Today, after a full day of wandering around Istanbul, I laced up my running shoes and joined a local running group for their weekly jog around the city.
My mom had heard about the group, which meets at a running shop nearby her apartment, and suggested I check it out. A chance to run on another continent – how could I pass that opportunity up? On our way home from the bus we stopped in to double check the times. The clerk didn’t speak English, but through my mom’s rough Turkish, and the help of a handout, we determined that the run was still on for 7 o’clock tonight. Perfect!
I came back on my own and ventured back into the store, where they pointed me downstairs to where a handful of runners had gathered. Tentatively, I asked if anyone spoke English. I was met with an assortment of either blank stars or heads shaking no. Luckily, running is pretty self explanatory so I wasn’t too worried.
I was worried about the hills though. Istanbul is surprisingly hilly – I’m talking San Francisco style. I was hoping the run would take us somewhere flat, but didn’t have my hopes too high on that one. I spoke to the gentlemen next to me and asked him if it was a hilly run. Although I asked in English, which he didn’t speak, I did the sign for running by finger-kicking my fingers, followed by what I tried to mean as hilly by waving my arms up and down like a soundwave. (Hopefully that painted a Picasso-worthy mental picture for you.) He understood enough to vehemently shake his head yes, yes it would be very hilly. Gulp!
We walked upstairs and then did some stretching on the street. The group was mostly men, but our group leader was a perky girl who enthusiastically led us on some stretches. She was talking in Turkish the entire time, but I like to imagine she was calling out encouraging things the whole time. At the last minute one woman, who spoke some English, joined the group. Hurray! I was pretty worried about being able to keep up with the group because my training has been so spotty and with the hills. She said everyone runs at their own pace and do what you can.
You know what is a good motivator to stay on pace with the leader though, not knowing where the hell you are or where the hell you are going! The run went great! I knew there was no stopping because I literally had no idea where we were and didn’t really know how to explain where my mom lives if I needed to get back. Simply out of fear of getting totally lost, I kept up with main group the entire time.
It was absolutely beautiful. We ran through Yildiz park. Even though we couldn’t really talk to each other, some things are universally understood – like the WHOO! or a high five, tactics I employed liberally! They probably thought I was the crazy, enthusiastic American – in which case, they would be totally right.
Along the way we ran past easily 50 cops. Some were the light blue shirted regular police, while some were the dark blue riot cops. They had come in by the bus load, and buses lines the parks.
The views were stunning. You could see the Bosphorus at multiple times along the route, peaking out from behind the trees. The route was lined with sleeping dogs and cats running about too.
At the end we did your traditional last minute sprint, which is much harder when you’re running on cobblestone and trying not to break your ankle. We finished back at the store, where they handed us Powerade and water. We probably did about three miles, which was just enough to see some of the city and not kill me!
It was a great experience and I love the opportunity to run with new groups in new places! Partly from the views, partly from the hills, and mostly from not speaking Turkish – the run left me speechless!