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Fitness Swellness: Istanbul Marathon 2019 race recap

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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.

With tips from Nike trainers on how to prepare for two marathons two weeks apart, I set off for Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, who blessed me with a seat in Business Class. Which is reason to rejoice on its own, but with Istanbul being my first marathon overseas, I was nervous about the jet lag. But thanks to being in Business Class for the flight there and back helped to ensure I got the comfortable rest I needed. The lie-flat seats, noise-cancelling headphones, gourmet meals, Versace toiletry kit, and cozy slippers, all add up to creating the most luxurious way to travel for nine hours to Istanbul. Did we mention the flight attendants make up your lie-flat seat so you can snooze? Any nerves I had about traveling to my first European marathon were soothed as I sunk into this Business Class life.

The days leading up to the Istanbul Marathon

On Friday before the race (the race was on November 3, 2019), we spent the day sightseeing, so we were on our feet more than we should’ve been, but it was what it was. We picked up our race kits that evening, and it was a nice expo, with great vendor booths and fun photo opps like this oversized medal.

On Saturday, the only thing on our itinerary was a hammam appointment at the spa hotel. I slept in, and spent a quiet morning just going to grab coffee and a bite. The hammam appointment was very relaxing and I forced myself to not go out and explore (even though I wanted to!) and just stayed close to the hotel exploring the shopping. I don’t know why, perhaps I was too distracted by being in Istanbul, but I completely forgot to do a shakeout run. I’d normally have done a 3k run Saturday morning, but I only remembered late in the day and I didn’t think doing it at that point was going to make or break my race.

My marathon plan

With my strong Detroit Marathon, I planned to run Istanbul for fun. As the race approached, though, I figured I’d run based on feel. Maybe I could run a strong race. Or maybe not. I was leaning towards it being a slow race given the forecast for race day being quite warm.

Marathon morning

There was some confusion as to how we were getting transported to the race start (which is on the Asian side of Istanbul), but we ended up hopping out of our car to walk a block to Taksim to catch the race shuttle buses, which turned out to be a smart decision. It took us about half an hour to get the race start area. The sun was rising and we looked for our bag check buses, visited the portapotty (which were the most dirty portapotties I’ve ever experienced at a race).

The weather forecast was for a high of 20 or so, but as we waited for the race to start, it was only 9 degrees. As I’d forgotten to pack a garbage bag or a top to throw away, I’d taken the laundry bag from the hotel room and tucked my arms into it as I waited for the 9 a.m. marathon start. As for my marathon outfit, leading up to the race, with the high of about 20C, I had wondered if it’d be acceptable to run in Istanbul with just my sportsbra on top. With having to don a scarf visiting mosques (and I saw at one mosque people in leggings and shorts being given an item so their legs would be covered), I wasn’t sure if running in a sportsbra would be offensive or shocking. I decided to play it by ear and the race morning, I only saw one woman in a sports bra and tights. Since the temp wasn’t as warm as I had expected, I decided to run with a tank top on over top (which I was prepared to take off if the temp felt very warm).

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The race start is busy. The 15k starts after the marathon and has many more participants, and we’re basically all milling around the same area. There are a lot more men running the marathon, based on just who I found myself surrounded by at the start area and along on the route.

Marathon go time

As I said, my plan was to run by feel. And I started off feeling pretty good. Although very early on (even before I’d reached 10k) I could tell my legs felt tired, which I knew didn’t bode well for the race. I decided to run as comfortably as I could make the race and didn’t allow myself to stop and take a walk break until I’d reached the halfway point.

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I loved that this race starts in Asia and you run across the Bosphorus Bridge to Europe. The only thing that’d have made it better would be for it to start at sunrise. But regardless, it’s kind of epic making that trek across the bridge!

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My legs were feeling very exhausted and I watched my pace slow more and more. After about the 25k mark, I swear I felt like I was moving so incredibly slowly that to me, it felt like I was running a pace twice as slow as my easy pace. It wasn’t even close to being that slow, but with every kilometre marker taking FOREVER to appear, it felt like I was moving at a glacial pace. It was misery. And as I ran I remembered the last time I did two marathons (that time within a month of each other) the second race was also miserable. How had I forgotten this!

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I saw at least six of the street dogs running along the route. I was sort of hoping I could convince one to run alongside me for the race, but they all have their own agendas for the day. The dogs were nice to see since there is little crowd support along the route and little entertainment (so most of the last half of the race was a bit monotonous, given the lack of good scenery, and only some frustrating hills to look forward to). I think it was local runners, but the men running the race are a bit aggressive. I was elbowed a few times as they would pass me and they did not even glance (never mind apologize). I get that sometimes you might accidentally brush by someone when you pass them, but I always apologize.

