Ian Corless reports from his trip to Turkey for the Iznik Ultra, where he won the 60km event
Ian Corless has been involved in endurance sport for over 25 years. He is now a photographer by trade but much of his time is spent as a coach, training camp organiser and retailer for Hoka One One run shoes at his own business www.runwildrunfree.co.uk. He is also a run ambassador for Endurancelife.
From the sound of the morning call to pray to the evening call for prayer, Turkey has a charm and a charisma that I have not experienced in another place. The people epitomize friendliness and an openness to help and a willingness to go out of the way to make your experience as a tourist a pleasant one.
Istanbul is chaos! The roads are blocked, the streets are frantic and amongst this is a calm and a charm that one cannot help but warm to. The Grand Bazaar I guess has lost some of the original charm of a typical 'souk'. It shows signs of commercialism but how can one resist the urge to indulge. In close proximity one has the Blue Mosque, the Fire Tower and San Sophia. Working your way down to the Bosphorus one is greeted with ferry boats, fish restaurants and a bustle that increasingly comes to life with the approach of the night. Lights glow, the sky goes to a deep dark blue and the skyline is illuminated with Mosques.
It's quite magical.
Leaving the chaos of Istanbul and heading north for the 2+ hour journey to Iznik that included a relaxing ferry crossing was a stark contrast to the attack on my senses for the last 24 hours. Suddenly we had some calm and a time to reflect.
Our approach to Iznik was greeted by entering the north west corner of the lake 'Iznik Golu'. Making the road journey to Iznik Village gave us wonderful panoramic views of what lay in store with the Iznik Ultra. A large beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains and fields of Olive Trees.
Iznik formerly known as Nikaia is in the province of Bursa and is some 90km south west of Istanbul as the crow flies. Iznik was surrounded by walls to protect it but now the walls are pierced in many places for roads. With a population of around 17,000 it has been a district center for Bursa since the early 1930’s. It has a deep history, Orhan 1 captured Iznik in 1331 from the Byzantium Forces and for a short period the town became the capital of the expanding Ottoman Empire. Famous for pottery and tiles, many of the Mosques in Istanbul have Iznik tiles designed by Mimar Sinan. This history was reflected in the wonderful finishers medals and plaques for the Iznik Ultra.
Our arrival at our hotel on the lake was a pleasurable one and soon followed with arrival at the race headquarters. The MCR Racesetter event team had taken over a club premises on the lake and turned into a control hub for the race. You would never have guessed that this was the first ultra that the they had organized. It was very slick and the attention to detail was immaculate. Caner (pronounced Janer) Odabasoglu , race director, the previous year had taken part at the TDS in Chamonix and he had obviously learnt a great deal from the experience. He had taken all the good aspects of the UTMB series of races and applied them to his own race. I had been helped expertly by Burcu Karakelle and Rabia Karaağaç in my pre trip preparations and they also manned the registration point.
Needless to say, once registration was over they re applied themselves to the course and the smooth running of the event. Caner had not only pulled in his working team from Macera Akademisi but he had also pulled in the help of personal friends and he had mobilized the Iznik community and supporting villages and made this event important to them. They had a real pride in servicing all the competitors.
With a pre race kit check done that included a 'typical' requirement of : base layer, jacket with hood, first aid, elastic bandage, head torch, hat, gloves, food and the capacity to carry 1.5ltr of liquid I was able to relax and mix with other racers. I was initially surprised by some of the entrants, we had a couple of South Africans, French, Russian and even a Brazilian on the start sheet. The Brazilian unfortunately didn't make the race due to some travel issues. On chatting, it turned out that the French guy was Jean-Loup Feneaux, the creator of AHOTU (www.ahotu.com) what I would consider to be the best reference point for all races in the world. In addition I was introduced to Ilgaz. Ilgaz is a co presenter of an ultra running podcast for Turkey. Quite amazing as he introduced himself to me as he recognized me (and my voice) from Talk Ultra. The ultra world really is a small one!
So the race!
We congregated in the Iznik centre for a pre race briefing at 0700 and then the race started, on the dot at 0730.
The previous days blue skies and warm weather had been replaced with rain but temperatures were mild. In many respects, perfect conditions for me! On the end of the count down we left on mass being told that the first few km's although part of the race would be neutralized. They wanted to create a run procession as we left the town. It was perfect!
The race route was marked to perfection with either floor paint or red and white ribbons every 30-100 meters. Literally, if you had run for more than a minute without seeing a marker you knew you had gone wrong! It's very reassuring. Although the 126k route was a loop of the lake and of course, the 60k was pretty much half of the lake, it was by no means flat as one would expect. Quite the opposite! All the vertical gain was undertaken in the first 60k making the shorter race a tough one as obviously you would be pushing harder, for the 126k runners this also meant that 'pacing' was crucial.
The short road section lasted 4km and soon became trail and then climbing to 580 meters. The trail path was wide, rutted and in parts slippery due to the falling rain. It was possible to run/ walk much of this early section, however, I am sure those running the longer race will have walked much of this first climb. Harder steeper sections had sections of flat and then more climbing. This scenario repeated itself constantly over the first 13kms and the first checkpoint at Derbent.
