures… at that point I was so tired that I didn’t even think about it.  Also, after waiting in “line” (I use quotes to denote that it was less of a line and more of a crowd smooshing into a tent) for my certificate, I was ready to shower and get some serious caffeine.  More later to include my lessons learned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amerikalıyım (I am American)

My goal when overseas has always been to blend.  I never wanted to stand out in a crowd and more than anything I never wanted to be an obvious American.  Partly because, well we Americans aren’t loved everywhere in the world, and mostly because Americans tend to have a reputation toward the obnoxious while traveling.  There are so many good arguments for blending in: less likely to be targeted for theft, more likely to be left alone, etc. which is why I was always so thankful that I can pass as Turkish.  Actually, thanks to my genetic make up I can pass as just about anything save far east Asian, sub-Saharan African, and Scandinavian.  Often people realized I was a tourist, but the first guess at my nationality was almost never American.

I think now is a good time to interject and assure you all that I am very proud to be an American.  I love my country for all it’s great accomplishments and it’s flaws.  I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am to be American by birth when there are people all over the world who work very hard to naturalize and become Americans.  I am also keenly aware that many people — all over the world — love America and Americans for a multitude of reasons.  So please don’t send me mean emails about how I’m not a good patriot or how I am stereotyping and making it seem like the world hates Americans.  That said, I also truly subscribe to George McGovern’s theory that “The highest form of patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher plane.” so I tend to shy away from the blind (dare I say uninformed?) patriotism of, let’s say, Toby Keith… which is too bad because I LOVED this song when I was little (and the hair, oh my!).  And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking there aren’t people — large groups of them — out there that dislike America and Americans.  I’m not saying they should or shouldn’t.  To each his own.  I’m also not going to even address the embassy protests of last month, but suffice it to say it was a friendly (if you call fire, destruction, and death friendly) reminder that sometimes it is best to lay low.

However, I have decided fairly recently that I will no longer attempt to blend.  I will wave my Americaness around proudly (and no, I have never claimed to be Canadian or worn a Canadian flag to disguise my American citizenship).  I have lived outside of the US for a little over three years now and up until now I have held the theory that it is far better to just blend in then to make a point to stand out.  That’s right.  Up until now.

Some of you may have heard my theory that a little Turkish is better than a lot of Turkish because people think you’re sweet for trying to learn and that it’s cute when you mess up or don’t understand.  They tend to be more patient with you and try harder to understand and listen to what you’re saying.  Where as with a fair grasp of the language, a pretty acceptable accent, and a little bit too much Mediterranean in your blood people get frustrated and annoyed or even angry when you don’t have a quick and perfect response.  They are also more likely to call you on any faux pas you might commit.

Wear a skirt with tall riding boots but no tights? Don’t worry, some helpful abla will let you know that in her day that wasn’t what proper girls did and every amca on the bus will be staring.  Go outside with wet hair to walk the dog? You’ll be told to get back inside before you catch death or just stared at like you’re on a psychopathic rampage.  Try to go for a run in the great outdoors/along the sidewalks of Ankara? People will think there’s an emergency and that’s why you’re running.  Bring a dog with you?  See my post about that.

But.  And this is a big but.  If you were to say, put on a baseball cap while doing any of the above (preferably Red Sox or Texas Longhorns, but no one’s perfect): your sins are forgiven and suddenly it’s a cool cultural experience for everyone.

Abla: Look!  I told you Americans were strange.  It’s as though she likes to run.

Amca: You were right!  And who knew that they took their filthy pets with them for those things!  Is her hair wet?  She’ll catch death… Surely we should tell her.

Abla: Nah, she’s American.  They don’t die that way.  They die from eating too much McDonald’s and living wild  and crazy lives.

Seriously though.  The past few days I’ve stopped trying to blend.  I’ve worn my baseball cap for my morning runs (originally to keep my bangs out of my face, but now to be American), I’ve had long and obvious conversations in public in English, I’ve even started answering my phone with the American “hello?” and not the Turkish “alo?” or “affendim?”.  And you know what?  People are nicer again.  People think it’s so great that I’ve learned so much Turkish and that I like Turkey and are all too happy to help me find whatever it is I’m looking for.  They’re even nicer to my dog.

I’m crediting this to my decision to embrace the fact that even if I can blend, I don’t want to.  I’m happy to be American and happy to know that I get to go home to America in a few short years.  Of course the fact that it’s Bayram is probably more of an influence on everyone’s general mood than anything else, but I’m going to keep pretending it’s not.  If for no other reason than I don’t really feel like doing my hair and I have some errands to run… where’s that baseball cap?!

Gerisayim (n.: countdown) Only 30 days, 21 hours, 13 minutes* — Oh, my!