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In the last kilometre or so, there was a steep incline to enter a park and I was straight up angry about it. The park itself was pretty, with trees and grass. Then we emerged from the park and there was an old archway to run through and I thought, “finally, the finish line is just through the arch!” BUT NO. I emerged on the other side of the arch and there a steep and long hill to the finish. This section was on a street lined with shops on either side and there were lots of locals and tourists just going about their day on either side of the course…not sure if any of them noticed me cursing whoever designed this marathon route. 

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Finally (finally!) I reached the finish line! I felt much relief and was immediately interviewed by a sweet older man from the race organizers (I think he liked that I was from Canada here to run the marathon). It took awhile for the volunteer to remove the timing chip from my shoelaces (yes, it’s an old-school chip you attach to your laces versus being on the back of your bib); i was ever so grateful that they knelt to take it off of my shoe rather than me having to kneel down with my very tired legs.

There was little in terms of celebration in the post-marathon area, so I grabbed the snacks (a banana, a protein bar, an electrolyte drink) and parked myself in the park in the sunshine as I waited for my friend. The 15k finished in another area where there were food trucks and a band playing, so there is definitely more of a focus on the 15k race.

My time? My slowest marathon ever, 4:29:30. (I don’t know my place amongst the 3,000 or so women who ran the marathon as the results are in a confusing chart without breakdowns by category.) I’m not thrilled with running my slowest marathon ever, but I’m not beating up myself about it. Two marathons two weeks apart is a lot. And I ran a great race in Detroit. By the way if you’re looking for more about the Istanbul Marathon, I’ve written up 11 Reasons To Run the Istanbul Marathon for iRun.

I’ve now taken three weeks off. I’ve worked out a fair but no running. But went for my first run since Istanbul today and it felt good to get out in the crisp air. 

What’s up next? I’m thinking for 2020, I’ll run a spring and a fall marathon, and a few shorter races. Maybe some trail running (it terrifies me but it might be nice to try something new).

Oh, and I’ll be doing a few travel articles on Istanbul so stay tuned for those. It’s one of my favourite cities! If you don’t follow me on Instagram, you can check my photos from this trip with the hashtag #istanbulswellness!

1 Comment November 24, 2019

Fitness Swellness: How to prep for back-to-back marathons

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Having just raced the Detroit Marathon on Sunday and with the Istanbul Marathon two weeks later, I’ll admit that I don’t know if that was the smartest decision.

But I’d decided on Detroit and that same week, I was invited as media to run the Istanbul Marathon. I so loved visiting Istanbul a few years ago and I simply couldn’t turn down such an incredible opportunity to visit this incredible city once again.

When I told the team at Nike about my two-marathons-two-weeks-apart goal, the reaction was supportive but I’m pretty sure  in their eyes I could pick up on a bit of “You’re crazy, Karen.”

But Nike coach Brittany Moran knows I’ve run many marathons (I’ve run thirteen now) so she knew I am aware of what I’m getting myself into, and she reaffirmed my decision to make the first race, Detroit, my goal race, while Istanbul will just be for fun. I’ve run races back to back before but not two marathons so close together. I’ve done marathons a month apart. A marathon and a half a week apart, and marathons and a 10k race one week later.

If you, too, have two marathons within two weeks of each other, here is what Brittany and Nike Master Trainer Jennifer Lau recommend for training:

  • Take week 1 mostly off; do a few short shakeout runs.
  • Stretch Thursday or Friday to help aid recovery.
  • On Sunday (one week after the first marathon), run 12 to 14k depending on how you feel in terms of your recovery.
  • During week 2, do two to three short easy runs. Incorporate strides if you can. Concentrate on form and remind your brain that you can go fast.
  • Get a massage one week post-marathon 1 to set yourself up for success.
  • In terms of strength training, look to resistance training workouts on the NTC app, such as 30-minute workouts using body weight. Working on the lower body and core, stability and glutes will help benefit your running.

As I write this blog post five days post-Detroit Marathon, I’ve sort of followed this training plan. I went to a Spin class at the CN Tower for SpinCo’s five-year anniversary (that’s where I snapped the photo above), and also to a Barry’s Bootcamp class (during which I did a very light jog during the treadmill intervals. I also went to a Nike Training workout with Jenn, during which we did squats, thrusts, burpees, planks, and pushups. So while I haven’t done shakeout runs, I have done some cardio and strength work.

And I’ll follow their recommendations for the next nine days! Which means some stretching is up next!