From Derbent village we once again re joined trail heading west and this section incorporated a whole mixture of trail. Rutted ground, soft ground, rocks and of course plenty of climbing and descending. Under foot conditions in general where very good. To our left as we ran this section of trail we had the stunning views of snow capped mountains and to our right, the Iznik Golu lake and the Yenisehir Plains. It was stunning.
The Suleymanie checkpoint at 28.5km was an opportunity to re fill bottles/ bladder and soak up the appreciation from local villagers. Caner and his team had done a superb job informing, mobilizing and involving the local villages and communities. You must remember, running is not something the Turkish people have much experience of. Ultra running is pretty muck unknown.... The Iznik Ultra is very much at the forefront of Turkish ultra running.
The climb out of Suleymaniye was steep and tough and lasted almost 2km and then a long decent to the next checkpoint at 36km at Muskule. This was a simple checkpoint and really more of timing check than anything else. A small climb and then a long steep decent to a section of road than ran parallel to the Lake. Police escorted the runners and provided safety. This section lasted almost 10k going from the 37km mark to the next check point at Narlica at 42km. This was a key check point and a larger village. The whole town had turned out to cheer everybody on.
Now the hardest climb of the course. Heading out of the village you immediately headed up on a muddy, rutted trail that lasted for 7km climbing to 750 meters. It was made even more difficult as this track was used by the farmer, therefore the route up was basically in deeply rutted tractor tracks. The rain was falling harder and harder and the course was now becoming increasingly slippery under foot. It was tough on the mind, the body and more importantly the legs. Finally at the top a flattish section of trail was followed with a long quad busting decent to the 60km finish in Soloz. The trail to the finish was technical in places and quite steep. I know that many post race expressed how difficult they found this run in to Soloz. Again, the local community was out in force. As it happened, I was the winner of the 60km race in 6hrs 01min. It would have been nice to have been under 6hrs and certainly if in future editions the course is dry and without rain, that time will drop. To run the final uphill road section to the line with the applause of the locals, the cheers of the children and the appreciation of the Iznik Ultra team will be a memory I hold forever. I sincerely feel that what has been created in this race is the start of an ever increasing and ever popular ultra scene within Turkey.
At the finish I was able to relax, applaud and watch my fellow runners come in. For many though, this was only a 60km checkpoint. Motivated by a finish line in the centre of Iznik some 67km away, they refueled and step by step rejoined the course. It was now early afternoon and the occasional glimpses of sun and warm started to disappear. The rain increased and with it, the wind.
With the climbing done in the first 60km, the remaining running should have been relatively easy and flat. The course now pretty much hugged the lake until the 76km and the checkpoint at Ornekkoy. Here, you are taken inland to the 81km checkpoint and you then remain inland with the lake to your right until Ilica at 95km's.
Running through Olive fields, the increasing heavy rain now made the course difficult under foot. With the added difficulty of night, it was now a test of will power for the remaining runners. A welcome section of road from 100km's to 107km' s provided some rest with the inclusion of a checkpoint at the village of Boyalica.
The dark, the rain, the mud, the wind tested everyone, the runners and the dedicated team of helpers and check point officials. At 111km's another section of road and then the final push with a check point at Kurukpru at km 119. With just 8km's to go, the finish was in sight. The arrival in Iznik awaited. But of course it was now the middle of the night. The winning time was 15hrs 45m.
The next day a 10km race had been arranged that created a perfect opportunity to introduce running to a greater audience. The town came out in force and was superb to see all ages and abilities taking part. Potential ultra runners of the future.... With marching bands, local dignitaries and a superbly organized prize presentation at 1pm the Iznik Ultra came to a close.
The medals and award plaques were something quite special. Iznik, famous for its hand made tiles had produced via a local tile maker all the finishing medals and plaques. A truly great memento.
I have raced all over the world and I have raced for many years. I have rarely scene a race so expertly organized or put together. It was the attention to detail, the course marking, the staff, the local community, the friendliness, the awards ceremony and the prizes that all came together to make this one of my fondest racing experiences. For this to be the MCR teams first event was quite incredible. I cannot praise Caner and his team enough.
Moving forward, this race will increase in popularity, it will bring in runners from around the world and will become a race to add to a runners 'bucket list'. All I can say is that it deserves all the praise it can get. I for one will be back in 2013, no doubt!
Men's 126km results
Women's 126km results
Men's 60km results
Women's 60km results
Click here for full results
- Traveling from the UK to Istanbul is possible via Easyjet from London Luton.
Depending on available time, I would recommend a Thursday flight with an overnight stop in Istanbul. Stay in the Old City near all the sights.
- Transfer from Istanbul to Iznik takes approximately 2 to 3 hours and includes a ferry crossing. Traffic in Istanbul is chaotic so be prepared.
- Iznik is well serviced with hotels and many are on the Lake just a few minutes from race registration and the race start.
- The first 60km are hilly and many may find poles useful.
- Trail shoes are essential.
- In training, practice going uphill and in particular train on hills putting as much emphasis on going down as going up. Many found the running downhill is what tired them the most.
- Temperatures are usually quite warm but for this years race conditions became difficult, Particularly those running in the 126k.
- Check and make sure you have mandatory kit. You will be checked pre race and during the race.
Check out www.iznikultra.com for more information