The Run That Left Me Speechless – Istanbul, Turkey

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.

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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!

It was affiliated with Nike in some way. Oops - I was wearing my Mizunos.

It was affiliated with Nike in some way. Oops – I was wearing my Mizunos.

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!

Run4We 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.

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Running down the streets of Istanbul, passing a woman in a burka.

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.

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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.

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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.

Bosphorus peaking out from behind the greenhouses.

Bosphorus peaking out from behind the greenhouses.

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!

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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!

Mission Accomplished: Run Every Day in April

30 days, 157 miles, 9 cities, and 7 states later – I have officially completed my goal of running every day in April!

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When I set the goal my motivation was to just get back in the habit of running. January through March my training was pretty much nonexistent. Let’s just say, I made excuses much more often than I made an effort. I recently saw this post, which seemed to sum it up pretty well.

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They say it takes 21 days to break/form a habit and I committed April to getting back in the swing of things with training. My only rule was that I run every day by midnight and that I run at least 2 miles per day. (And for the sake of honestly, I’ll admit that sometimes those two miles were more of a trot.)

It actually went really well! The first week was easy peasy. I still had a runner’s high from the Run the Bluegrass half marathon and was leading into the Go! St. Louis half that weekend. “This will be no problem!” I thought.

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Annica and I finishing the half marathon in STL.

Week two was a little more difficult. Eliot and I were in Denver for the week and naturally the night we arrive 8″ of snow are dumped on the city. Let’s just say, I learned to love the dreadmill that week. It was actually a good opportunity to try out podcasts and it reaffirmed my school-girl crush on Ira Glass.

At the end of our week in Denver Eliot and I went to Boulder to visit Tracy, a former Hotdogger. I met up with Tracy when I was in the SW with Abe last September and it was great to get together with her again. She is also training for a half marathon, so she didn’t think I was totally delusional when I got up at 6:30 a.m. after a night out on the town to go run.

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Talk about a beautiful run! I’ve been throwing around the idea of either moving to Boulder, CO or Madison, WI after grad school, and that run just made me even more set on Boulder. Absolutely gorgeous and I was in good company – it is such an active city and so many people were out biking and running! I was worried about the altitude, but after a few days to acclimate it was totally fine.

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Around week two I encountered the first obstacle. There were some days where I wouldn’t run in the morning and by the end of the day I was just exhausted. With running an absolute impossibility because I was so tired, I did what any (in)sane Type-A runner would do – I set the alarm for 11:00 p.m. and then hit the sack. Yep, I did this last minute nonsense not once, but multiple times over the month.

This method was effective for getting the miles in, but was an absolutely terrible idea. Groggy, I was obviously slower. By the end of the runs however I would be wide awake, with a bit of a runner’s high, unable to fall asleep! For someone usually in bed by 10:00, seeing the clock read anything after midnight is not a welcome sight to see.

The roughest late night run though was after our drive from Denver to Lexington, Nebraska, which finally ended when we pulled into the hotel at 11 p.m. This was almost exactly halfway through the month and I knew it would be a tipping point. The hotel gym was pathetic too and my tired brain kept encouraging me not to waste my time. Finishing 15 minutes before the witching hour though, I got my two miles in!

I’m glad I did – the next day was April 15th – the day of the Boston Marathon. This was a very emotional day for me. When I heard the news I was instantly gripped with fear, for my friends running and those who live in the area. Once I was assured everyone I knew was safe the fear turned to paralyzing anger and sadness.

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The tragedy at Boston was the first terrorist attack that truly resonated with me. I was a little young to fully comprehend the horror of 9/11 and many other attacks, while devastating, have felt abstract. I am a runner. I want to run Boston. I know people running Boston. These are my people. I couldn’t believe that there were people out there with so much hate that they would want to rob people of so much joy, on the most monumental day of many of their lives. Even now, I am still eager for answers.

After the tragedy there was no giving up on the goal. There are three people who will never get to run again, and countless others who will face unbelievable obstacles. The least I could do was reach the goals I set for myself and run for Boston.

The second half of the month was challenging, no question. Without the initial enthusiasm, the goal was a little harder to keep up with. My strategy on those days was to go into the workout promising to at least do two miles and usually I ended up doing more.

On a lighter note though, I found this goal had one other unexpected difficulty – laundry. Holy sports bras! My laundry pile doubled in size each week with all the athletic clothes that accumulated as a byproduct.

The running definitely paid off though. I’m a goal junkie because there are always measurable results. You either did it or you didn’t. With running there is the added bonus of being able to compare times, pacing, and distances, and over the month I noticed some serious improvement in my times.

The first mini-goal I achieved was running a half marathon on a treadmill in Milwaukee. Running long distances on the treadmill was something I never really thought I could actually hack, so in a burst of dedication, I decided to give it a whirl. Not only did I do it (Ira Glass and This American Life helped me through the first hour) but I did the 13.1 miles in under 2:00 hours!

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The second goal was actually a really huge deal to me. At the start of the year I set a goal to break the 9:00/mi pace for the half marathon. I knew I was capable of this, but with winter hibernation I figured it would have to wait until I was off the road. It was one of those things I was happy to be wrong about!