 

Leave a Comment October 25, 2019

Fitness Swellness: 2019 Detroit Marathon race recap

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“Fack.”

I think I actually said that out loud when I saw the route in the Detroit Marathon split into the half-marathon route and marathon route. Not because I was having a bad race already. It’s always just pretty daunting to see the route branch off and know that all of those runners are done running shortly, while you have to do that distance you’ve completed all over again, except in a way more fatigued state.

But let’s backtrack a bit here…

In the weeks leading up to this race, I had more anxiety than usual. For the Chicago Marathon last year, I knew trying to BQ was not in the cards whatsoever, so that took a lot of pressure off. But seeing the forecast for race day (cool and dry) along with knowing I’d stuck to training a minimum of four times a week consistently and ensuring I got in all of my long runs and speedwork, and the fact that I’d heard Detroit was a pretty flat route, I knew that the chances of running a good race would be high.

On Saturday, I did a 3k shakeout run with my friend Aylin, and I felt my right leg feel just a bit twinge-y. I chose to ignore it. What also didn’t go to plan? Having an early pasta dinner. We got to the restaurant for 6:45 (they don’t take reservations) and while we were told a 30 to 45 minute wait, it ended up being a frustrating 90-minute wait. This made me anxious and I knew I had things I wanted to prep back at the Element hotel (from my outfit and bib to adding to my playlist).

We finally got back to our room, I quickly added to my playlist, prepared my gear check bag and was in bed by 11:15 p.m., which is earlier than I’ve ever managed to get to bed for a race.

I woke up several times throughout the night. At 2:30 a.m., I got up to use the bathroom…and there was that slight pain in my right leg again. I limped my way to and from the bathroom, and told myself it was nothing. If I didn’t acknowledge it, I’d wake up and it’d feel fine, right?

RACE MORNING

I got up at 5 a.m., quickly showered and got dressed and went down to breakfast (the Element had breakfast open at 5 a.m. for all of us runners) to eat some toast with peanut butter. And, thankfully, my right leg felt fine. After breakfast, we walked the 10 minutes or so to gear check. I kept on a trash bag to keep warm while waiting for the race start, and I could already tell the weather was going to be ideal: it was 8 Celsius and warmed up to about 14 degrees by 11 a.m. A quick portapotty visit, and then I got into my corral as the national anthem was sung, and I ditched the trash bag I was wearing. I had decided to keep my eye on the 3:50 pacer but I was at the back of my corral and could only spot the 3:55 pacer, But I figured I’d find the pacer on the route.

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GO TIME!

I crossed the starting line at 7:06 (I didn’t notice the seconds) and I felt good. For a good portion of the race, I was ahead of the splits outlined on the pace band I had printed out for myself. As ahead as 4 or 5 minutes (but it went down to one minute at the bridge.

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At about the 5k mark, you cross the Ambassador Bridge, and although I expected it to be cool, it was even more stellar than I imagined. It was cloudy and the sun was starting to rise, so there was a beautiful pink streak in the sky, and the bridge itself is striking. It’s such a cool experience it (almost) makes up for the incline up the bridge. Almost. But it’s early in the race and so the hill is still manageable on fresh legs.

I’ve had the Detroit Marathon on my destination race list for awhile for the sole reason that you run across the border into Canada and back into the U.S. And it was as cool as I expected. I felt quite emotional and even clapped as I approached the border lined with Canadian flags. I loved that the border staff was cheering and even high-fiving runners. There were police on either side diligently keeping an eye on bibs and runners. And yes, you are to run with your passport (or another WHTI-approved ID), which you must show at the race expo. I ran with mine in my fuel belt; I didn’t see anyone get pulled aside but Aylin did (she said it was runners who didn’t have their bibs on in front).

At 11k you enter the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel. It is approximately 2k and while I have heard it can get stinky with sweat, I didn’t notice it (maybe I manage to enter the tunnel early on in the race day before it got stinky!). What I did notice, though, is that without the fresh air and breeze, I was starting to get uncomfortably hot, but thankfully, just about when i was feeling too warm is when I emerged from the tunnel. Whew! On the downside, though, is the steep hill out of the tunnel. That one is not fun.

As you can see I took a few photos of these key moments in the race; I didn’t stop so they are a little blurry. I have photos of the tunnel and border, but I’ll add them once I edit them properly!

As for the rest of the race, the route has some fairly nondescript streets; I recall Rosa Parks Street (or is it Avenue? I must check the map) having an incline that hurt; the route goes through a posh neighbourhood with large homes and families serving up beer and Bloody Mary’s to runners. I’ve actually seen a race with so much booze on offerl I saw at east one other beer table, and another one that had shots! One thing I didn’t like about the race is that running with many relay runners is quite draining mentally; runners would zip by me and I’d be envious of the energy they had…and then would realize they were relay runners. Sigh.

