The Istanbul Eurasia Marathon
first bridge, marathon, runners, second bridge

The Istanbul Eurasia Marathon

Last Sunday, Sankar and I participated in the only marathon in the world that encompasses two continents. It’s called the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon. Here is a route description from its website:

“The Marathon, 15Km, and 8Km races both start on the Asian side, cross the Bosporus and Golden Horn Bridges,pass under the Aqueduct and follow the Marmara Sea beach, to the finish line on the European side at the Hippodrome, one of the oldest race tracks in the world. . . ”

Lest you think we’ve become distance runners during our years in Istanbul, I’ll explain. In addition to the races mentioned above, the Eurasia Marathon features a “Halk Kosuyor,” or People’s Run. This slightly Communist-sounding event involves running—or walking—as much as you feel like.

What motivated us? Well, in Istanbul there are a lot of rules, and one is that you can never, ever walk on the Bosphorus bridges. (Istanbul has two suspension bridges that link its European and Asian sides. The first was built in the 1970s and the second in the 1980s.) The bridges are for vehicles only.

From the first bridge one can see huge ships cutting through the Bosphorus; misty, rounded Asian-side hills; and past them, the mouth of the Sea of Marmara. For the past two years, I have photographed these from a moving car, always thinking how much better it would be if I could get out and set up the frame properly.

The Ortakoy mosque under restoration, seen from the first bridge.

On marathon day each year, the bridge is open to those on foot. Crossing the forbidden bridge and taking pictures would be our focus. Not fitness. We wouldn’t be going as far as the aqueducts, beaches or Hippodrome.

The run starts at 9:00 am and like many other participants, we needed to cross from the European side to the Asian side and get into position. Since the bridge was closing to vehicles well before the race, we got up early, took a ferry to the Asian side, and caught a cab to the bridge. Thankfully, the weather was dry, cool, and not too windy.

At the bridge, we gathered with other runners. The atmosphere was festive: colorful gear, huge bunches of balloons, simits for sale, and television trailers blaring occasional pop music. A helicopter hovered overhead. Warming up near us were East Africans (who ended up dominating both the men’s and women’s races), Scandinavians, and Germans.

A runner stretches on what is usually a congested highway lane.


Mother-son team


Finally the race began: a starting gun accompanied by a burst of heavily synchopated Turkish military music.

Runners head for the bridge to Europe

Here is a brief, ridiculously amateur video in which you can hear the music.

Behind the serious runners, Sankar and I jogged onto the bridge. It is more than a mile long with an uphill approach and, feeling little guilt, we stopped at intervals. The Bosphorus was devoid of ships and the Asian side was backlit, so I ended up taking only a couple of pictures. I had heard stories of jokesters setting up kebab grills on the bridge just because they could, but we didn’t see any. Only a few simit sellers and water bottle vendors.

Looking north, the second bridge is faintly visible.

At one point, a Turkish couple offered to take our picture. Soon after that, a friend jogged by and then turned and while still moving, introduced me to her running companion.

As we passed the bridge’s halfway point, we heard shouting and singing behind us, and turned to see a group of people cheerfully pushing others in wheelchairs. After that, another noisy group went by with a long sign but, typically, we couldn’t understand enough to catch its meaning.


Off the bridge and into Europe

For several years I’ve wanted to participate in this race, and the Eurasia Marathon, with its dramatic scenery, army music and occasional headscarfed participant, didn’t disappoint. But there was something else. Perhaps it was the twenty or thirty minutes we spent walking the span, or maybe it was act of putting our feet directly onto the bridge, but the People’s Run made a stronger impression on us than all of our car crossings combined. We now feel a definite–and perhaps not completely unusual–sense of possessiveness toward the first bridge.

The feeling doesn’t stop there. After traipsing around Istanbul’s bazaars, monuments, and labyrinthine streets for nearly three years, this entire seaside megacity has become ours.

17 thoughts on “The Istanbul Eurasia Marathon

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