Iznik Ultra 2017 Race Summary and Images

The 2017 edition of the Iznik Ultra in Turkey took place just this last weekend. It was an unusually cold year with a constant chill in the air, especially for those runners starting at midnight undertaking the tough and challenging 140km distance. With five events on offer – 140km, 90km, 50km, 15km and a 5km run designed to engage the local community – Iznik Ultra weekend is very much a family experience.

Surrounded by eight countries, the Republic of Turkey is ideally located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and this therefore makes it a country of significant geographical importance. On arrival in Istanbul one is immediately aware of the countries Muslim population, literally a mosque is every two to three hundred meters apart. But despite recent news warning of danger on visiting Turkey – I see nothing of the threat. Relaxing in Istanbul, talking with the locals – everything to me appears normal and this is my fifth visit to this beautiful place.

It is what I love about the Iznik race, the ability to stopover in Istanbul and explore. The blue Mosque named because of its blue Ottoman tile interior dates back to 1609, the Fire Tower stands 85m tall on the skyline near the Grand Bazaar and was built in 1828 by Mahmud 11, the Hippodrome known better as Sultanahmet Square was built by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus in 203AD and served as a meeting place for politicians, for chariot races, wrestling, boxing and other athletic activities and this arena could hold some 100,000 spectators. It’s possible to have a history lesson on foot.

Iznik situated on the Lake Iznik in the province of Bursa is a short ferry boat and 1-hour drive from the bustling noise and colour of Istanbul.

Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influence has left several monuments for the tourist. The City Walls at 14,520 ft in circumference are used in the 2017 edition as a key feature of the 140km race. Coming after just 700m, under the illumination of artificial light, it provides an impressive spectacle.

An ancient theater, the Yenisehir Gate, St Sophia Cathedral (Orhan Ghazi Mosque) and the Green Mosque (Yesil Camil) named after the green tiles that adorn it.

Using the Lake as a backdrop, the 140km, 90km and 50km Iznik Ultra races basically cover part or the whole of the Lake as the race route weaving in and out of the mountains that surround the lake travelling in an anti-clockwise direction.  It is in the last 60km’s of the 140km and 90km races and all of the 50km that includes tough climbs and quad breaking descents.

Turkey is not known for ultra running. Despite it’s geographical location, it’s history and the multi-cultural influences placed upon it, ultra is a sport for the few. But over the years the Iznik races have grown and that is reflected in the number of races on offer and the increased participation. This is all down to race director Caner Odabasoglu and his MCR Racesetter team.

Accommodating, friendly and warm, the Turkish people embrace a sport that they know little about and welcome the runners with open arms. The locals, who’s priority is working the land, finding food to put on the table in many ways look on, not quite understanding why people would run, for fun!

Predominately trail, less than 20% of the course is road and these sections are purely used as a transition from one section of trail to the next. A course with demanding terrain, stunning views and quiet, small and un-spoilt villages. Terrain underfoot at times is rocky, rutted, muddy and often slippery. The climbs are tough and demand pacing, particularly if running the longer event is a real skill. Especially with some new sections added in 2016 that predicated a lengthy 10km road section.

In the 140km event, Elenena Polyakova, an ever-present in Iznik and racing in Turkey won the ladies race with a strong performance in what turned out to be very tough conditions after 17 hours – her time 20:22. Kemal Kukul dominated the men’s race with a course record 16:08. Full 140km results here.

Hasan Ozturk had a convincing 20+ minute lead in the 90km to take victory in 9:06. Aysen Sola won the ladies race in 10:22 and placed 5th overall. Full 90km results here.

In the 50km, Mehmet Aydingor took top honours in 4:57 with Asli Stercelik winning the ladies race in 6:20. Full 50km results here.

Race Website HERE

Turkey enlightens a natural curiosity in any adventurer with the wonderful Istanbul and Iznik by contrast, relaxes the mind and body with a kicked back and simplistic view on modern day life.

For this looking to combine the two, Turkey and the Iznik Ultra provide a great opportunity.

RESULTS for the 2017 edition of races available HERE

 

Iznik Ultra 2017 Preview

Using the Iznik Lake as a backdrop, the IZNIK RACES utilise the local terrain to not only provide a beautiful course but also a challenging course. Elevation and more challenging terrain comes in the latter stages of all the races as they circumnavigate the lake in a counter-clockwise direction. The 90 km, 50km and 15km events are very much about going up and down on trails that vary from single-track to wide rutted farm roads. The 140km race has a relatively flat and rolling beginning but with the arrival of dawn (the race starts at midnight) the demands from the terrain increase.

The Iznik series of races in Turkey are assembling a strong contingent of runners to race over many distances, from 15km to 140km. The long race starts on the stroke of midnight on Friday April 21st, the 90km at 0900 and then each race follows at regular gaps – all races finish in the town of Iznik.

Caner Odabasoglu and the MCR Racesetter Team are passionate ultra runners and have devoted an incredible amount of time, energy and money in creating a stunning weekend of racing on the shores of Iznik Lake.

