Running in Istanbul

This past week, we were in Istanbul, Turkey for the YPO Global Leadership Conference and Global Leadership Summit. When traveling to a new place, we always scout the swimming, biking, and running opportunities. Biking was out on this trip, but swimming (indoors) and running were possibilities.

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A series of Google searches didn’t reveal much on pools that were good for lap swimming. The Hilton Istanbul had a small indoor pool, but it was only suitable for goofing around with the kids. I didn’t have time to seek out a pool at a university or elsewhere, so I planned to focus on running instead. I had limited time, so it was a bit of an off week for training.

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Debbie’s research on running in Istanbul was interesting. We didn’t come across any events. It would have been fun to do a race. We found some running club information, but it was sparse. The city isn’t the best environment for running. The infamous traffic (vehicle and pedestrian), old infrastructure, cobblestones, and narrow roads make for running challenges. We came across a few decent blog posts, but in the end, just had to invent our own strategy. The Running Istanbul Blog is pretty good. So is DC Rainmaker’s post on his 2012 Istanbul run.

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Last Sunday, Debbie and I got out for three hours. We were horribly lost for most of the time, but we had a blast. We ran along the Bosphorous. We ran the steep hills (some more than 20% gradient) near the Bosphorous Bridge to the Asian side. We ran across the Galata Bridge to the old part of the city. We ran in a pedestrian tunnel. We squeezed between thousands of idle cars and the sidewalk. On that day, we only saw one other runner out of about a million people (no lie). I was the only person wearing shorts. The weather was unseasonably warm, hence all of the folks out and about. We got a lot of cheers from the crowds. We were a novelty.

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There was a lot of police activity along the Bosphorous. We heard that the president of Turkey was in town. There were hundreds of police in riot gear with all kinds of equipment. In Connecticut, you don’t see troop transporters with large black “snowplows” mounted on them. I assumed that these plows are for pushing people out-of-the-way and making their way through crowds. Seeing one in action would give new meaning to the phrase, “clearing the streets.”

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We came across one large demonstration. I’m not sure what they were supporting. There was a nice park along the waterfront. We spent a few minutes watching a couple of guys set up a long slackline. We had time to watch one of them walk the length of the line, but didn’t stick around to watch them ride their unicycle on it.


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The “terrain” conditions in Istanbul are worse than some trails. Construction dots the landscape and there are few signs. At a moments notice, you can come across a pile of dirt, or worse, a ditch. You need to pay attention when running in this city. With the sidewalks, bricks, stones and people packed curb to wall, we found it safer to run in the road between the vehicles and the sidewalks (when there were any). The vehicles were practically at a standstill most of the time, which made this marginally safer.


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We ran several mornings at dawn. One morning, we ran from Taxsim Square down İstiklal Avenue to Galata Tower and back. It was a cold morning, but we were dressed for the weather. People are on the streets of Istanbul at all hours of the day/night. On several occasions, folks randomly joined us. It appeared that some of these people were party goers that were still on the streets from the night before. A couple of these chaps (in addition to their cheers), ran along gamely for up to a 1/4 mile. One fellow joined us both heading out and heading back, and even took the lead for a minute or so. It was hilarious. At first we didn’t know what to expect, but it was all good fun.

7 Responses to “Running in Istanbul”

  1. 1 Ernie Glickman 3 March 2013 at 7:38 pm

    wow, that sounds like quite the adventure. You could start “Istanbul adventure racing” and not need any props.

  2. 2 sarapci 6 March 2013 at 8:02 am

    You should’ve asked me before you came but seems like you did a very good job of finding interesting places.

    The picture is not very clear, but the demonstrators are socialists. And the snowplough in front of the cars is probably for what you said, though (luckily) I’ve never seen them used.

    Running is very tough here in the city (you can go to the forest after a 15-30 minute drive) I tend to run by the seaside a little north of the way from the hotel, between the 2 bridges. My main obstacle is the fishhooks that tend to be swung at random without looking!


  3. 5 Ed Malley 3 April 2013 at 4:12 pm

    @ sarapaci…I’m going in July. Any specifics? I’ll be in Istanbul for 4 days. The Belgrad Forest would be one run i think? Would like to run the seaside and over the bridge. Can you give me some landmarks to start at? Many thanks.

    • 6 sarapci 4 April 2013 at 3:52 am

      Hi Ed,

      If you’d like the forest, Belgrad is your best bet.
      If you’d like the seaside, you can start from Kurucesme on the European side and run north. Watch out for the fish hooks! Unfortunately you cannot run on the bridge (the main one). That’s done once a year during the Istanbul Marathon or 15 k race.
      If you like a historic run begin at Karakoy bridge, cross it and run along the coast till you see Kucuk Ayasofya Mosque (check google maps), run up the hill till you reach cemberlitas square which is also a pedestrian street. Run down until the Gulhane Park and thru the park back to the coast.

      Email me for more specifics before you come if you like.


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