To what are we counting down?, you ask.  I’ll tell you.  The Istanbul Marathon.  I, of course, am not running the full marathon but instead the 8km portion.  Which is more than I’ve ever managed to run straight.  It’s part of my 30 in 30 and possibly the most difficult one, although having re-started my 30 days of no swearing multiple times now that might not be true…

I’ve been trying to get my lazy butt in gear to run this 8km for a while now, but have been a serious slacker — especially during the time I was in the US.  Last night I proudly managed to run two miles straight without even intending to.  Which is a start, right?  Granted, I need to get another three in before I actually manage to run an 8km, but hey I can run/walk the 8km right?  The answer to that is yes.

While this post is a bit of a pat on my own back for doing two miles straight without even meaning to, it’s more to tell the funny story of how I’ve been getting by in my training.  First, I have to give a quick plug to the podcasts I’ve been using.  I [heart] Chubby Jones in a major way.  She has pretty sweet taste in music and is awesomely motivating to run with (however, might I recommend against doing the booty bump or dancing it out if you’re on a treadmill in a busy gym while listening to her podcasts? Otherwise definitely do what she says… and heck, do a booty bounce if you’re feeling it just be prepared for laughing and/or falling off treadmills).  Lately I’ve started using a few of my own playlists to keep me going and thanks to my awesome friend, MKD, I always include ‘Hold On’ by the amazing Wilson Phillips.  I might also sing along and dance.  Which, I’m sure, is part of why people look at me funny when I run outside.  The other part, however is that I often bring my running buddy along.

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My running buddy.

I don’t always bring her with me, but when I do it creates a bit of a scene.  She’s a little slow these days (I’m trying to get faster and she’s still trotting on at our old pace), but it’s nice to have her with me because:

1. she’s a good pace keeper

2. once she starts running she’d rather keep running than stop and walk for a while so she’s motivating that way

3. I feel guilty leaving her at home when I’m going for an outdoor run

4. who doesn’t like a running buddy that smiles the whole time?  It’s all good right?  Wrong.

If you’re a facebook friend that you already got the very short version of this story.  Bear with me (or, you know… stop reading.  I’m not forcing you).  Not only is Ankara generally not runner-friendly (I’m looking at you, streets without sidewalks or crooked pavement), but it’s not terribly dog-friendly either.  I guess I just always thought that people who didn’t like dogs would just get out of our way or ignore us… I thought wrong.  When I run with Olive people either run up to pet her or jump out of her way — from like 10 feet away.  It’s strange.  I don’t really appreciate either, but prefer the jumping out of the way from afar generally.  Mostly I can just ignore it because, well, I have the dog and loud iPod to keep me occupied.

On our run yesterday for some reason people were especially rude and snotty about Olive running with me.  In the past, I’ve had people ask if she was chasing me (which is just ridiculous because she’s on a leash attached to me! Granted, I strap it across my chest so I don’t have to hold it, but seriously?) or sort of act shocked and jump into the street to avoid us (on those ten-foot wide sidewalks).  Last night I had more people look at me disgusted and pull their children closer as we passed than usual.  I understand the cultural distaste for dogs and the lack of trust from the street dogs here, but did you see that picture of Olive?  I should point out here that Olive isn’t her usual lovey dovey/need to make friends with everyone self when on a run.  She means business.  She’s not angry or domineering in any way, but she’s focused on running and is just trying to keep up with me while her tongue hangs out of her mouth like a loon.

Back to yesterday’s run… There were two girls about 25 years old walking in front of us on a street that, of course, had no sidewalks. I assumed they heard us coming, but when the one girl turned to look, she saw Olive (still at least 3 feet away from her at this point) and she screamed.  Like a scary movie bad-guy-is-hacking-the-closet-door-you’re-hiding-behind-to-pieces-with-an-ax scream.  And jumped — literally 2 feet in the air.  I wanted to laugh, but her shrill scream scared Olive who jumped away and almost into on coming traffic.

Remember this moment.  Make a mental note to refer back to it when people later ask when I lost it.  I had had enough of the stares and inappropriate reactions (read: over dramatic).  So I screamed at them.  I started in English with some choice words that mean I will have to start my 30 days of no swearing over again (poop! I was up to 11 days this time!!!) and when they looked at me confused I yelled at them in Turkish to be careful and pay better attention.  As they started to mouth off back to me, I told them they didn’t have to worry, she only eats small children and was full anyway.  Then put my earphones back in and kept running.
And so that’s how it came to me.  I will from now on use that line when people respond in a way I feel is inappropriate to my adorable running buddy.  Also, I will start running in the mornings.  In part because there are fewer people out on the streets in the mornings and in part because the 8k starts at 9 am and I’ve been reading (in lieu of running) about races and how you should train at the same time of day as the race.  Which, by the way I’m not “racing” per se.  Just trying to survive and finish in the time allotted (which is totally doable since it’s four hours).
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And the would-be vicious beast doubles as a foot warmer post-run.  Convenient.
*as of the publishing of this post.
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