Dedicated to the cause, the 2017 edition looks set to one again showcase Turkey and in particular Iznik, as a great location for a running race. Iznik has a wonderful history. The Aphasia Mosque amongst others for example intrigues everyone and it’s a pleasure to see the architecture of the Hoffman period.

Famous for its ‘Iznik Tiles’ – the race rewards each runner with a very special custom made tile medal. A truly unique reward and fitting for the area whose tile industry is famous throughout the world.

Racing here is so much more than just running – it’s all about combining travel, culture, history and running together in one very neat package. The proximity to Istanbul makes any visit a dual purpose trip. Despite what is portrayed in the world news, I walked around Istanbul as a tourist and witnessed nothing of the friction portrayed via the world media – it’s no different to being in Paris, London or Belgium.

Racing starts Friday 21st at midnight.

Race website: HERE

Image gallery from the 2015 edition.

Iznik Ultra 2016 – Race Report and Summary

The sands of the Sahara lured me away from the Iznik Ultra this year. A real shame as this race has been a fixture on my calendar all the way back to the 2012 edition when I won the 60km race. Iznik and Turkey are special places and the Iznik Ultra provides a wonderful opportunity to combine running and sightseeing.

 

The people are magical, the calm tranquility of the lake Iznik is sublime, the surrounding mountains are impressive and the combination of great food, hospitality and a committed and dedicated race team headed by race director Caner, make this experience a ‘must’ for the enthusiastic runner.

 

Not wanting to miss out on the action, I asked good friend and fellow photographer Jordi Saragossa and adventure journalist/ athlete Tobias Mews to work on behalf of iancorless.com at the 2016 edition of the race. 

 

Enjoy the journey!

 

Words by Tobias Mews/ Images by ©jordisaragossa

‘You’re first time in Turkey?’ the old man remarked in surprisingly good English, as I watched the sun behind Lake Iznik, the third largest lake in Turkey.  The water was incredibly calm with not a ripple in sight, despite being 32kms long and 10kms wide. It was also mind blowingly beautiful, offering an unparalleled level of peace. I couldn’t help but wish I had a stone to skim along it’s smooth surface.

‘It is,’ I reply, although I was already silently vowing to return.  As through thrilled with this fact and despite my protests, he offers me a cup of tea – not a cup of Earl Grey, but one of the Turkish variety. They drink the stuff by the gallon.  Sipping away, I mused on the notion that I no idea how stunning this country was or how kind everyone is. Turkey, I would soon discover, is a truly magical place.

I’ve often said that if you’re going to put yourself through any degree of suffering during an ultra, and let’s face it, who doesn’t have a moment where they question their sanity, then you might as well do it somewhere beautiful. It’s a mantra that I’ve held to my core and to date, have not been left disappointed through my travels and races as an adventure journalist.

Rather embarrassingly, and perhaps to my shame, I’d not considered Turkey a running destination, which is perhaps why I’d never visited this ancient cradle of civilization.  Too many lasminute.com cheap package holidays, slightly less than positive press, terrorist attacks and an unsettled political climate have not helped Turkey solidify its position in the ‘must visit’ destinations lists. But thanks to the likes of Caner Odabasoglu, the Race Director and founder of the Iznik Ultra, things are changing and running events are becoming more common place.

Indeed, when the Iznik Ultra launched in 2012, it was the second ultra to be established in the country.  Now, there are three road three road marathons and seven ultras. It is, as he puts it, ‘booming at the moment’.

Since I first began running competitively, just under a decade ago, I’ve suffered a serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Perhaps due to the fact that I’m stubborn and a sucker for punishment, when faced with a choice of distances, I’ve always picked the furthest/hardest race on offer, especially if the race is named after this distance, such as Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc or Transvulcania. I want to get the full race experience, not just an excerpt. So, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I chose to take part in the 80k option as opposed to the main event.

Besides the main event, there are in fact four other races on offer – 5k, 15k, 50k, 80k –  all of which follow parts of the full 130km course around the lake. Considering the course was actually 86kms with 2600m of ascent/descent, it is by no means a distance to be sniffed at and after all, still an ultra!

Keen to show buy support I made my way to the midnight start of the 130k event. After more than 200 races including dozens of ultras, I’m more than familiar with the shit that goes through your head as you toe the start line of a big race, especially one that begins in the middle of the night. But curiously enough on this occasion, I didn’t see the usual thousand-yard stare that you might expect to see from a runner as he or she prepares to run 136kms non-stop (it’s slightly further than the advertised 130k). Instead I saw smiles, laughter, lots of slapping on the back, hugs and the sort of banter you might expect to see at a running club Monday night fixture. The only thing that was missing was a lack of women (only five amongst the relatively small field of 63).

The race favourite, Aykut Çelikbas looked as cool as the proverbial cucumber as he chatted with his fellow Team Salomon Turkey runners, Faruk Kar and Elena Polyakov. Hardly surprising considering Aykut had competed in the previous four editions of the race, coming third last year. He’s also a two-time finisher of Spartathlon, so knows a thing or two about pushing the pain barrier.

And then, as just after the stroke of midnight, they were off, a luminous streak of smiles as a small army of intrepid ultra runners disappeared into the night. Feeling a mixture of sadness and guilt that I wasn’t amongst them, I trotted back to my hotel and went to bed, in preparation for my race, 9 hours later.