Something else that was a small problem during the race: my music frequently paused. I was using Apple Music for my playlist (and I’m fairly new to using  it); thankfully the music would return, but it was a technical issue that did irk me during the race; at one point, without my music, I became very aware of my breathing and the clunky steps and heavy panting of the runners around me.

The race isn’t thick along most of the race with people cheering in the same way as Chicago or Philly, but the supporters out there are enthusiastic, thank you! Kids in inflatable dinosaur costumes, a smattering of entertainment (usually DJs, and I recall one band, two singers, and a cheerleading squad). Some fun signs, too, although the best one is the one Aylin spotted. Written in the same font as the well-known clothing brand, the sign read: Detroit vs Nipple Chafing. I wish I had seen that sign!

Going into Belle Isle, the bridge has a bit of a hill that was grueling. I tried to enjoy the pretty scenery there but the exhaustion was starting to set in.

I’d say I felt pretty great up until about 30k. At that point though, I was having a hard time maintaining my pace. I saw the 3:50 pacer pass me and then soon move off further and further ahead of me. I knew he had started before me though, so I wasn’t positive where I stood in terms of my time in relation to that pace group.

My race plan was to not stop at any of the fluid stations (I had a bottle of Gatorade in my fuel belt). But at about 35k I was having a harder and harder time. So I decided to stop for water and regroup mentally.

I think this is what cost me meeting my BQ standard.

Because my Apple Watch paused as I stopped to regroup, I wasn’t sure what my overall race time was panning out to be. I kept repeating to myself that I could BQ today and to keep going. I repeated what my runner friend told me earlier in the week: it’s going to be uncomfortable whether you go fast or slow. So JUST GO, I told myself.

But even though I was trying to get back to the pace I needed, I simply couldn’t maintain the pace. The mental breather did help, though. I felt like I’d cleared my head and was able to give extra effort of the final kilometres.

I knew it was very close when I approached the finish line and the minutes ended in 6. I didn’t know the seconds, though, of when I’d passed the start.

I crossed the finish line, got my medal, and pretty much immediately, my phone beeped with a text. My running friend Shawna had texted me congrats, along with my time. 3:50:27.

POST-MARATHON 

I finished in 3:50:27.

My BQ standard is 3:50.

Uggggggggggh.

Even though I knew meeting the standard wouldn’t get me into Boston without a decent buffer, of about two minutes (based on this year’s cutoff), I’d have been happy to officially meet the standard.

Still, I was pretty thrilled with feeling great for pretty much the whole race. I’ve had races where it feels like endless misery, sometimes as early as the 25k mark. While this is not my fastest marathon, I think I felt the strongest in this race and it is the closest I’ve come to qualifying for Boston. And it’s the closest I’ve come to by marathon PB time in ages, which is like a lifetime ago (at the Chicago Marathon 2014).

I finished 630th out of 3,204 marathoners, 151st out of 1,298 women, and 22nd out of 184 in my category.

I stumbled around collecting the post-race fuel (which was plentiful—nice job, Detroit Marathon—including bananas, pineapple juice, fruit cups, Gatorade, water, and bags with other snacks). I eventually met up with Aylin (eventually as I was quite slow moving with my legs very, very tight). We hung out a bit at the post-race party area and then headed back to the Element to shower and then headed out to grab a decadent BBQ lunch at Slow’s. We kept our legs moving by fitting in a visit to the Detroit Institute of the Arts afterwards.

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UP NEXT

I was invited to run the Istanbul Marathon, which is two weeks after the Detroit Marathon. My plan all along has been to run it for fun. I will admit that after I crossed the Detroit finish line and came so close to my BQ, I immediately thought, “I need to try to qualify in Istanbul.” I actually don’t even know if it’s a Boston Qualifier, but also, I quickly came to my senses that I’m not an elite athlete who can put her body through such a rigorous challenge again in two weeks. Besides, the weather is looking like it’ll be about 20 Celsius, which is very warm for a marathon.

I’m a bit stressed about the Istanbul Marathon. Because even just doing 42.2k for fun will still be exhausting no matter how slow a pace I do. This sort of only dawned on me after agreeing to run it…But I didn’t think I could pass up the opportunity to run the 42.2k in this incredible city. And so here we are!

Thank you to Detroit, the Detroit Marathon and the Element for hosting me for race weekend! The race is up there as one of my favourites, and it was amazing to explore the city, too. I’ll post about that shortly!

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Leave a Comment October 22, 2019

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