Turkish Delights: Istanbul Half Marathon

Race Date: Sunday 28 April 2024

Background: Back in 2014, I was 107 kg due to unlucky genetics and some questionable food choices. Determined to shake things up, I shed around 40kg in four years, thanks to relentless gym sessions. When the pandemic rolled around in 2020, I switched to outdoor workouts and fell head over heels for running. I ran my first half marathon in Sheffield in 2022, which was the nudge I needed to take running more seriously. By 2023, I had fine-tuned my training to include more structure, significantly boosting my performance, and joined the Steel City Striders that November.

Why Istanbul? Before hitting the streets of Istanbul, I had run seven half marathons, nailing a personal best of 89:34 in Manchester in 2023. I was aiming for under 88 minutes this time. I picked Istanbul for its reputation for flat courses and because the timing worked perfectly with my break from teaching, letting me jet off to Iran (my home country) afterward. The main hurdles were the hot weather and a long journey from the UK to Turkey.

Training: My training routine typically included a lot of easy runs, enhanced by VO2 max sessions on Thursdays with coaches Peter Brown and Mike Theobald at the track. These group sessions not only boosted my speed but also provided a break from training alone. On weekends, I focused on long runs, varying the pace between fast and slow miles. In preparation for the Istanbul race, I put in three demanding weeks of 60 miles each, following a block training method that alternated three weeks of intense effort with one week of recovery. Additionally, I ran the Sheffield Half Marathon three weeks before heading to Istanbul, clocking in a decent time of 90:49. (Editor’s Note: looking at Sina’s Strava, he does a fair amount of tempo/lactate threshold work which is vital when racing this sort of distance).

Diet: Since I tend to gain weight easily, I’ve been strict about my diet for the last decade, sticking to carb cycling—alternating between high-carb and high-protein meals and generally steering clear of fats. That said, I can’t resist a good Persian meal, especially my favourite ghafghazi kebab with saffron rice.

Ghafghazi Kabab: Lamb and Chicken skewered and grilled.

Travel and Race Day: I flew into Istanbul on Friday, aiming to chill before the big day. I stayed near the race venue and did a short run Saturday morning to get used to the surprisingly warm weather. Come race day, the weather flipped to cool, rainy, and windy—pretty much like back home in the UK, which was another surprise. The race itself was a bit messy at the start because all 6000 of us kicked off at once without any separation into waves.

The course was stunning, kicking off on the European side, crossing the Galata Bridge to the Asian side, and then looping back, primarily alongside the Sea of Marmara. Spectator support was minimal, and it appeared that some of the cheers might have come from hired crowds which shows the running culture in the UK is definitely more vibrant compared to Turkey.

The Galata Bridge together with The Blue Mosque on the horizon.

How Did It Go? I took it easy at first, planning to pick up the pace after the 10k mark but I started feeling tired sooner than expected so I popped my second energy gel early. That seemed to do the trick and by 14k, I was back on track. I crossed the finish line at 01:29:44. It wasn’t my best time but still under 90 minutes, which felt pretty good all things considered. Looking back, I think the travel and a less-than-ideal breakfast (toast and Turkish cheese instead of my usual oatmeal) might have thrown me off a bit.

Pos Name Cat Time
331 Sina Pournouri SM 01:29:44

Umbrellas and ponchos showing how wet it was.

The race winners were Hicham Amghar (Mar) 59:47 and Sheila Chelangat (KEN) 01:06:47

Results Istanbul Half Marathon 2024

Despite not hitting my personal best, I was proud to represent Steel City and thankful for all the support from the Thursday track squad. Races like this teach you a lot—sometimes things don’t go as planned, but you’ve just got to roll with the punches and learn from each experience. Next time, I’ll be more prepared.

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