After a 45-minute bus ride to Orhangazi, a medium sized town situated in the Bursa province about half way around the lake, and a countdown from 10 in Turkish, we set off in pursuit of our 130k brethren. With a police escort to accompany us, a couple of Turkish competitors went off a little too fast before looking around and realising they were in the lead, sheepishly slowed down. Which left yours truly at the front.

Before the race, people had asked me what my expectations were. But with my wife recently having a child and moving house to the French Pyrenees, my training had temporarily taken a bit of a nose dive for worse. In fact, I’d even told my wife that I was doing the 50k, so she wouldn’t give me grief for doing one of the main events on next to no training.

Seeing that no one was willing to take the lead, I strode out at a 4.30 min/km pace, making the most of the 19kms of flat terrain. It follows a stretch of road out of Orhangazi before meeting the edge of the Lake Iznik and a sandy beach that brought back to me a a few memories of the Marathon des Sables. From the perspective of race tactics, it’s an opportunity to put some distance between you and your opponents. But go out too fast and you’ll later hit an 800-meter-high wall of pain and that later on in the race will come to bite you not just in the arse, but in your quads and calves.

Somewhat conscious that I might be going too fast, for the next 4 hours I steadily overtook around 30 odd runners from the 130km race, exchanging broken pleasantries in Turkish as I went.  I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt, watching a number of them hobble along in that all too familiar death march.  I had come with no expectations of winning the race, but for a while I genuinely thought I had a chance.

However, any thoughts of podiums were far from my mind. I was simply reveling in the scenery as I ran through olive groves, along beaches, charming little villages before going high into the hills surrounding the lake, which offered panoramic views to die for.

But then, for the first time, I heard the the pitter patter of feet of Hasan Öztürk, who unbeknownst to me had been doggedly following me. With my two words of Turkish vocabulary and his non-existent English, conversation was brief as we trotted alongside each other, silently pushing one another slightly harder than we’d have liked.

That’s of course the problem with being out front, and what I imagined Aykut and Faruk were going through. They had decided to run together and hold on to the lead. But lovely though it is to be out front, you simply don’t know how fast your pursuers are going – so you push on harder than might be wise.

Until now, the terrain had been very runnable. But new to 2016, Caner had inserted in a rather technical and simultaneously hilly section smack in the middle of the 80k and about 87k into the main event. Very steep descents which often involved hanging onto tree routes and branches slowed us all down, less for the odd mountain goat. Some might say it was too difficult (it added a minimum of two hours on to most people’s time), but I think it was bloody marvelous, even though I was cursing at the time.

The checkpoints are spaced between 10 and 15k apart – about right for a course of this nature. As to be expected, they were a welcome reprieve and a chance to fill our water bottles, as the warm sun was thirsty work. It was during one of these moments that I noticed third place man, Mehmet Yildirim catching me up.

Cutting short my replen, I hobbled off and spent the next 20kms looking over my shoulder like a man being chased. Just shy of 10kms from the finish, my legs began to object and I regrettably waved Mehmet on with a ‘bravo’. Unbeknown to me, a similar situation had happened several hours early in the main event, where Aykut and Faruk separated. Aykut maintained the lead, finishing in 17hrs 10mins, leaving Mehmet Arslan to claim second place in 17hrs 30 and Faruk third, 18 minutes later.

As I arrived into Iznik I felt like a warrior returning from war. Covered in dust but grinning from ear to ear, I must have looked a strange sight to the Iznik locals who had come to watch the runners roll in.  Knowing that I didn’t have long left, I picked up the pace, even though I was way over what the time I estimated it would take me to run 86kms to cross the finish line 3 seconds shy of ten and a half hours and a full 55 minutes behind Hasan who’d I’d not seen again.

After collecting one of the most fabulous medals I’ve ever seen, a locally made ceramic tile, I made my way back to the edge of the lake I had been standing at almost 24hours previously. Digging into my pocket, I picked out a smooth pedal I’d found in a river bed, and with my last remaining energy, skimmed it along the still smooth waters, trying to count how the bounces. The old man, who I’d seen yesterday, was still here and shuffled over to me.

‘What do you think? You like?’ he asked, his eyes sparkling with curiosity.

‘I loved it’ I replied.  And that’s the truth!

130k results

33 finishers from 58 starters (57% finishers rate)

Men

1st Aykut Çelikbas 17.10:12

2nd Mehmet Arslan 17.30:43

3rd Faruk Kar 17.48:46

Women

Elena Polyakova 22.49:45

Bakiye Duran 24.43:19

80k

65 finishers from 84 starters (77% finishers rate)

Men

1st Hasan Öztürk – 9.35:55

2nd Mehmet Yildirim 10.19:28

3rd Tobias Mews 10.29:57

Women

1st Alessia De Matteis 11.10:28

2nd Martine Nolan 12.02:31

3rd Asli Sertcelik 12.08:23

all images ©jordisaragossa – all rights reserved

IZNIK ULTRA WEBSITE HERE

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Images from the 2015 edition by ©iancorless.com below