Istanbul marathon, a political show or a professional sport event?
The Istanbul Marathon is the world’s only intercontinental running event. I have been running 10 kilometers since 2014, and it is a real privilege to cross the bridge connecting the two continents and run past beautiful palaces, mosques, churches and some of Istanbul’s most spectacular old buildings.
It is a pity that the main organizer, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, is not offering a guide showing the main attraction points along the runway especially to foreign participants. But this is the least of the issues that the organizers should worry about.
With the number of participants increasing each year, the organizational shortcomings increase too, with organizers failing to manage the event properly and in an orderly fashion.
First, the organizers need to remember and remain focused on the fact that this is an organization for professional and amateur runners. There is no problem at all to organize a “people’s run” open to the public. But when proper boundaries are not drawn between amateur runners and those participating in the “people’s run,” the resulting chaos works against the former, creating huge frustration and, more importantly, exhaustion for those who are also there to test their sportive performances.
The problems start with getting to the area of the starting point, which is the beginning of the bridge on the Anatolian side. While public transport is free, those on the Anatolian side still need to walk a significant distance to reach the starting point and some have complained that officials blocked the road to participants from time to time, creating huge delays for them.
On the European side the only two points in Taksim and Sultanahmet (in the historic peninsula) remain utterly insufficient to transport thousands on buses. The last bus is supposed to depart at 7:30 a.m. (the marathon starts at 9:30 a.m.). In previous years there were no lines and everybody tried to walk over others to get themselves to the buses. This year there were queues. But even by 6:30 a.m. there were kilometers-long queues to get on the bus. So going as early as you can doesn’t help either. Security officials tried to inspect the bags, but by 7:20, as there were still thousands waiting to get on the bus, these inspections had become inefficient (to the point that those participating in the people’s run were able to bring with themselves irrelevant things, like backgammon, which I will elaborate below).
As the bridge was closed even to these buses after sometime, those who had to take the buses at around 7:30 had to cross the Bosphorus from the second bridge, making a large detour. One participant told me she took the bus at 7:20 but could only make it to the starting point a few minutes before the start following a one-hour bus drive standing and as the bus left them 5 km away from the area she had to walk all that way.
The moment you get off the bus you find yourself in the middle of a sea of people. There were no signs showing where the buses are to put your bags. There are hundreds of officials assigned to work for the marathon, but they are not well located and many do not know what’s going on.
Getting off the bus, as there were no officials to tell you where to go, you end up following the flood to reach the bus which has the number written on your bag, which is important as you need to know the number of the bus to find it at finish. In the very long but very tiny corridor squeezed between the buses which are lined up one after the other and the fences separating them from the gathering areas for runners you come across those who have left their bags and are returning to the gathering areas. An unbelievable human traffic jam becomes a tortuous ordeal. I was told that due to the stampede some people had fainted and some decided not to leave their bags, choosing to run with their bags.
I thought running with families who came with their little children to have a walk, with the social media freaks playing backgammon on the bridge to take photos and post to Instagram, with the elderly willing to experience crossing the bridge walking with their canes, with lovers proposing to their loved ones to marry them and the hundreds of selfie-takers were the fate of the 10k runners. It seems that even those running 15k could not avoid the joy of testing their nerves and their ability to run in a labyrinth of people who are not aware that there are thousands who are there for a serious run. Because I’m running out of space to write, I will stop here without talking about the shortcomings at the finishing points.
No one is against people coming and walking. On the contrary, they should be encouraged to attend such outdoor events. And the Istanbul Marathon is probably one of the biggest charity events in Turkey, as hundreds are running and walking to raise funds and are also raising awareness about diverse issues. But it isn’t rocket science to separate runners from those participating in the “people’s run.”
But, unfortunately, the organizers seem interested in making “people” happy at the expense of the serious runners. With very simple measures, you can make both happy. But if organizing a sporting event is being turned into a political show by proving you can make more than 100,000 people run across the two continents then you end up sacrificing quality for quantity. And if the focus is on quantity rather than quality, then don’t wonder why Turkey is having difficulties in creating internationally-known brands.