When I geared up for a long run last week I initially had only planned to do 12 miles at a 9:15 pace or so, but the run felt good. I’m talking about really good. Like wool socks in winter or a bratwurst at the ballpark good. I still turned back at 6 miles but knew full well that I would do a victory lap to make it a full half marathon at the end. I ended up finishing in 1:56:30, a training PR and an 8:54/mi pace. Whoo! While I would still like to break 9:00/mi in a race, I think it still counts as a goal attained!

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The last few days have simply been recovering from those runs and tapering for the Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis this weekend. (That’s right, that will be half marathon number three in five weeks!)

The month ended on a high note and I did my final run today in downtown Indianapolis with Tim. (We met up in St. Louis at the beginning of April and also did Mississippi back in January.) He had invited me to run with his Tuesday group, the Bourbon Street Running Club. It was a total blast!

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I ran with Tim, another Tim, Mike, and Dan – my friend Kathy’s husband. For four guys that are all roughly twice my age, they kicked my ass.

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We ran the canal and it was beautiful. Indianapolis is a lot like Louisville in my book, a hidden gem of the Midwest. It was 84 degrees out, a drastic change from blizzard conditions just weeks before, and path was packed.

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Running with people was a great change of pace, literally! I most likely would have lolly-gagged through a few miles today in the spirit of “tapering” but keeping a strong pace was no problem with these gentleman to chat with. After the run we headed back to the Bourbon Street Distillery to meet up with the rest of the group. It was a really fun afternoon, meeting all these other runners, and I’m even more excited now to join a running group when I get my bearings in Georgia.

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Now thirty days after starting this journey, I’ve reached another finish line. I DID IT! I’m 30/30 and at an average of 5 miles each day. It was a pretty arbitrary goal, but I’m definitely glad to have accomplished it.

Now who knows what May will bring…

Running with the Locals

Prescott, AZ is such a gorgeous area and I wanted to take full advantage of being in such a beautiful place. However, after those first few hot and hilly runs through the desert, I knew it was time for a change of pace and scenery, and I reached out to the local Prescott running club – the Mountain Milers. I shot them a message saying I was in town with the Wienermobile and would love to meat up with anyone interested in a run, drink, or a meal.

Talk about an overwhelming response of welcoming! It could be because having a 27″ long hot dog is pretty enticing, but the people of Prescott proved to be some of the most hospitable people I’ve met! Positively Midwestern!

Marlyn, a Mountain Miler, quickly got back to me with invitations to an early morning hike, girls night at the bar and movies, and the Saturday morning 10k run! My email was forwarded to the club list-serve and within the day I was also invited on the Sunday morning run. Talk about a friendly group!

Of course, I said sign me right up! 6:30 a.m. on a Friday for a 5 mile hike? Let’s do it!

Friday morning I hiked with Marlyn, Steve, and Gabby up Mingus Mountain on the Rick Tank Trail. To be honest, I didn’t even realize how close the mountains were to Prescott, but all of the sudden I was driving the company car up this absolutely gorgeous scenic route!

The hike was beautiful. It was a fur-children friendly route, and they all brought their dogs (I brought the BIG dog). It was great to be around new people and meet the locals! It was also nice to be around dogs – living in hotels you kind of miss having pets around!

When we stopped to take a break (it’s for the dogs!) Steve realized he was low on water. Maryln offered him some, and jokingly told him she’d only charge him the regular price this time. “Normally,” she said, “the higher up the mountain you go the steeper the fee!” Haha – I thought that was just too funny!

Abe and I were off to the rodeo Friday night so I wasn’t able to make girls night, and because of the rodeo Friday night, a Saturday morning 10k just wasn’t looking like a good idea. Even the rodeo dance though couldn’t keep me from the Sunday morning run in Groom Creek!

Running on about 4 hours of sleep, Sunday morning I grabbed the keys and maneuvered the company car through the winding dirt roads up to Groom Creek. If I was tired when I woke up, by the time I got to the meet-up I was bursting with excitement. The hills and views reminded me of when I lived in Colorado and was so glad I didn’t pass up this opportunity! Running with the locals, you get to experience new paths you never would have found on your own.

There were seven of us that morning and talk about a charming crowd! I love the running community because they are just cool people that constantly keep you inspired! And, they’re just plain nice! I ran with Cactus Jon, Noel, Tom, Margaret, Dina, Len, and Josh.

Having never run with a group before I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was that they push you harder and keep you motivated. When the people next to you are running 50 milers and working on double digit marathons, you can’t help but be impressed! They kept me going on those uphills (the entire first mile and a half I should mention! They didn’t warn me about that in the email! haha!) and walked with me when I took a short break.

I absolutely LOVED the run with the Mountain Milers! I couldn’t have asked for a better time. Brilliant company (smart, funny as hell, and inspiring) and unbelievable scenery!

I think I’ve landed on a new tradition – doing runs with the local running clubs in each city I’m in. Up next: Lake Havasu Hustlers.